School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Sun, 14 Feb 2016 05:01:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Middle Grade Author Mike Jung on Adolescence, Suburbia, and the Impact of WNDB | Under the Covers Sat, 13 Feb 2016 12:30:34 +0000 Mike Jung, author of Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities (2012) and the upcoming Unidentified Suburban Object (Apr. 2016, both Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks.), is a man of many talents. In addition to working as a library professional, he is a frequent panelist, avid Twitter participant, and spokesperson for We Need Diverse Books. SLJ recently caught up with Jung to chat about surviving those tough middle grade years, writing complex and authentic tween characters, and the impact of the We Need Diverse Books movement.

Identity is such a huge concern to middle grade readers. Who were you when you were this age? (And would you be willing to share a picture?)


A tweenaged Mike Jung. Photo credit Mike Jung.

I entered and left my middle grade years in two very different places, psychologically speaking. Going into my age eight year, I was very much an overachiever in school, the introverted middle kid with two much more gregarious brothers, part of a small circle of friends, and a super-enthusiastic reader. At age nine, my family moved from the Los Angeles area to suburban New Jersey, where I continued to be an academic high-flyer, but also became one of the very, very few kids of Asian descent at my school. I continued to be a pretty omnivorous reader. I once won a year-long reading contest by reading 100 books, which is still one of my most prized accomplishments. A quarter of the way through sixth grade I was moved up to seventh grade, and everything went haywire—my grades plummeted, the amount of bullying I was experiencing went through the roof, and I went into a tailspin that lasted deep into my twenties. I remained an ardent reader, but my need for books rapidly and forcibly changed. Books, which had always seemed essential to my happiness, suddenly felt essential to my survival.


Geeks, Girls, and Secret IdentitiesLibrarians and educators often advocate for the inclusion of more strong, interesting female characters like Polly (from Geeks) and Chloe (from Unidentifed Suburban Object), but they are still somewhat hard to find in middle grade literature. What motivated you to create these female characters?
The quick and easy answer is that I started writing Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities right after our daughter was born, so I was up to my eyeballs in thoughts about what it means to be a girl in our society and curious about who she would be at various stages of her life. My original idea for Geeks was about a girl who discovers that her father is secretly the world’s most powerful superhero (I know, so narcissistic!), then I flipped the relationship so the girl was secretly the superhero, so the relationship between fathers and daughters was embedded into the story from the start.

I eventually created Vincent and took that book in another direction, but when I finally hit on the true plot line and context for USO, I returned to the father-daughter relationship as one of the core relationships in the book.

The other reason I write characters like Polly and Chloe is because I’ve never felt capable of or interested in meeting our society’s often-toxic standards of masculinity—emotional stoicism and an alpha dog demeanor have never been part of my makeup—and so I’ve generally functioned on an emotional level in ways our society codes as exclusively female (to society’s immense detriment, in my opinion). To quote Daniel José Older quoting Junot Díaz, “The one thing about being a dude and writing from a female perspective is that the baseline is, you suck.” However, in order to NOT create girl characters, I’d have to completely ignore reality. Risky or not, including girl characters who are as real and multidimensional as I can make them seems like an absolute no-brainer.


Most middle grade readers like books where “things happen”. USO is more thoughtful and involves fewer chase scenes and explosions than Geeks. What kind of story do you prefer to write?

I love chase scenes, explosions, and other action-oriented sequences, but it’s interesting to realize that my writing is actually moving away from the POW, BOOM, ARGH approach of Geeks. I’m working on what I’m fairly optimistic will become my third book, and it’s straight-up contemporary realistic fiction, with nary an explosion, chase scene, superhero, or giant robot in sight. While I love speculative fiction (and will almost certainly seesaw back in that direction at some point), I am certain that humor and emotional resonance are what I’m most interested in exploring with my work. So I guess the answer is…both?


I really appreciated the fact that both of Chloe’s parents in USO were alive, supportive, and really involved in her life. This is really bucking a trend. Was this a conscious decision? How do you feel about the preponderance of deceased parents in middle grade fiction?

It was definitely a conscious decision, although not necessarily to buck a trend, because I 000USOunderstand that getting the parents out of the way can be necessary in order to give child protagonists sufficient agency (depending on the story, of course), and there’s no more definitive way to do it than to kill the parents off. I don’t have a categorical objection to dead parents in books, but dead parents wouldn’t have worked for this book.

Unidentified Suburban Object actually started out as a very different story—it was a portal fantasy, with an otherworldly, underwater dimension; an ancient order of three-foot-tall warrior clams; a tyrannical group of giant, evil, iridescent, telepathic fish; and a rag-tag group of young, human freedom fighters. There were a lot of chase scenes! But the core idea was always about a 12-year-old child who discovers that her family history is not what she thought it was. Well-meaning, culturally displaced parents who hide the truth remained integral to that core idea, even as I lit everything on fire and started over multiple times. USO is Chloe’s story, but Chloe’s story isn’t even remotely complete without her parents’ story, in both the past and the present.


Vincent Wu’s ethnicity was not as crucial to Geeks as Chloe Cho’s was in USO. Do you think the We Need Diverse Books movement made it easier to address the concept of cultural identity in such a straightforward manner?

Racially, our industry is disproportionately white, so writing about any culture that isn’t rooted in white American culture equates to “writing outside of our cultural identities” for the vast majority of kid lit’s working authors. I could pontificate about the perceived risks of doing that for days, but the most recent numbers from the CCBC’s “Children’s Books By and About People of Color and First/Native Nations” study indicate that while the number of books written by people of color and First/Native nations saw an uptick between 2013 and 2014, the number of books about people of color and First/Native nations saw a significantly bigger uptick during the same period. So there has been an increase in books that directly address cultural identity from POC perspectives, but that increase is largely representative of authors who are white.

I have two other questions that concern me more. First, has the work of We Need Diverse Books made it easier for writers whose identities are not grounded in white American culture to address their own cultural identities in their manuscripts? (Full disclosure: I’m a founding We Need Diverse Books team member, although I’m not speaking as a representative of the organization here.) For me personally, WNDB’s work has been transformative; it’s spurred me to think about my work in a different way, and write about aspects of my personal history that I’ve always shied away from, even though at times it’s intensely, horribly uncomfortable to explore those aspects. However, I also know there’s an abundance of writers from non-majority cultures who have been directly, powerfully, and thoroughly exploring questions of cultural identity in their manuscripts from the get-go, and if asked, I imagine a whole lot of them would say “it’s NEVER been hard to write about my own cultural identity.”

Which brings us to my second question: has it become easier for writers whose identities aren’t grounded in white American culture to get published? Well, that’s a stickier wicket, isn’t it? I’m Korean American, and my forthcoming book is about a Korean American character, so it’s obviously possible to find individual examples that suggest the answer is yes, but the CCBC numbers show that while more authors of color and First/Native nations were published in 2014 than in 2013, in the context of the full study (which examined 3,500 books in 2014), that increase in authorship was statistically miniscule.

It is too early to know what kind of impact We Need Diverse Books has had on publication numbers, because the books that have been acquired by publishers since the organization’s inception are still making their way through the pipeline. 2016 is most likely the first year in which “WNDB-concurrent books” will hit the shelves, and of course there won’t be any way to inarguably quantify the impact WNDB may have had on those books. It’ll still be interesting, though. I’m as curious as anyone else to see what CCBC’s future research will show about the past two years.

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Mind-Opening, Heart-Tugging TED Talks by Kid Lit Authors | Video Spotlight Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:59:24 +0000 TED, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting great ideas in technology, entertainment, and design, has been hosting short, inspiring talks since 1984. Browsing their incredible online archive is a delightful way to spend a free afternoon—and many of their videos (each of them no longer than 18 minutes) are ideal for sharing with kids, teens, parents, and fellow educators. Here are three videos from TEDx conferences (independently organized, local TED events) featuring kid lit authors.

Listen to Mac Barnett describe the intersection between the real and the fictional, why kids are the ideal readers of literary fiction, and why one of his fans leaves voicemail messages for a blue whale.


Linda Sue Park tells a rapt crowd about the real-life inspirations behind her critically acclaimed middle grade novel, A Long Walk to Water, and how reading builds empathy that provokes engagement.


If you still have a few tissues in the box left over, watch Jarrett Krosoczka talk about his childhood, family, and how a school visit from Jack Gantos changed his life forever.

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Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow | SLJ Review Fri, 12 Feb 2016 15:00:06 +0000 Jarrow, Gail. Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. 196p. (Deadly Disease). bibliog. chart. chron. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781620917381; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781629795621.

Gr 5 Up –With a mesmerizing description of the suffering endured by bubonic plague victims, followed by several fascinatingly gruesome photographs depicting visible signs of the disease, Jarrow hooks readers from the start. This final installment of the author’s “Deadly Disease” [...]]]> redstarJarrow, Gail. Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America. 196p. (Deadly Disease). bibliog. chart. chron. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek. Apr. 2016. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781620917381; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781629795621.Jarrow, Gail. Bubonic Panic When Plague Invaded America

Gr 5 Up –With a mesmerizing description of the suffering endured by bubonic plague victims, followed by several fascinatingly gruesome photographs depicting visible signs of the disease, Jarrow hooks readers from the start. This final installment of the author’s “Deadly Disease” trilogy is as compelling as the first two titles, Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat (2014) and Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary (2015, both Boyds Mills). Before describing the chaos the plague wrought on American shores, Jarrow recounts major plague outbreaks throughout history as well as early bacteriological advances, such as the identification by French scientist Alexandre Yersin of the microbe responsible for the bubonic plague. The plague arrived in the port city of San Francisco in 1900 and claimed its first victim in Chinatown, a neighborhood near the wharves. Chinatown was quickly quarantined by the Board of Health, but with California Governor Henry T. Gage denying the existence of plague and Chinese officials bucking against perceived discrimination, tensions rose and containment efforts failed. Eventually Rupert Blue of the Marine-Hospital Service was brought in by the surgeon general to control the outbreak. When the plague returned to San Francisco in 1907 after the devastating earthquake of 1906, Blue came back. By this time scientists had determined that the fleas on rats were responsible for transmitting the plague, and the city mobilized to curtail the rat population, successfully containing the outbreak in a matter of months. Weaving in numerous photographs and newspaper clippings, Jarrow tells an absorbing story. VERDICT Nonfiction that reads like a thriller—not to be missed.–Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, NY

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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The Pirate Pig and Ruffleclaw by Cornelia Funke | SLJ Audio Review Fri, 12 Feb 2016 14:00:38 +0000 FUNKE, Cornelia. The Pirate Pig and Ruffleclaw. 2 CDs. 2:07 hrs. Listening Library. 2015. $22. ISBN 9780553395426. digital download. 

Gr 3-6 –The pirate pig Julie sniffs out treasure the way other pigs sniff out truffles. Stout Sam and Pip find her washed up in a barrel on a beach, and when they let children play with some of the treasure they find, greedy pirate Barracuda Bill finds out and steals Julie for his own nefarious purposes. Will [...]]]> redstarFUNKE, Cornelia. The Pirate Pig and Ruffleclaw. 2 CDs. 2:07 hrs. Listening Library. 2015. $22. ISBN 9780553395426. digital download. FUNKE, Cornelia. The Pirate Pig and Ruffleclaw

Gr 3-6 –The pirate pig Julie sniffs out treasure the way other pigs sniff out truffles. Stout Sam and Pip find her washed up in a barrel on a beach, and when they let children play with some of the treasure they find, greedy pirate Barracuda Bill finds out and steals Julie for his own nefarious purposes. Will Sam and Pip be able to steal her back? In the second story, Ruffleclaw is a four-armed earth monster who lives in his burrow under the tool shed. He makes occasional nighttime visits to Tommy’s house and decides to move in with the family when he falls in love with the creepy piano music played by Tommy’s mother, food from their refrigerator, and shampoo to drink. Tommy must convince his mother and then his father that Ruffleclaw and his messes will be a good addition to the family. The author herself narrates, and her portrayal of Ruffleclaw is nothing short of fabulous, growling, and with a slight German accent. VERDICT Two delightful tales for children and their parents looking for unusual and humorous animal and monster fantasies.–Ann ­Brownson, Eastern Illinois University

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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The Real Deal: Three New Realistic Middle Grade Novels Fri, 12 Feb 2016 12:00:29 +0000 In a sea of books about magical tweens fighting against the forces of evil, sweet tales of anthropomorphized woodland creatures, and contemplative stories about kids who lived long, long ago, it’s refreshing to find middle grade fiction that tackles the pathos and humor of the here-and-now. In three new realistic fiction books reviewed in the February issue of SLJ, characters grapple with family drama, find strength through friendship, and discover their place in the world.

Bauer, Joan. Soar. 304p. Viking. Mar. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780451470348.000Soar

Gr 4-6 –Sports, friendship, tragedy, and a love connection are all wrapped up in one heartwarming, page-turning story. Jeremiah lives and breathes baseball and wants nothing more than to be a professional player, but when he learns that he suffers from a severe heart condition, his dreams are put on hold. Soon after he and his single father move to a town that is something of a baseball capital, the entire community is shaken by the death of a beloved school baseball player—and a town scandal that is revealed in the aftermath. Jeremiah finds himself coaching and bringing baseball back to the local middle school and ends up motivating the entire town. When he and his father are faced with having to leave their new town behind, Jeremiah has to deal with the possibility of also leaving his heart in the very place that helped to make it stronger. This coming-of-age tale features a boy who is courageous and witty; readers—baseball fans or otherwise—will cheer on Jeremiah and this team. VERDICT The latest middle grade novel from this award-winning author is triumphant and moving.–Nikitia Wilson, Convent of the Sacred Heart School Library, New York City

Conklin, Melanie. Counting Thyme. 320p. Putnam. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399173301.000Counting Thyme

Gr 4-7 –When her five-year-old brother Val begins a clinical trial for cancer treatment at New York’s Sloane Kettering Hospital, 11-year-old Thyme and her family leave their beloved San Diego home to move to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Thyme embraces her role as the helpful middle sister, secretly saving slips of “time”—good behavior chits—so she can go home, all the while trying to avoid adjusting to New York or letting anyone at school know about Val’s illness. With just the right pace of character development and a believable voice for the shy, awkward Thyme, Conklin takes her protagonist through a journey of connecting to others and learning to articulate her own needs. A constant but quiet tension runs throughout, both concerning Val’s health and Thyme’s emotional growth; readers continuously watch Thyme’s reactions as other characters—including a cute boy who seems to understand about secrets—reach out to her. Sadness and hope are well balanced, and the family characters and interactions are tense but full of love. Most experienced readers will recognize several overused plot points (e.g., young girl befriends lonely, grumpy, elderly neighbor; immigrant housekeeper lends strength through her cooking) and wonder at this upper middle class white girl’s lack of awareness or curiosity about her cultural and socioeconomic place in her new home. VERDICT A slow and sweet book that will strum the heartstrings of readers in much the same ways as Jo Knowles’s See You at Harry’s (Candlewick, 2012), Wendy Mass’s A Mango-Shaped Space (Little, Brown, 2003), or Katherine Hannigan’s Ida B: … And Her Plans to Maximize Fun, Avoid Disaster, and (Possibly) Save the World (Scholastic, 2004).–Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

Steveson, Nanci Turner. Swing Sideways. 288p. HarperCollins/Harper. May 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062374547.000Swing Sideways

Gr 4-6 –Complicated family problems become more manageable when shared between friends. Every word, every gesture, every disagreement registers on the internal Richter scale as two friends negotiate the highs and lows of true friendship. Annabel and California forge a deep bond. Annabel, the tween from the city, and California, who arrives from a rural environment, find each other at the perfect time. Plenty of problems accompany each girl—illness, panic attacks, a hovering mother, an estranged family, and more—but all of these conditions pale beside their love for each other. They idle away the hours during a long summer on an idyllic farm complete with fields of corn, trees to climb, lakes for swimming, and endless time to talk, plan, and try to resolve issues. California is sure her mother and grandfather can become reconciled if only she can find the two missing ponies her mother once rode. Annabel, meanwhile, struggles to overcome her panic attacks and learn to eat normally again—if only she can maintain distance and independence from her helicopter mother. Together, the girls uncover dark family secrets and learn to be brave under pressure. This is a summer neither Annabel nor readers will ever forget. VERDICT A strong addition to most middle grade collections; recommend to those who enjoy a good cry.–Lillian Hecker, Town of Pelham Public Library, NY

These reviews were published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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iPads Reimagine Art Class Thu, 11 Feb 2016 22:17:19 +0000 happy students!

For nearly 17 years, I’ve been trying to find ways to integrate technology into my K–5 art room. It proved to be cumbersome, as my students lugged out laptops to navigate complicated software while attempting to draw with a USB-connected tablet. By the time they plugged in, booted up, and opened the application, 10 minutes of our 45-minute class were gone. Often the technology consumed our attention, sidelining the artistic thought process.

iPads to the rescue

Everything changed with the introduction of iPads. The touch screen eliminated the need for a time-sucking graphic tablet. Where the stylus or finger touches the surface is where the mark is made. What a game-changer!

Simple yet powerful creation apps could then open up the curriculum to advanced concepts, such as working with layers, transparency, image manipulation, and animation. I realized my students needed access to iPads. So I wrote grants, entered contests, and rallied community fund-raising until I was able to purchase a class set.

Here are three of my most successful iPad-centric projects, all using the Do Ink animation App, yet each one digitally extends learning in different ways.

Understanding the vanishing point…with Godzilla!

If students create a one-point perspective city scene with converging lines to the vanishing point, then why not extend the lesson with a visit from Godzilla? Students can draw a simple flip-book–style animation of a Godzilla-esque creature that is made to travel over their art while changing in size from the foreground to the vanishing point. This would not only create a natural tie-in to their cityscape but give them an opportunity to use dynamic media to demonstrate how size changes as an object travels towards the background (extending the learning) while also exploring animation tools (expanding the curriculum).


godzilla 1 pt perspective animationThe Do Ink app has two modes, drawing and composition. The flip-book–style animation of Godzilla was drawn with only two frames in the drawing mode. I drew the initial image with black line, being careful to always create closed shapes. Then I filled those shapes with color, using the pour bucket, and I clicked  +  to add a new frame. The default setting in the app reveals an “onion skin” of the previous frame, so you can easily see how to make your next drawing similar yet slightly different to show movement. The play button gives you a quick preview of how the animation will move.

The composition mode is where you organize your layers, set your timings, choose your animation path, and adjust for size difference from foreground to background.

Once your students have demonstrated their understanding of how size changes in relation to depth on a picture plane, they may be ready to apply that knowledge to the world around them. Try challenging them to take a photo with the iPad that shows one-point perspective. Then ask them to animate their Godzilla through their image, to discover how size changes from near to far.

Tackling transparency…with ghosts!

The Do Ink app allows any object that moves across the animation stage to have its transparency adjusted. I could make an object invisible then gradually become fully opaque, or I could set it to any percentage of transparency for its entire duration on screen.

The implications of this were obvious for our second-grade spooky landscape project. I challenged my students to create a ghost in the foreground, a haunted house in the middle, and a night sky in the background. They were tasked with creating a sense of depth with overlapping and relative size.


spooky landscapeStudents took a digital picture of their landscape for the bottom layer of the animation, drew a two-frame flip-book–styled ghost in the drawing mode, and moved it across the artwork with a semitransparent setting in the composition mode.

My students saw their partially see-through ghost fly in the foreground over their paintings, which helped them to understand the concept of transparency in a memorable and exciting way. Their work was submitted digitally and compiled into a spooky class movie, set to music they composed using the NodeBeat app. The success of this lesson taught me that it is no longer too hard for even my youngest students to animate.

Grasping animation…with aliens!

I chose to teach figure drawing to my third graders through animation. It allows for more than just implied movement in a static 2-D drawing but convincing motion through a series of  drawings. Since I wanted the kids to be able to get creative, I suggested that the figures be aliens. That would let them use imaginary proportions, colors, and features.


Klaudia with alienThe class drew their alien four times in the Do Ink app drawing mode to show the four stages of running from a handout I created. The onion skin feature helped them see the changes they were making from pose to pose. Once the series of alien drawings was complete, kids could preview the finished product to see if it looked the way they wanted. If not, they could easily go back into any frame to edit their work.

Students then opened a new composition in the same app and imported their alien animation. They moved it from off screen on the left to off screen on the right for a two–three seconds running animation.


To extend this lesson, in similar fashion to the ghost exercise, students took a photo of a space in the room and made their alien run across it. These little clips were exported to video, uploaded to Dropbox, then grouped together into a class movie, “Alien Invasion of the Art Room.”

I am only in the beginning stages of using animation in my art room to extend learning digitally and to expand my curriculum. I have more ideas than time! Some of them will incorporate storytelling, literacy, optical illusions, metamorphosis, stop-motion animation, and rotoscoping.

For even more inspiration, view more than 150 STEAM art lessons with links, tutorials, and examples.


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Author Megan McDonald Named 2016 Spokesperson for National School Library Month Thu, 11 Feb 2016 22:03:10 +0000 School Library Month, the American Association of School Librarians’ celebration of school librarians and their programs, is coming up. Every April, school librarians are encouraged to host activities to help their school and local community celebrate the essential role that strong school library programs play in transforming learning.


Megan McDonald, author of the classic “Judy Moody’ series, the “Stink” books, and the “Sisters Club” trilogy, will be the national spokesperson for this year’s celebration.

In accepting the honor, McDonald said, “Before I was a writer, I was a reader, thanks to my school librarian. She saw something in me, and put the Little House books in my hand. She first introduced me to Ramona and Charlotte the Spider and Homer Price and Caddie Woodlawn. And she let me check out a biography of Virginia Dare so many times (I got to stamp the due date myself!), that she finally had to ask me to share with other readers. School librarians shape lives.”

Read more about the history of School Library Month at

The full press release is below.

SOMERVILLE, MA – Megan McDonald, author of the beloved Judy Moody and Stink books published by Candlewick Press, will serve as the national spokesperson for the 2016 observance of School Library Month (SLM). Celebrated in April and sponsored by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), School Library Month honors the essential role that strong school library programs play in a student’s educational career.

“I would not be who I am without the early impact of my school library and librarian,” said McDonald. “I grew up to become a librarian. I grew up to become a storyteller. I grew up to become a writer. School librarians not only foster a lifelong love of reading and story, they encourage thinking and creativity. They support curious minds. They inspire young imaginations. School librarians shape lives.”

AASL President Leslie Preddy shared her thanks to McDonald, saying, “It is an honor to have author Megan McDonald, author of the beloved and iconic Judy Moody, be the national spokesperson for School Library Month and share with the world the formative impact of libraries on her life and career. Join me in recognizing her contributions to young people’s love of reading and thanking her as we celebrate the School Library Month throughout the country.”

McDonald began her career as a children’s librarian at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. During one story hour, McDonald read her own story about a hermit crab. After the program, parents asked her where to find the book. She had to confess; the book wasn’t published – yet. Encouraged by the parents’ and children’s feedback, her story became her first book, “Is This a House for Hermit Crab?” The book won numerous awards, including being named a Children’s Choice Book by the International Reading Association and Children’s Book Council. It was also a Reading Rainbow book selection for an episode of the same name and was read by Eartha Kitt.

With “Is This a House for Hermit Crab?,” McDonald launched a writing career which, to date, includes sixty books for children and young readers, including the popular Judy Moody series. The series shares the adventures of the feisty (and moody) 3rd grader and has won many awards including the Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year,  an International Reading Association Children’s Choice and the first-ever Beverly Cleary Children’s Choice Award. The series is so popular, McDonald’s hometown of Sebastopol, Calif., declared May 14, 2006, as “Judy Moody Day.”  Enthusiastic fan requests also led McDonald to write the Stink books, a spin-off series featuring Judy Moody’s little brother Stink.

“Before I was a writer,” explains McDonald, “I was a reader, thanks to my school librarian. She saw something in me, and put the Little House books in my hand. She first introduced me to Ramona and Charlotte the Spider and Homer Price and Caddie Woodlawn. And she let me check out a biography of Virginia Dare so many times, (I got to stamp the due date myself!), that she finally had to ask me to share with other readers.”

More information and resources, including an upcoming PSA featuring McDonald, can be found on the AASL website at Information about her books is available at:

The American Association of School Librarians,, a division of the American Library Association (ALA), empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning.

About Candlewick Press:

Candlewick Press is an employee-owned publisher based in Somerville, Massachusetts, and is one of the world’s largest fully independent children’s book publishing companies. For over 20 years, Candlewick has published outstanding children’s books for readers of all ages, including books by award-winning authors and illustrators such as Kate DiCamillo, M. T. Anderson, Jon Klassen, and Laura Amy Schlitz; the widely acclaimed Judy Moody, Mercy Watson, and ’Ology series; and favorites such as Guess How Much I Love You, Where’s Waldo?, and Maisy. Candlewick is part of the vibrant Walker Books Group, together with Walker Books UK in London and Walker Books Australia, based in Sydney and Auckland. Visit Candlewick online at



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Threatened: The Controversial Struggle of the Southern Sea Otter | SLJ DVD Review Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:00:53 +0000 Threatened: The Controversial Struggle of the Southern Sea Otter. 41 min. Dist. by the Video Project. 2013 released in 2015. Price $59. ISBN unavail.

Gr 7 Up –This insightful documentary provides information on the history of the southern sea otter’s journey back from the brink of extinction and presents both sides of the repercussions of the restoration of a protected sea otter zone. Environmentalists and their supporters argue that the otters have existed for thousands of years, are a [...]]]> redstarThreatened: The Controversial Struggle of the Southern Sea Otter. 41 min. Dist. by the Video Project. 2013 released in 2015. Price $59. ISBN unavail.Threatened The Controversial Struggle of the Southern Sea Otter

Gr 7 Up –This insightful documentary provides information on the history of the southern sea otter’s journey back from the brink of extinction and presents both sides of the repercussions of the restoration of a protected sea otter zone. Environmentalists and their supporters argue that the otters have existed for thousands of years, are a keystone species in the ecosystem, and will bring in tourist dollars. However, fishermen complain that the mammals are interfering with their livelihood, that they should inhabit controlled and limited areas, and that they adversely impact the commercial shellfish industry. A discussion of the various human-generated perils to the otters (a deadly illness caused by water pollution) details the plight to the animals’ population and dovetails with the stresses other wildlife in the region face. Beautiful footage of the coastal region of Southern California and the marine environment—and the otters in it—complement the balanced presentation of information. Pair with the briefer No Otter Zone (2013, the Video Project) to examine the breadth and depth of the research and actions taken on behalf of these charismatic creatures. VERDICT An excellent film for environmental science, ecology, and marine biology classes.–Cynthia Ortiz, Hackensack High School, NJ

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff | SLJ Review Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:00:22 +0000 Cliff, Tony. Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling. illus. by Tony Cliff. 272p. ebook available. First Second. Mar. 2016. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781626721555.

Gr 6 Up –Delilah Dirk has a chip on her shoulder. Of late, she lashes out at anyone who wounds her pride or name, even when the danger is great. As in Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (First Second, 2012), her faithful friend Selim acts as the voice of reason, but stopping [...]]]> redstarCliff, Tony. Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling. illus. by Tony Cliff. 272p. ebook available. First Second. Mar. 2016. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781626721555.Cliff, Tony. Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling

Gr 6 Up –Delilah Dirk has a chip on her shoulder. Of late, she lashes out at anyone who wounds her pride or name, even when the danger is great. As in Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (First Second, 2012), her faithful friend Selim acts as the voice of reason, but stopping a resolute Delilah proves to be nearly impossible. So when a traitorous British soldier threatens her good reputation, she pursues him, bent on his downfall. England does not welcome her back, and with redcoats chasing her, she reluctantly takes refuge with her privileged family. This position gives her an advantage, but her headstrong attitude jeopardizes all: her chance at success, survival, and her bonds. Frustration and tension have a bigger presence than humor in this volume, but we get more character and relationship development because of this. Colors are key to setting the tone; when this duo arrive in England, the hues take on an overcast brown to match how stifled Delilah feels. Fortunately, heart-pounding action sequences chase such clouds away every time. VERDICT Another whirlwind adventure that builds upon Cliff’s unifying factor—true friendship.–Rachel Forbes, formerly of Oakville Public Library, Ontario, Canada

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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Hitting Shelves Now: 22 Great Middle Grade Titles Publishing This Month Thu, 11 Feb 2016 13:25:06 +0000 Most middle grade titles covered in the pages of SLJ are reviewed pre-publication—often several months before they actually hit shelves. To make sure you don’t miss out on ordering, highlighting, or displaying great titles just published or coming out soon, here’s a list of fine middle grade offerings out this month.


redstarBUSBY, Cylin. The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs. illus. by Gerald Kelley. 272p. ebook available. Knopf. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553511239; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553511246.The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby

Gr 4-6 –Though cat-o’-sea Master Jacob Tibbs’s mother famously possesses a preternatural gift for predicting bad weather, Jacob is the runt of the litter, with four white paws to boot: a traditional sign of poor rat-catching abilities. When avaricious baddie and shipmate Archer decides to make sure Jacob and his mother are shut out of their voyage, he sets a chain of events in motion that shake the foundations of Jacob’s world. Busby deftly blends nautical verisimilitude and 19th-century historical detail with an engaging young feline narrator, creating a coming-of-age adventure story with much to offer a range of readers. The relationship between Jacob and his mother packs genuine emotional punch, and the story brims with swashbuckling maritime adventures. The resolution might not bear close examination, but readers will be too invested in the characters to be too terribly concerned. A discussion of the profit-driven sailing industry even allows for a brief exploration of the English slave trade. Emotional resonance and chockablock seafaring adventures combined with coming-of-age themes takes this over the top.VERDICT An outstanding choice for fans of middle grade nautical adventure and animal narrator novels, especially cat fans, with appeal beyond genre readers. Highly recommended.–Ted McCoy, Springfield City Library, MA


redstarPENNYPACKER, Sara. Pax. illus. by Jon Klassen. 304p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2016. Tr $16399. ISBN 9780062377012.pax

Gr 4-7 –A viscerally affecting story of war, loss, and the power of friendship. Pennypacker, author of the exuberant “Clementine” series (Disney-Hyperion) and the charmingly morbid Summer of the Gypsy Moths (HarperCollins, 2012), here displays not only her formidable writing skills and a willingness to stretch her storytelling into increasingly complex narrative forms but also her ability to tackle dark and weighty themes with sensitivity and respect for the child reader. Set in an intentionally undefined time and place that could very well be a near-future America, the novel opens with a heartbreaking scene of a tame red fox, Pax, being abandoned at the side of the road by his beloved boy, Peter. Perspectives alternate between the boy and the fox, and readers learn that a terrible war rages in this land. Peter’s father is about to leave for the frontlines, and while he’s away, Peter must live with his grandfather out in the country—and his father makes it clear that there is no place for Pax in Peter’s temporary home. Almost as soon as he arrives at his grandfather’s, Peter is overcome with guilt, and he sets off under the cover of darkness to trek the 300 miles back to his home, where he prays he’ll find Pax. The loyal fox, meanwhile, must figure out how to survive in the wild—though never losing hope that his boy will return for him. As the protagonists struggle to reunite in a world in the grip of violence and destruction, they each find helpers who assist them on their respective journeys: Peter breaks his foot and is rehabilitated by Vola, a hermit suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, while Pax is taken in by a leash of foxes who teach him the basics of foraging and hunting. Pennypacker doesn’t shy away from some of the more realistic aspects of war, though she keeps most of the violence slightly off-screen: in one scene, the wild foxes define war for the naive Pax as a “human sickness” that causes them to turn on their own kind, akin to rabies; later, as the battle creeps closer, several creatures are maimed and killed by land mines. Black-and-white drawings by Klassen offer a respite for readers, while adding to the haunting atmosphere.With spare, lyrical prose, Pennypacker manages to infuse this tearjerker with a tender hope, showing that peace and love can require just as much sacrifice as war. VERDICT A startling work of fiction that should be read—and discussed—by children and adults alike.–Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal

And check out our interview with Sara Pennypacker.


redstarMASCHARI, Jennifer. The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price. 304p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062380104. The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari

Gr 4-6 –Charlie Price loves math. It’s something he can count on, especially when he desperately needs to be able to count on something. Charlie’s mother died, and his best friend disappeared the same year. Just as he’s starting to put his life back together, the impossible happens. His sister Imogen finds a mysterious door under her bed and discovers a parallel world where their mother is alive. Initially Charlie is as elated as his sister about the opportunity to reconnect with his mother, but his logical mind quickly deduces that something is amiss in the parallel world. Each experience that he and Imogen have with their mother erases their memories of doing the same thing with her when she was alive. Realizing that the parallel mother is only a creature imitating her and feeding on memories, Charlie solicits the help of a friend to rescue Imogen before all of her memories are stolen. This book straddles multiple genres; the world that Charlie and his grieving family inhabit is heartbreakingly realistic, full of pain and anger as the family tries to reconstruct their lives. The parallel world is reminiscent of the “other” world in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, initially enticing and refreshingly absent of real-world problems but ultimately dangerous. Because Charlie can move between the two worlds, readers spend equal time in them, and it broadens the appeal of the book. Maschari’s writing, particularly in the realistic sections, will make readers pause. Beautifully crafted sentences read almost as if they were poetry. Maschari also excels at character development; Charlie’s anger, pain, and love make him an entirely believable character, and the evolution of the “mother” in the parallel world is frightening. Tough issues are tackled, and sensitive readers may want to read and process the book with a grown-up. Happily, adults will enjoy the story as much as middle graders. VERDICT Fans of both fantasy and realistic fiction will appreciate this painful but ultimately triumphant, multilayered novel.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR


ALLEN, Elise & Daryle Conners. Gabby Duran: Troll Control. 240p. (Gabby Duran). ebook available. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781484709368. 000Gabby Duran
Gr 4-6–Gabby Duran, alien babysitter, confronts a new challenge in this latest installment in the series. She faces off with a family of trolls who like to steal things just for fun. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when Gabby’s knapsack is stolen by her charge. The protagonist’s efforts to get it back lead her to break some rules that endanger her new position and even her memories. And her nemesis Madison makes things worse by threatening to destroy her reputation if Gabby doesn’t help her with the orchestra fund-raiser. The fun details about all the objects the trolls have stolen (including Amelia Earhart’s plane) and the fun games that Gabby plays with Trymmy add a creative touch to the story. VERDICT Imaginative details and an action-packed plot make this a fun read for sci-fi loving young readers.–Heidi Grange, Summit Elementary School, Smithfield, UT


BANKS, Angelica. A Week Without Tuesday. illus. by Stevie Lewis. 384p. Holt. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781627791557. A Week Without Tuesday
Gr 4-6–In this fantastical sequel to Finding Serendipity (Holt, 2015), Tuesday and her dog, Baxterr, are beckoned back to the land where all stories are created. Her mother’s famous character, Vivienne Small, is in need of immediate help for her troubled world. Things are going horribly wrong: mountains have grown so much that they pierce the sky, and strange, terrorizing birds known as vercaka arrive from another world. Vivienne shares a possible clue to the mystery from a note tucked into the collar of a dying winged dog: “I cannot hold the worlds apart much longer. Have you found our answer?” Tuesday delivers this note to the Librarian in charge of all books and is informed that the fictional worlds are colliding and out of control. Tuesday, with the assistance of Vivienne and Baxterr, is commissioned to find and help the Gardener, the man in charge of keeping the story worlds apart. On the way, they are attacked by the murderous vercaka, witness oceans from another world pouring into theirs, and see the sky cave in like the bottom of a fishbowl. When Tuesday finally discovers the Gardener, she finds he is old and losing his memory. She must step in and take his place, never to return home to her world again. Banks’s wondrously whimsical language helps transport readers into this imaginative world. The complex landscape may demand extra concentration, but those who follow closely won’t want to come back to our mundane universe. Budding writers might be particularly interested in this tale. The illustrations enliven and clarify this magical story. VERDICT Creative young authors as well as fantasy lovers will enjoy this inventive book.–Diane McCabe, John Muir Elementary, Santa Monica, CA


BOSCH, Pseudonymous. Bad Luck. illus. by Juan C. Moreno. 384p. (The Bad Books: Bk. 2). Little, Brown. Feb. 2016. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316320429; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316320436.000Bad Luck
Gr 4-6–This second installment in the series picks up just about where Bad Magic (Little, Brown, 2014) left off: with sixth-grader Clay at Earth Ranch, an island camp for delinquent youth that is really a camp for kids with magical talents. This time around, readers also meet Brett, the precocious son of a billionaire–cum–cruise ship owner—and Brett has just discovered that his father may be in the midst of some dastardly scheme. Brett ends up washed ashore on the island housing Earth Ranch, and almost as soon as Clay finds and helps him, strange—well, stranger—things start to happen on the island. This second volume has plenty of Bosch’s signature cheekiness and footnotes, and it’s chock-full of intrigue, danger, secret missions, betrayal, a magical library within a library, and a creature straight from legend. Longtime Bosch fans will be thrilled at the reappearance of characters from his “Secret Series” (Little, Brown), but the good fun and solid adventure will delight new readers just the same. VERDICT An excellent addition to middle grade collections.–Amy Koester, Learning Experiences Department, Skokie PL


CARTER, Aimée. Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den. 320p. Bloomsbury. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619637047. Simon Thorn
Gr 5-8–Simon Thorn is starting seventh grade. He misses his mom, whom he sees maybe once a year; his Uncle Darryl restricts where he can go outside his New York apartment; and his only friend, besides Felix the mouse, has decided to side with the bully who makes Simon’s life awful. And Simon can talk to animals—and they talk back. Soon mobs of rats start attacking him, his mother is captured, his uncle turns into a wolf, and he finds himself in the L.A.I.R., an academy for training Animalgams from each animal kingdom, under the Central Park Zoo. As if Simon’s world hasn’t been shifted enough, he discovers that he has a twin, Nolan, and that he himself will be able to shift into an animal form soon, just like all the other Animalgams. Simon feels betrayed and doesn’t know whom to trust; his grandfather, Orion, King of the Birds, wants him captured, while his grandmother, Alpha of the L.A.I.R. and sworn enemy of Orion, wants him dead. Simon soon finds unlikely allies in a dolphin prince, Jam; a prickly poisonous spider princess, Ariana; and even his own initially pompous brother. Together they attempt to free Simon’s mother and uncle, but in the process, the protagonist discovers his true heritage: he is the descendent of the Beast King, the most powerful ruler the animal kingdoms have ever seen, a creature capable of changing into any Animalgam he chooses. In an attempt to destroy the evil legacy of the Beast King, Orion and the Alpha would kill their own kin: Simon and Nolan. Though the theme of humans morphing into animals is not new and some of the conceptual aspects of this title resemble Bryan Chick’s The Secret Zoo (Greenwillow, 2010), this story is nevertheless unique, the characters relatable and developed, and the adventure unpredictable and entertaining. VERDICT This title is likely to be popular with a whole zoo full of readers, and its ending leaves ample room for a sequel.–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA


COLE, Henry. Brambleheart: A Story About Finding Treasure and the Unexpected Magic of Friendship. illus. by Henry Cole. 272p. Katherine Tegen Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062245465.
BrambleheartGr 3-6–Twig just isn’t like anyone else he knows. Despite being well-meaning, sensitive, and thoughtful, the little chipmunk can’t seem to fulfill the expectations of his teachers or his community. On “the Hill,” aptitude in crafts is the only acceptable route to prestige and a named place in the social hierarchy. Twig tries, but he’d rather read picture books and dream than practice his knots or brush up on his lousy welding skills. When a chance adventure ends in Twig and his best friend, Lily, assuming responsibility for a baby dragon, Twig’s skills get a boost but his future becomes even more precarious. What does he truly want? Who does he want to be? In this sweet but slightly heavy-handed illustrated fable, Cole tackles large themes with a gentle tone. Failure, frustration, family, and friendship are at the heart of this sweet tale, and loyalty and camaraderie are the driving forces of the simple plot. The ending, which includes a surprising about-face from a secondary character, feels rushed but leaves the story pleasingly open-ended. VERDICT A good pick for proficient younger readers who prefer gentler themes.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library


DAGG, Carole Estby. Sweet Home Alaska. 304p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399172038.000Sweet Home Alaska
Gr 4-8–Eleven-year-old Terpsichore Johnson is vivacious, inventive, resourceful, and determined to help her family thrive in their new Alaskan home. Unemployment and hunger in the 1930s compel the Johnsons to join an exodus of over 200 upper Midwest families to the New Deal’s experimental Matanuska Colony in Palmer, AK. Despite the trauma of leaving Wisconsin friends, her grandmother, and refinements, Terpsichore, her siblings, her upbeat father, and her cultured, skeptical mother meet hardships with adventuresome spirit. From tents, mud, mosquitoes, and construction delays to their own 40 acres and a farmhouse, the Johnson family gradually discover the riches and possibilities of their new environment. Terpsichore and two equally spunky and enterprising new friends form a “library action committee” to bring books into the community. Hoping to ensure her musical mother’s willingness to stay in Alaska, Terpsichore secretly buys a piano with money earned from growing a giant, prize-winning pumpkin and publishing a cookbook of unique local recipes. Resilience, togetherness, and civility are unshakable family values. Authentic references to the 1930s abound: an FDR Fireside Chat, Shirley Temple curls, the measles epidemic, a visit to Palmer by celebrity Will Rogers, and the challenges faced by the Matanuska colonists. Fact and fiction and real and imagined personalities and events are seamlessly woven into this quaint, energetic, and engaging story. VERDICT Short, lively chapters; dynamic characters; family struggles and unity; and well-blended Depression-era facts will capture and inform middle grade readers.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC


GAYTON, Sam. The Adventures of Lettie Peppercorn. illus. by Poly Bernatene. 304p. ebook available. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481447690. 000Lettie
Gr 4-6–Twelve-year-old Lettie Peppercorn’s “joint best friends” are the wind and a pigeon named Periwinkle. She is the landlady of the White Horse Inn, a run-down building on stilts created by her absent alchemist mother. Money is scarce, since her Da drinks and gambles away their meager funds. Lettie is alone in the Inn except for the Goggler and the Walrus, two demandingly irritating female guests, when a strange, evil man with an icicle beard arrives. His name is Blustav, but he calls himself the Snow Merchant, and he has come to peddle snow to Lettie. He arrives on a boat piloted by a young boy named Noah. The two women and Lettie behold the alchemical creation of snow and think it’s diamonds. Lettie now believes her money worries are over, but the nefarious guests plan to steal the Snow Merchant’s product for themselves. When Blustav lets slip that he knows the young girl’s mother, Lettie and Noah give chase, hoping that the sinister man might lead them to Lettie’s missing mom. The tale is peppered with enjoyably ludicrous occurrences: Noah has a green shoot growing out of his shoulder that provides nourishment in times of need, and Blustav turns his enemies into their last meal (Lettie’s dad becomes a beer bottle, and the Walrus’s head turns into a teapot). Bernatene’s atmospheric illustrations are full of intriguingly whimsical characters who add a deeper layer to this imaginatively odd story. Lettie’s loving determination to reunite her peculiar family, along with the bevy of magical twists and turns, will keep middle grade fantasy/adventure buffs hooked. VERDICT Hand this title to fans of Roald Dahl.–Diane McCabe, John Muir Elementary, Santa Monica, CA


GRANT, Holly. The Dastardly Deed. illus. by Josie Portillo. 368p. (The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: Bk. 2). ebook available. Random. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385370257; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385370264. 000Dastardly Deed
Gr 4-6–Picking up right where The League of Beastly Dreadfuls (Random, 2015) ended, this title opens as Anastasia crashes (quite literally) into her new home in Nowhere Special only to find that she is actually someone quite different than she thought: she has a different last name and is a princess. Outfitted in a perfectly uncomfortable wig and too many layers of crinoline, Anastasia is not ready for the Pettifog Academy of Impressionable Young Minds. It only becomes manageable when her Shadowboy friends, Quentin and Ollie, finally appear at school. The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is reunited with the addition of Gus, a halfhearted Gorgon whom Anastasia befriends. As she attempts to learn Echolalia so she can communicate with her attendant bat, Pippistrella, and learn comportment from her snooty aunt, Ludowiga, Anastasia begins to piece together the past history of her family, including the Dastardly Deed. It happened hundreds of years before, when relations between the Morfolk (her family, who can change into creatures) and magical witches turned from amicable to nasty. Anastasia’s grandfather was locked in a Silver Chest from which he could not escape by the clever and evil witch Calixto Swift. And there he remains. Even though Anastasia has promised her concerned Aunt Penny and her lovable Uncle Baldwin that she would not get into trouble or try to solve the mystery of the Dastardly Deed, she greatly misses her father (who was evidently not a boring vacuum salesman, but a prince who had the unusual ability to transform into a guinea pig) and might have to break her promise. She begins to realize that locating the Silver Hammer and the Silver Chest that contains her grandfather might be the only way to find her father. The League of Beastly Dreadfuls is called into action. Dangerous and secret adventures ensue: bats are put to sleep, strange dreams are entered, mirror twins are discovered, mice are released (and used for science experiments), zero gravity chambers are visited, Wish Hags are discovered (and released), and dream bugs are eaten. With the creation of a different world and the addition of new, and somewhat strange, characters, this adventure is as exciting as the first. The same narrator who speaks to readers is back and adds a sarcastic and warning tone to the book. Black-and-white illustrations are sprinkled throughout. VERDICT A series that is worth continuing (or starting) and that is Something Special.–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA


JOHNSON, Varian. To Catch a Cheat. 256p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545722391; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545722414. 000Catch a Cheat
Gr 5-9–Jackson Greene claims to have sworn off heists once and for all, but he keeps getting blamed for them. When the school gets flooded, he and his friends are accused of pulling a prank. Soon after, a group of students from their school claim that they have proof that Jackson and his friends did it. In order to keep the video from being leaked to the principal, Jackson and his friends have to pull off the impossible: they must break into Mrs. Clark’s room and steal a copy of her infamously hard end-of-term test. Will Jackson and his friends succeed or get caught red-handed? Who is blackmailing them? What is the blackmailer really after? This sequel is even better than the first book, The Great Greene Heist (Scholastic, 2014). It has more depth and character development, and the plot is complex and engaging. Although it is recommended that kids read the first one, this book can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone. VERDICT Those who enjoy realistic fiction with action, mystery, and humor will have a hard time putting this novel down.–Kira Moody, Whitmore Public Library, Salt Lake City, UT


KEENAN-BOLGER, Andrew & Kate Wetherhead. Jack and Louisa: Act 2. 256p. (Jack & Louisa: Bk. 2). Grosset & Dunlap. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780448478401. 000Jack and Louisa
Gr 4-7–Best friends and fellow Musical Theater Nerds (MTNs) Jack and Louisa are anxiously awaiting auditions for their middle school musical, Guys and Dolls. The dramatic duo, fresh off their successful performance in the community theater production of Into the Woods, hope to land the comedic leads. Lou is convinced that Jack, a refugee from New York City who appeared in Broadway shows until his voice started to change, is a shoo-in for the role of Nathan. However, Jack’s theater résumé may work against him when a new director with Broadway credentials of her own takes over the play. How many stars can one school play sustain? This second entry in the series brings back the duel voices of Jack (sweet and sensitive) and Louisa (emotional and quick-tempered) in alternating chapters. The characters are more fully developed in this book, as the two friends weather the highs and lows of theater and middle school. Jack struggles with his emotions after unexpectedly meeting the young boy who replaced him in his last Broadway show, while Lou falls under the spell of their new director. Starstruck, Lou fails to notice that the director systematically belittles and bullies Jack. When Lou finally realizes what is happening, her reaction is impulsive, passionate, and pure Lou. Although reading the first book in the series would provide background, this entry works well as a standalone. One does not have to be an MTN to enjoy this title. VERDICT An entertaining look at middle school dynamics, jealousy, and bullying.–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA


KORMAN, Gordon. Masterminds: Criminal Destiny. 288p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781443428767.000Masterminds
Gr 4-7–Continuing where Masterminds (HarperCollins, 2015) left off, this narrative follows Eli, Malik, Tori, and Amber, who are on the run after discovering that they are clones of criminal masterminds. They must come to terms with what they are and the fact that their lives up to this point have been a sham. They hope to expose Project Osiris and their hometown of Serenity while simultaneously trying to navigate the real world and escape the Purple People Eaters, who are trying to stop them. Step one of their plan is to find the billionaire Tamara Dunleavy, who once funded Project Osiris, to help prove their story. To succeed, they may have to act like the criminals from whom they were cloned. Told from alternating perspectives like its predecessor, Korman’s sequel maintains the same fast-paced, witty storytelling. Though a lot of the plot is far-fetched, it doesn’t take away from the fun. This is a truly engaging tale with relatable characters. Readers will have to start with the first book to understand what is going on, and with another cliff-hanger ending, it is clear this is not the end of the line for Eli, Malik, Tori, and Amber. VERDICT A thrilling and fun series perfect for middle grade adventure seekers.–Kristyn Dorfman, the Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, NY


LARSON, Kirby. Audacity Jones to the Rescue. 224p. ebook available. Scholastic. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545840569; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545840620.000Audacity Jones
Gr 4-6–Readers will delight in the spunk and resourcefulness of Audacity Jones. An orphan living at Miss Maisie’s School for Wayward Girls, she employs her intelligence and natural leadership to compensate for Miss Maisie’s negligence and inattention. One day, a patron, Commodore Crutchfield, comes by the home seeking an orphan to accompany him on a special trip. Audie gets a buzzing in her ear that compels her to volunteer for the adventure. As the trip gets underway, she has no idea where they are going and what their purpose is, but she sends postcards back to her friends at every stop. Eventually they arrive in Washington, DC, where she makes a new friend in Juice, a newspaper boy, who rescues her when Crutchfield leaves her stranded at Union Station. Juice and his friend and mentor, Daddy Dub, continue to keep an eye on Audie—and she needs their help when the Commodore and his friend Elva Finch cook up a nefarious plan involving the president of the United States. Audacity and her friends use their wits and courage to save the day. VERDICT Readers will cheer Audacity’s ingenuity and bravery as they relish every moment of her adventures. Highly recommended.–Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY


McGOVERN, Cammie. Just My Luck. 240p. HarperCollins. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062330659. 000just my luck
Gr 4-6–Fourth-grader Benny is not having any luck. His father had an accident for which Benny blames himself. His best friend moved to Florida. And his brother George, who is autistic, can do tricks on his bicycle, while Benny is still having trouble starting and stopping. In her debut novel for middle grade readers, McGovern presents a heart-filled story of a likable boy who doesn’t realize that his natural gifts are recognizable and valued by a supportive family and his teacher Mr. Norris. At school, a new program called C.A.R.E. rewards students who “do things that show our empathy and compassion.” While the other students count their C.A.R.E. scores, Benny feels like his good deeds are invisible. At home, Benny’s mother encourages him to find his passion, but he’s not sure what that is. There are many moments that will ring true to middle grade readers: feeling anxious about friendships, wanting to be noticed, and trying to do the right thing. When Benny’s father has to go back to the hospital, all of Benny’s fears return, but, gradually, he is able to navigate his new circumstances, especially when he realizes that he and Mr. Norris share something very important. VERDICT Recommend this sensitive novel to fans of Lisa Graff’s Absolutely Almost (Philomel, 2014) and Rob Buyea’s Because of Mr. Terupt (Delacorte, 2010).–Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA


O’HEARN, Kate. Valkyrie. 352p. S. & S./Aladdin. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481447379. 000Valkyrie
Gr 5-9–O’Hearn sets her newest fantasy among the Valkyries of Norse mythology—the eternally beautiful winged women who routinely visit the battlefields of Midgard (Earth) in order to “reap” the souls of the bravest warriors and take them to Asgard. There, the great god Odin honors them as heroes, allowing them to live a life of feasting, dancing, and fighting in Valhalla—his “Great Heavenly Hall for the Heroic Dead.” As this story begins, Freya, youngest and last of the Valkyries, is about to participate in her First Day Ceremony and her first reaping of a warrior on the battlefield. But proud and awed as she is by the pomp of the ceremony, she swears the Valkyrie oath reluctantly, uncertain of her capability to perform her assigned tasks. Freya’s first reaping is Tyrone, a soldier whose concern for his endangered family in Chicago is so great that she promises to try to help them. On her illicit journey to Midgard seeking Tyrone’s daughters, some very special teens and adults give her heightened respect for modern humanity. Featured characters are given sufficient depth and personality. Contemporary issues—gangs and neighborhood safety, bullying and self-protection, seniors raising grandkids—are addressed. VERDICT Freya’s story, easy to envision as a movie, will surely please many young fantasy lovers, especially those looking for Rick Riordan read-alikes.–Susan Scheps, formerly at Shaker Public Library, OH


ROBINSON, Sharon. The Hero Two Doors Down: A Story of Friendship Between a Boy and a Baseball Legend. 208p. Scholastic. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545804516; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545804530.000Hero Two Doors Down
Gr 4-6–This stirring tale of interracial and intergenerational friendship is based on a true story. Steven Satlow was seven years old in 1948 when Jackie Robinson and his family moved into the predominately Jewish section of Flatbush in Brooklyn, NY. Steve idolized Jackie and couldn’t believe that his hero lived just two houses away. Ever gracious, Jackie welcomed the young fan into his home and family. Steven learned many lessons about tolerance, conflict resolution, and self-esteem from the quiet man who broke the color barrier in professional baseball. Occasionally moralizing, with dialogue that is at times stilted, the lessons are unmistakably teaching moments. After Steve gets into a fight, Jackie counsels him, “Punching someone who has verbally attacked you will only make things worse…. If you can, take the high road next time.” The author also occasionally slips modern slang (“awesome,” “game on”) into their conversations, which seems slightly out of place. These minor issues, however, do not detract from a wonderful friendship story that has valuable lessons for all readers. The author is Jackie Robinson’s daughter, and she and the Robinson family have remained lifelong friends with the Satlows, a true example of how friendships can cross racial divides. VERDICT This should be a home run for baseball fans and anyone who loves an inspirational friendship story.–Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI


STANDIFORD, Natalie. The Only Girl in School. illus. by Nathan Durfee. 224p. Scholastic. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545829960; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545829984.000Only Girl in School
Gr 3-6–Ten-year-old Claire Warren has a rocky start to the school year. Her best girl friend, Bess, has moved away, and good pal Henry is suddenly too cool to hang out with a girl. Now, Claire must figure out how to negotiate the tricky landscape that is fifth grade—as the only remaining girl in school. Claire’s story is recounted through her letters to Bess, which she supplements by re-creating her drawings from the school bathroom wall (she has the girls’ bathroom to herself, after all). Standiford successfully taps into the feeling of growing up on a small East Coast island. Claire has a strong voice and authentic dialogue. Her strength of character shines as she faces challenges with humor and resilience. The plot covers a lot of ground—a birthday party, a school dance, soccer games, sailing competitions, and even the appearance of a pirate ghost. There are implausible moments, but the courage in Claire’s consistent refusal to change herself to please others always feels genuine. VERDICT An engaging tale of unwavering self-acceptance. Readers will laugh out loud and emerge from the story satisfied with the cheerful resolution.–Alyssa Annico,Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH


THOMPSON, Kim. Shadow Wrack. 136p. (The Eldritch Manor Series: Bk. 2). Dundurn. Feb. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781459732056.000Shadow Wrack
Gr 4-7–For Willa Fuller, “normal” seems like an out-of-this-realm possibility. This second installment of the series continues Willa’s adventures with Miss Trang and her crew of magical and mystical creatures. The story begins with Willa’s recap of the first novel’s events and her exasperation with her family and friends for just going about their normal lives while she’s still all shook up from almost dying and watching the manor going up in flames. Miss Trang, per usual, departs on an important meeting, leaving Willa in charge of the inhabitants of Eldritch Manor, which is being rebuilt by dwarfs. Of course, things don’t go smoothly for Willa; her family refuses to discuss the supernatural events even though they have a few magical residents staying in their home. Horace (part-man, part-lion) is getting old and a tad confused, fairies and dwarfs are fighting nonstop, and black spots (the same black spots that spurred the destruction of the manor) are invading Willa’s home and other places once again. The neighbors are starting to get very suspicious, and Willa’s anger is growing to immeasurable proportions. The 12-year-old protagonist takes on all of these conundrums and more, calling on powers she didn’t know existed, though she’s not sure if they will be enough to keep the manor and its inhabitants safe. VERDICT A must-purchase where there are fans of the first book and a solid series addition to most middle grade fantasy collections.–Meghan Oppelt, Whitehall School District, WI


VANCE, Alexander. Behind the Canvas. 336p. Feiwel & Friends. Feb. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250029706. 000Behind the Canvas
Gr 5-8–Aiming to do for art history what Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series (Disney-Hyperion) has done for Greek mythology, Vance’s novel follows its 12-year-old protagonist, a budding artist named Claudia Miravista, into a world where famous artists and art iconography come to life as dynamic, idiosyncratic characters. When she unexpectedly spots a living boy, Pim, peering out from the background of a painting at the local museum, Claudia is unexpectedly drawn into both a friendship and an interdimensional conflict, which requires her to join Pim in a mysterious realm built by the imaginations of every major artist since the Renaissance. Initially bogged down by a great deal of explanatory setup (necessary to make such an abstract conceit stick), Vance’s story flares to life when Claudia crosses into the canvas for the first time. Soon, she’s trading gossip with the Mona Lisa, befriending one of C.M. Coolidge’s poker-playing dogs, and running from a particularly frightening Max Ernst creation—all to free Pim from the clutches of an evil artist-witch named Nee Gezicht. Helped along by tongue-in-cheek footnotes from a fictional art encyclopedia, adventurous readers will end up learning a great deal about art history along the way. VERDICT A conventional misfit-turned-hero tale elevated by an inspired concept.–Abigail Garnett, Brooklyn Public Library


ZAHLER, Diane. Baker’s Magic. 336p. Capstone. Feb. 2016. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781623706425.000Baker's magic
Gr 3-6–A cozy fantasy adventure featuring strong female characters. In the Holland-esque kingdom of Aradyn, hungry orphan Bee’s theft of a pastry leads to a job and temporary home in a bakery. Bee’s newfound happiness magically infuses her baked goods with positive feelings, and the business’s increasing popularity attracts the attention of the palace. Powerful mage and pastry lover Master Joris has become guardian to the orphan princess, is holding her captive, and has converted all arable land into valuable tulip fields at the expense of trees. Using magic from the village blacksmith’s assistant, Bee helps the lonesome Princess Anika escape a forced marriage. As their shoddy vessel sinks, the group is saved by a crew of tulip-hijacking pirates led by the fierce Zafira Zay. A high seas adventure leads to surprising discoveries about assumed-dead relatives and long-lost trees. The plucky orphan finding magic and friendship is not a new theme, but ample action and charming characters like Bee, Princess Anika, and Captain Zafira Zay make this an entertaining read with an empowering message for girls, while still maintaining cross-gender appeal. Fans of Lisa Graff’s A Tangle of Knots (Philomel, 2013) or Ingrid Law’s Savvy (Dial, 2008) will find a satisfying analogue in this volume. A recipe for the prominently featured delicacy “Bouts Buns” is included. VERDICT Text complexity and a wholesome plot make this a good choice for higher-level readers in lower grades. A solid addition to larger middle grade collections.–Deidre Winterhalter, Niles Public Library, Niles, Illinois



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Almost Home: How Public Libraries Serve Homeless Teenagers Thu, 11 Feb 2016 08:36:15 +0000 Public libraries support homeless teens with offerings from  drop-in card games to supplemental educational services. Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

At the Seattle Public Library, young adults, some experiencing homelessness, play a fast-paced card game with staff from a local youth shelter. Courtesy of Seattle Public Library

A STEM program on Bainbridge Island in Washington. A radio podcast anchored by a former homeless young adult in Dallas. A digital photography class in Charlotte, NC. These are a few of the innovative ways that public libraries are providing services to homeless teens.

Young people who are homeless may be hard to spot, because they generally look just like typical teens. But with hundreds of thousands of American youth experiencing homelessness, library services—whether provided in a local branch or in a shelter—can serve as a stable environment and help connect these teenagers to other social services.

“By doing this we are saying that we want to pull them in: ‘We want you to become part of a larger community because you have a voice and a really interesting voice that we want to hear,’” says Julie Winkelstein, a lecturer in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a member of the Hunger, Homelessness, and Poverty Task Force, created in 1996 by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Social Responsibilities division.

A population at risk

On a given night, the number of homeless children is over 194,300—accounting for one third of all homeless people, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Over a year, as many as 550,000 youth up to age 24 will experience homelessness for at least a week, some 380,000 of them under 18. The National Coalition for the Homeless found that LGBTQ teens account for 20 percent to 40 percent of all homeless youth. Teens in foster care are also at risk for homelessness. Because of their age and experience, teens need more support than adults to avoid chronic homelessness, experts say. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 71.7 percent of homeless teens report physical and/or sexual abuse. They’re also at greater risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and significant mental health issues.

Laura Hauser, literary services officer of the Dekalb County Public Library (DCPL) in Decatur, GA, has worked with homeless shelters for 18 years through Project Horizon, a program for homeless youth initiated with funding from the Dekalb Library Foundation. She says that these teens carry an “especially unusual burden,” including doing the laundry, caring for younger siblings, and in immigrant families, translating for parents.

In addition, approximately 75 percent have dropped or will drop out of school, as Vikki C. Terrile, director of community library services for the Queens (NY) Library, noted in an Urban Library Journal article. Those in school often have poor attendance and frequently change schools, leading to more missed days because of incomplete records or residency and guardianship requirements. As a result, almost 75 percent perform below grade level in reading, and many don’t have computer or the Internet access for homework and can’t buy school supplies.

National efforts

Notable initiatives to help the broad homeless population include efforts by the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL), which partnered with the Department of Health to hire a social worker to support homeless patrons. The San Jose and San Diego Public Libraries also connect these customers to social workers, and the Denver Public Library has offered food to patrons waiting outside in the morning.

When ALA began to address homelessness in 1990, it adopted Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor. While encouraging librarians to educate themselves about poverty, Policy 61 also advocates that libraries remain accessible and useful to low-income citizens. Homelessness dramatically increased during the 2007–09 recession, reaching heights above those of the Great Depression, according to a 2009 report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, and further strained libraries. Outreach programs increased by 47 percent from 2004 to 2011. More than a third of the homeless—37 percent—were families in 2009. Many library users were disconnected young adults—people age 18–24 who were not in school or employed.

The challenges

Maintaining the ALA task force has also been difficult, Winkelstein says. Because of low funding and participation, it has not been able to establish a consistent path to lead libraries on this issue, despite recent conference offerings and webinars reflecting a renewed interest. The tide, however, is turning, Winkelstein believes. “People are going from complaining about homelessness to having something concrete to do,” she says. “I am hearing more positive conversations. Still, it will be a long haul between the willingness and actually changing anti-homeless policies and rules.”

Understanding the history of library services for homeless patrons can shed light on developing efforts, and challenges, to connect with teenagers. While the mission of libraries is to be open to everyone, some systems in cities with large homeless populations instituted anti-odor or anti-panhandling policies meant to address the homeless problem. Instead, they created controversial and logistical nightmares. While librarians want to help, they’re often not trained to do so.

“Librarians are ill equipped to deal with this population, even though they very much want to help,” says Ryan Dowd, former executive director of Hesed House, a homeless shelter program in Aurora, IL. His video “A Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness,” which he made after a library presentation and has received more than 7,000 views, provides guidance.

Library customers experiencing homelessness gather at the Dallas Public Library’s bi-monthly Coffee & Conversation program. Courtesy of Dallas Public Library

Library customers who are homeless gather at the Dallas Public Library’s bi-monthly
Coffee & Conversation program. Courtesy of Dallas Public Library

Programming to attract teens

Libraries that partner with social service agencies do not always reach homeless youth. “We have not had many teens utilize [our] service. None expressing issues of homelessness,” says Deborah Estreicher, reference librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose. The same is true at SFPL. Michelle Jeffers, chief of community programs and partners there, says their social worker “rarely, if ever deals with homeless teens.”

Those that do attract homeless youth aim to provide experiences that interest them and address their challenges. The BiblioTech STEM program in Washington State, run by the Kitsap Regional Library (KRL), began bringing science and tech classes to homeless teens in 2013 with help from a Paul G. Allen Family Foundation grant. In partnership with Coffee Oasis, a faith-based, nonprofit program in nearby Bremerton, Seth Ciotti, KRL teen technology librarian, created a 100-hour STEM learning internship and an after-school STEM program. The library still provides workshops on video design, robotics, computer programming, and 3-D printers, and, with Coffee Oasis, offers internships.

A Teen Drop-In Social Hour organized by the Seattle Public Library (SPL) encourages homeless teens and young adults to visit the library for activities and peer group interactions. Each week, some five to 12 teens use the time to consult with social service providers or seek job and education resources. The program was co-developed with the library’s Teen Services Department and New Horizons, a Seattle homeless youth shelter.

“The program wouldn’t work if it weren’t a co-production,” says Hayden Bass, outreach program manager at SPL, adding that the initiative has helped at least one participant find a job and many others find social service and library resources.

Salt Lake City Library teen services coordinator Christina Walsh (left) and deputy director Deborah Ehrman. Courtesy of Salt Lake City Public Library

Salt Lake City Library teen services coordinator Christina Walsh (left) and deputy director Deborah Ehrman.
Courtesy of Salt Lake City Public Library

Project Uplift, which began in 2014, is an information resource fair at the Salt Lake City Library involving government offices, social service agencies, and private sector partners that gather to share information with homeless patrons. In May 2015, the Homeless Youth Resource Center, in cooperation with Volunteers of America, brought their teen clients to the fair to receive free haircuts, clothing, meals, and raffle tickets. During a November fair, deputy director Deborah Ehrman worked with teen services coordinator Christina Walsh, the local Department of Workforce Services, and the city’s Fourth Street Medical Clinic to purposefully include the needs of homeless teens.

At the Dallas Public Library, people who are homeless, including college student Rashad Dickerson, record segments for the Street View Podcast, which is directed by Jasmine Africawala, the library’s community engagement administrator and a 2015 Library Journal Mover & Shaker. Interviewing local social service agency representatives, homeless guests, and library staff members, Dickerson covers multiple issues, from homelessness to drugs to mental illness. In two seasons, 19 episodes with approximately 15 hours of content have aired, and the podcast has been downloaded roughly 11,000 times in over 60 cities in the United States and several other countries, says Africawala.

Outside library walls

The key to creating effective library programs for homeless teens, Winkelstein says, is for librarians to have conversations with area social service providers and include them in the library community. Then librarians can create environments in which homeless teens feel comfortable and will seek out services—whether in a branch or a shelter.

For more than 10 years, the Akron-Summit (OH) Public Library has worked with Project RISE, a federally funded initiative that provides supplemental education services to homeless students in Akron Public Schools. Assistant youth coordinator Sarah Rosenberger and the branch’s children’s librarian serve on the Project RISE advisory council and work with six to eight local homeless shelters and “safe landing shelters” that house runaways ages 16 to 21.

“We go to the shelters, offer summer reading literacy-based activities and other programs,” says Rosenberger. “While working with a wide age range can be a challenge, we try to get books in [young people’s] hands whenever we can.”

The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) provides on-site programming for homeless patrons at seven local shelters as well as at its New Lots branch. Leah Hurwitz, BPL’s librarian for local shelters, hosts a monthly “teen summit,” which gives shelter teenagers a chance to speak to library representatives about their concerns. In addition to asking questions about education, applying to and financing college, and health and mental health, participants are able to come to a safe space, speak to a trusted adult, and meet with other patrons their age, Hurwitz says.

At DCPL, a staff person works with shelter parents and children, helping with homework, playing games, or reading stories. The program serves about 30 to 45 teens monthly, says Hauser.

The demand for services is still greater than the shelters or the library can meet. Nonetheless, Hauser says, “I continue to be amazed by the library’s vision to literally support everyone, and not just within the walls of the library.”

hill_head_shot_smallRebecca A. Hill is a freelance writer who writes on education, literacy, science, and parenting/family issues. She has been published in a variety of online and print magazines. To see a selection of her published articles, visit

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Animal Antics: Books & Activities for Independent Readers | Chapter Book Chat Wed, 10 Feb 2016 19:53:36 +0000 Chapter Book Chat column by recommending three animal tales, with accompanying activity ideas. ]]> Welcome to Chapter Book Chat, a new column exploring and recommending great books for emerging and newly emerged readers. The transition from simple texts and works with mostly illustrations to books with increasing amounts of text, less images, and a more “sophisticated” big-kid look can be one of the most exciting—but also challenging—times in a young reader’s life. This column will help highlight themes and subjects of great appeal to this audience, suggest fun activities or lesson plan tie-ins, and offer tips and best practices for engaging independent readers in your library.

Ask a class of elementary school kids, “Who likes animals?” and you’re certain to get a loud response. Animal stories let kids experience the lives of pets or wild animals vicariously, often including details about animal behavior or care that allows children to experience having a pet, whether or not they actually have one in their home. Pet owners, meanwhile, are often eager to read more about the animal members of their family.

Animals see the world differently than humans, and anthropomorphized animal stories challenge kids to look at the world in a different way. We might assume that a teacher and students are in charge, but as Humphrey, the classroom hamster from Betty Birney’s series shows us, he’s really the one taking care of everyone. Animals are often small—many are even smaller than children—and the way they experience the big world around them speaks to a child’s point of view.

No matter the reason, many newly independent readers are drawn to these tales and will happily devour book after book in a series. Here are a few recent titles perfect for chapter book readers.

Rescue on the Oregon Trail (Ranger in Time: Bk.1) by Kate Messner. Scholastic. 2015.Ranger in Time
Dog lovers will jump on board this historical adventure story. Ranger, trained as a search-and-rescue dog, loves nothing more than helping humans…except maybe chasing squirrels. When he digs up an enchanted artifact in his backyard, he finds himself transported back in time to the Oregon Trail, where he comes across a family to watch over. Historical details are included organically, making this book a good fit for kids who enjoy learning about history as much as they love animals.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: Books in the “Ranger in Time” series would blend in nicely with social studies units about different time periods in history. Or, pair this book with a nonfiction title such as Wilderness Search Dogs, from Sara Green’s “Dogs to the Rescue” series (Pilot, 2013), to give kids a better idea of rescue work.

Check out the book trailer for Rescue on the Oregon Trail here:

And don’t miss Scholastic’s classroom guide:


The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney. Putnam. 2004.
The sassy hamster narrator of this series is definitely the star of the show. As Humphrey watches The World According to Humphreyover the children (and adults) in Room 26, he figures out ways to help them solve their problems, from encouraging the shiest student to speak up to helping the custodian find a girlfriend. This is a great choice for kids who like funny books. It would make a great read-aloud, especially for classes safeguarded by pets of their own.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: Pair this series with nonfiction books about pet care, especially for kids who have or are interested in getting a pet. See if a volunteer from your local animal shelter could visit your class to talk about choosing a pet and becoming a responsible owner. Students could practice descriptive writing by focusing on their pets or practice persuasive writing by arguing why they should get a pet or why theirs is the best ever.

Work with students to create lists of the tasks the students carry out to take care of Humphrey and the projects the hamster undertakes to look after the humans. Discuss and vote on who is really in charge of Room 26.

Penguin has created a helpful classroom guide for this series:


Nuts to You by Lynn Rae Perkins. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. 2014.Nuts to You
After Jed the squirrel is picked up by a hawk, he manages to escape, but he’s dropped far away in an unknown part of the forest. Luckily, his bushy-tailed friends are watching over him, and they set off to rescue their wayward pal. Along the way, the critters realize that humans are cutting down trees and they must get back home to warn their community that they’re in the path of destruction. Though there is danger, this is a fun story with a highly developed squirrel society; readers may particularly enjoy hearing the names Jed and company have for the human creations in their forest, such as the “frozen spiderwebs” (cell phone towers). It also has a strong ecological message and will interest kids who care deeply about nature.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-in: This is a great book to highlight when talking about ecology. What actions do the squirrels take to protect their community and what can kids do to help protect the environment? Take a nature walk and try to see the world through a “squirrel’s eye-view”. What names would the furry creatures give to the human objects that you would see?


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On the Road | Meet the Reviewer Catherine Callegari Wed, 10 Feb 2016 19:16:29 +0000 CatherineCallegari

Catherine Callegari and her Prius

After a 10-year stint as director of the Gay-Kimball Library in Troy, NH, Catherine Callegari is pulling up stakes, hitting the road, and heading on an extended cross-country jaunt before figuring out what comes next in her brilliant career. We caught up with her just as she was embarking on her new adventure.

Have you done anything like this before? What precipitated this daring decision?
I have always loved to travel. After college I wanted to take a cross-country road trip but lacked the funds and savvy to do so. I instead joined VISTA and found myself living in Iowa soon after graduation. My time there was punctuated with many, many road trips taking me all over the Midwest and the Southwest. Since then I have road-tripped all over the United States but never more than a week or two at a time with one exception. My first library job after I received my degree at the University of Rhode Island was in the San Antonio Public Library System (SAPL). I road-tripped there from Rhode Island, and after four years at SAPL, I was ready for something new. So I got rid of everything except what would fit in my Corolla and headed north. I traveled for about a month before I started looking for a new position, which ended up being director of the Gay-Kimball Library, where I stayed for a decade. Now, I’m finally taking the cross-country road trip I started dreaming about 20 years ago.

Some people would find the open-ended nature of this excursion liberating. Others would find it terrifying. What is your take on it?
I am super excited by it. I cannot escape the feeling that I can do anything, not to mention the mystery inherent in taking an adventure—anything can happen! Honestly, it’s like walking into a library and picking a random book to read.

What are you taking with you? How did you know how to pack? What is your mode of transport?
When I began planning this trip nearly two years ago, I sold my house and bought a Prius. Figuring out what to pack in the Prius has been an ongoing adventure/struggle ever since then. It was easy to figure out the basics—clothes, camping gear, hiking gear, reading material—but as with many things the devil was in the details. The temptation to overpack was strong, and I’m still not convinced I mastered it. Reminding myself I could buy items as needed and shed them as well finally allowed me to stop worrying and just get on with it.

Being that you’re heading out in mid-January, I certainly hope you are heading south. How much of your itinerary is planned out? How long do you anticipate staying in each locale?
Yes, I am headed south and west to start, but Mother Nature is already reminding me to keep my plans flexible. I had planned to leave Troy, NH, to drive to downstate New York for the night and head to Virginia the next day—that day turned out to be day one of the January mid-Atlantic blizzard. I ended up spending much more time in New York than I had anticipated, which ended up being a lot of fun.

I have several hard dates planned for my journey—Florida in February to visit my mom; Texas in March to help a friend move to Washington, DC; San Diego in May to catch my flight to Hawaii; Maine in June for my niece’s graduation (flying in for that one, too)—but that’s it so far. I tend to plan a lot (some might say over plan), so part of the challenge I gave myself for this trip was not to do that.

So far, so good.

Can you tell us a couple of your must-see sights/attractions?
Well, according to my 3″ x 5″ cards I have of each state, which are sorted by region (ahem, I am a librarian), I’d like to see the Point Reyes National Seashore, National Orphan Train Complex, Wisconsin Dells, Nevada’s Great Basin National Park, and every national park I end up near, plus state parks and Alaska and Hawaii. And, more important, my friends and relations who are scattered all over the United States (yes, their names are on the cards, too). Plus, I am always interested in local places and hope people will share their favorite places with me.

You have committed to blogging the whole way?
I have ( It was suggested by the reading specialist at Troy Elementary School as a way for the kids to follow my trip in addition to the postcards I’ll be sending them. Despite my original hesitation, the idea took hold, and now former patrons, friends, kids, and even folks I don’t know have signed on.

Do you have a reading list drawn up? It would be cool to read and report on some great regional titles as you go.
I do not have a reading list exactly.  My goal is to read all the books I’ve been hoarding on my Kindle for years, plus the 15 or so books I brought with me. Along with keeping up with new titles and trends, this will keep me plenty busy!

The same goes for food! Maybe folks will offer up recommendations on your blog.
I do have a plan for food: Jane and Michael Stern’s Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 900 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More (Clarkson Potter, 2014). Plus, I am happy to get recommendations!!

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Flatiron Press Goes YA; “Reproductive Rights” Giveaway; a New Harry Potter Book | SLJTeen News Wed, 10 Feb 2016 16:10:33 +0000 Reproductive Rights—a teen nonfiction title. Apply for Library of Congress literacy grants. An eighth Harry Potter book was just announced. These tidbits and more in SLJTeen’s news roundup.]]> HP 8New Harry Potter Book out in July

The script for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stageplay will be published in book form right after the play premieres. The Blair Partnership, J.K. Rowling’s literary and brand management agency, has announced new print and digital titles from J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. The new program will debut at 12:01 a.m. on July 31, 2016 with the publication of a “special rehearsal edition” of the script book of the stage play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II, which begins its run at London’s Palace Theatre this summer.

The play, written by Jack Thorne, is based on an original story by Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany, which catches up with Harry Potter 19 years after the epilogue in the final book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

final logo 2c_318pmsNew imprints and publisher initiatives

Macmillan’s Flatiron Books, founded by Bob Miller in 2013 as a nonfiction publisher and named after the Manhattan building that houses Macmillan’s offices, is expanding into the young adult arena. Senior editor Sarah Dotts Barley will lead the new publishing program, starting with Alison Umminger’s American Girls (June), a coming-of-age story set in Los Angeles, and Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl (May), the story of a trans girl keeping her past a secret in her new town. ““We are only publishing the books we are passionate about, and the list will continue be very selective, so that each book gets the care it deserves. So we probably will publish no more than eight to 10 YA novels per year,” Barley told Publishers Weekly.


Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing is launching Riveted, a new online destination for fans of YA lit with the tagline, “Fiction is our Addiction.” It will be an online community where visitors can read full-length books. As a follow-up to Pulseit—one of the first and fastest growing sites for fans of YA books—Riveted will focus on young adult fiction from all publishers as well as movies, TV, online media, and all emerging areas of YA culture with original editorial content. With contributions from authors such as Jenny Han, Morgan Matson, Siobhan Vivian, Suzanne Young and Scott Westerfeld, the site will provide a daily dose of lists, articles, quizzes, videos, giveaways, exclusive content reveals, and behind-the-scenes visits with an array of writers. The site will also welcome readers to submit original material and don a contributor profile.

riveted-logoAt launch, Riveted opens the gates with a binge read of Cassandra Clare’s New York Times best-selling series “The Mortal Instruments” (S. & S.). Leading up to the March release of the next installment of the Shadowhunters Chronicles, Lady Midnight, members from the editorial board will host live video chats every Friday to discuss the week’s #TMIBingeRead. In addition, the site will feature original content such as DIY videos on how to get the perfect book character-inspired hair, “word of the week” videos, and exclusive serialized bonus stories.

GIVEAWAY: YA Nonfiction Title About Reproductive Rights

Wittenstein,Vicki Oransky. Reproductive Rights Who DecidesThe issue of reproductive rights will be in the news again this spring when the Supreme Court hears arguments on two pending cases. Vicki O. Wittenstein’s new book REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES? (21st Century/Lerner, March 2016) is a timely addition to high school collections. In a January review, SLJ said: “Rather than belaboring the ethical and moral implications generally associated with this hot-button topic, Wittenstein adeptly chronicles its evolution in terms of the various social, economic, legal, and political developments that have shaped our notions of identity and proper social roles for women, allowing teens to come to their own conclusions.”

Three lucky winners will receive a copy of REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS: WHO DECIDES? for their collections. To enter, go to this link. Entries must be received by midnight (PST) on February 19, 2016. Winners will be selected in a random drawing and notified via email. One entry per person, please; prizes will only be shipped to U.S. addresses.

Apply, Apply, Apply

Applications are now being accepted for the 2016 Library of Congress Literacy Awards, which are made possible through the generosity of David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group. The awards, which were initiated by Rubenstein, were first conferred in 2013 to support organizations working to promote literacy in the United States and worldwide. The awards seek to recognize organizations doing exemplary, innovative, and easily replicable work over a sustained period of time and to encourage new groups, organizations and individuals to become involved in promoting reading and literacy.

The application rules and a downloadable application form may be accessed at Applications must be received no later than midnight Eastern time on March 31, 2016. The Library of Congress Literacy Awards program is administered by the Library’s Center for the Book. Final selection of prize winners will be made by the Librarian of Congress with recommendations from an advisory board of literacy experts.

Three prizes will be awarded in 2016:

  • The David M. Rubenstein Prize ($150,000) will be awarded to an organization that has made outstanding and measurable contributions in increasing literacy levels and has demonstrated exceptional and sustained depth and breadth in its commitment to the advancement of literacy. The organization will meet the highest standards of excellence in its operations and services. This award may be given to any organization based either inside or outside the United States.
  • The American Prize ($50,000) will be awarded to an organization that has made a significant and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels or the national awareness of the importance of literacy. This award may be given to any organization that is based in the United States.
  • The International Prize ($50,000) will be awarded to an organization or national entity that has made a significant and measurable contribution to increasing literacy levels. This award may be given to any organization that is based in a country outside the United States.

betterworldbooks-gifBetter World Books announces their sixth-annual Literacy Grants for Libraries and Nonprofits. Libraries and nonprofit organizations can apply for funds to support their efforts to further literacy in their communities. As a Founding B Corporation, Better World Books has raised over $22 million to date for literacy causes worldwide.

Participants are selected using the following criteria:

  • Projects should address the literacy needs of underserved populations in their community. Literacy needs are defined by broadly identifying, understanding, interpreting, creating, communicating, and computing information to live a more fulfilling and productive life.
  • Projects that have a measurable and long term impact on an underserved population and will continue to operate after grant funds have been utilized will be looked upon favorably.

Libraries and nonprofits may pitch only one project each, with an award of $15,000 maximum for libraries and $5,000 for nonprofits. A total of $60,000 in funding is available. Organizations must clearly outline the project elements that require the requested funds. The Better World Books Literacy Council will review the projects. The Literacy Council will select library winners and nonprofit finalists. Nonprofit finalists will then be put to a public vote. Two nonprofit grant winners will be selected by vote and two will be selected by the Better World Books Literacy Council. The deadline for both library and nonprofit applicants is April 1, 2016 at 4:00 PM ET.

To learn more about Better World Books’  literacy grants and to read about past winners, visit

Free Resources

Anyone interested in connecting with other library and museum staff to explore connected learning for and with teens in libraries and museums is welcome to join the free YouMedia Community of Practice.  The site offers the following resources:

  • About Us: provides resources for learning about and connecting with the YOUmedia Learning Labs network and community coordinators.
  • Resources: designed to support the needs and the work of libraries and museumsby providing a  bank of downloadable resources.
  • Monthly Round-up:a monthly summary of dates, events, and activities that are relevant to serving teens through libraries and museums
  • Site Spotlight: a monthly feature that provides an in-depth look into a certain program, event, design, etc.
  • Discussion Forum:area where community members communicate directly with each other (ask questions, post and share resources)

Users are not automatically connected to the site. Once you create an account, contact Korie Twiggs at in order to activate your account and get you full access to the site.

Essay Contest for Students

EH_141106_KillMockingbirdTeens are invited to submit an essay about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in the modern world.

The 2016 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest will open on February 16 and accept submissions until March 16. The contest winners will be selected in April. One U.S. high school senior will be awarded a $2,500 Upstander Scholarship, with their educator receiving a $250 Classroom Award. Five Upstander Awards of $500 will be given to U.S. 7th-12th grade students, with their educators receiving Classroom Awards valued at $250.

The Details: 

  • Educators of all winning students will receive a prize, as well as free access to a Teaching Mockingbird online course! 
  • Students must be 13 years or older to submit an essay.
  • This essay contest will allow students to explore conversations about justice, about goodness, about living in a divided society, about making difficult choices, and about the possibilities of social change.

Click here for more info on the essay contest.

In the winner’s circle

AllAmericanBoys_TNThe inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award for outstanding children’s literature in the YA category has been given to Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys (S. & S., 2015). We Need Diverse Books’ Walter Award committee announced the winners on January 20.

The award will be officially bestowed upon Reynolds and Kiely at a ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. on March 18. The official Walter Award logo, designed by Phyllis Sa, will be unveiled during the ceremony. The Walter Dean Myers Award, also known as “The Walter,” is named for prolific children’s and young adult author Walter Dean Myers, who was the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature from 2012-2014, as well as a champion of diversity in children’s and YA books. Myers died in 2014.

in the footsteps of crazy horseThe recipients of the 2016 American Indian Youth Literature Award have been selected. The American Indian Youth Literature Awards are presented every two years by the American Indian Library Association (AILA), an affiliate of the American Library Association. The awards were established as a way to identify and honor the very best writing and illustrations by and about American Indians. Books selected to receive the award will present American Indians in the fullness of their humanity in the present and past contexts.

Little You (Orca, 2013), written by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett was chosen as the 2016 Best Picture Book winner; In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse (Amulet, 2015), written by Joseph Marshall III as the 2016 Best Middle School Book, and House of Purple Cedar (Cinco Puntos, 2014), written by Tim Tingle as the 2016 Best Young Adult Book. The recipients of the fifth American Indian Youth Literature Awards will be formally recognized at the American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Orlando Florida this summer. Honor Books were selected each category. A PDF of the full list of 2016 award recipients is available to print and share.

ShutterThe nominees in the 2015 Bram Stoker Awards for horror have been announced. The following are the finalists in the YA category:

Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel

Brozek, Jennifer – Never Let Me Sleep (Permuted Press)

Chupeco, Rin – The Suffering (Sourcebooks Fire)

Collings, Michaelbrent – The Ridealong (self-published)

Dixon, John – Devil’s Pocket (Simon & Schuster)

Hill, Will – Department 19: Darkest Night (HarperCollins Children’s Books)

Hurley, Tonya – Hallowed (Simon & Schuster)

Johnson, Maureen – The Shadow Cabinet (Penguin)

Sattin, Samuel – The Silent End (Ragnarok Publications)

Varley, Dax – Bleed (Garden Gate Press)

Welke, Ian – End Times at Ridgemont High (Omnium Gatherum)

Courtney Alameda’s Shutter (Feiwel & Friends) was nominated for outstanding achievement in a first novel.

YA_Shabazz_XThe 47th Annual NAACP Image Award-winners were announced on February 5. The recipient of Outstanding Children’s Literary Work award was Gordon Parks How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Albert Whitman, 2015). X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon (Candlewick, 2015) won the Youth/Teen prize. Check out the complete list of winners here.

Report your Challenges

American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) is working to finalize its numbers for 2015 challenges and its annual list of most frequently challenged books. It collects information for the challenge database from media reports and those submitted by individuals and, while many challenges are never reported, it strives to be as comprehensive as possible.

The final deadline for reporting 2015 challenges to OIF is Friday, February 26, 2016. Even if you think the challenge was probably already reported, send it anyway. Or maybe there are more details we can add to our database. Many times the status is left unknown because the case was reported before there was a resolution. So updates are also encouraged.

Challenges reported to ALA by individuals are kept confidential and we will cross-check your report with existing entries in the database to avoid duplicates. You may report challenges by filling out and submitting the database form available in a variety of formats at If you have any questions at all, please contact




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Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy | SLJ Review Wed, 10 Feb 2016 15:00:32 +0000 Macy, Sue. Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber. illus. by C.F. Payne. 40p. chron. ebook available. filmog. further reading. glossary. notes. websites. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481401203. 

Gr 2-4 –A heartfelt, informative, and thoroughly engaging picture book biography about groundbreaking sports reporter Mary Garber (1916–2008). Garber became a sportswriter at a time when there were few women in the field, when women were not welcome in [...]]]> redstarMacy, Sue. Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber. illus. by C.F. Payne. 40p. chron. ebook available. filmog. further reading. glossary. notes. websites. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Feb. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481401203. Macy, Sue. Miss Mary Reporting The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber

Gr 2-4 –A heartfelt, informative, and thoroughly engaging picture book biography about groundbreaking sports reporter Mary Garber (1916–2008). Garber became a sportswriter at a time when there were few women in the field, when women were not welcome in the press box, in the locker room, or on the sidelines. Her love of sports, her fierce determination, and her independent spirit gave her the tools she needed to succeed. She became known for reporting on teams and people who were out of the mainstream, athletes whom other sportswriters wouldn’t even consider, such as African American individuals and college teams. Her admiration of Jackie Robinson inspired her to face her detractors with stoicism and grace and to go about doing the best job she could. In Macy’s adept hands, Garber comes to life, from her childhood antics on the football field to her important work giving a fair shake to kids and athletes she thought deserved more attention. Payne’s mixed-media art lends itself well to the topic. His paintings fill the pages with movement and humor, and the characters’ expressions draw the eye and complement the tone of the narrative. Pair this entertaining biography with a few about other women journalists, such as Nellie Bly, for a more in-depth examination of an area that is often overlooked in children’s literature. VERDICT An excellent and welcome addition to any elementary biography collection.–Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson | SLJ Review Wed, 10 Feb 2016 14:00:45 +0000 Hopkinson, Deborah. A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket. 304p. ebook available. photos. Knopf. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385754996; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385755009.

Gr 4-7 –As this lively, fast-paced novel attests, the streets of late 19th-century New York City were especially cruel to young immigrants trying to improve their chances of upward mobility. Eleven-year-old Rocco, newly arrived in New York after a misunderstanding caused by an obstinate donkey, is sold to a [...]]]> redstarHopkinson, Deborah. A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket. 304p. ebook available. photos. Knopf. Apr. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385754996; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385755009.Hopkinson, Deborah. A Bandit’s Tale The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket

Gr 4-7 –As this lively, fast-paced novel attests, the streets of late 19th-century New York City were especially cruel to young immigrants trying to improve their chances of upward mobility. Eleven-year-old Rocco, newly arrived in New York after a misunderstanding caused by an obstinate donkey, is sold to a cruel and miserly padrone who sends “his” group of children to perform as street musicians. Anxious to fill his hungry belly and escape his wretched living conditions, Rocco joins a group of pickpockets, and although he’s increasingly uncomfortable about taking people’s money, he’s able to justify his actions until he meets Meddlin’ Mary, a young Irish girl who, with her father, is devoted to caring for the city’s mistreated and overworked horses. Through his encounter with Mary and her father, Rocco is immersed in a new world, and he meets historical figures, including Jacob Riis, who were instrumental in social reform movements dedicated to improving the lives of children and animals. In a picaresque style, Rocco narrates his own journey from a street bandit to a prison escapee and ultimately to a young man dedicated to improving the lives of other immigrants. VERDICT A strong choice for fans of Rodman Philbrick’s The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg (Scholastic, 2009) and those who enjoy adventures about scrappy and resourceful kids who have to rely on their own smarts and the kindness of strangers to change their lives.–Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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Secret Societies, Psychopaths, and Murder | Adult Books 4 Teens Tue, 09 Feb 2016 20:20:50 +0000 memorandom-de la motteAn unreliable narrator with amnesia, a secret society orchestrating conspiracies, a decades-old mystery springing back to life, a group of strangers mysteriously connected to a viral video, and a psychopath working for the district attorney but turning to a life of crime: the novels reviewed below contain just about every ingredient we’ve come to know and love in contemporary suspense thrillers, whether on TV, in movies, or in literature. So they offer a pretty dynamic cross-section of popular fiction.

For our amnesiac narrator, we turn to Anders de la Motte’s MemoRandom (a Swedish import—yet another popular trend of the last decade). David Sarac’s amnesia is particularly inconvenient, since his job is recruiting informants from the underworld of organized crime for the Stockholm Police Department. Now he has to recover from a coma, attempt to finish the case he was in the middle of cracking when his car crashed, and avoid corruption on both sides of the law, all while trying to remember how much everyone involved knows about him. De la Motte has already wowed us with his “Game” trilogy (HarperCollins), and his publisher promised that MemoRandom is the first of two novels, so look for more breakneck suspense in the near future.

Organized crime is one thing, of course, but those pesky, centuries-old secret societies are another thing entirely. Cassie Blackwell, the protagonist of Ann A. McDonald’s The Oxford Inheritance, isn’t scared, though: she’s come to Oxford looking for the society that she believes holds the answers to her mother’s insanity and suicide. If MemoRandom brings to mind Stieg Larsson comparisons (and it does in the review below), the obvious touchpoint here is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, still casting its long, conspiracy-minded shadow over suspense fiction after all these years. Like Brown’s novels, The Oxford Inheritance may not hold up to logical scrutiny, but teens will have too much fun to care.

Of course, the past doesn’t have to be centuries old to come back to haunt you. In Stuart Neville’s newest “Belfast” novel, Those We Left Behind, DCI Serena Flanagan is haunted by a case from seven years ago. Flanagan helped get a murder confession from 12-year-old named Ciaran Devine, an admission that helped mitigate the sentence of Ciaran’s older brother Thomas. Now Ciaran is being released from prison, and Flanagan—who was always half-convinced that Thomas was the true murderer—finds herself re-embroiled in the case, trying to help Ciaran escape Thomas’s influence. Bringing together a cold case, a young adult parolee, and a complicated family dynamic, this work should make for powerful reading.

Mohr_All this lifeWhile the above novels hearken back to turn-of-the-21st-century models, Joshua Mohr’s All This Life catapults readers directly into the current moment of social media, where anything in life can be instantaneously viewed the world over. Mohr takes two common enough occurrences in social media—a shocking event on the Golden Gate Bridge is filmed and goes viral, and a young woman’s boyfriend posts a sex tape online against her will—and uses these two modern touchstones to bring together a large cast of characters and examine a wide range of cultural ethics in this sprawling literary triumph.

Don’t worry—I haven’t forgotten that I promised you a psychopath. Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man features Dominic, who—with shades of Dexter—works for the district attorney no less. But when Dominic’s life starts to fall apart, his psychopathy makes it easy for him to turn criminal, and he becomes involved in a supposedly simple heist to make some quick money. But has there ever been an easy heist in the world of fiction? Hollow Man is no exception, as things quickly go off the rails. Once again, sharp twists and emotional heft easily outweigh the book’s tendency to strain credulity.

All in all, these novels touch right on the pulse of contemporary suspense, with high-concept plot, abounding twists and turns, and up-to-the-minute cultural touchstones. Teenagers should be more than sated in their need for thrills and suspense.

DE LA MOTTE, Anders. MemoRandom. 407p. Atria/Emily Bestler Bks. 2015. pap. $17. ISBN 9781476788067.
David Sarac is a member of the Intelligence Unit of the Stockholm police force and has been charged with recruiting and managing organized crime informants. One of these informants seems to be linked to some very scary situations and high-level people. His identity is top secret; Sarac is the only one who knows the informant’s code name. This makes crime-solving very tricky because Sarac is currently recovering from a coma and has lost most of his memory. As he struggles to regain his health and memory, he must also stay alive and work his way through a complicated web of corrupt lawmakers and the powerful organized crime syndicate of Sweden. This thriller is full of unforgettable characters, such as Atif, an Iraqi policeman who came back for his brother’s funeral only to discover his brother may have been murdered by the mob he had left behind, and Jesper, the smooth-talking lawyer who is trying to cover up his own crime while embroiled in the prosecution of others. Readers will devour the intricacies of this thrilling crime novel and will hurriedly turn the pages until its denouement. VERDICT For teen fans of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series (Knopf) and de la Motte’s “Game Trilogy” (Atria).–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey

Oxford inheritance_macdonald_MCDONALD, Ann. The Oxford Inheritance. 288p. William Morrow. Feb. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062203670.
American Cassie Blackwell is a new student at Oxford University, but she is there for more than a first-tier education. Cassie is hiding a lot of secrets about who she is and how she got there. Mostly, the teen is hiding that her mother went to Oxford before she fled to America to have a baby. Her mother also went insane and killed herself when Cassie was 14. While digging to uncover her mother’s past and find out her father’s identity, Cassie also begins to unearth a dark secret held at the university itself. After her roommate commits suicide, the protagonist becomes embroiled in a greater mystery with complicated layers, including a secret society and centuries of power, intrigue, and murder that are all seemingly embedded with the very foundation of Raleigh College at Oxford. While trying to investigate and simultaneously manage the attentions of men who may not be all that they seem, Cassie discovers that the dark arts are playing a role in her life. The obvious holes in the plot of this gothic mystery and the ever increasing necessity to suspend disbelief are far outweighed by the gripping story line, magnetic characters, and wonderfully detailed description of student life at Oxford. VERDICT A solid choice for collections everywhere, especially those looking for page-turning thrillers with teen appeal.–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey.

MOHR, Joshua. All This Life. 296p. Counterpoint. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9781593766030.
As he commutes with his father into San Francisco, 14-year-old Jake captures a shocking scene on the Golden Gate Bridge on his iPhone. He posts it online, as part of his online persona, and it quickly goes viral. Because of this attention, Jake knows that his worth as an online personality has now reached its peak, and he wants to claim the fame that he is sure is his. His actions spark the events that bring together the novel’s large cast of characters: 18-year-old Sara, living in nowhere Nevada, who learns that a sex tape made with her (now ex) boyfriend Nate has gone viral and can’t wait to get away from the humiliation and anger it brings; Rodney, Sara’s long-time friend, sidelined by a stupid prank that left him speech impaired and ready to get answers from the mother who left him after the accident; Rodney’s mother, Kathleen, now living in San Francisco as a caricature artist and three years sober, who longs to reconnect with her son but can’t take that first step; and Noah911, who has seen Jake’s video and recognizes his connection with the action on the bridge. How these characters intersect becomes a satisfying tale of redemption and forgiveness. Mature teens who recognize the dark irony that threads this story— that the connections made online are not necessarily reliable—will enjoy the triumph that can come only from the caring that happens in real life. VERDICT A suspenseful read for older teens.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Neville_Those We Left BehindNEVILLE, Stuart. Those We Left Behind. 320p. Soho Crime. 2015. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781616956363; ebk. ISBN 9781616956370.
Irish writer Neville brings DCI Serena Flanagan back on the job after she has recovered from breast cancer. Her first case involves 20-year-old Ciaran Devine, who, seven years prior, at age 12, confessed to the murder of his stepfather. He is released to a group home and will be under the care of Probation Officer Paula Cunningham. Flanagan—the officer in Ciaran’s original case— is sure that it was Thomas, Ciaran’s older brother, who committed the murder, and when a skirmish in the group home brings Flanagan back into Ciaran’s life, she reflects on what might have gone wrong in the initial investigation and how to bring Thomas to light as the true murderer. But Ciaran, deeply tied to his sibling, refuses to answer any questions and sticks by his confession. The young men have a stepbrother, Daniel, who has been following their movements from afar and now waits for the right moment to confront them for killing his father. He has been slowly unraveling since his father’s death and unknowingly sets into motion the series of events that force DCI Flanagan to work even harder to release Ciaran from the bounds that Thomas has tied. She is thwarted at every corner by stifling rules, as well as the determination of three young men to be left alone with their secrets and their dreams of revenge. VERDICT Teen fans of mystery and psychological thrillers will root for Ciaran, hoping that he can overcome his circumstances.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Pryor_Hollow ManPRYOR, Mark. Hollow Man. 271p. Prometheus/Seventh Street Bks. 2015. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781633880863.
Fans of characters such as TV’s Dexter, Sherlock, and House will take a shine to Dominic, a British expat living in Austin, TX, and working for the DA’s office. He’s having a terrible day: he has to switch to a job that pays less money, and he’s barred from playing in a local club. On the plus side, there’s a mysterious woman he takes an interest in— she’s intriguing, sexy, and the older sister of a boy appearing in juvenile court, where Dominic happens to work. They, and his friend Gus, begin to plan a heist, one that seems simple and will solve Dominic’s money woes. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and the protagonist has to tidy things up if he’s going to avoid detection and jail. The twists and complications are a little fanciful, but readers will enjoy the mix of legal information and heist. Is Dominic a psychopath? His lack of emotion and empathy might suggest yes. Will he get the girl? Teens will happily read on to find out. VERDICT A great choice for those who want more suspense than mystery and who don’t feel they have to empathize with or like the main character.–Laura Pearle, Milton Academy, MA

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The Typewriter by Bill Thomson | SLJ Review Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:00:00 +0000 Thomson, Bill. The Typewriter illus. by Bill Thomson. 40p. Amazon/Two Lions. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781477849750. 

PreS-Gr 3 –Three friends ride their bikes to a deserted carousel on a wintry day; a lone monarch butterfly suggests whimsy despite the snow banks and heavy coats. Though the attraction is closed for the season, they find a mysterious black box covered in white letters atop a ride-on bumblebee. The children—a white boy, black girl, and Asian boy—marvel [...]]]> redstarThomson, Bill. The Typewriter illus. by Bill Thomson. 40p. Amazon/Two Lions. Mar. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781477849750. Thomson, Bill. The Typewriter

PreS-Gr 3 –Three friends ride their bikes to a deserted carousel on a wintry day; a lone monarch butterfly suggests whimsy despite the snow banks and heavy coats. Though the attraction is closed for the season, they find a mysterious black box covered in white letters atop a ride-on bumblebee. The children—a white boy, black girl, and Asian boy—marvel in dismay…the box contains a relic from the past—an old manual typewriter. The girl types the word beach, and they are suddenly on a sandy beach with majestic blue waves. Coats are shed and a chase ensues—boy with crab pursuing laughing girl. The other boy types “Ball,” prompting a spirited game of volleyball with a giant colored beach ball. “Ice Cream” delivers a giant orange bucket of dessert with three yellow shovel spoons. Next, a giant “Crab” attack is foiled by a “Big Wave.” Finally, the girl types “The End,” and coats are donned, the typewriter is returned to its case, and the friends cycle off. The stunningly realistic art, created with acrylic paint and colored pencils, features full-spreads, panels, and close-ups that reveal the children’s awe and delight. Reminiscent of Thomson’s Chalk (Two Lions, 2010), this title is another celebration of the power of imagination. Students can imagine what word they would type and illustrate their own scenarios. VERDICT A feast for the eyes and inspiration for the mind.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older | SLJ Audio Review Tue, 09 Feb 2016 14:00:30 +0000 OLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. 6 CDs. 7:21 hrs. Scholastic Audio. 2015. $29.99. ISBN 9780545921220.

Gr 7 Up –If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does it mean when paintings start morphing, shifting, and even weeping actual tears? For Sierra Santiago, who thought she would spend her summer making the mural of her dreams, these newly moving pictures are clear warnings that mere words can’t save the world as she knows it. While avoiding evil spirits and [...]]]> redstarOLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper. 6 CDs. 7:21 hrs. Scholastic Audio. 2015. $29.99. ISBN 9780545921220.OLDER, Daniel José. Shadowshaper

Gr 7 Up –If a picture is worth a thousand words, what does it mean when paintings start morphing, shifting, and even weeping actual tears? For Sierra Santiago, who thought she would spend her summer making the mural of her dreams, these newly moving pictures are clear warnings that mere words can’t save the world as she knows it. While avoiding evil spirits and malicious spooks suddenly on the loose, Sierra needs to hunt down a fast-moving killer—but how? Her stroke-victim grandfather has nothing but garbled apologies, her harried mother offers no answers, and her loyal best friend remains bewildered. The only person who can help is the fellow street artist she just might be crushing on. This multicultural thriller set in Brooklyn with a smart, tough Puerto Rican heroine proves to be the perfect vehicle for versatile narrator Anika Noni Rose. The casting goes beyond serendipity—Rose’s production company optioned screen rights to Older’s adult fantasy series “Bone Street Rumba” (Roc). VERDICT For adventure seekers in search of a culturally robust fright fest, Shadowshaper awaits. [“Excellent diverse genre fiction in an appealing package”: SLJ 4/15 starred review of the Arthur Levine book.]–Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

This review was published in the School Library Journal February 2016 issue.

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Interview: Veronica Rossi on Her YA Crossover Series Opener, “Riders” Tue, 09 Feb 2016 13:30:05 +0000 New York Times bestselling YA author Veronica Rossi chats with SLJ about her inspiration for Riders, her latest focusing on the four teen Horsemen of the Apocalypse and their quest to save the world from destruction.]]> Photo courtesy of Tor Teen.

Photo courtesy of Tor Teen.

Following up her New York Times best-selling “Under the Never Sky” trilogy (HarperCollins), Veronica Rossi’s newest fantasy duology opens with Riders (Tor Teen, Feb. 16, 2016). Gideon Blake, 18, is still grieving the death of his father and working to become a U.S. Army Ranger when he suffers a fatal accident during training. Yet instead of dying, he wakes up with a weird cuff on his wrist and strange powers. Here SLJ chats with Rossi about this crossover title focusing on the four teen horsemen of the apocalypse and their quest to save the world from destruction.

This genre-bending tale is quite a departure from your previous series. What inspired you to write it?
Yes, it is different! Still, I think readers who relish a blend of action, romance, and humor will see those elements present in Riders, too. That’s what I love as a reader—so it’s where I tend to go as a writer as well.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single source of inspiration, so I’ll name a few. First, I’ve always been a fan of military books and films. About five years ago I read Fearless (Waterbrook Pr., 2012), a biography of a Navy SEAL named Adam Brown, which really moved me. At that moment I knew I needed to write about a soldier. My idea to incorporate the four horsemen was both a feeling of wanting to know more about the subject and wishing to confront a fear. If something terrifies me, I become a little obsessed; I want to understand it and look it right in the eye. The four horsemen fell into that category. Finally, along the same lines, I have to feel that prickle of anxiety when I’m creating new book ideas. If it sounds impossible, that usually means it’s something worth exploring. Weird, I know. Riders is a story I had to write, even if it was just for me.

You’ve created a complex cast of characters, each member with a very different personality and background. How did you craft each protagonist?
I don’t think I craft characters as much as discover them. It sounds a little bizarre, but if I just listen, they eventually tell me who they are. It’s a process that happens over time. I go on a lot of walks. I stare at walls. Then I write until the characters start to answer my questions.

Do you have a favorite character? One with whom you identify most?
Gideon totally has my heart. That’s a cop-out answer, but it’s the truth. I love them all, though. I identify with Daryn because she’s a girl and a writer like me, though she’s much tougher and more athletic. I also see myself in Sebastian, who’s Famine in the story. He’s the dreamer of the group. If he’s doing something creative, he’s happy. That’s 100 percent me.

The duology consists of Riders and the sequel, Seeker; will they be told from different perspectives?
Seeker will be narrated from Daryn’s point of view, the main female character, along with Gideon’s perspective.

What kind of research did you do to get the world-building just right? The horses, the military speak, the different locales, the demonology—how did you keep track of them all and integrate them into one cohesive whole?
My research included a bit of everything. I had visited most of the locales before, but I’d never been to Norway, where a large part of the story happens, so my mom and I took a trip there, which was amazing. I also enrolled in horseback-riding lessons and spent a week riding in Wyoming. I read a ton of military books and had several calls and meetings with two colonels and one lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

These men were amazing; smart, funny, and generous with their time. Probably the best part of writing this book was getting to know them. I’d be on the phone with one of the colonels and he’d say, “I have to wrap up soon so I can get to a weapons-of-mass-destruction call.” And after a long pause I’d respond,  “Are you serious? Wow, you are. You ARE serious.”

I’d also exchange emails with the lieutenant, who’s deployed, spending months away from his newborn daughter. After reading I’d think how lucky am I to be with my family right now? To be safe in my house? To have all the rights and privileges I have?

By talking with the colonel and lieutenant I was exposed to the sacrifices they make every day and to the real issues that can feel so distant when we hear about them in the news. These men inspired me; getting to speak with them changed how I see the world. Their sense of patriotism is elevating. You end up just wanting to be a better person.

For organizing all of the information I keep a huge file filled with notes, details, and photos. There’s a lot of fact checking throughout the writing and revision process. I also have a great editor who helps me keep an eye on everything.

RidersWhat is your writing process like?
It varies from book to book. Sometimes I spend a lot of time researching up front or outlining. Other times I open a document and jump in with no lead-up. I try to follow the path that feels best for that particular project in order to keep the writing fresh. I suppose that’s been a theme for me creatively. Staying limber. Being open to change. Never repeating what I’ve already done.

I really appreciate that this series features characters in their late teens. Do you consider this new adult, crossover, or YA? Does it matter?
I think it’s going on YA shelves, but it’s probably a crossover. To be honest, I don’t think about those labels. I try to write the book I want to read. But I understand the need for the distinctions. Categories are helpful to booksellers and librarians, and, to some extent, readers, too.

There’s a nice balance between the action sequences and the more character-driven parts of the work, including some space for romance. How did you keep this balance?
I view Riders as the least romance-driven book I’ve written yet. (Spoiler: that changes in the sequel!) I don’t know how I kept the balance. Revision, maybe? Gut instinct? My editor’s notes? Probably a bit of all three!

What prompted you to write this mostly via flashbacks?
The desire to challenge myself, as I’ve mentioned. I can’t overstate my revulsion to boredom. I’ve written several books in third person, past tense, and with a linear narration. Here I changed all three of those. I’m a fan of stories with framework devices, like in the films The Princess Bride and The Usual Suspects, and Steven Pressfield’s book The Gates of Fire (Doubleday, 1998). The whole notion of, “pull up a chair because have I got a story to tell you” sucks me in every time, so I used a modification of that while writing this book.

What are you working on next?
I’m playing around with some YA story lines at the moment. A few are promising, but I haven’t settled on anything yet. I’m also developing my first adult novel. It’s a feminist story about a woman who achieved something incredible, but who has been overlooked by history. Spreading awareness of her life seems to be turning into a personal crusade. Writing her story would require years of research. It would demand a very deep dive, and that terrifies me. So naturally, I think I’m going to have to do it!

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