September 24, 2017

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Middle Grade: New Titles from Jason Reynolds, Alan Gratz, Robert Beatty, & More | September 2017 Xpress Reviews

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Beatty, Robert. Serafina and the Splintered Heart. 368p. (Serafina: Bk. 3). Disney-Hyperion. Jul. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484775042.

Gr 5-7 –In this third installment of the series, readers find Serafina and her friends meeting their biggest challenge yet: supernatural powers bent on destroying Biltmore forest and the historic Biltmore home and all its inhabitants. Twelve-year-old Serafina is on her own; the resourceful friends she gained in the first two novels are mysteriously absent. Readers of the previous installments may not be surprised that the narrative revisits the black cloak that “just won’t stay gone,” and they will revel in the cloak’s latest reincarnation. Serafina eventually discovers her best friend, Braeden, and his trusty Doberman, Gidean, in residence at her beloved Biltmore Estate—yet he cannot see or hear Serafina. She also wonders about the odd passage of time since she had previously seen her friends. Serafina does finally learn what mysterious power has prevented her from communicating with her friends, and they once again are able to form an alliance against the evil sorcerer. Beatty does a fairly good job of summarizing previous goings-on, but kids should read the series in order. Along with empowering themes about friendship, choosing right over wrong, and perseverance, Beatty again crafts a dark fantasy with bone-chilling imagery, suspense, and unique supernatural elements. VERDICT This compelling continuation of the intriguing series revisits puzzling themes, multifaceted characters, and nonstop action, all set against the beautiful Biltmore locale in Asheville, NC. Hand this title to fans of Kevin Sand’s The Blackthorn Key, Chris D’Lacey’s “The UNICORNE Files,” or Tony DiTerlizzi’s “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”–Julie Shatterly, W.A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

Gratz, Alan. Ban This Book. 256p. Tor/Starscape. Aug. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780765385567.

Gr 4-6 –Fourth grader Amy Anne is a “good girl” who does what she’s told. She’s used to being overlooked in her noisy family, keeping quiet at school, and not saying what she’s really thinking. But when Amy Anne’s favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, is one of the titles banned from the school library by the overzealous PTA president, she can’t swallow the injustice. When she is too scared to speak up at the school board meeting, she decides she can at least find and read all of the banned books. Soon other students are requesting to borrow them, and before long, Amy Anne; her friend Rebecca, an aspiring lawyer; and Rebecca’s crush, Danny, are running the Banned Books Locker Library out of Amy Anne’s locker. When the underground library is discovered, Amy Anne is suspended, and Dr. Jones, the librarian, is fired. Help comes from an unexpected source: Trey, the PTA president’s son, who suggests a way to show the board what happens when one person’s opinion affects access for everyone. The story of Amy Anne’s personal triumph is also a celebration of literature, free speech, and finding one’s voice. A reading and activity guide is included. VERDICT An excellent addition to all middle grade collections. Hand this to book lovers, aspiring librarians, or any kid who wants to make a difference.–Laurie Slagenwhite Walters, Brighton District Library, Brighton, MI

Mackall, Dandi Daley. Just Sayin’. 192p. Tyndale. Aug. 2017. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9781496423160; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781496423177.

Gr 4-7 –In a world full of impersonal texts and emojis, Cassie Callahan, almost 11, is a throwback, with her reliance on old-fashioned letter writing to convey her words. Cassie’s mom is about to marry Nick and Julie’s dad, Travis, when they suddenly break off the engagement. Cassie is unceremoniously dumped with her grandmother (Gram) while her mom goes to California to “find herself” and Travis leaves in the dead of night with his kids to go back to Chicago. Distraught at her circumstances, Cassie begins a letter-writing campaign to bring her “almost family” back together again. Much to Cassie’s mom’s chagrin, Cassie and Nick are champions at letting insults fly, and their favorite celebrity is self-proclaimed Insult King of the World, Jonathan Kirby. The novel is told entirely in letters, including correspondence among the kids, the Insult King himself, Cassie’s pastor, and the adults, and each voice stands on its own. When a contest is announced for the TV show The Last Insult Standing, the kids plot to get on the program, with hopes of winning the grand prize—a cruise for the whole family. With guidance from her pastor, verbose Cassie learns that words have the power to heal and to hurt. VERDICT Sure to find a wide audience among those who gravitate toward journal or diary styles, this is a heartwarming and wholesome read.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

redstarReynolds, Jason. Patina. 240p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481450188.

Gr 5-8 –Twelve-year-old Patina Jones not only loves to run, she needs to run—and win. She’s a gifted athlete, and since the death of her father and her mother’s life-altering health problems, Patty’s track club has become the focal point of her life. Running helps her to navigate the changes she and her younger sister, Maddy, are experiencing. They have left their urban neighborhood to live in a different part of the city with their uncle Tony (who is black like Patty and Maddy) and their aunt Emily (who is white) and attend a new school, Chester Academy. In this follow-up to Ghost, the award-winning author continues to display his mastery of voice. Patty’s observations about her new classmates are pointed: “a whole bunch of rich girls whose daddies own stuff.” Over time, Patty begins to understand that her success depends on teamwork. Her changing views are sparked by two collaborative projects. One is based on the life of Frida Kahlo. Working with classmates, about whom she had formed erroneous assumptions, gives her opportunities to widen her perspective. The second and more central catalyst is being selected as a member of the 4×800 relay on her elite track team. With the encouragement of her loving family and supportive coaches, Patty ultimately becomes the anchor of her team, both on and off the track. Patty’s story is an invitation to grapple with the need to belong, socioeconomic status, and the dangers of jumping to conclusions. VERDICT This “second leg” of Reynolds’s series is as satisfying as its predecessor and a winning story on its own.–Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

Rios, Diane. Bridge of the Gods. 344p. (Silver Mountain). She Writes. Aug. 2017. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781631522444.

Gr 5-8 –Long ago, the North and South were separated when the Bridge of the Gods was destroyed in a battle between two mountain brothers. While the North retained its magic, the people of the South began focusing on technology and lost their ability to communicate with the forest—except for a select few who are “known” to the animals. The year is now 1908, and 12-year-old Chloe has always felt connected to the animals of the forest. When her father passes away and her mother becomes ill, her greedy uncle kidnaps her and tries to sell her off as a maid. With a bit of luck and the help of her animal friends—Shakespeare the rat and a talking horse—and some kind humans, Chloe tries to understand her connection to animals, solve the mystery of the new hospital where everyone is unconscious, and prevent a war that is brewing between humans and animals. Rios creates a fascinating world that mixes history and fantasy through descriptive language and vivid imagery. Short chapters help move the steadily paced story along. VERDICT Readers will eagerly await the next installment; a solid purchase for libraries with robust fantasy collections.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

Yoder, Eric & Natalie Yoder. One Minute Mysteries/Short Mysteries You Solve With Math!/Misterios de un minuto: ¡Misterios cortos que resuelves con matemáticas! tr. by Yana Alfaro Villalobos. 224p. glossary. index. Science, Naturally! Aug. 2017. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781938492228. BL

Gr 4-6 –This new addition to the “One Minute Mysteries” series encourages readers to use math in a practical way to solve puzzles. The authors take their cue from books such as the “Encyclopedia Brown” mysteries, and the now familiar format has one-page mysteries, with English on the left side of the spread and the Spanish translation on the other. The solutions are provided in both languages on the following spread. Mixing fiction with math, this volume has a lot of things going for it, not the least of which is its usefulness in STEM programs. The tales are brief, will appeal to reluctant readers, and are much more engaging than the traditional story problems found in math textbooks. The authors divide the mysteries into sections—math in the home, outside, at play, and every day. This provides a nice sense of variety while emphasizing how practical and useful math is. This selection demonstrates that math is everywhere, from PE class to a lesson in Greek civilization. The Spanish translation is workmanlike and generally accurate. A bilingual glossary of math terms is included, and the index is also bilingual. VERDICT A strong purchase for most library collections serving elementary-aged children, and one that should be promoted to educators as well.–Tim Wadham, Children’s Literature Consultant, Puyallup, WA

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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