Thursday, January 30, 2020

You Loves Ewe!, written by Cece Bell, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: In this hilarious back-and-forth reminiscent of “Who’s on First,” Donkey comes across know-it-all Yam and cute, fluffy Ewe. Ewe’s name immediately prompts confusion: “That is me?” says Donkey. “I yam so cute and fluffy!” Yam quickly corrects Donkey (“YOU are not cute and fluffy. EWE is”) and continues with a grammar lesson on homophones, which is further complicated when the homophones in question start falling in love with Ewe! Cece Bell’s (“El Deafo”) full-color cartoon illustrations drive this short comic-book-style story forward with expressive faces, simple backgrounds, and large print speech bubbles beginning readers will love to read themselves.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a must have for any library with a strong early reader section. Early readers will laugh out loud at Donkey’s goofy misunderstandings, Yam’s frustration, and the cute illustrations, and will tear through this easy-to-read book without even realizing they’re learning about grammar! Hand to fans of Gerald & Piggie, or use with older students as a hook for a lesson on homophones - they abound in this book!

The Surface Breaks, written by Louise O'Neill, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary: Muirgen has always longed to break the surface, to rise above the water and see the human world. Her mother, who gave her the human name, Gaia, was similarly intrigued, making her last trip above the waves on Muirgen’s first birthday, never to be seen again. Muirgen’s father, the powerful, controlling Sea King, uses his wife as a cautionary tale, a warning to his daughters that they should remain quiet and compliant. For Muirgen, the Sea King’s favorite daughter, this means being bonded to Zale, a powerful, war-hungry mer-man three times Muirgen’s age. But on her first visit to the surface, Muirgen rescues a human boy from drowning and falls in love with him on sight, putting her carefully-planned future in jeopardy.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Readers will recognize the familiar backbone of the Little Mermaid story, but will find the details darker and more intense. Muirgen not only sacrifices her voice in order to become human, but the use of her new legs causes her great pain, bleeding and peeling away flesh with every step. Louise O’Neill has added strong feminist elements to one of Disney’s most misogynistic tales, a welcome update for teen readers. Unlike the cartoon version, all progress made by Muirgen on land leads to self-discovery and understanding rather than romance. O’Neill has also incorporated elements of mermaid lore from mythology, like the murderous Rusalkas, the broken but loyal minions of the Sea Witch. Devoted fans of the original may take umbrage with the new tone, but are likely to be drawn in by the familiarity and pleased to see the story taken to a new level.

Little Robot Alone, written by Patricia MacLachlan, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: This slow-moving picture book introduces the reader to Little Robot, who lives a peaceful but lonely life in his house on a hill. One night, he dreams of a sleek metal companion and sets about making that image a reality. Working hard to complete his project and persevering when his plans don’t work, Little Robot creates himself a friend, Little Dog, who immediately brightens up his life. Soft watercolor illustrations depict Little Robot and his surroundings as quite different from the typical image of the shiny, futuristic robot: Little Robot comes across more as a modern Humpty Dumpty, with a round body, an electrical port for charging his battery, and a toaster for a head, while his home is an idyllic nature scene complete with birds and squirrels on rolling hills.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This title isn’t flashy or eye-catching, but it is worthwhile for its important messages. This is truly a story about perseverance and friendship, and could be used to launch discussions about either topic. When Little Robot’s first attempt at building a companion fails, he doesn’t get frustrated; instead, “Little Robot thought hard. He had more to do.” This demonstration of grit would be an excellent read-aloud for any group of students engaged in maker activities who might be tempted to give up at the first sign of failure. Little Robot’s quest for companionship, as well, could be used as an example of the importance of friendship.

Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesdays, written by Jon Stahl, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Bright, cartoony illustrations and large speech bubbles make this picture book a fun, engaging read. Two monsters bicker back and forth as they come up with stories: Should their story involve a dragon? Stories with dragons rarely end up happily, one monster declares - except in the case of a damsel to the-rescue story in which the damsel reminds a dragon of his weekly menu, which includes only noodles on Tuesdays. As the two monster narrators continue to discuss the elements of a good story, the dragon in question appears - and it’s Wednesday!

Straight Talk for Librarians: Kids will flock to this goofy, accessible picture book, and fans of “Elephant and Piggie” or “Dragons Eat Tacos” especially will eat this one up. Use as a fun read-aloud to get kids laughing, or to demonstrate voice inflection while reading aloud. This title could also be used with older students as part of a discussion on the writing process - the many iterations and changes in the narrators’ stories are a great example of peer editing and the elements of a good story!

Wolf Hour, written by Sara Lewis Holmes, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Magia is a young girl who lives with her family at the edge of a dangerous, magical forest called the Puszcza. Everyone in town is afraid of this forest, for it sucks people in and traps them in Stories - fairy tale stories that they cannot escape, no matter how hard they try - that drives them mad, everyone, that is, except for Magia and her Tata (father). Tata is a woodcutter who travels into the forest every day, kept safe by his red cap, to cut wood to sell to the townspeople. Magia is his youngest daughter, and she desperately wants to be a woodcutter just like her Tata, although her mother wants her to be a famous singer in the city. Inside the forest lives a wolf named Martin, who wants to be left alone and left out of the Stories, although that may not be as easy as it seems. Magia travels to the city with her brother and sister to take singing lessons to appease her mother, and ends up encountering a witch, and getting thrown into a story she desperately wants to change in order to save her family - and perhaps add a new member to her little family.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The Wolf Hour by Sara Lewis Holmes is a delightful twist on Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. As someone who enjoys twisted fairy tales, this book absolutely checked off that twisted fairy tale box. The story was extremely compelling in the way that the characters interacted, and I absolutely agree with the review when it says that this story is a meditation of fate and expectations. I do think that at times, the Polish terms could be a bit challenging, although I did love the tone it added to the book. I think it could be used in classrooms as a literature circle book that could be used to discuss major themes, vocabulary, and character analysis. I love the story and fresh take on two classic tales that Holmes delivers, although this book will only resonate with students who enjoy twisted fairy tales.

Third Grade Mermaid, written by Peter Raymundo, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Cora is great at the three “S”s: singing, splashing, and swimming. In fact, she’s so great that she recently made the Siren Singers squad in the place of the glowy, glamorous Vivian Shimmermore! But Cora has one “S” she’s not doing so great at: spelling. When she’s kicked off the swim team for her failure to spell, Cora is frantic to learn the secret. Luckily for Cora, her spelling words seem to start springing up wherever she looks: She comes across a giant shrimp (who quickly becomes a goofy, dog-like pet) in a toxic sludge dump, gets bullied by a predator, and uncovers a nasty secret the Sirens have been keeping to keep themselves looking shimmery while the ecosystem suffers.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Readers will enjoy Cora’s fun personality, the plentiful cartoon illustrations, and even the quirky ocean puns (“not-so-great white sharks” and “shell phones” abound), but the story zigzags confusingly and characters are flat. Plotlines are introduced and then abandoned, and the lessons Cora is ostensibly learning - about friendship and true beauty - miss the mark. If you are in need of transitional chapter books, this fits the bill; otherwise, look elsewhere.

The Forest Queen, written by Betsy Cornwell, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: The Forest Queen is a twisted fairy tale, changing the story of Robin Hood and Little John to a story about Sylvie, Little Jane, and Bird. When Sylvie's brother, John, is granted the position of sheriff, simultaneously promising her hand in marriage to a friend, Sylvie realizes her escape might be the last chance she has at regaining control of her own life. With the help of her friend Bird, a skilled outdoorsman, and the comorodary of a budding friendship with a girl named Little Jane, Sylvie escapes the palace and runs into the forest to build a new life for herself. Soon, it is revealed, John will be as horrific of a sheriff as he was a brother. Though she just wanted to escape herself, Sylvie quickly learns, not only can her forest home provide shelter for the residents of the local city, terrorized daily by her brother, but she might be the key to ending his reign of terror and bring peace to her land once more. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: The Forest Queen has earned a new position next to Stand on the Sky on the shelf of my favorite books. I am so captivated by this book. Cornwell has woven love into each page, through fear, anxiety, heartbreak, and betrayal. Filled with so many lessons for young ladies, the compassion and grace in Cornwell's writing will touch the hearts of women everywhere, of any age.
The Forest Queen is, at its root, about love, friendship, and family. Sylvie is torn between a love and a loyalty to her family, but also choosing what is right for herself. Her father is ill, and does not understand her anymore. Her brother is cruel. But those years of loving each other give her hope that things could change. When she decides to pursue a life on her own away from her family home, she encounters another type of family, one she loves just as dearly. Her new family is one made up of necessity, one of people who will struggle together, rely on each other, learn to trust each other, and from that trust, gain each other's loyalty. Can her new family help her save her blood-family? I believe, for me, the most influential relationships in the book were those shared by Sylvie, Little Jane, and Bird. Tested and tried, pulled in every direction, but the friendship they share is so rooted in love and forgiveness that they are stronger together, combining their strengths and shared experiences.
By changing the character of Robin Hood to a young lady, Cornwell laid a path for the perfect back story to explain the relationship between the sheriff and the bandit. It gave motive for the wealth stolen from the rich and given to the poor, as well as context as to how it could be possible. It also provided a fantastic avenue to reach out to young girls and discuss tough topics - and oh was this book jam packed with tough topics. From opioid use in animals and animal abuse, suicide, bullying, and violence, to sexual consent, birth control, rape, unplanned pregnancy, and a woman's right to choose, even briefly touching on racism, LGBTQ equality, incest, and hunting violence. Though that list sounds like a lot to pack into one book, every topic was addressed within the casual everyday conversation of characters. I felt discussion was, for the most part, unbiased, giving facts rather than trying to influence a decision, and above all, these conversations were rooted in love. Topics are heavy, but told with such kindness and truth, that the love behind these truths was what I walked away remembering, not embarrassment or frustration over a simple discussion. This unbiased, caring style of writing is consistent throughout the book, continuing when describing the consideration, effort, and team work it took to build the tree houses that would provide safety for her forest family, when illustrating the despair felt when enduring starvation, the gratitude at a first kill, and eating meat for the first time in weeks, or when giving image to a dream, terrifying in depiction, but so similar to nightmares we have all endured. Cornwell's depictions of dark and horrific situations are balanced by joy-filled scenes, such as when one of the characters gives birth at the forest camp or succeeding at helping a local farming family.
I can't praise this book enough. I already have a list of female friends I will be sharing this book with, as I think they can identify with pieces of the story and find joy. From suffering and recovering from rape, to learning to survive on your own, to enduring your first heartbreak, I can see the faces of so many of my female friends and students in the life of Sylvie. Sylvie and her friends will provide inspiration for so many young ladies who have suffered similar situations.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

One True Way, written by Shannon Hitchcock, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: Allison Drake, Allie for short, is a new student at Danielle Boone Middle School in 1970s North Carolina. She and her mom have moved to have a new start after her brother was killed in a car accident and her dad left. On her first day at school, Allie meets Samantha (Sam) Johnson and realizes that she's just met the most important person at school. Sam is friends with everyone, plays basketball, and rides horses. And she's nice. But when Sam's mom attempts to get their teacher, Miss Holt, and the basketball coach, Coach Murphy, fired because they're gay, both Allie and Sam realize that they need to figure out what they believe and who they are going to be. Matters become even complicated as Allie and Sam realize that their feelings for each other might be more than just friendly and they have to negotiate their families', their churches', and their community's expectations for them.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Allie and Sam's story is a lovely and realistic first love story. Like many middle grade books, the main characters are dealing with issues of identity, belief, popularity, grief, and problems at home. Hitchcock reveals the feelings that Allie and Sam have for each other gently and gradually, so it's no surprise when they admit that they both have feelings for each other. There are discussions of whether the girls have kissed but Hitchcock doesn't include any physical contact between them beyond them sitting shoulder to shoulder.
Parents like Sam's mom in the book, who believe that homosexuality is an abomination, might object to the content. Any challenges could be easily defended with a selection policy that emphasizes the importance of a collection that provides both windows and mirrors (Sims Bishop) of students' experiences.
Librarians looking only for #ownvoices representations of what it's like to be a gay middle school student may want to look elsewhere, although Hitchcock was intentional in having the books reviewed for authenticity.

Sonia Sotomayor: Be Bold, Baby!, written by Alison Oliver, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: Sonia Sotomayor is another book in the Be Bold, Baby! board book series by Alison Oliver. Fans will notice the continuity in the bold colors of Oliver’s illustrations. It’s a very succinct overview of Sonia Sotomayor’s life designed for the youngest of readers. The book starts by advising readers to “be a good listener.” A quote from Sotomayor states that “Abuelita would close her eyes and recite poems written long ago about the tropical land our family had left behind.” The book goes on to encourage readers to explore, be courageous, be helpful, be vocal, be a mentor, be just, be a good sport and to be an inspiration to others. Each declaration has a corresponding illustration that is a scene from Sotomayor’s life as an example of how she did each of those things. Babies will love the mirror at the end so they can see themselves reflected as part of the story. Older readers will enjoy the more detailed author’s note at the end.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This board book is a perfect fit for the PreK section in a school or public library. If you have others from this series, then this is a necessary addition. This book needs to have an older reader reading this book out loud for the younger reader. The vocabulary is pretty high level and is designed to be discussed with the examples from the illustrations. It sends a positive inspirational message. Each of the women featured would be good role models for growing readers. I think the mirror is a really nice interactive touch that finishes the story. It’s a great example to use to introduce the newest readers to what a biography is.

Hope for Winter: The True Story of a Remarkable Dolphin Friendship, written by David Yates, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This informational picture book is the real story behind the Dolphin Tale2 movie. Winter was the dolphin who received a prosthetic tail. Winter needed companionship and was paired with another dolphin named Panama. Panama was an elderly dolphin that did not have a lot of time left. Another rescue dolphin named Hope was paired with Winter. Hope would not have been able to survive in the wild since she was found injured at a very early age. They both now live at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Straight Talk for Librarians: The story in this picture book is told in such a way that as the facts are presented, it is still suspenseful and readers will keep hoping that things will turn out for Hope and Winter. There are a lot of photographs that help to tell the story. I think this book does a lot to raise awareness about dolphins and about the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the dedicated team of scientists. This book is good for independent reading in informational texts. It is packed full of information and there is some scientific terminology that readers will learn. The book is positive and hopeful, even though the dolphins ended up at the aquarium due to tragic circumstances. It might be a bit of a tear-jerker, but is a must-read for all dolphin lovers.

Free to Fall, written by Lauren Miller, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary: Rory has always been an exceptional student, but she’s never really felt like she fit in with her peers. She is overjoyed when she hears that she has been accepted to Theden Academy, an elite boarding school which she has always dreamed of attending. Perhaps at Theden, she will finally feel accepted. Just before she leaves, her dad reveals that her mother, who died during Rory’s birth, also attended Theden, but dropped out just before graduating. Rory receives a gift, a relic from her mother’s past with a clue hidden inside. At Theden, for the first time in years, Rory hears The Doubt, a rebellious inner voice that most people hear as children, but manage to suppress as they age. The sudden reappearance of the Doubt, the mysterious connection to her mother, a secret society on campus, and several characters whose intentions are unclear leave Rory feeling unstable and keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a page turner filled with nearly constant suspense. It begins very typically, starting with romantic tension with townie, North, and a frenemy roommate, but then verges out into secret societies, spy behavior, and historical connections to power and money that have been hidden for centuries. As Rory’s understanding of her mother’s involvement at Theden grows through carefully crafted clues, the depths of Rory’s connection to a major global conspiracy become clear. Timely topics around the concept of artificial intelligence, vaccinations, and the abuse of technology may provide curricular connections while also ramping up the excitement of the plot. Rory is a fully developed character that readers will root for, though some of her friends and relatives are not as clearly drawn. Nonetheless, the plot of the book is so exciting that even reluctant readers may pick up this novel if they can look beyond the length.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This non-fiction picture book starts with a prologue about Pearl Harbor happening on December 7, 1941. Then the story starts on September 9, 1942, from the perspective of Nobuo Fujita as he was getting ready to drop two bombs on Oregon. He flew an airplane that was catapulted from a Japanese submarine. The idea was to drop a bomb that would cause a devastating fire that would spread to nearby towns. The bomb that detonated caused a small fire that was largely unnoticed. After the war, Fujita returned home to a Tokyo suburb. He never talked about what he did during the war and his family knew nothing of his missions. In 1962, Brookings Oregon was trying to increase its tourism industry. They asked Fujita to come visit as a symbol of reconciliation between individuals and between nations. Some people protested this but eventually accepted the visit. Nobuo Fujita was not sure how the visit would go, but he accepted responsibility for his actions during the war. His guilt was growing over his actions in the war. Fujita was welcomed to Brookings and friendships were created. People realized that our soldiers were doing their job and Fujita was doing his job for his country. Fujita donated thousands of dollars to the town library so that younger generations would read about other cultures and not repeat the mistakes that lead to World War II. A quote from Nobuo at the end of the story states “What a stupid war we made.”

Straight Talk for Librarians: If you go to read this story out loud to a class, practice first. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker and difficult to get through if you don’t practice ahead of time. This is a powerful tale of war and reconciliation told from the perspective of a Japanese soldier fighting the US during World War II. I think it will get students to realize that it was not just the US who suffered loss during the war, but it really affects all sides. I think the story also shows that war takes its mental toll on soldiers they have to deal with it for their rest of their lives. I think that Nobleman portrays Nobuo Fujita as a hero, even though he was our enemy during the war. He accepted responsibility for his actions and tried to make it right through apologizing and educating the younger generation so as not to repeat the mistakes of history -- this is what made him a hero. Fujita worked to promote peace in various ways. It’s a good message to share with all readers. We achieve more through peace than we do through fighting. If you are in an IB School, Fujita embodies many traits of the IB Learner Profile. This can lead to really good discussions in the history classroom. It might inspire some students to write their history internal assessment or extended essay on this lesser-known event from World War II. For older DP students this would be a good story to work into a Theory of Knowledge classroom. It’s a beautiful story that enhances the IB philosophy of global understanding. I also think that Melissa Iwai was the perfect choice to illustrate this book. Her watercolor drawings enhance the tone and emotions of this story. The colors she chose perfectly illustrate the pacific northwest and the peace during a sunrise - even during wartime. The expressions of the characters give so much depth to the text that readers will feel the same emotions. Overall, this book pays tribute to the importance of global understanding.

Bull, written by David Elliott, reviewed by Caroline Rabideau

Summary: Have you heard the Greek take of Asterion the Minotaur, ruler of the stars? Minos seems help from the God, Poseidon. In return, Poseidon asks for the sacrifice of a white bull. Once king, Minos decides he doesn’t need to hold up to his end of the deal, and keeps the bull for his own. Poseidon, as revenge, makes Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, fall in love with the white bull. From this love, she conceives Asterion, half man, half bull. Though he grows up in the castle, loved by his mother, Minos wants to be rid Asterion and is seeking the right opportunity. He enlists a local engineer, Daedalus, to build a maze so challenging that, once Asterion is placed in it, he will never find his way out. When Minos beloved son dies tragically, Minos blames Athens, and tells them they will sacrifice 7 sons and 7 daughters to the crazed minotaur once per year. But when one of those sons volunteers, what will become of Asterion?

Straight Talk for Librarians: I was captivated by this book, from the minute I saw the cover to the very end of the authors notes. I am so blown away at the skill and craft hidden between the pages. For each character in the book, Elliot uses a different type of poem that he felt best fit that character’s personality. His use of alliteration, coupled with words or phrases our students use every day was both fascinating and edgy. The book read at a quick pace, and was gripping from start to finish. Elliot combined just enough crude language and imagery, plus a dose of sexual jokes and innuendos, to give the reader a taboo feeling, like maybe they were too close to these characters, maybe it bordered on too much information. And yet, his writing, style, and language make the story very real, very down to earth and approachable. I think, for any high school teacher who works with Greek literature in their classroom, this would be a great tool! It would be a great opening story to start discussing Greek lit, and would succeed at getting students attention and making them interested to read more. Further, the whole time I was reading this, I wanted to be back in my AP lit class with Mrs. P. She would have made us act this out, and it would have been great. Though Elliot adds passion and emotion to the characters, I often found myself wondering what tone I should be saying sections in. Should I sound angry, jealous, or sympathetic. This would be a great way to begin this conversation with young theatre students. How would they interpret the characters words? How would they add action to the story? Done on a simple stage like a theatre in the round, I think passionate actors could make such an impact using the spirit Elliot has embodied in his characters. Finally, to talk about poetry. Elliot uses less common poetry structures, like ottava rima, and Italian form of poetry, or cywdd, a Welsh form, to lend personality to his characters. This would be a great introduction to discussing forms of poetry, and using structure in student writing to further emphasize the purpose of the work. I will warn teachers, this book is not for the faint of heart. It has many sexual innuendos, and many straight forward details, which even trounce the number of swear words also woven into the text. Though I did think the sexual content might have slightly overpowered the story, I found that it read with the same wit that I find from Shakespeare, just more modernized and much more raw. I often found myself laughing at the situation as if it were comical. There were a number of swear words, but I was so focused on the text, I found they faded away, mixed in with words like “word,” “whatevs,” “pie hole” and “lol.” Then, in true teacher style, Elliot mixes the common slang with words like “odious,” “consonance,” and “asphyxiating,” giving enough detail to understand the meaning of the word, while also giving the book the high-quality, classic feel of a work of art. I would recommend this book to Mrs. P, my high school English teacher, who was fearless in her pursuit of making us love literature. She often gave us scandalous or emotionally-changed works to read, knowing her audience, knowing what caught our attention. This book will captivate your students and could be read completely in one to two class periods. It is slightly uncomfortable and unnerving to read, but I feel there is intention behind that. I’d say, if you’re comfortable with the topics included, go for it.

Check out David Elliott's Pinterest companion page for this book. Click here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, written by Lori Mortensen, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is the second book that features Cowpoke Clyde. This time, he is looking through a “cat-y-log” and thinking about buying a bicycle. Cowpoke Clyde is used to riding horses and can’t imagine a ride that would not eat, stray, buck, bite or neigh. He decides to give it a try and finds that riding a bicycle is not as easy as some might think. It takes time to get used to it and figure out the brakes. A horny toad lizard, hare, porcupine, bighorn sheep almost get run over by the “new-fangled” steed. But after a while, Cowpoke Clyde was “ridin’ like a pro in some two-wheeled rodeo.”

Straight Talk for Librarians: I would say that this book makes for a good read-aloud with all the rhyming text. I am not totally sure how younger readers will react to the old-fashioned expressions and Clyde’s colloquial way of speaking. There was a noticeable lack of necessary twang when I tried to read it out loud in my Michigan accent (dialect?). Somewhat laughable, really. But the book captures what I would imagine a western ranch would look like. The animals fit with what I think lives “out west.” The illustrator did a fantastic job with the facial expressions on Cowpoke Clyde’s face when he was scared or frustrated. The animal expressions are also laugh out loud funny. The story ends with a positive message of not giving up. We face things in life that are new or not always easy and it’s important to stick with it. I think if readers like this book, they will go to the library looking for Cowpoke Clyde and the Dirty Dawg. So be ready!

Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real, written by Marc Tyler Nobleman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This non-fiction picture book by Marc Tyler Nobleman will grab readers’ attention with the beautiful illustrations, by Eliza Wheeler, and the historical photographs used to support the text. This story starts during World War I, when Frances and her mother moved from South Africa to Cottingley, England. Frances was staying with her aunt, uncle and sixteen-year-old cousin, Elsie. The cousins became fast friends and were practically like sisters. During 1917, the girls spent a lot of time by a stream in the woods near Elsie’s home. Frances was mad at the adults in her family because they did not believe in fairies. Elsie convinced her father to let her borrow their new camera to take a picture of the fairies. This was during a time when photography was so new, that most people had never taken a picture or even had a camera. Elsie took one photo and her father developed the photo. The photo was of Frances surrounded by fairies. The girls were adamant that the fairies were real and their parents did not know what to think. Elise took another photo and the adults were beginning to believe that fairies were real. News of the photos spread and were discovered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He published an article in a popular magazine and all of a sudden the whole world was debating the existence of fairies and the authenticity of the photographs. Eventually, the furor died down and the articles were largely forgotten until 1965, when another reporter tracked the women down to ask them again about the fairies. The truth was not revealed until 1983. Elise was 81 and Frances was 75.

Straight Talk for Librarians: What a great purchase for all school libraries! Younger readers will enjoy the non-fiction picture book about the great fairy mystery and older students will get a first-hand look at the research process. This book is such a good example of how history can be fun, exciting and intriguing. It would be an inspirational book to get them started on their own historical research process. I think it would make for a good read-aloud before jumping into an IBDP history internal assessment or extended essay. For younger students, it’s a good lesson on celebrity culture, source analysis and the idea of hoaxes. The author’s note at the back of the book makes for an interesting read. The sources used for this book set a good example for students as it gives insight into how historians and authors do research for books. The beautiful, pastel watercolor illustrations coupled with reproductions of the original Cottingley Fairy photos add so much to the story. Teachers and librarians can use it to teach information literacy and discuss source evaluation, hoaxes, and image manipulation. This is a book that readers of all ages can enjoy and learn from.

The Crossover (Graphic Novel), written by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: This graphic novel version of Alexander's novel in verse includes all of the same text as the original with illustrations added by Dawud Anyabwile. The Crossover follows Josh Bell, also known as Filthy McNasty, as he plays basketball, talks trash, and learns about what it means to be a brother, son, and friend. Like many siblings in middle school Josh and his twin Jordan love each other and are constantly fighting. Girls and basketball start to strain their relationship in new ways. When the boys realize that their former NBA-playing dad isn't as invincible as they thought he was, they have to decide how they're going to handle it.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Alexander's outstanding, visual poetry is brought more vividly to life by Anyabwile's illustrations. Anyabwile restricts his color palette to orange, black, and white, continuing the colors first used on Alexander's novel. The orange brings to mind the color of a basketball and is used largely as background color other than when it's being used for the ball itself. Anyabwile uses a combination of framed and unframed illustrations to help direct the reader's focus. Students who loved the novel will love this graphic version of it. English teachers could easily use the book as a mentor text for student writing, either in its entirety or as individual poems. In addition to having students model their own writing after Alexander's, Anyabwile's illustrations provide inspiration for illustrating text or as mentors for projects in art class. There is so much to unpack throughout both the text and illustrations when it comes to allusion, theme, onomatopoeia, word choice, voice, color palette, and inference.

Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, written by Dav Pilkey, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is book #3 in the Dog Man series and a play on A Tale of Two Cities. Petey the Cat is up to no good once again. He is out of jail and continues plotting his world domination. He has a cloning mishap and creates a totally cute and adorable kitty version of himself. This kitty is super friendly and the opposite of Petey. During this time, Dog Man is involved in an accident with a chain of events that ends with Flippy, the telekinetic and super strong fish, creating an army of demonic Beasty Buildings. George and Harold are “totally mature” at this point, but their dialogue and drawings are similar to their previous work.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is a must purchase for all Dog Man fans. I think overall this series enjoys a wide circulation at all school libraries and you can’t be missing number three from the series. Kids will enjoy the artwork, the dialogue, and the fliporama. The back of this book contains real pictures of readers reading to their dogs. I think that is a great inspiration for all readers to read to their pets. There is a companion website that fans are aware of and enjoy. There is a lot of evidence pointing to reluctant readers becoming enthusiastic readers because of these books. Dav Pilkey has a personal message for readers in the author’s note as he identifies with being labeled a struggling reader. Young readers will learn new vocabulary from the dialogue and will probably recommend this series to their friends.

Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-A-Lot, written by Dav Pilkey, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book is the 12th!!! Captain Underpants book. I think readers who love this series will read and re-read this book until the next one comes out. This book starts with George and Harolds comics and then leads into the first chapter. Readers are reminded that George and Harold have duplicates from the last story. So, it’s George and George and Harold and Harold. The first chapter will immediately hook readers. “Before we get into all of that, I should point out that it’s impolite to use the word heck. These books have been criticized for their inappropriate language, and we’re going to put a stop to that sort of thing once and for all. From now on **, you won’t be reading any more words like heck, or tinkle, or fart, or pee-pee. No, sir! Those words are highly offensive to grouchy old people who have way too much time on their hands. In the interest of pleasing all the grouchy old people (GOP) out there, I have also included topics especially for them. So this adventure will contain references to health care, gardening, Bob Evans Restaurants, hard candies, FOX news, and gentle-yet-effective laxatives.” And the story goes on.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I LOVE this book for the commentary for all the people who have tried to ban Captain Underpants or point it out as “bad” examples of books. It is totally all the grouchy old people. This book has quite a sophisticated vocabulary and really is funny! It’s a bit of an introduction to political commentary that I think readers of all ages will understand. The escapades are still crazy and humorous. A plot between good and evil will have readers clamoring to finish this book. Every library should have these books to hook readers and give all readers a chance to enjoy Dav Pilkey’s work.

Please Say Please!, written by Kyle T Webster, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book will take young readers on a journey of learning how to go from saying “I want!” to “Please.” There is a very demanding little girl at the beginning of the book and a man in an orange tuxedo. The tuxedo man encourages the little girl to say please throughout the pages as she asks for things. The man threatens to walk away when the manners are up to his standard and the girl quickly learns. The girl asks for food, a ball, a kite, a cat, and a giant.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I think this book is deliciously weird. As an adult, that is my best description. There is a giant tiger named Fluffy. The illustrations are bright, bold and really stand out to young readers. Asking for a giant is totally random. This book is a good read-aloud. There is some rhyming and the speech bubbles are a good introduction to future comic book reading. I read it to my 4-year-old and she giggled throughout the story. While a “please” will not get a child EVERYTHING they the end of the story, my daughter knew the main character needed to say please. She was inspired to name her own stuffed tiger Fluffy and gets a kick out of it every time she tells someone its name. It is a good etiquette lesson for PreK readers. It’s funny and readers will enjoy combing over every inch of the page spreads to look for new, fun things they missed the first time around.

Snow Job, written by Charles Beniot, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book starts in 1977. Nick is in his senior high school and he is reevaluating what he
wants in life. He makes a list inspired by a book that he has been rereading. His list is: Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand By and Stand Fast. He feels that throughout the course of high school he sort of settled for the group he hangs out with, the music he has been listening to, his family life and his job. Nick is pretty smart, but he has not put a lot of effort into this future. Nick is tired of spending weekends drinking cheap beer and getting high. His most meaningful relationship is with Karla and they are just friends, but Nick starts to want more. Nick testified as a witness to a crime he saw and put away someone who was older than him, but ran in the same circles and went to the same school. When he was released from prison, he started to pull Nick into the drug world. He also meets Dawn, who reminds him of Joan Jett, and gets involved with drug-running and witnesses physical abuse and prostitution.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I would say this book is definitely a fast-paced psychological thriller. It skirts the edge of mature YA and adult worlds. Nick is definitely not a perfect character. But as a teenager about to graduate from high school, you can see him maturing and really taking to heart his list and trying to become a better person. Who, by the way, is inspired by the main character in a book that he keeps checking out from the library. 💙💗 Nick does not do drugs and does not let himself be cheated. He really has a pretty solid moral compass. The drug-running is a gray area because he is trying to better his life, but desperate times do call for desperate measures. I was too young to remember the 70’s and it’s a time period that does not dominate the YA world, so I think this decade is somewhat refreshing in this book. It gives some insight into when Disco Fever was a thing, eight-tracks were in cars, Pintos and Gremlins were on the road and it was easy to be underage and buy beer at local stores. It seems like a different world without cameras everywhere and cell phones that dictate your social life. I also love the references to Joan Jett and the Ramones. It might inspire a new generation of readers to discover their music. The twist at the ending is huge. I would say that it is consistent with the noir feel and that there is not a “happy” ending, but it is a satisfying ending.

After I finished the book, I really appreciated the book cover. There is a triple meaning (I think.  At least that is what I got out of it). It refers to people getting snowed (conned), white power in a baggie (cocaine) and a lot of the story is set in the winter while it is snowing. It’s really quite clever, but also quite mature. This book is definitely for high school students. It’s a good independent reading choice. It is also perfect for those students who want to know what it was like to grow up in the 1970s.

Interference, written by Kay Homeyman, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This book is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. Kate Hamilton and her family are leaving Washington DC and moving to a small town in Texas. Kate’s father is a politician who is involved in a political scandal. Kate believes she is part of the scandal because of pictures her ex-boyfriend posted of her on the internet. Once they get to Texas, Kate realizes that her dad has plans to start over a bit by winning a small town election. She has to make friends, behave in school, apply to good colleges and keep herself out of trouble so that nothing affects her family’s political ambitions. Kate meets Anna Gomez, who quickly becomes a good friend. Sparks fly between Kate and Hunter, who did not meet under ideal circumstances.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is an ideal read for political junkies. It is less of a romance and more of seeing the inner workings of the political world. Honeyman focuses on the political ambition of Kate’s father and how he has to work the system. But he does honestly want to help his community and the people in it. He went into politics for the right reasons. The story does not revolve around a particular political party. It touches on family values, farm bill arguments, community, crossing party lines and compromise. There is, however, a storyline between Hunter and Kate that readers will enjoy. This book is a great realistic fiction pick for independent reading and possible as extra credit for a government class.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, written by Karina Yan Glaser, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This is book #3 in the the Vanderbeeker series and it does not disappoint! The kids in the
Vandereeker family are growing older and helping out the family in more ways. They range in age from 6-13. The kids are Isa, Jesse, Oliver, Laney and Hyacinth and they are getting pretty good at working together. They have lots of friends, neighbors and business associates. While the story focuses on the children, the backstory to this particular calamity is that their mom used to be an accountant and she was not very happy at her job. Then she started a family and decided to stay at home with her children and pursue her dream of being a baker. She has been baking from home on a small scale, but she wants to expand her business a bit. In order to do so, she needs a permit. When the city inspector comes, he is horrified by the number of animals in their house and fails the inspection because you cannot have animals where you prepare food. This comes at a time when their mom was being recognized for her baking and was going to be featured in a magazine. A photoshoot was supposed to happen at their brownstone house. The kids try to help out by painting the living room, but accidentally do it a bright fuschia. As all this is going on, abandoned animals keep showing up at the Vanderbeekers and that is not good as the kids have set up another inspection to try to get the kitchen to pass this time.

Straight Talk for Librarians: If the summary seemed like a lot, that is because there is a lot going on in this book. There is definitely a sense of urgency in this realistic fiction, middle-grade book.  The story is told in shifting third-person point of view from the children. The characters are getting older and the reader can see it as the story unfolds. I like that the parents are present in the story and that the entire family gets along in the series. They are also very close with their neighbors, creating even more of an extended family. The author really gives readers a sense of living in New York City and readers will love the added maps on the inside of the book so they can trace where the Vanderbeekers go. The family is always busy which I think reflects a lot of readers’ lives. I think it’s also very important that the Vanderbeekers have some financial struggles, which readers might identify with. The kids are aware of this, but they do the best they can. They also realize that they are more fortunate than some and are willing to give what they have to help others. I think the kindness portrayed throughout the series will stay with readers and hopefully encourage them to practice random acts of kindness. This book is a must to continue the series in your library. It’s a great choice for independent reading.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Word Collector, by Peter H Reynolds, reviewed by Terry Wahrman

Summary: Jerome is a word collector. Jerome collects words he hears or sees or reads and puts them in his notebooks. He catalogs his notebooks. One day, while carrying his notebooks, he dropped them and the words flew all around him. They fell in a jumbled up mess. He never considered putting two differently cataloged words next to each other. Once apart and now together, Jerome made beautiful poetry and songs with his words. “The more words he knew the more clearly he could share with the world what he was thinking, feeling, and dreaming”. He was determined to share his words with the world and threw his collection of words off a mountain top where he saw the children below gather them up. This made Jerome immensely happy.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book will make a great addition to any classroom. Where learning vocabulary might be an unwanted activity. I would use the book to coax children into learning new words and invent a project for them to take on and reinvent using their new words. I would use it in high school to remind students to use their extensive vocabulary and create a story with words that encapsulates their true emotions.

Lost in Outer Space, written by Tod Olson, reviewed by Terry Wahrman

Review: The book reads like a Walter Cronkite news broadcast riveting with interchanging chapters from earth side, NASA & Lovell family, to capsule crew, Lovell, Haise, and Swigert. On the 56th hour of Apollo 13s trip, while going through some routine steps, an explosion occurs in the service module in oxygen tank #3. There are three oxygen tanks onboard. There should be plenty of oxygen because one tank is a full backup tank until tank #2 also starts leaking and the batteries of the spacecraft start to drain quickly.

All of earth is watching tv or listening to the radio for reports from NASA or the astronauts. Barbara Lovell is Commander Jim Lovell's 16-year-old daughter. She was around for his other two trips into space and her father has always come back safely. This time she is not sure if he can. TV crews swarm their home and she sequesters herself inside with friends and strangers surrounding her mom and siblings. She escapes often to find solace with her best friend and her parents in their home nearby.

NASA is trying to fix this spacecraft on the fly. The landing module, which was supposed to detach and land on the moon, is where the astronauts have moved into since it is self-sustaining. It is equipped with only 2 days of provisions and smaller tanks of oxygen and fuel. To preserve supplies & resources they shut down systems and ration everything. With no electricity, little food, cramped quarters built for 2 not 3 people, no water (as it is needed for the engines), barely any oxygen or fuel left, and towing a dead ship, we learn how the astronauts make it safely back to earth. Highly recommended for all grades.

Sparrow, written by Sarah Moon, reviewed by Amanda Davies

Summary: The book opens with Sparrow Cooke, the main character, in a hospital room. It's clear from the first page that she's there because the adults all believe that she attempted suicide. Sparrow insists, though, that she wasn't on the roof of the building because she was going to jump. But explaining why she was on the edge is harder to do without people thinking she's crazy. Throughout the story, eighth-grade Sparrow struggles with relating to her mom, being open with her therapist, coping with the loss of an important adult, finding her place as a Black girl, and accepting her mental health challenges. She finds solace in music and the birds with which she feels a special connection but discovers that those two things might not be enough to sustain her.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Because Moon deals with Sparrow's mental health in such a frank and open way, this book has the potential to really resonate with young people who have seen others struggle or are facing their own mental health challenges. It's a book that librarians will want to keep an eye on to ensure that students who read it have a sounding board for their reactions. Moon's emphasis on the power of therapy, the value of sharing your story, and the importance of friendships send all the right messages. While the book deals with difficult content, Moon does it in such a gentle and relatable way that there's no reason a seventh or eighth grader couldn't read this book. I was surprised, though, that there aren't resources included at the back for readers who might need to seek out a mental health professional, either for themselves or someone else. I also appreciated that Moon was intentional about making clear that Sparrow's missing father and her African American race are part of who she is but are not the focus of the story. Sparrow shares early on that her mother used a sperm donor because she wanted a baby but not a husband. "Don't look for some sad tale of the father figure I'm missing or how he left when blah, blah, blah (5)." Similarly, while Sparrow's race becomes and indicator of how she doesn't fit in, the book is not a story only about race and racism. When she's talking to her therapist, she says: "Girls like her don't like me. I read books and don't listen to Nicki Minaj. I'm 'stuck up' (110)." Moon tells a story where the main character is more than just her race or her absent father. If you are looking to add books to your collection that represent #ownvoices, however, Moon is White writing about a Black main character.

Librarians will especially appreciate the role that Mrs. Wexler, Sparrow's school librarian, plays in ensuring that Sparrow has a safe space at school. Sparrow feels seen by Mrs. Wexler in a way that other people, young and old alike, seem to miss. Mrs. Wexler is a testament to the power of the school librarian.

Good Guys 5-Minute Stories, edited by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: There seems to be a short story for every type of personality in a boy in this collection, but the underlying theme is there: boys are awesome! “Space Boy,” “Real Cowboys,” and “Curious George and the Firefighters,” show male readers different careers they may dream of, and all three of them have a heartwarming aspect to them. “Happy Belly, Happy Smile,” tells the story of a boy named Louie visiting his grandfather’s Asian restaurant, and has unique and exquisite artwork. “Mustache Baby,” and “Quiet Wyatt” will make readers laugh out loud. “A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever,” is a great camping tale, and “Kid Amazing vs. the Blob,” and “Brothers,” will connect with readers who have to deal with siblings, younger or older. Finally, “Guyku,” tells the story of a whole year in the form of a haiku. All ten stories are fantastic as individual reads, and a powerhouse as a collection of stories.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is an easy automatic add for all libraries! It has ten stories, all of which are great for storytime on their own, let alone as a collection with different messages for male readers. The illustrations are on point for each of the stories; some are super artsy, most are vibrant in color, and as a whole, represent diversity which is important. An obvious thing to point out is that this will most likely not attract girl readers, but there is a companion book of five-minute stories for girls that could be purchased too. It does a great job of having a story for a variety of interests that boys typically have, and would be fantastic for a variety of lessons.

Grim Lovelies, written by Megan Shepherd, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Full of magic, supernatural creatures, and adventure, “Grim Lovelies” is a fast-paced and exciting read that young adults will gravitate to and love. Anouk is a servant to witch Mada Vitorra, living in Paris, and treated very cruelly. She is one of five beasties, animals turned into witches’ minions by magic, and has never set foot outside of her house. First, one of her beastie siblings Luc disappears, then, she finds her mistress Mada Vitorra in her bedroom murdered, with another beastie brother Beau standing over her who claims he’s innocent. Fleeing together to avoid being wrongfully blamed for the murder, Anouk will go on an epic adventure involving goblins, other witches, royal monarchs, and more. Not only are they avoiding capture, but the beasties must find a trustworthy witch to cast a spell to keep them in their human forms before time runs out. Readers will encounter twists and turns, dark magic, romance, and excitement along the way, and will be captivated by this coming of age story.

Straight Talk for Librarians: It’s delightfully dark, features a variety of characters that all students will find someone to gravitate to, and has a riveting storyline. What’s not to like? “Grim Lovelies” also features a sideline gay character that is appreciated and a transgender character whose background is explained in a phenomenal way- with a child’s fairy tale. It gives great understanding to readers who may not be cognizant of what being transgendered means. This would be a highly popular book for teen readers, and they will most likely want to read the rest of Shepherd’s series (the second book came out in August 2019). It’s a great fantasy choice for library shelves and could be used for a discussion on social classes.

Disenchanted: Trials of Cinderella, written by Megan Morrison, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Return to the land of Tyme to follow the story of Elegant (Ella) Coach as she struggles to find her place in her fancy new school - which she can only attend because her father married a wealthy businesswoman. As Ella struggles to find her place and tries to figure out how to implement reforms in the factories that killed her mother, Prince Dash Charming has to learn how to live now that the Charming curse has been broken. He learns that the people he calls friends are bullies and that perhaps the Kingdom of Blue is not as perfect as he thought. Ella and Dash end up paired together on a business project for school, where they fall in love, uncover a major conspiracy, and begin implementing reforms in factories - all with the help of Serge and Jasper, Ella's fairy godparents.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella by Megan Morrison does an amazing job of highlighting serious issues in a way that is digestible for students. This novel is classified as being for grades 4 to 6, however, there is a decently graphic description of a factory fire where children and workers are locked into rooms (it called to mind images of the Triangle Factory Fire), and I think there would need to be a discussion first, as some students might not be able to handle the imagery, but it is something that I would put into a middle school library. It could be used in a classroom in a lesson about alternating points of view, which this novel does extremely well, or it could be used in a lesson about societal reform. I do agree with the School Library Journal review overall, I just think this book would be more at home in a middle school library than it would be in an elementary school library.

Witch Born, written by Nicholas Bowling, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Alyce Greenliefe suddenly finds her world turned upside down when the Witchfinders come for her mother Ellen, forcing Alyce to hide and then flee to London in search of Doctor Dee, who her mother claimed would help her. Unfortunately, since this is Victorian England, finding Doctor Dee on her own is not as easy as she had hoped, especially with the Witchfinders hunting her down, and she is forced to accept the help of Solomon, an actor who finds her half-dead in the street and helps her to safety. Witch Born follows Alyce's story as she gets to safety and learns some astonishing truths about who she is.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Overall, I think this is a great book. There were just enough twists and turns that I could never quite figure out what exactly was going to happen, but the language used and the plot itself was compelling and propelled me into this alternative version of Victorian England. I have to admit that I was a little bit disappointed by the lack of Alice in Wonderland related items. I picked this book up because of the obvious Alice in Wonderland symbols in the front flap, but other than a few symbols that were clearly strongly influenced by Alice in Wonderland, this book was largely devoid of anything relating to the story of Alice in Wonderland. In addition, I do have to agree with the School Library Journal when they say that those not intimately familiar with the history of Victorian London might miss a few major hints, for example, the fact that Alyce's red hair was meant to point toward Queen Elizabeth being her mother was not something that was easy for me to see until the reveal at the end. I do think that this book could easily be used in a classroom as an example of symbolism and allusions, as well as a look at a different type of historical fiction since this book is an alternative history with fantasy elements. Overall, I did really enjoy reading this book, and it is easy to see after reading it how it could be used in a classroom to discuss literary devices.

Time Shifters, written by Chris Grine, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: Luke and his brother, Kyle, are exploring the woods by their house. There is a watering hole they are heading too, but some bullies show up and push Kyle into the water. Kyle ends up drowning and Luke is left feeling guilty and wracked with grief as he suffers through his loss. One day he hears something in the woods and goes to investigate. He finds a futuristic time travel device and accidentally turns it on as he was trying to get away from the bad guys looking for the same device. The story then turns into a space opera with multiverses, bug-like monsters and a bumbling group of bad guys. Luke’s new friends include a ghost named Artemis; a robot version of Abraham Lincoln; grumpy inventor Doc; and a beaked tyrannosaur named Zinc. Luke wants to get back home and that is his ultimate destination as they embark on their adventure.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This graphic novel is a good choice for upper elementary and middle-grade readers. There is a lot of action and adventure. Time travel always makes for good storytelling. All readers will be able to identify with the elements of family, friendship, and loss. Readers will be rooting for Luke and the rest of the good guys. The line art is clean and the colors of the panels convey the mood of the characters and whether or not the setting is scary. There is slapstick humor throughout the story. If you were to try to retell this story, it would sound a bit crazy and far-fetched, but I think that is the appeal of the book. It’s sure to be popular with readers who like this genre and format. It might even attract some new readers looking for action and adventure. A good choice for a school library.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Even More Lesser Spotted Animals, written by Martin Brown, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Brown is back again with his second installment of animals that are lesser known. Just like his first book “Lesser Spotted Animals,” “Even More Lesser Spotted Animals” showcases a wide range of animal species not well known. The illustrations in the book include the animals themselves, as well as maps where they can be found, funny comics to showcase something about the animal, and occasionally pictures of various species of the animal. This book will be highly requested by readers who not only love reading about animals, but didn’t get enough after reading Brown’s first book in the series. As readers go through the pages, they will be able to familiarize themselves with the various diets, locations, sizes, and particulars about a variety of creatures.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This would be another recommended add for libraries, as it brings life to a whole new world of animal species to young readers. Just like Brown’s first book in the series, the illustrations are whimsical and intriguing, and he does an exceptional job of providing enough information about each animal, while doing it in an easy to understand way. It should be also noted, that Brown takes the time to explain how sometimes the name of an animal can be misleading; for example, the forest musk deer are not truly deer, but closer to the antelope species. “Even Lesser Spotted Animals” would be very useful when teaching about various animal species or various geography regions of the world, as Brown does a great job of showcasing animals located on all of the continents of the world.

Lesser Spotted Animals, written by Martin Brown, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Ever hear of a Ili Pika? A Gaur? How about an Onager? The guess would be that these are new terms to most readers, and these three terms happen to be animals that can be found all over the world. In “Lesser Spotted Animals,” Brown does a fantastic job of showcasing 21 unique organisms, and supplies readers with interesting and important facts about them. Illustrated also by Brown, you get wonderful visuals of what these animals actually look like, as well as other funny cartoons to accompany the information. For each animal, you get a run down of their size, diet, location, fun facts, and how endangered they are. The information is supplemented by humorous quips, and overall, this book is appropriate for all interested readers, young and old.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Animal books are often a hit with students, and this book would especially be in high demand from your collection. Not only does it give a great biography on 21 unique animals around the world, it does so in a comical and interesting way. As an adult, I myself chuckled at Brown’s humorous illustrations and witty descriptions. His illustrations also showcase where the animals live on a world map which is super informative, and his biographies also give students an idea of whether or not each animal is endangered, and why their species may be threatened. Accompanied by a glossary, it holds the perfect balance of information, whimsy, and spectacular writing to captivate readers and be utilized for scientific lessons.

Say Something!, written by Peter H. Reynolds, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: A fantastic read with wonderful illustrations, “Say Something,” sends an important message to children in a variety of ways: that their voice matters. Everyone’s voice is needed in this story, and their voices can be shared in a variety of ways and in a variety of situations. From seeing someone lonely and saying something silently by just being there for them, to feeling angry and being able to say something in a nice way for others to understand, this book covers so many situations, and allows children to understand ways to express themselves in a positive manner. There is such a wide range of emotions and situations that all young readers can find at least one page to identify with, if not more. Gentle also in tone, this book has a great ending for readers to say something...when they are ready.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Buy this book! In a simplistic and fantastic way, this book gives an outlet to every single student who reads it in some shape or form. “Say Something,” has a situation for the quiet student, the sad student, the angry student, the empathetic student, and more. The important message that their feelings and voice matter is crucial, and it allows them to see ways to express that voice in a positive and non-aggressive way. It also has an important section on why it’s essential for them to express what they feel, even if no one is listening at the time, because eventually they will find out that someone, or some people, ARE listening. Each situation has a diverse character, so readers of all backgrounds can find an illustration that represents what they look like, which is important. It also explains that saying something is easier for some more than others, which is what some introverted students need to hear. With great illustrations to boot, this book is a great pick for discussions on bullying, emotions, and confidence.

Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life & Work, written by Victoria Ortiz, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: The Notorious R.B.G. comes to life in this biography, allowing young readers a great glimpse into not only her life, but her accomplishments and struggles throughout her career. Right from the beginning, readers will learn of important court cases that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was involved with as either a lawyer or a judge, and are allowed to find out the outcome of Ruth’s court cases and how they have impacted U.S. law. Intermixed is her life’s story, from a girl who lost her mother at a very young age, then as a young woman who is a brilliant law student. “Dissenter on the Bench,” also shares the love story that Ruth had with her husband of more than fifty years, Marty. It weaves the discrimination Ruth faces herself, as a woman who wants a career during a time period when women were expected to stay home, and again, as a mother of two, who was refused jobs more than once because mothers were considered to be unreliable to hold jobs. Done in a way that is appealing to a younger age group, this book covers R.B.G.’s fascinating life, while offering lessons in discrimination, equality, human rights, and many more important topics.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book gave mixed feelings; on one hand, it does an excellent job of showcasing important court cases that R.B.G. worked on during her lifetime, as either a lawyer or a judge, and what the outcome of those cases were. Readers are able to truly get a full picture of the changes Justice Ginsburg has made during her career to fight discrimintation and improve civil rights. “Dissenter on the Bench,” also does a great job of telling R.B.G.’s life story, from childhood to becoming the second woman justice on the Supreme Court, in a way that is interesting and understandable to young readers. Critically speaking, the book hops around a lot from Ruth’s life to various court cases, and in some areas, were hard to follow. There are also some details that seemed to be too mature for young readers, and could have been left out (for example, a description of a strip search of in the first chapter of a middle school girl whose case made it to the Supreme Court when R.B.G. was a justice). With a little more editing and congruence in the storytelling, this book would have received a perfect recommendation. This is still a title that is recommended for purchase for it’s high value of classroom use, for lessons on human rights, civil rights, discrimination, government, and more.

Uninvited, written by Sophie Jordan, reviewed by Carrie Conner

Summary: Davy is a gorgeous, musical genius about to graduate from high school and go to Julliard when she is diagnosed by the government as positive for “Homicidal Tendency Syndrome” based on genetic testing. Suddenly, her perfect life is in disarray as she is “Uninvited” from her private school and forced into a special program for a handful of HTS+ students in the basement of a public school. Her former friends and eventually her perfect boyfriend reject her as damaged and violent. Among her new classmates, Davy discovers an even more beautiful (and dangerous?) boy named Sean who is already marked with the “H” tattoo of a violent offender. As government internment begins for select members of her kind, Davy must decide who she is and if she really is a killer at heart. Despite an uneven start with a picture-perfect and unrealistic protagonist, the plot deepens as the book introduces competition among the interred students and reveals government conspiracies that introduce the inevitable sequel. Give this book to students who loved Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, but be aware there are suggestions of sexual coercion, attempted rape, and violence.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a recommended or additional title for a high school collection. While some teens will overlook the uneven writing and idealized lifestyle, others may be turned off by how perfect the main character is portrayed at the beginning. This book features a boyfriend pressuring his girlfriend for sex, underage drinking, sexual coercion by a faculty member towards a student, and attempted rape. The new love interest, Sean, also has a protective streak that teen girls could swoon over, but with a level of violence that is disturbing to see touted as “sexy” in this modern era. The themes of internment and genetic screening offer interesting discussion points, but without the depth needed to hit a curricular level. Perhaps the sequel will allow for greater depth as the government’s motivation is left largely unanswered.

Sleepy Bird, written by Jeremy Tankard, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Bird has a major problem: it’s bedtime and he’s not tired! He travels in his hometown seeking out any friend of his who is willing to stay up with him. First he tries fox, but fox wants no part in his shenanigans. Fox even offers to share his blankie with Bird, but Bird is not impressed. When he finds Beaver, he offers to read Bird a story to help him fall asleep, but Bird just wants to play tag. He soon finds that Rabbit, Sheep, and even nocturnal Raccoon aren’t fun either, and just want to sleep! Bird has a tantrum and his friends come to his aid quickly. As they take care of him, Bird FINALLY drifts off to sleep. Stick to the end for one more surprise from Bird.

Straight Talk for Librarians: All parents will want this book to reinforce a very important routine of their day- bedtime. Bird is written as a tantrum-ladden, obnoxious yet lovable character, and it presents well to children reading who don’t want to behave like Bird. This book is also great for librarians and teachers who want to emphasize the importance of kindness. Bird’s friends don’t give in to his peer pressure to stay awake, yet they come to his aid when they hear him cry out. Tankard is also the illustrator, and his vibrant and incredible art will delight readers as well.

Not Even Bones, written by Rebecca Schaeffer, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Dark, gruesome, and enthralling, “Not Even Bones,” tells the story of teenager Nita, who lives in a world of zannies, people with unnatural abilities, and other “monsters.” Many of these creatures have much value in a horrific manner- their body parts are valuable to others. She loves what she does- dissecting bodies for parts to be sold for her mom’s business- but struggles with the ethics of dissecting live bodies. Everything in her world changes when her merciless mother brings home a teenaged boy to be dissected slowly piece by piece, while still being kept alive. Nita’s conscious gets the best of her, and helping the boy escape quickly catapults into Nita being kidnapped herself, and becoming a prisoner on the black market for HER body parts. Nita is special too in that she is able to What ensues is a mission to escape a world even darker than she imagined, while also changing Nita’s own morality during the process.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is dark with a capital D. I still loved it and mature teens will too. It describes violence and removal of body parts in a very graphic and nonchalant way, but even as an adult reader, it made me cringe and look away from the pages. Librarians should know it does contain some mature language and even references purchasing handcuffs from a sex store, but it would be an automatic add to any library that has teens who are sophisticated readers. The ending has quite the cliffhanger, and I was slightly giddy to discover that this is book one in a trilogy, so I can still continue Nita’s intriguing story. The author does a phenomenal job of creating a fascinating storyline with such original characters that it is hard to put down. This novel perhaps could be used for an ethics discussion with students on organs being used from deceased donors, as well as discussions on how difficult and traumatic moments in a person’s life can change their outlook and behaviors.

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle, written by Gabrielle Kent, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: The first chapter in this book will hook readers and they will not be able to put it down until it is finished. Nora Emmett disapproved on many things and she didn’t trust electricity. She has tartan slippers and was very displeased to be woken up at 3am. Then readers are introduced to the main character, Alfie Bloom. He was staring at a strange raven out his school window and then his life changed. Then he inherited Hexbridge Castle. Imagine the fun that can happen exploring hidden rooms and discovering magic? But some unfortunate things happen as well. There is a mean dragon, terrible headmistresses and scary time travel. Readers will be intrigued by the druid, Orin Hopcraft and they will love Alfie’s family.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book is perfect for Harry Potter fans and fantasy gamers. It includes funny dialogue, themes about friendship and family and lots of mysterious magic. I really enjoyed this book and the world building taking place. There is a lot of fast-paced action, mysteries to solve and fantastical magic to learn about. This is the first book in a trilogy and was originally published in England. I love the time traveling to find answers and readers will have a sense of satisfaction when the evil headmistresses are dealt their justice. I like that Alfie started out as just a regular middle school student and then his life drastically changed. I disagree with some of the published reviews that say that this book is formulaic and predictable. If it was, I don’t think I would have been so engaged with it. If you have students who enjoy magic and fantasy, this will be a great pick! I think the world-building was quite detailed and you don’t often find druids in middle-grade fiction. I think the author took her knowledge from gaming and programming and created a book. I would argue that the world-building that goes on in games is very creative and each one is unique in its own way. So is this story. I loved it! This was published in 2015 in England, in the States in 2016 and I wish I would have reviewed it when it was a bit newer. It’s still a great addition to a middle school library. I think some high school students would enjoy it as well. I do like the US cover a bit more. If you buy this book and promote it, I think it will be a hit at your school.