School Library Journal The world's largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens Mon, 02 Mar 2015 22:16:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Meet Amy Randazzo, Ferguson’s New Crowdfunded Librarian Mon, 02 Mar 2015 16:16:06 +0000 Amy_RandazzoWhat do you do with an unexpected $350,000? Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library (FMPL), MO, had two items on his wish list: new carpeting and a children’s librarian. The carpeting is still forthcoming, but FMPL has just hired Amy Randazzo to serve as its long-awaited children’s services librarian starting March 9.

Bonner’s actions in August and November of 2014, when he joined forces with local teachers and volunteers to provide a safe, engaged space at FMPL for all of Ferguson, notably children and teenagers during school closings, prompted an outpouring of gratitude and generosity. Social media campaigns brought in donations of several thousand new books and the aforementioned money—an unprecedented bounty for a small library with a $400,000 annual budget. “We have a very, very frugal board and I’m frugal myself,” Bonner told LJ in December, and explained that—as FMPL’s sole full-time employee—along with replacing the worn mid-1990s carpeting, hiring a children’s librarian was his first priority. The job was posted in January 2015, and Bonner announced Randazzo’s hire February 26.

Although the position is, essentially, crowdfunded, Bonner assured LJ that it is a permanent one. The board, he said, has committed to using the donated surplus to supplement the salary for a couple of years “and use that time to rearrange the budget elsewhere, to make sure we don’t leave anyone in the lurch. We’re confident that we can find a way to make it work out.” In the meantime he’s looking forward to working with Randazzo, a Ferguson resident with degrees in political science and library science from the University of Missouri.

She will be leaving two part-time jobs for FMPL: working with the Ferguson-Florissant School District in its elementary school before- and after-school care program, and as a reference librarian with the University City Public Library. LJ caught up with Randazzo the week before she started work to find out a bit more about Ferguson’s newest team member.

LJ: How did you hear about the FMPL position?

Amy Randazzo: I heard of the position through several different places—Twitter, the news (especially library media), coworkers, and job listservs. I also live in Ferguson so it would have been next to impossible for me to miss, especially with friends of my mom telling her, since they knew I was looking for a full-time library position.

Did you have any concerns going in that this is, essentially, a crowd-funded position? Does that feel any different from walking into a standard budget line item job?

That was my main concern going into my interview with Scott, about what would happen when the money runs out. It does feel a little different, knowing that I have this job due to some very generous people, and that I’m not only serving our patrons and our community but also them, to an extent. As for job security, Scott has reassured me that they will find a way to keep this position going after the donations run out. For now, I’m just going to focus on doing the best job I can and on serving our community.

What appeals to you about being a children’s librarian in a small library in a small community?

For me, it’s not just about working in a small library as it is about working in my community. Like I said before, I live in Ferguson (in fact, I grew up here), and I’m well aware of the challenges that we and the communities surrounding us face. Getting this job feels like my opportunity to not only give back, but to also help make a difference in the lives of our children and teens.

What are your plans once you settle in at the library?

I think, right now, my immediate plans are to see what we’ve already got in the works and help with that. We recently learned that we’re participating in StoryCorps, so that’s likely to be the first major project for the library that I’ll be a part of. For the long term, I would love to get some recurring programming going, though what that might be, I haven’t quite decided yet! Ferguson hasn’t had a dedicated person for programming before, so I’m feeling like I can do anything. We’ve also been lucky in that there are a lot of groups and organizations focused on Ferguson right now, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to make some connections and see how we can work together to benefit everyone.

Will you be cataloging all those donated books?

Cataloging is a part of the job, but I know that the library has already been busy adding the donated books to the collection. I’m sure I’ll do my fair share once I’ve officially started!

Anything else Library Journal readers should know about you?

The only other thing that I would like LJ readers to know is how deeply grateful I am for their generosity. If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers who wanted to help out in some way, I wouldn’t have this opportunity now. I only hope that they will feel that their money has been put to good use!

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The 2015 Youth Media Awards: A Crossover Year for Diversity Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:00:55 +0000 SLJ1503_CoverDetail

Illustrations by Lee White

The announcement of the Youth Media Awards—the “Oscars” of children’s and young adult (YA) literature—is always a high point of the year. There are usually plenty of gasps and hurrahs, and a standing ovation or two at the press conference, held annually at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting. But something ticked up a notch on February 2, 2015. When I tried to explain it, I found myself breaking into tears. I was not alone. The emotional response that day, while focusing on different aspects of the award outcomes, seemed to stem from a single current. What was it?

Initial reactions to the winners have centered around diversity of all varieties. There’s the happy proclamation from Betsy Bird and Lori Prince during the School Library Journal Post-Game Show that the winners were “all diverse!” Then there was this comment on a blog (purposefully anonymized, as it is only one of many), regarding the Newbery selections:

“I sure hope that the committee wasn’t out to make a statement about diversity this year and overlooked other well-deserving novels in the process. As X says, these three titles are all pretty limiting in audience.”


Illustration by Lee White

The idea that “diverse books” limit potential readership assumes that the Newbery and Caldecott awards should, by default, reflect a white experience. Perhaps that assumption exists because, for much of their history, they have.

Building on recent conversations about diversity in children’s books was the subject of the January 30 invitational “Day of Diversity” (co-sponsored by the Children’s Book Council and the Association for Library Service to Children [ALSC]), which prompted many formal and informal conversations throughout the weekend. But as much as “diversity” was at the top of people’s minds as the award results unfolded, Junko Yokota, chair of the 2015 Caldecott Medal committee, was quick to point out that diversity is not a criterion of these awards. “However, as professionals in the field, we are attuned to issues related to diversity, and our personal commitments to representation are always part of the lens with which we view the world. That said, I cannot imagine a committee that would elevate a book solely for its [racial] representation.” The awards do consider child appeal, though with a broad definition of “child.” Winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Sibert awards must display “respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including 14, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.”

YMA_CALLOUT2The­ charge is evident in this year’s winners, particularly in the Newbery and Caldecott awards, but also in the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and other awards, all demonstrating child appeal for a diverse range of ages, interests, and experiences. Racial diversity stood out at first glance: how could it not? In the previous three years, the Newbery and Caldecott committees recognized just one person of color between them. This year: five. But perhaps more stunning was the diversity of genre and format among the lauded titles, most notably, the selection of a graphic novel for a Caldecott honor, This One Summer (First Second) by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and a Newbery honor: El Deafo (Abrams) by Cece Bell.

2015 Newbery Winners

SLJ1503_YMA_NewberryWinnersThe John Newbery Medal honors the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Winner, Newbery Medal

The Crossover, written by Kwame Alexander and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Newbery Honor books:

El Deafo, written and illustrated by Cece Bell and published by Abrams/Amulet.

Brown Girl Dreaming, written by Jacqueline Woodson and published by Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks.

The artful word balloon

Tapped as a favorite in many mock Newbery discussions, El Deafo challenged us to interpret the criteria: “The committee is to make its decision primarily on the text. Other components of a book, such as illustrations, overall design of the book, etc., may be considered when they make the book less effective.” How can one evaluate a graphic novel solely on its text? The criteria don’t require that the text stands on its own. Acknowledging that text and illustration in a graphic novel accomplish what they accomplish together, we can still isolate what part the text has to play in each step, and find it distinguished. Bell’s creative use of shading and artful word balloons can be likened to manipulation of font in narrative prose to characterize voice. The pacing of text from frame to frame conveys rhythm, just as author Kwame Alexander uses line breaks and spacing to create a rhythmic emotional architecture in his novel-in-verse The Crossover (HoughtonHarcourt), winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal.

The examination of a graphic novel under Caldecott criteria is utterly different. The Caldecott award honors “the most distinguished American picture book for children,” and “picture book” is further defined so that, when taken literally, it may include graphic novels. The 2008 Caldecott committee first overturned assumptions about the award by giving the medal to Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic), a novel told through both prose and illustration. As the award’s namesake Randolph Caldecott revolutionized “the picture book” in the 1870s, the 2008 medal gave the award’s definition of “a visual experience” broader meaning. The 2015 committee has affirmed that expanded definition by recognizing This One Summer (a traditional graphic novel), simultaneously reminding us that the award, like the Newbery, must consider books whose potential audience extends to age 14. Following the announcement, the outcry on social media against the book’s “mature” themes was balanced by its strong appeal to children at the award criteria’s upper age range. Age-level controversies have typically surrounded the Newbery award, but it seems the Caldecott has finally caught up. While this crossover age range poses real complications for many adults who have to explain why a Newbery or Caldecott book might not be appropriate for a particular grade level or is shelved in the YA section, this award reminds us that “children’s literature” is not defined by its labels, but by its readers.

YMA_CALLOUT1More remarkable than either of these single awards going to a graphic novel is the fact that they happened in the same year, suggesting a “sea change,” as observed by Eva Volin of SLJ’s “Good Comics for Kids” blog. Still, these were not the only notable statements at the YMAs. The Newbery committee recognized no books with standard narrative prose, and poetry was well represented across the board, gaining recognition from the Coretta Scott King (CSK) and Sibert committees as well. The Caldecott committee recognized an unprecedented six honor books, most of them upsetting other titles with more “buzz.” And more titles than usual were recognized by multiple committees; for instance, Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin) received the CSK Medal, a Newbery Honor, and a Sibert Honor. Each of these awards is determined by an entirely separate jury, the makeup of which changes from year to year, ruling out the potential for any secret agenda. However, surveying the award winners collectively, we have to address the skepticism that the 2015 committees may have overcompensated in heeding the call for diverse books.

2015 Caldecott Winners

The Randolph Caldecott Medal honors the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Winner, Caldecott Medal

SLJ1503-YMA-Beekle-SantatThe Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, illustrated by Dan Santat. The book was written by Dan Santat and published by Little, Brown.


Caldecott Honor Books:

Nana in the City, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, written by Lauren Castillo and published by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art, illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock and published by Alfred A. Knopf.

Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett and published by Candlewick Press.

Viva Frida, illustrated by Yuyi Morales, written by Yuyi Morales and published by Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant, and published by Eerdmans.

This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki and published by First Second.

“D” is for distinguished

“Of course the diversity reflected in the awards is wonderful to see,” says Deborah Taylor, Sibert committee chair. “Having been on many awards committees, I know that the focus is always on the quality of the titles examined, and it was terrific that there were so many outstanding books created by diverse authors.” Newbery chair Randall Enos concurs: “I think the diverse selections reflect the publishers’ commitment to offering quality materials that reflect the diversity of our communities…the good news is that there were plenty of distinguished titles by authors from all segments of our population, but we chose the ‘most distinguished’ rather than representation from authors representing various groups.”

When I examine the Newbery and Caldecott selections and consider the charge of each committee, I don’t see so much a selection of diverse books, as more diverse appreciations of excellence in books—a broader view of our standards. Looking just at the Newbery, we find diversity in format: poetry/novel, free verse/memoir, and graphic memoir. Diversity in style: one sporty, one contemplative, one funny. Brown Girl Dreaming is the closest we get to a typical Newbery…and how is it that we can even say “typical Newbery”? What circumstances allow us to think such a thing exists? Given that the award is for ages zero to 14, and that “there are no limitations as to the character of the book considered except that it be original work,” how can we account for the homogenous nature of the long list of past Newbery winners and honors? Hasn’t children’s literature developed and broadened over the past few decades much more dramatically than we see revealed in the winners we have on record?

This year is about “us” finally starting to catch up, and it’s about recognizing appeal and reading interest for the diversity of readers the literature serves. This year’s awards have not answered the lack of diverse award winners, nor addressed the white privilege that stands in the way of achieving more diverse books, but they do, collectively, whether intended or not, ask us to confront it. They show us that it is not just the presence of “diverse books” that matters, but how we assign value to our standards for excellence among them.

In her guest post “Reader Know Thyself,” at the blog “Heavy Medal,” (which I co-author with Jonathan Hunt, county schools librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education), Vicky Smith, children’s and teen editor, Kirkus Reviews, asks: “Now, we all bring ourselves as readers to the books that we open, but how conscious are we as we do it?” Who determines what sets the standard for a distinguished book for children? The Newbery and Caldecott committees do. The criteria for these awards are fairly broad. They have to be, because literature changes over time. ALSC tweaks them occasionally, and carefully, but the gist remains. Every committee interprets the criteria, and may look to previous winners as standards of excellence. But when those standards are borne, over time, from the same generally homogenous experience represented by the mostly white, female, college-educated, non-working-class award committee members, we end up with a feedback loop.

A seat at the table

ALSC has committed, with variable success, to appoint diverse members to its award committees, but at some point is limited by the diversity or lack thereof in our professions. Amy Koester, blogger at “The Show Me Librarian,” says, “It can make all the difference if the members who sit around that table have the experience and worldview to be able to see stories that don’t resemble their own on the same plane as the stories that do. There are always distinguished diverse books eligible for awards, but committees are not always equipped to discuss them in the manner that they deserve.”

Why are some kinds of reading experiences valued and others are not? I think that any of us reading this would stake our reputations on striving against value judgments of this sort. Yet, we see it, in the range of books recognized over time, even recent time, by the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Jennifer Holliday, a former director of “Teaching Tolerance,” an educational project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, reminds us that white privilege has determined what is “valuable” in terms of education: “I rarely have to question the validity … how or why some things are valued and others are not—why some things are important to ‘us’ and other things are not” (from “On Racism and White Privilege,” Teaching Tolerance). Whiteness is only one element of the feedback loop we see in our awards, but it is the most important part to confront, because it is the barrier to the change we say we want. We have yet to tackle, publicly, the fact that the standards of excellence that we promote through these awards are defined by an all-white lens.

Other 2015 YMA Honorees


While the selections of 2015 committees suggest a different tack, in themselves they do nothing to permanently shift the enduring white privilege that defines today’s children’s literature. “Diversity” is not about more brown faces appearing in 32-page picture books or middle grade fiction, or about awarding a small handful of amazing books by diverse authors and illustrators. Diversity is about inviting and including more opinions and experiences in the tastemaking. It’s about “knowing thyself” not just as individual reviewers of children’s books, but knowing ourselves as a profession, honoring the value of what we’ve done so far, and recognizing that while we have done amazing work, we have also been shortsighted, relying too heavily on the default standards of our racialized society. Diversity is about empowering those outside the privileged culture.

Jason Low, publisher of Lee & Low Books, points out: “These results would have logically taken place at least three to five years from now in the future, after we as an industry had done some intense (blood, sweat, tears) work to get on the same page…I want to see what happens at next year’s YMAs. Is this a one-off or a cultural sea change?”

Something did change this year, and it wasn’t the diversity of professionals at the award-making tables. So if “diversity” was at play in this year’s committees’ decisions, I think that it simply equipped more minds to be open in their approach to validating “excellence” in children’s literature. Whose literature, and in what way? The 2015 awards suggest that these committees took a broader view of who the young readers are in this country and what appeals to them. I hope, and think, that they considered the diversity of readers out there and were rigorous in exercising the criteria to make sure they addressed today’s child audience. We see it reflected in the diversity of authors and illustrators honored. We see it in gutsy affirmations of graphic novels as “literature” and “picture books.” We see it in the breadth of reader ages and interests represented. As these winners force us to consider the award criteria more broadly, let’s also examine the privilege that led us to limit the approach in the first place. Only by doing so can we make this year’s seemingly dramatic change a real and lasting one.

Nina Lindsay is children’s services coordinator for the Oakland (CA) Public Library. She currently chairs the ALSC education committee. She coauthors, with Jonathan Hunt, “Heavy Medal: a Mock Newbery Blog.”

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]]> 2 Winds of Change at the YMAs | An ALA Midwinter Comic Mon, 02 Mar 2015 12:00:04 +0000 SLJ1503_YMA_NowlainComic-1200pix
Lisa Nowlain is a children’s librarian; Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Fellow at Darien Library (CT); and an artist. If she’s not crafting open-ended arts programs at the library, she’s going long on the ultimate frisbee field, hiking, or drooling over picture books and graphic novels. To see more of her work, go to

See also:

The 2015 Youth Media Awards: A Crossover Year in Diversity
(SLJ‘s March 2015 cover story)

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Aliens, Mean Girls, and “Speak” Readalikes | What’s Hot in YA Fri, 27 Feb 2015 22:42:48 +0000 From Michael Buckley’s alien-infested YA debut to poignant explorations of sexual violence and mental illness, the following titles for teens will keep young people coming back for more.

Science fiction fans have their pick among several action-packed narratives, including Cori McCarthy’s high-flying Breaking Sky and Jen Brooks’s In a World Just Right. Graphic novel connoisseurs can dip into the campy Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and company and All You Need Is Kill, manga based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, which the science-fiction movie Edge of Tomorrow was based on. 

For readers of more informational fare, check out nonfiction titles about women’s history, faeries, robotics, and much more. There’s even a short story collection, Love & Profanity, that features works by the hottest teen authors.

The original reviews of the following works appeared in SLJ’s February print magazine.

Grades 9 & Up

Aguirre_Queen of BrightAguirre, Ann. The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things. 320p. ebook available. Feiwel & Friends. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250047502.

Gr 8 Up–Sage Czinski just wants to do her time in high school. Though not popular, she is not relegated to burner status either. Her calling card is leaving positive Post-it notes on her classmates’ lockers, earning the nickname “Princess Post-it.” She used to have a crush on her best friend Ryan, but otherwise has never really fallen for any guy—until Shane Cavendish arrives at her small-town Illinois school. He plays guitar, has dreamy eyes, and lets Sage meddle in his life, despite his hardened surface. Sage knows that he is hiding something, but then, so is she, and she is afraid to let him know the real girl behind her upbeat facade. Aguirre’s first stand-alone novel has a slow-building story line, more focused on character development than external action. Sage’s positive nature is a hidden gem in this pleasant tale. VERDICT For teens who can’t get enough of YA romance.–Sarah Wethern, Douglas County Library, Alexandria, MN

Angel, Ann, ed. Things I’ll Never Say: Stories About Our Secret Selves. 320p. ebook available. Candlewick. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763673079. LC 2014944916.

Gr 10 Up–In this collection of dramatic short stories by various authors, all of the protagonists have secrets, though some are more intense and life-altering than others. Other than fulfilling this unifying theme, the entries are quite diverse. They span across several genres, including realistic, paranormal, and historical fiction. Regardless of the setting, these tales tackle often taboo subjects, such as inappropriate relations with teachers, gender issues, and mental disorders. Inclusion of drugs, alcohol, swearing, and liaisons between teens and more mature adults make this work appropriate for older readers. Overall, this collection will resonate with many young adults who have their own secrets as well as readers who vicariously live through the risqué lifestyles of others. VERDICT A very discussible title for fans of Chris Lynch’s and Ellen Hopkins’s hard-hitting realistic fiction.–Carol Hirsche, Provo City Library, UT

Barnholdt, Lauren. Heat of the Moment. 304p. (The Moment of Truth: Bk. 1). HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780062321398.

Gr 9 Up–Lyla McAfee cannot escape her younger self as she gets a daily email reminding her of the promise she made to herself as a freshman: “Before graduation, I will learn to trust.” With this in mind she heads off for her senior trip to Florida which does not go as planned. She is hoping to lose her virginity to her boyfriend, Derrick, but cannot help but be entranced by Beckett who bails her out more than once. The teens lack supervision on the trip; trouble and adults rarely find them. Even though Lyla is an idealistic teen who could use some guidance, readers will like her and forgive her for the decisions she makes. This series opener leaves readers at an intriguing cliff-hanger, wanting to know what comes next for Lyla and her two friends, who have also made promises to themselves. VERDICT A frothy summer beach read for older teens.–Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

Beaufrand, M.J. The Rise and Fall of the Gallivanters. 304p. ebook available. Abrams/Amulet. May 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419714955. LC 2014013556.

Gr 9 Up–It’s the early 1980s in Portland, OR, and girls are disappearing without a trace. Punk protagonist Noah believes that he knows who’s to blame. In what seems to be threads of magical realism, he discovers a mysterious David Bowie look-alike, Ziggie, who helps him uncover and work to defeat the Marr, a “toxic darkness” that threatens the girls in the city as well as his best friend Evan. Only music seems to stop the Marr, and Noah hopes that by playing at the battle of the bands being held in the sinister PfefferBrau Haus, he may be able to save his friend. As Noah delves deeper into his memories of his abusive father, his friendship with Evan, and his relationship with the girls in his band, the Gallivanters, he uncovers answers he wasn’t expecting. This engaging story of friendship, mystery, music, and romance illuminates the vivid life of a complex teen. Readers experience and discover along with Noah, and, after a roller coaster of emotions, are ultimately left with hope. VERDICT A sound addition to any YA collection.–Genevieve Feldman, San Francisco Public Library

SLJ1502-Fic9up_BodgerBodger, Holly. 5 to 1. 256p. Knopf. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385391535; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780385391542; ebk. ISBN 9780385391559.

Gr 7 Up–In this debut novel told in alternating points of view, one in poetry and one in prose, Bodger explores a future in which gender selection in India has led to there being five boys for every girl. The prose is captivating in its authenticity, portraying Kiran’s point of view very well. The poetry is appropriately jarring and nuanced, showing many aspects of Sudasa’s culture and lifestyle. Sudasa is about to come of age, meaning that she, along with many other girls just like her, will watch eight boys compete for her hand in marriage. Kiran is one of those boys, but he has a plan to escape the tests, his inevitable military assignment, and the oppression of his country. Sudasa struggles against her grandmother’s strong and repressive influence, while Kiran battles pressures from the other boys in his testing group. Over days of trials and judging, Sudasa comes to realize that Kiran may have another agenda besides winning her hand in marriage. In a not-so-distant future, readers see the possibilities of giving too much power to one gender or the other, and the negative impact that inequality can have on young people and an entire country. VERDICT An engaging dystopian novel set in India that poignantly explores gender politics.–Eden Grey, Kenton County Public Library, KY

Brooks, Jen. In a World Just Right. 432p. S. & S. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481416603; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481416627.

Gr 9 Up–High school senior Jonathan Aubrey is a world-maker. After surviving a plane crash that killed nearly everyone onboard, including his family, Jonathan discovers that he can simply will new worlds into being. This comes in handy, because in the real world he has no friends, isn’t graduating, and watches his crush, Kylie Simms, from afar. In the Kylie-Simms-Is-My-Girlfriend world, Jonathan has friends, a spot on the track team, college prospects, and Kylie’s undying devotion. One day he confuses the two worlds, almost kissing the real Kylie Simms. Suddenly, the Kylie in Kylie-Simms-Is-My-Girlfriend grows distant, while real Kylie feels an inexplicable pull toward Jonathan. As the Kylies from the two worlds become increasingly intertwined, Jonathan must determine what is happening and how to fix it before both girls suffer catastrophic fates. Brooks’s debut novel will find wide readership. Elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance combine in a well-paced story that still manages a surprising conclusion. VERDICT A thoughtful story that still feels fresh amid the many other sci-fi/romance combinations out there.–Kelsey Johnson-Kaiser, La Crosse Public Library, WI

SLJ1502-Fic9up_Buckley_ UndertowBuckley, Michael. Undertow. 384p. Houghton Harcourt. May 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544348257; ebk. ISBN 9780544348622.

Gr 8 Up–In his first YA novel, Buckley delivers a solidly entertaining adventure with the perfect amount of romance and danger. Lyric Walker used to be a “wild thing.” At 14, she and her friends ruled the dilapidated beach community of Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. Then one night, Lyric witnesses the arrival of the Alpha, strange creatures from the depths of the ocean, and learns a terrible secret her family has been keeping from her. Three years later, Coney Island is a police state, with the Alpha living in a containment camp on the beach, and furious protestors roam the streets. When six Alpha teenagers are forcibly integrated into the public high school, Lyric’s complicated web of hidden truths threatens to unravel. Smart and snarky, with rough edges and killer fashion sense, Lyric is a girl to be celebrated. Sharp political commentary and strong parallels to the treatment of minorities in the U.S. ground the world in reality, while the well-rounded and ethnically diverse supporting cast will cause readers to root for them. VERDICT Give this one to fans of Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games” trilogy (Scholastic) searching for the next big thing.–Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla, Darien Library, CT

Cotugno, Katie. 99 Days. 384p. Harper Collins/Balzer & Bray. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062216380.

Gr 9 Up–Molly Barlow is back in her hometown near the Catskill Mountains. A year ago, Molly fled to a faraway boarding school in the wake of a disastrous betrayal that left her the most hated girl in town. Now that she’s back, all of her fears are justified—the girls who used to be her friends want nothing to do with her, especially not the Donnelly siblings, who used to be her closest friends. She is getting used to all the bullying, when the arrival of the two Donnelly boys turns her world upside-down. Patrick, Molly’s first boyfriend, has a new girlfriend who doesn’t seem to hate Molly despite her past transgressions. And Gabe is there for her when nobody else seems to care if she exists. When Gabe wants to spark up a romance, Molly starts to feel like she may be able to right some wrongs and put her past behind her. But things are never simple, and Molly finds herself dreading as well as clamoring for the 99 days of summer to be over. VERDICT This book will appeal to fans of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (Hyperion, 2008), offering complex characters, plot twists, and an insightful look at society’s double standards.–Tara Kron, School Library Journal

Dela Pena_The Huntedde la Peña, Matt. The Hunted. 384p. Delacorte. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385741224; lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375989926; ebk. ISBN 9780375984365. LC 2014036148.

Gr 9 Up–Previously, in The Living (Delacorte, 2013), Shy Espinoza’s cushy summer job aboard a cruise ship was short-lived. A tsunami sunk the luxury liner, and Shy survived harrowing moments at sea, after learning that some of the passengers were working for Laso Tech, an evil biotech company responsible for Romero’s Disease, a deadly contagion ravaging Southern California. In this episode, Shy and three friends survive in a dinghy for a month with some stolen vials of the precious Romero’s vaccine, only to wash ashore and see the California coast devastated. Leveled by earthquakes, Los Angeles is an apocalyptic wasteland of rotting corpses and fearful survivors unable to contain Romero’s epidemic. Vigilantes patrol the streets looking for the ill to kill, and the healthy have few places to isolate themselves. Shy’s friends Marcus, Carmen, and Shoeshine hope to make their way to Arizona where scientists can duplicate the vaccine samples and save the masses. It is a race against time as they dodge Laso Tech’s henchmen and desperate citizens willing to kill to survive—occasionally helped by a mysterious stranger on a motorcycle. Readers will be drawn to the raw and gritty setting, fast-moving plot, and diverse characters. VERDICT A more focused and linear sequel for fans of YA survival novels.–Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland

Easton, T.S. Boys Don’t Knit. 272p. ebook available. Feiwel & Friends. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250053312.

Gr 8 Up–Seventeen-year-old Ben Fletcher is on probation for an incident involving a bottle of Martini & Rossi and the lollipop lady. Although the initial plan was against his better judgment, his knucklehead friends talked him into stealing alcohol, thus landing him in trouble with the law. In order to fulfill the terms of his probation, Ben not only has to complete community service, but he also has to take up an extracurricular activity and maintain a journal chronicling his daily experiences. Rather than sign up for his father’s car maintenance course (due to his lack of interest in anything his father deems fun), he takes up knitting. However, the protagonist soon discovers he is a natural knitter, a fact that he has to hide from his dad and friends. As he takes on this new hobby, he learns a valuable lesson about gender stereotypes, relationships, and self-worth. Easton creates a humorous story told through the fast-paced format of Ben’s journal entries. VERDICT Teens will laugh out loud as they read about the protagonist’s knitting and non-knitting escapades in this honest coming-of-age yarn.–Lindsey Dawson, Saint John’s Catholic Prep, Frederick, MD

Engel, Amy. The Book of Ivy. 304p. Entangled Teen. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781622664658.

Gr 9 Up–After the brutal war that decimated most of the country, Ivy Westfall’s grandfather founded Westfall and envisioned a democratic nation in which everyone had a right to vote. However, after a conflict between the Westfall and the Lattimer families, the Lattimers won power and governed Westfall as a dictatorship. All of her life, Ivy has been trained to hate President Lattimer for his imposed laws—specifically arranged marriages. When it is her turn to marry, she is assigned to Bishop, President Lattimer’s son. Going into the marriage, Ivy’s father and sister encourage her to kill her new husband and return the Westfall family to their rightful position. This mission becomes increasingly difficult as Ivy develops feelings for her husband. She is forced to make a decision that will alter her entire life. The novel quickly separates itself from the mediocre and presents a fantastic plot that makes readers think about the blurred lines between right and wrong. VERDICT Well-developed characters and intricate world-building combined with complex relationships, political corruption, and betrayal, leave readers begging for the second book in this series.–Lindsey Dawson, Saint John’s Catholic Prep, Frederick, MD

SLJ1502-Fic9upSpot_Fixmer_Down from the MountainFixmer, Elizabeth. Down from the Mountain. 276p. ebook available. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807583708. LC 2014027714.

Gr 9 Up–Fourteen-year-old Eva and her mother are members of the Righteous Path, a 17-member cult located in Colorado. Eva struggles to be obedient and is justifiably afraid of Prophet Ezekiel’s fierce moods and demands. Her faith is further shaken when her mother must suffer a difficult pregnancy without medical attention or proper nutrition. Eva and Rachel, the youngest of Ezekiel’s 10 wives, are sent down the mountain to purchase supplies and sell Eva’s handmade jewelry in the nearby town. Eva is fearful and amazed at the contrast between her stark, strict life and the freedom of the “heathen” world. She is also surprised at the kindness of the people she meets, contradicting everything Ezekiel has told them. Meanwhile, Ezekiel has become paranoid that outsiders may try to attack them and spends most of their money buying guns instead of food to last through winter. Her forced betrothal to Ezekiel pushes Eva to take action, leading to a gripping climax. The first-person narrative sustains a tense mood throughout, with frequent referrals to tragic real-life cults, such as the Branch Davidians of Waco, TX. VERDICT Readers will be caught up in this realistic story of a brave girl rebelling against a fundamentalist society.–Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT

Halbrook, Kristin. Every Last Promise. 288p. ebook available. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780 062121288.

Gr 9 Up–Unlike her three best friends—Jen, Bean, and Selena—high school junior Kayla wants to remain in their small town of Winbrook, MO, forever. When Kayla causes a car wreck after a party that kills a classmate and injures Jen’s twin and high school football star, Jay, Kayla spends her summer with her aunt in Kansas City. Upon her return, she is a temporary outcast and the foursome becomes a threesome with Bean forging new friendships. Though Kayla pretends not to remember what happened the night of the accident, she does. She remembers wanting to crash the car and the reasons why. Told in alternating chapters between the spring before and the fall after the accident, Halbrook slowly reveals the truth of what happened that night. The author explores the effects a “boys will be boys” mentality can have on a town, and how personal safety and comfort are often valued more than a friend’s justice. VERDICT Halbrook presents a fictionalized exploration of why so many sexual assault cases are never reported that is on par with yet different from Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, 1999).–Adrienne L. Strock, Teen Library Manager, Nashville Public Library

SLJ1502-Fic9upSpot_Eden-West-Pete-HautmanHautman, Pete. Eden West. 320p. Candlewick. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763674182; ebk. ISBN 9780763676902.

Gr 10 Up–Since he was five years old, Jacob has lived inside the Nodd, 12 square miles of Montana land that he works on along with other members of the Grace. Jacob has been taught that the world is wicked and that the Grace will return to Heaven on an ark that the Prophet Zerachiel will be sending shortly—it is The Truth. Jacob’s world begins to turn upside down with the arrival of several beings. Tobias’s family travels from Colorado to join the Grace—and yet Tobias won’t stop questioning and pushing against The Truth. During his patrols along the Grace’s border, Jacob meets Lynna, a worldly girl with whom he should not interact—but he cannot help but be attracted to her. The third newcomer, a lone wolf, begins to slowly kill off the sheep and threaten the well-being of all the Grace. Jacob’s faith is tested as he struggles to reconcile what he knows to be The Truth and what is happening around him. Hautman delivers a captivating character study, studiously demonstrating the reasons why some people are drawn into cults and quietly revealing how unquestioned power turns rotten. Jacob is a realistic and relatable protagonist and his complex relationships with those around him—and himself—ring true. VERDICT A heartbreaking, uplifting, and fantastic read.–Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ

SLJ1502-Fic9upSpot_Heathfield_SeedHeathfield, Lisa. Seed. 336p. Running Pr. Teen. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780762456345. LC 2014949872.

Gr 9 Up–Seed is at the center of 15-year-old Pearl’s life: it is the isolated family of which she is part, it is the house in which she lives, and it is the remote patch of land around that house where she sows and gathers crops for her family’s sustenance. Pearl is happy at Seed. She does not often leave because according to Papa S., the leader of Pearl’s family, Seed is pure and leaving risks contact with poisoned Outsiders who may taint Pearl’s spiritual core. The teen knows Papa S. is truthful, but when three Outsiders unexpectedly join the family, the patriarch’s word—and Pearl’s entire reality—is challenged. The smooth pacing and sophisticated yet age-appropriate style of the work lend credence to the story as it transforms the everyday activities of Seed into complex issues of physical and emotional abuse, budding self-esteem and increasing self-reliance, fear as a means of control, and belief as an expression of faith or as a means of deception. VERDICT Seed will hold readers’ attention as the story’s mood slowly changes and the work builds to an ultimately stunning conclusion.–Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University R. M. Cooper Library, South Carolina

Hesik, Annameekee. Driving Lessons. 264p. (The You Know Who Girls: Bk. 2). Bold Strokes. 2014. pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781626392281.

Gr 9 Up–Abbey’s sophomore year is already in trouble. She’s scared to learn to drive after her father’s fatal accident, afraid to come out to her mother, and is suddenly targeted by the meanest girl in school. That, plus baggage from her last not-girlfriend, confusing dynamics with her very straight BFF, and a flirtatious straight girl all mean that this year will be one for the books. A fun, contemporary, lesbian heir to Alex Sanchez’s “Rainbow Boys” trilogy (S. & S.), this series seems to be a wonderful and relatively light realistic look at the specific trials of being a teenaged girl who likes girls. Hesik does a good job of filling new readers in on the relationships and plot points established in Freshman Year (Bold Strokes, 2012) without bogging down the opening chapters. There is also a very well-handled relationship between a Deaf character and the hearing protagonist. The interactions ring true to the way that Deaf and hearing individuals and culture rub up against each other. VERDICT A strong read for girls just coming out who want to see their own experiences reflected back at them.–L. Lee Butler, Hart Middle School, Washington, DC

Hogan, Edward. The Messengers. 224p. Candlewick. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763671129; ebk. ISBN 9780763676988. LC 2014939364.

Gr 9 Up–After her older brother almost kills someone in a bar fight and disappears, Frances, a promising young artist, starts seeing strange things in her drawings. They materialize out of nowhere after she blacks out. She can’t figure out why these images are hazy and imprecise—until she puts one of them under a scanner, and learns with the help of her mentor Peter, another “messenger,” that each one reveals where and when someone is going to die. Peter’s convinced that they’re just a couple of killers, but Frances might have a plan to change all that, using their premonitions to save lives rather than end them, and maybe find her brother, presumed dead, in the process. But do they have the power, or the right, to change fate? That’s only one of the weighty questions explored in this clever page-turner. VERDICT A mash-up of philosophy, mystery, and horror, this haunting YA novel takes on all of these subjects with satisfying results.–Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

SLJ1502-Fic9upSpot_Hoyle_ThirteenHoyle, Tom. Thirteen. 240p. Holiday House. May 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823432943; ebk. ISBN 9780823433827. LC 2014028416.

Gr 7 Up–In this dark thriller by a first-time British author, a sadistic self-appointed messiah leads his brainwashed cult in murdering boys born on New Year’s Day of 2000. Now 2013, only a few remain, including protagonist Adam, who runs, fights, and kills for his life, aided by his love interest and neighbor, Megan. Interspersed with Adam’s action-packed running around are various scenes of gruesome murders, torture, and cinematically threatening posturing by the cultist leader, Coron, and his fit teenage disciples. Hoyle removes Coron’s mystique fairly early by explaining that the “Master” he serves is merely a “shadowy production, a sort of echo, in Coron’s sick mind.” He also ends the novel with a list of real-life cults gone bad. Descriptive passages and well-formed chapters keep this work thrilling. VERDICT This gruesome survival story will most likely garner a readership among violence-craving, action-loving anglophiles.–Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

Katcher, Brian. The Improbable Theory of Ana and Zak. 336p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. May 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062272775.

Gr 7 Up–When slacker and sci-fi enthusiast Zak Duquette meets type-A scholar Ana Watson, he is strangely attracted; unfortunately, Ana has no time for anything but academics, as her parents’ demands for perfection will ensure. But the two are forced to work together when Zak is coerced by a teacher to join the quiz bowl team with Ana and her whiz-kid younger brother, Clayton. Unfortunately for Zak, the quiz bowl takes place on the same weekend as WashingCon—the sci-fi convention where Zak has had many amazing adventures every year. After Zak extols the glories of the fest, Clayton sneaks away to experience it for himself. In order to keep Clayton’s disappearance from her overly controlling parents, Ana must team up with Zak and brave the gathering of geeks, zombies, Vikings, and aliens to find her brother before curfew. In alternating chapters, as they meet one obstacle after another, this seemingly incongruous couple slowly begins to open up and to appreciate each other’s talents. Strong personalities, a cast of out-of-this-world characters, and a fast-paced manhunt in an imaginative setting make this an appealing title for tweens and teens. VERDICT A zany romantic comedy for pop culture geeks and “Con” enthusiasts.–MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY

Kirby, Jessi. Things We Know By Heart. 304p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062299437.

Gr 8 Up–Junior Quinn Sullivan finds it hard to forget the night that her life changed in an instant when her boyfriend, Trent, was killed in a car accident. Healthy and only 17, his organs were donated to five different people. After 282 days and several written letters, Quinn meets the recipients of Trent’s organs—all but one of them. Who received Trent’s heart and why didn’t that person come forward? Quinn needs to know and begins combing websites looking for clues. She eventually finds the receiver, Colton Thomas, and sets out to meet him in person. The love story that follows will hook readers. The author has created believable and likable characters who will remind readers to seize the moment and live each day to the fullest. Kirby brings attention to the importance of organ donation without sounding preachy. VERDICT This memorable romance will ring true with teens, and librarians won’t be able to keep it on the shelf.–Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

Krossing, Karen. Punch Like a Girl. 228p. ebook available. Orca Bks. Apr. 2015. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781459808287.

Gr 9 Up–Tori Wyatt shocked her family and friends when she shaved her head in the middle of the night. She tells everyone that she wanted to donate her hair to deflect from the real reason—her need to feel strong and tough after being sexually assaulted by her ex-boyfriend at a party. She gets in an altercation at the mall that further surprises everyone and to avoid arrest, agrees to do community service at a shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Bonding with one young girl at the shelter, Tori finds her strength in defending others and is then able to talk about what happened to her and start on the path to recovery. The first-person present-tense narration gives a sense of immediacy and pulls readers along with the protagonist as she seeks ways to stop feeling helpless in the aftermath of the assault. VERDICT While comparisons to Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (Farrar, 1999) are inevitable, Tori’s journey is her own and will provide another option for encouraging necessary discussions on sexual assault.–Amanda Raklovits, Champaign Public Library, IL

SLJ1502-Fic9up_LathamLatham, Jennifer. Scarlett Undercover. 320p. Little, Brown. May 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316283939; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316283892.

Gr 6-10–Sixteen-year-old Scarlett is a Sam Spade-talking, fedora-wearing Muslim American who runs her own detective agency in the gritty city of Las Almas. Scarlett’s usual cases involve adultery and insurance fraud until a 10-year-old girl hires her to investigate a suicide. The minute the teen takes the case, she is tailed by two strange girls with gold circles in their eyes. Someone breaks into her apartment and steals a family heirloom. Even her closest friends start acting like the world is ending. Scarlett quickly discovers that her case isn’t just about a suicide, but rather an ancient war between genies and the descendants of King Solomon. There is a relic that could tip the balance of power. Scarlett is tough and fiercely independent. While her older sister takes comfort in religion, the protagonist finds solace in her father’s old copy of One Thousand and One Nights. The supernatural mystery is engaging and the Muslim American teenage sleuth will be a welcome addition to YA shelves. VERDICT A fun whodunit with a diverse protagonist who is an heir apparent to Veronica Mars.–Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ

Leaver, Trisha & Lindsey Currie. Creed. 288p. Flux. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780738740805. LC 2014025039.

Gr 9 Up–A dark, disturbing story that will appeal to teens on the cusp of reading Stephen King. Seventeen-year-old Dee, for many years an abused child, has lived in countless foster homes before finally settling in with a loving older couple. As a surprise for her boyfriend Luke, Dee arranges a fun night to attend a concert several towns over. She has enlisted Luke’s younger brother Mike to aid in lying to their parents about their whereabouts. Things progress smoothly and the trio sets off on the trip, but tension builds quickly when the teens forget to get gas. They eventually end up stranded in a desolate, snow-covered landscape with no cell phone service. The characters come across a tiny, eerily silent, and deserted settlement. They fruitlessly search for gas and eventually break into an isolated cemetery shed where they discover mysterious papers. Mike also finds a sign denoting the name of the town as Purity Springs. Trapped, the protagonists make the fatal choice of looking for help in one of the homes along the street. The houses are identical and all contain a bizarre manual entitled “Fashioning Children in the Image of God.” For Dee, the volume hits too close to home as it describes punishing children through beatings. This book pulls no punches: There is swearing, sexual references, violence, underage drinking, and drug use. VERDICT A fine choice for teens who crave horror.–Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

MCCarthy Breaking SkyMcCarthy, Cori. Breaking Sky. 416p. Sourcebooks Fire. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492601418; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781492601425.

Gr 9 Up–The year is 2048. Teenager Chase, better known by her call sign, Nyx, is a pilot in training for the American military’s topmost secret project. Back in 2020, American pilots were massacred in an airfight by drones—dictator Ri Xiong Di’s most effective weapon. The entire world has endured a second Cold War ever since. No other countries are allowed to aid the U.S. at all, and the people are suffering. The military is secretly testing two new plane prototypes that might outrun the drones. However, their pilots must be young and strong enough to withstand the tremendous force on the human body that occurs when traveling at high speeds. In order to get funding for more prototypes, Nyx and her comrades must prove the worth of the project. On a training mission, Nyx spots a third prototype that she didn’t know existed. In her haste to discover the identity of its pilot and country, Nyx endangers the entire project and many lives as well. But, if she can start dismantling the wall she’s built around herself since her difficult childhood, she might be able to trust someone, fall in love, and save the day. The dialogue is authentic, and the characters are nuanced. The description of her flights is breathtakingly realistic. VERDICT Strong characterizations, action, adventure, and emotion combine to produce a sci-fi novel that is more than just the sum of its parts.–Kelly Jo Lasher, Middle Township High School, Cape May Court House, NJ

MacColl, Michaela. The Revelation of Louisa May. 256p. ebook available. further reading. notes. Chronicle. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781452133577.

Gr 7 Up–Readers are immediately drawn into Louisa’s 19th-century world as her mother departs for work in the city and Louisa discovers a runaway slave, named George, hiding outside the Alcott home. The teen capably manages the various conflicts in the novel: money struggles, her relationship with her father, George’s safety, and romantic tensions between her and her distant cousin, Fred. Unsavory characters like Fitch, who is a slave catcher, and a disreputable woman named Miss Whittington, bring additional tension to this plot-driven novel. MacColl creates a strong sense of place, both in time and with her presentation of the physical environment. Her fluid incorporation of the transcendentalists and their movement aligns well with her attention to the novel’s setting. VERDICT Though light on character development, MacColl has created a page-turner that satisfies.–Hilary Writt, Sullivan University, Lexington, KY

McGann, Oisín. Strangled Silence. 372p. Open Road. Apr. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781497665798; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781497665712.

Gr 10 Up–Originally published in the UK in 2008, McGann’s novel sometimes feels dated, but makes for an entertaining pick for mature readers. In her second year at university, Amina Mir lands an internship at the Chronicle. Her mother is a well-known and respected journalist, but Amina intends to make her own way. She expects the internship to start out as making coffee and keeping the copier working. When she is asked to do a human interest story on a veteran who has won the lottery but is not spending any of the money, she is glad just to have received a story assignment. What she does not expect is to find herself in the middle of a huge government conspiracy. The characters are well developed and believable. Hovering UFOs, a rogue surgeon, and mindwashed schoolchildren are just a few of the pieces that readers will need to put together to figure out what is really going on in this suspenseful tale. VERDICT This fast-paced and cinematic conspiracy thriller will keep teens’ attention.–Deanna McDaniel, Genoa Middle School, OH

Meyer, Carolyn. Diary of a Waitress. 348p. Calkins Creek. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781620916520. LC 2014948477.

Gr 7-10–It is 1926, and Kitty Evans is looking forward to finishing high school and going to college to become a journalist. Unfortunately, her father informs her that there isn’t enough money to educate both her and her brother and that she will have to get a job. With her dreams shattered, Kitty answers a newspaper ad for a Harvey Girl. After six weeks of training, she’ll be transferred to one of many Harvey restaurants located along train lines in the western United States. Little does Kitty know that the rules and expectations of a Harvey Girl are very strict. She meets some new friends including Cordelia, a debutante from Philadelphia who wears short flapper dresses and bright red lipstick, and Emmy, another girl who hopes to make money to send back to her family. Cordelia encourages the girls to try new things, Emmy reminds them of the rules, and Kitty documents it all. The narrative is told through a series of diary entries in which Kitty notes her challenges—from the job interview and telling her parents about life-changing decision to making friends and meeting all kinds of characters. Kitty records interactions with everyone from railroaders to politicians to hobos. She also has many admirers and is asked to “go for walks” and to “save a dance” at local gatherings. Readers will feel connected to Kitty and her group of girlfriends and hope for their success. VERDICT A fast and interesting read about a part of history of which many readers may be unaware.–Jessica Lorentz Smith, Bend Senior High School, OR

Moore, Meredith. I Am Her Revenge. 336p. Penguin/Razorbill. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781595147820; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698157743.

Gr 9 Up–The circumstances under which Vivian comes to The Madigan School are anything but typical. Arriving at the school in the British countryside midyear, she takes the place of a young woman reputed to have been fraternizing with a member of the faculty, a charge that few seem to believe, including the student’s roommate. Nonetheless, Mother needs Vivian to attend this school and Mother is accustomed to getting what she wants. For her part, Vivian is accustomed to bending to her mother’s every whim, or suffering very real consequences for her disobedience. She has been bred to take on any role needed to further Mother’s plans for revenge, but Vivian’s task at Madigan is to cultivate a plot ending in the ultimate humiliation of the man who had betrayed Mother years before. While playing out this plan upon the man’s son, also a student at Madigan, Vivian begins to unravel quite a bit of her mother’s secret history. This journey of discovery will prove to be the undoing of each character’s precariously balanced life. Moore leads readers through carefully constructed paths, set on the English moors, in her debut novel. The tightly concocted plotlines and clearly drawn characters are delivered in digestible pieces. VERDICT A refreshing and dramatic tale with a fearless and fragile protagonist.–Colleen S. Banick, Westport Public Schools, CT

SLJ1502-Fic58_NielsenNielsen, Susin. We Are All Made of Molecules. 256p. Random/Wendy Lamb Bks. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553496864; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780553496871; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780553496888. LC 2014017652.

Gr 7-10–Thirteen-year-old Stewart and 14-year-old Ashley could not be more different. Stewart is a quirky, gifted intellectual who is coping with the loss of his mother, while Ashley is a popular fashionista still reeling from her parents’ divorce—brought about by her father’s announcement that he is gay. When a serious relationship develops between Stewart’s father and Ashley’s mother, the two teens find themselves living under the same roof. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the story is told in alternating chapters narrated by both protagonists. The contrast between the two characters makes for a compelling read, particularly as they begin to challenge and influence each other. Their overlapping journeys will leave readers with much to think about, as Nielsen unflinchingly tackles issues such as bullying, bigotry, and tolerance; the true nature of friendship; and what it means to be a family. VERDICT This work of realistic fiction should find a place in most libraries serving teens.–Lauren Strohecker, McKinley Elementary School, Abington School District, PA

Oakes, Colleen. The Crown. Vol. 1. ISBN 9781940716022.

––––. The Wonder. Vol. 2. ISBN 9781940716213.

ea vol: 222p. (Queen of Hearts). ebook available. BookSparks/SparkPress. 2014. pap. $15.

Gr 9 Up–Readers get a peek into the story behind the darkly twisted world of Wonderland before Alice arrived. Fifteen-year-old Princess Dinah, heir to the throne of Wonderland, tries to navigate her way to power around the ruthlessly brutal King; her half-sister, Vittore; her much adored “mad” brother Charles, who is the direct heir, but not able to take on the responsibilities of the throne; and an interesting hierarchy of characters who are either in support of or in opposition to her becoming the “Queen of Hearts” once she turns 18. In The Crown, readers catch a glimpse of the causes of the future Queen’s anger-management issues and mistrust of people. Surrounded by few friends and numerous enemies—with the shape-shifter and king’s advisor Cheshire being the most dangerous of all—Dinah lives in constant fear and is forced to hide her true feelings for mere survival. In The Wonder, Dinah is in exile, hiding from the king’s assassins, and purported to be a traitor and murderer. Oakes expertly expands the children’s classic into a complex and compelling series of plot twists that uncover the future Queen of Hearts’s true origins. VERDICT Complete with a mad tea party in the woods, this cinematic series has just the right amount of fantasy and epic suspense to keep even the strongest of hearts on the edge of their seats.–Sabrina Carnesi, Crittenden Middle School, Newport News, VA

Saft, Lauren. Those Girls. 336p. Little, Brown/Poppy. Jun. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316403665; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316403672. LC 2014009416.

Gr 10 Up–Alexandra and Mollie have been friends for as long as they can remember. In middle school, they befriended the risqué but adorable Veronica. The three of them now attend a posh, private all-girls school. Once Mollie starts dating high school jock Sam, the dynamic of the trio changes. Alex spends more time with Drew, her platonic best friend and unrequited crush. Veronica becomes promiscuous and gets a reputation for it. Alex, the frizzy-haired rebel of the group, decides to join a band in order to pursue her musical interests and establish a separate identity for herself. As the new school year begins, Veronica throws a massive party at her often-empty house. She eventually begins an innocent flirtation with Drew, which her friends notice, and secretly hooks up with Sam on the sly as well. With two different love triangles developing, tensions mount as feelings between all invested parties threaten to break beyond repair. In this debut novel, Saft gives readers a look at the complicated relationships between high school girlfriends. The female characters she crafts are complex. The drama between the girls combined with their first-person perspectives proves to be a delightful, guilty read. VERDICT Fans of Cecily Von Ziegesar’s “Gossip Girl” series will no doubt love this more nuanced story.–Ryan P. Donovan, Southborough Public Library, MA

shusterman_Challenger DeepShusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. illus. by Brendan Shusterman. 320p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780061134111.

Gr 9 Up–Caden Bosch lives in two worlds. One is his real life with his family, his friends, and high school. There he is paranoid for no reason, thinks people are trying to kill him, and demonstrates obsessive compulsive behaviors. In his other world, he’s part of the crew for a pirate captain on a voyage to the Challenger Deep, the ocean’s deepest trench. There he’s paranoid, wary of the mercurial captain and his mutinous parrot, and tries hard to interpret the mutterings of his fellow shipmates as they sail uncharted waters toward unknown dangers. Slowly, Caden’s fantasy and paranoia begin to take over, until his parents have only one choice left. Shusterman’s latest novel gives readers a look at teen mental illness from inside the mind of Caden Bosch. He is a credible and sympathetic character, and his retreat into his own flawed mind is fascinating, full of riddles and surrealism. VERDICT This affecting deep dive into the mind of a schizophrenic will captivate readers, engender empathy for those with mental illnesses, and offer much fodder for discussion.–Heather Miller Cover, Homewood Public Library, AL

Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Dance of the Banished. 234p. Pajama Pr. Feb. 2015. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781927485651.

Gr 8 Up–Skrypuch continues to tell the stories of young refugees in her latest historical novel. Set between 1913 and 1917, it features two Alevi Kurd teenagers in Anatolia as World War I breaks out and Turkey begins the Armenian Genocide. Ali emigrates before the war begins and gives his girlfriend, Zeynep, a journal to write in for when they meet again. While in Canada, he is locked up in an internment camp because of his nationality, though he does not identify as Turkish. Meanwhile, Zeynep is witness to the genocide of her neighbors and is called to help. The author sheds light on an often overlooked piece of history. The setting is fascinating, the research is thorough, and the story is made all the more interesting due to current events in the region. The author’s note is full of source notes and historical details, though it lacks a bibliography. In a world that continues to be violent, readers may find solace in the novel’s joyful ending. VERDICT Dance of the Banished is a good book for teens who enjoy historical fiction.–Lisa Nowlain, Darien Library, CT

SLJ1502-Fic9up_SMith_the alex crowSmith, Andrew. The Alex Crow. 304p. ebook available. Dutton. Mar. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525426530.

Gr 9 Up–The author weaves several odd yet connected story threads: the 19th-century Arctic exploration aboard the ill-fated Alex Crow ship; a madman’s bizarre U-Haul road trip; and the Merrie-Seymour Research Group and its de-extinction program. But the most compelling narrative is that of Ariel, a teenage refugee of an unnamed country, who is adopted into an American family. He and his brother, Max, are sent to Camp Merrie-Seymour “where boys rediscover the fun of boyhood.” The camp’s purpose is to wean teenage boys off of their technology addictions. Unfortunately for Max and Ariel, their father works for Merrie-Seymour, so they’re forced to attend because it’s free. Smith deftly combines Ariel’s harrowing wartime horrors juxtaposed against his hilarious six weeks at an American summer camp with maladjusted teenage boys. The teen protagonist is the lens through which readers see how society exerts its control over teenage boys’ thoughts and actions. And Camp Merrie-Seymour is the satirical showcase for how often these boys are expected to deal with the harsh world on their own without any real guidance from adults. VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.–Kimberly Garnick Giarratano, Rockaway Township Public Library, NJ

Spalding, Amy. Kissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys). 312p. Little, Brown/Poppy. Apr. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316371520; ebk. ISBN 9780316371513; Audio ISBN 9781478903499. LC 2014015563.

Gr 8 Up–Sixteen-year-old Riley is pretty happy with her life so far. She has her best friends Lucy and Reid; their band, the Gold Diggers, is getting better; and school is not horrible. After walking in on Lucy and their other bandmate Nathan, Riley and Reid decide they need to do something to bring a bit of romance into their own lives. They make a pact: help each other with their respective crushes and document everything in a notebook. Reid tries to overcome his insecurity and anxiety; Riley gets in over her head with three different guys—Garrick, Milo, and her crush, Ted. While trying to figure out what to do about the men in her life, Riley also avoids Lucy, feeling like they no longer know each other. The band starts to take off but everything gets jumbled as emotions escalate and things get complicated. Then the notebook disappears and Riley and Reid must tell the people closest to them the truth. Character-driven enough to keep the story moving, this book will appeal most to teenagers questioning and exploring romantic relationships. VERDICT Recommended for teens looking for realistic stories without a hefty amount of drama.–Natalie Struecker, Rock Island Public Library, IL

Sullivan, Derek E. Biggie. 269p. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807507278.

Gr 9 Up–In this debut novel, Henry is an obese high school student weighing in at 300 pounds. Because of his weight, everyone calls him Biggie, and he has little desire to try to lose the weight. That is, until one day when he is forced to participate in gym class and pitches a perfect game in a Wiffle ball match. The unathletic son of a baseball legend, he’s always had little hope of living up to everyone’s expectations—until that Wiffle ball game, when he catches a glimpse into his possible future. Most of his motivation to lose weight and play baseball comes from Annabelle, the popular girl he’s been crushing on since elementary school, but his chances with her are ruined when she finds out that he’s been hacking into her email account for years. Some teens may find Biggie’s attitude off-putting. In the end, however, Biggie redeems himself by realizing that he just might be the villain of the story. This novel is well written and fairly quick-paced, but only skims the surface on the topic of bullying. VERDICT Readers who persevere through the unlikable characters will find a thoughtful conclusion.–Candyce Pruitt-Goddard, Hartford Public Library, CT

Van Ark, Katie. The Boy Next Door. 288p. Feiwel & Friends/Swoon Reads. Feb. 2015. Tr $9.99. ISBN 9781250061461.

Gr 9 Up–Fans of ice-skating and romance will fall in love with this debut novel. Maddy and Gabe, both seniors at Riverview Prep in Kansas, grew up next door to one another and have been figure skating as a pair since they were in preschool; Gabe even gave up a place on a championship hockey team to skate with Maddy. The two are close friends and practice for hours every day. Their relationship was just fine until trainer Igor asked them to do Romeo and Juliet as a long program. Gabe considers Maddy to be like a sister and at first, he’s not interested in even pretending to be in love with her. Maddy, nursing a secret crush, would like nothing more than a romance to develop with Gabe. As they prepare for the competition, the two friends toy with the idea of dating. As Gabe’s past relationships have only lasted two weeks or less, he worries about what will happen if this one doesn’t work. Could he lose skating and his friend? Underlying the frothy plot are some serious themes and issues, including sex, pregnancy, cancer, money problems, family stress, lies, and complicated relationships. VERDICT For unapologetic romance lovers, this is a first purchase.–Jesten Ray, Seattle Public Library, WA

SLJ1502-Fic9up_Wallace_The Storyspinner-highWallace, Becky. The Storyspinner. 432p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481405652; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481405676.

Gr 7 Up–Santarem and Olinda are two lands divided by a magical wall. Those with powers live on the north side while the non-magical people live in Santarem, south of the wall. King Wilhelm of Santarem is murdered and his heir is allegedly dead as well, which jeopardizes the safety of everyone on both sides of the wall. Johanna Von Arlo, a 16-year-old Performer who specializes in the art of spinning stories, travels with her family to perform throughout Santarem, until her dad dies from a mysterious fall and the entire Von Arlo family is exiled from the Performers community. To make ends meet, Johanna takes employment at the DeSilva’s estate, performing for nobility, including the honor-bound, handsome, and frustratingly stubborn Duke-to-be, Rafael. Jo finds herself at the center of an age-old story—one she has told many times—and discovers the magic of her tales may be more real than she could ever have imagined. In this beautifully constructed first installment of a new fantasy series, Wallace creates a lush environment, interweaving unique characters. VERDICT Recommended for fans of classic fantasy (J.R.R. Tolkien) as well as more modern fantasy adventures by Melina Marchetta, Kristin Cashore, and Sarah J. Maas.–Stephanie DeVincentis, Downers Grove North High School, IL

Wallach, Tommy. We All Looked Up. 384p. S. & S. Mar. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481418775. LC 2014004565.

Gr 10 Up–It’s spring of senior year, and four students are questioning whether they’re headed for the futures they want. For Peter (the popular jock), Anita (most likely to succeed), Andy, (the slacker stoner), and Eliza (the photographer with a reputation), the pressures of school, friends, and family feel massive—until the announcement that an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. Suddenly the future isn’t so important. Wallach has created an accessible cast of realistic teens struggling with identity, family, and loyalty. Substantial language, casual sex, drugs, and occasional violence occur throughout, but it almost always feels authentic to these teens and the world they’re living in; even their worst mistakes feel relatable and worthy of empathy given the world-ending circumstances. In following his four protagonists as their lives converge, Wallach has written a coming-of-age novel with a captivating existential twist. VERDICT Fans of gritty and apocalyptic fiction won’t be disappointed.–Amy Koester, Learning Experiences Department, Skokie PL

Whiting, Sue. Portraits of Celina. 352p. Capstone/Switch Pr. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781630790240.

Gr 8 Up–After her father dies suddenly, 16-year-old Bayley finds herself uprooted by her mother to their family’s abandoned lake house in the middle of nowhere with the intention of starting over and moving on. Inside her new room, Bayley discovers a chest containing clothes and other items that belonged to her relative Celina, who mysteriously disappeared 40 years earlier. When Bayley tries on Celina’s clothes she makes a startling discovery—she can sense Celina trying to contact her from beyond the grave. The ghost wants Bayley to “make him pay.” Bayley must now solve the mystery of who “he” is and what exactly happened to Celina all of those years ago. Bayley learns that the deeper she digs, the more she struggles with Celina trying to take over her body. The plot is one part ghost story and one part a story about loss. Bayley and her family ineffectively deal with the tragic death of her father, which sets up an atmosphere rife with emotional instability and ideal for ghostly revenge. There’s plenty of gradual tension and foreboding to keep readers interested from start to finish. Bayley finds a love interest in Oliver, a teenager from across the lake, who serves as a device to keep her occasionally grounded in reality. VERDICT Give this to fans of paranormal mysteries with a touch of romance.–Kimberly Castle-Alberts, Hudson Library & Historical Society, OH

FICTION Graphic Novels

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_Fifee_All New UltimatesFiffe, Michel. All-New Ultimates Vol. 1: Power for Power. illus. by Amilcar Pinna. 136p. Marvel. 2014. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780785154273.

Gr 9 Up–There’s a new superhero crew in town and they’re off to a rough start. Led by Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman (later Black Widow), the Ultimates include Spider-Man (Miles Morales, not Peter Parker), the romantic duo Cloak and Dagger, the volatile Bombshell, and the famous Kitty Pryde. This group of young superheroes must face a scientist developing a drug that endows the subject with horrifically destructive powers, the band of villains known as the Serpent Skulls, and the vigilante Scourge. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and loyalty. Refreshingly, while the girls are athletic (we see lots of short shorts and toned legs), they’re not excessively busty. There’s some violence and gore in these pages, so this graphic novel isn’t for the faint of heart. VERDICT An exciting addition to the Marvel universe.–Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_SakurazakaSakurazaka, Hiroshi & Ryosuke Takeuchi. All You Need Is Kill: 2-in-1 Edition. illus. by Takeshi Obata. 550p. Viz Media. 2014. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781421576015.

Gr 9 Up–Based on Sakurazaka’s novel, which served as the basis for the science-fiction movie Edge of Tomorrow, this manga was available digitally as two volumes, and is now released in this ominbus print edition. Live, die, repeat. Earth has been invaded by aliens known as Mimics. The fate of humanity rests with the United Defense Force. Suiting up in battle armor called a jacket, soldier Keiji Kiriya prepares to deploy on his first combat assignment, alongside the elite U.S. Special Forces lead by Rita Vrataski. During the battle, Keiji dies. He wakes up to the day before his death, only to go out into battle and die again. His memories intact, Keiji realizes that he is trapped in a time loop where his death is seemingly inevitable, “like hitting the reset button on a video game.” To save the human race, Keiji must solve the mysterious connection between himself, Rita, and the Mimics. The writing is compelling as the plot moves between fast-paced military action and reflective, philosophical moments. The tone is intense as characters are pushed to the limits, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Obata’s stunning artwork offers textured designs of mechanized suits and weaponry, exciting battle sequences, and expressive human characters. being gratuitous. VERDICT A complex manga that’s highly recommended for fans of science fiction, the Edge of Tomorrow film, strong female characters, and video games.–June Shimonishi, Torrance Public Library, CA

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_Hinds_MacbethShakespeare, William. Macbeth. adapted by Gareth Hinds. illus. by Gareth Hinds. 152p. Candlewick. Feb. 2015. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780763669430; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780763678029. LC 2014939338.

Gr 8 Up–On the opening page, three Witches sit atop a barren tree in the midst of a bloody battlefield against the backdrop of a gloomy sky, setting the stage for one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Macbeth, a valiant general of the King’s army, is told a prophecy by the three witches that he will one day become King of Scotland. Unwilling to wait for the prophecy to come true on its own, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot to expedite the process, murdering the current King Duncan in his sleep. Shakespeare’s text has historically been linked to theatrical productions, the story enhanced by the visual performance, making his plays perfect source material for graphic novels. Hinds, widely praised for his graphic novel adaptations of classic literature, succeeds yet again in bringing Shakespeare to life for modern readers. He captures the haunting and dramatic tone of Macbeth with expert pacing, skillful usage of shadow and color within the panels, and emotional close-ups of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, depicting their journey into madness. VERDICT Hinds’s Macbeth will make a solid addition to any graphic novel collection, especially those looking for accessible, enjoyable, and quality Shakespeare adaptations.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

SLJ1502-Fic58GN_Stevenson-LumberjanesStevenson, Noelle & Grace Ellis. Lumberjanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy. illus. by Brooke Allen & Shannon Watters. 128p. Boom! Studios. Apr. 2015. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781608866878.

Gr 5 Up–The first four issues of this female-created and female-starring comic, set at summer camp with creepy happenings, are collected here in this kick-butt volume. The graphic novel begins mid-adventure as five campers are out after hours investigating a strange event that they all witnessed: a woman turning into a giant bear. This is just the first of many odd occurrences that Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley encounter at the summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” The Lumberjanes, as the scouts are called, band together to solve puzzles, defeat three-eyed creatures, and escape the ire of their watchful counselor Jen. Each protagonist has a skill that helps the group conquer each obstacle. Spunky, lovable characters sparkle with exuberant personality and challenge gender stereotypes. Small details make these episodes stand out—the hipster Yetis guarding a mysterious lighthouse, Molly and Mal’s tender glances at each other, and Ripley’s penchant for animals and all things cute. At the opening of each chapter, an excerpt from the Lumberjanes field guide is included and a gallery of cover images append the book. References to female heroines (invocations of Bessie Coleman and Joan Jett as well as Rosie the camp director’s striking resemblance to Rosie the Riveter) and phrases such as “Friends to the Max!” and “What the junk!” add to the charm of this feel-good title that celebrates female empowerment. The vibrant art exudes humor and reinforces themes of teamwork and friendship. VERDICT A must-have graphic novel for those who have graduated from Raina Telgemeier’s works.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_WatsonWatson, Andi. Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. illus. by Andi Watson. 176p. First Second. Feb. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781626722750; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781626721494.

Gr 6-10–In this graphic novel by longtime comic artist Watson, harried Princess Decomposia is so busy running the Underworld for her overbearing and hypochondriac father that she never has time to eat properly. With state affairs hanging in the balance, she hires pastry chef Count Spatula as the new cook, hoping he will finally be able to assuage the King Wulfrun’s cantankerous belly, so that he can go back to running the gloomy kingdom. When Wulfrun discovers the growing friendship and romance between the Princess and the cook, all hell breaks loose as the burgeoning couple take a day trip aboveground. Visual and textual puns abound in this Downton Abbey-esque romp, which balances serious discussions on class, gender, and politics with humor and wordplay. Decomposia learns to stand up for herself, inspired by her new friendships, and comes into her own, a lesson that could border on preachy, but is delivered with nuance. The inky black-and-white illustrations on the mostly three-tier, six-panel pages denote movement and facial expressions with aplomb. VERDICT This comedy of manners and errors is a delightful confection for graphic novel fans looking for a quirky, tame romance.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_Wilde_Yo Miss_Wilde, Lisa. Yo Miss: A Graphic Look at High School. illus. by Lisa Wilde. 160p. Microcosm. Mar. 2015. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781621069874.

Gr 8 Up–This is a selection of semi-autobiographical vignettes in the life of Ms. Wilde—teacher of seniors in John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy—and her students. The black-and-white artwork, while lacking the sophisticated shading of many slicker graphic novels, plays a supporting role and moves readers through scenes of heartbreak and triumph. Whether it is William and his myriad attempts to escape the call of a gang and the street; Natalie, who is struggling to be a student even as she is becoming a mother; or Danny, who insists on calling Ms. Wilde “Snowflake” and masks his fear of failure with bravado and bullying; each of the characters ring true. Struggling students will recognize the scenarios, burned out teachers will find their passion rekindled for trying just one more time with that difficult student, and both sets of readers will be refreshed by Wilde’s conclusion to the story with a graduation ceremony that is filled with hope that realistically transcends the grim reality her characters must overcome. VERDICT When it comes to portraying life in an alternative high school setting, Yo Miss is a direct hit.–Jodeana Kruse, R. A. Long High School, Longview, WA

SLJ1502-Fic9upGN_Wolfman_Teen Titans_Wolfman, Marv & Geoff Johns. Teen Titans: A Celebration of 50 Years. illus. by George Perez. 400p. DC Comics. 2014. Tr $39.99. ISBN 9781401251772. LC 2014032614.

Gr 7 Up–This book covers the entire publication history of the team known as the Teen Titans, whose core membership has primarily consisted of Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Speedy, and Aqua-Lad with support from several others throughout the years. The team started out as a hip alternative to their adult counterparts designed to appeal to a younger audience; the early stories reflect that in content and language. This first section, featuring the original Titans, also contains a story from the “Teen Titans: Year One” series (DC Comics, 2008). The work also highlights “The New Titans” era to present-day, including some “Tiny Titans” (a children’s cartoon-style comic with the Titans as little kids) and the graphic novel version of the Teen Titans Go! television show geared toward adolescents. This is a good selection of stories that represent the place and the growth of the team through the years as the original heroes have given way to an even younger generation in much the same way their own mentors did. Each era and team of Titans is given adequate space to give a good flavor of that group. One quibble about this work is that there are a few stories that are unresolved, leaving readers with little or no recourse to finding the conclusions, since many of the follow-ups to these tales have not been previously collected—especially in the case of the original team. VERDICT A collection that certainly warrants inclusion in any library, especially those that already have strong graphic novel collections.–Erik Knapp, Davis Library, Plano, TX


For those interested in nonfiction, take a look at these stellar offerings with subjects as diverse as rad women in history, Chinese fairy tales, LEGO Mindstorm robots.

Alifirenka, Caitlin & Martin Ganda with Liz Welch. I Will Always Write Back. 400p. photos. Little, Brown. Apr. 2015. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316241311; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316241342. LC 2014030355.

Gr 6 Up–The true story of two young pen pals who forge a life-altering connection. In 1997, Caitlin, a typical 12-year-old girl from a middle class American family, began writing to Martin, a studious 14-year-old from a Zimbabwe slum. In her letters, Caitlin described her life, which consisted of shopping trips, quarrels with friends, and problems at school. Martin was initially far more circumspect in his responses. Inflation had rocketed in Zimbabwe, and even finding money for postage was a struggle for the boy. Staying in school, which required paying costly fees, became merely a dream. Eventually, Martin revealed the harsh realities of his life to Caitlin, who began sending money and gifts. What started as chatty letters turned into a lifeline for Martin and his family, as Caitlin and her parents helped the boy stay in school and achieve his goal of studying at an American university. This is a well-written, accessible story that will open Western adolescents’ eyes to life in developing countries. Told in the first person, with chapters alternating between Caitlin’s and Martin’s points of view, this title effectively conveys both of these young people’s perspectives. VERDICT A useful addition to most collections and an eye-opening look at life in another culture.–Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand

SLJ1502-Nfic5up_CapitalDaysBolden, Tonya. Capital Days: Michael Shiner’s Journal and the Growth of Our Nation’s Capital. 96p. chron. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. Abrams. 2015. RTE $21.95. ISBN 9781419707339. LC 2014024668.

Gr 4-6–This well-designed read details the story of Michael Shiner (1805–80), a slave in 19th-century America who eventually gained his freedom and who left a diary behind detailing an account of his life. Born into slavery in Maryland, Shiner came to Washington, DC as a child, where he was later leased by his owner Thomas Howard to the Navy Ship Yard. Shiner eventually purchased his freedom, started a family, and learned to read and write—skills that would allow him to start writing his journal. Bolden tracks Shiner’s life, giving readers a unique view into the history of America’s capital. Shiner wrote about major historical events, such as the burning of Washington, DC in 1814, as well more personal anecdotes that shed light on attitudes of the day, such as facing aggression from those who erroneously assumed that he was a runaway slave. VERDICT Well written and impeccably researched, this excellent title offers a uniquely personal look at history. A must-have.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

Casey, Susan. Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue. 240p. (Women of Action). bibliog. filmog. further reading. photos. reprods. websites. Chicago Review. Mar. 2015. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781613745830.

Gr 7-10–In a clear writing style, Casey profiles 20 female figures in this collection of biographies of women involved with the American Revolution. While some of the names are legendary and recognizable, most are not. These ordinary girls and women who accomplished amazing feats usually thought of as masculine make for interesting reading. From spies to soldiers to slaves, the women profiled here are engaging enough to keep students interested, and some may even seek out further information. VERDICT This well-researched book sheds light on lesser known women of this period and is an excellent way to incorporate diversity into the curriculum.–Glynis Jean Wray, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ

SLJ1502-Nfic5up_RememberingInezCooney, Robert P.J., Jr. Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr. 90p. American Graphic. Mar. 2015. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9780977009527. LC 201493850.

Gr 9 Up–When a friend spoke at suffragist Inez Milholland’s funeral in 1916, she said that Inez “is one around whom legends will grow up.” In her time, certainly, Milholland was a celebrity. Young, beautiful, rich, and articulate, she was a passionate and active proponent of women’s suffrage. Somehow, her name is lesser known compared with her predecessors, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and her contemporary Alice Paul. Even though Milholland died when she was 30, her contributions to the cause of women’s suffrage are immeasurable. This slim volume consists largely of articles, speeches, and resolutions from issues of the magazine The Suffragist, all of which concern Milholland’s background, character, beliefs, and work. The excerpts are accessible to modern-day readers, being largely devoid of the stiff, formal language common in writings of the day. Cooney’s introduction provides ballast to the laudatory articles, pointing out aspects of Milholland’s life that were controversial, especially her advocacy of socialism and free love. In addition, Cooney describes in brief the political clime of the nation, couching Milholland’s attitudes and actions in a larger historical context. VERDICT This is a vivid, engaging account of a young woman who filled her short life with activity and meaning. Perhaps this book will bring Milholland’s life and works back into the spotlight.–Jennifer Prince, Buncombe County Public Libraries, NC

Froud, Brian & Wendy Froud. Brian Froud’s Faeries’ Tales. 144p. Abrams. 2014. Tr $35. ISBN 9781419713866.

Gr 9 Up–This elegant presentation of well-known and more obscure fairy tales from the point of view of the fairies combines the mysterious and magical with cold calculation and complexity: successful ingredients for sophisticated readers. The authors whimsically present the perspectives of the different fairies, thus revealing their thoughts and motivations. Breaking up the first-person accounts is a story about the little Duster fairies, which gives structure and ongoing focus. This treatment puts all the stories in a different light and makes fresh and new even the most well-known tales, such as “Tam Lin,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty,” as well as the lesser known fairies, such as Moon Dancer, the King’s Knight, Alyssa the Changeling-Maker, and the Shadow Man. The art is rich with deep colors, intricate borders, fanciful sketches, and searching portraits, creating a background for the humorous, romantic, sad, or dangerous tales. VERDICT The Frouds’ quality work is so well known and popular that this title will be a welcome addition to the genre.–Nancy Call, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Aptos, CA

SLJ1502-Nfic5up_LoveandProfanityHealy, Nick, ed. Love & Profanity: A Collection of True, Tortured, Wild, Hilarious, Concise, and Intense Tales of Teenage Life. 232p. index. Capstone/Switch Pr. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781630790127.

Gr 8 Up–Short yet powerful autobiographical stories comprise this collection of consistently excellent, vivid writing. The 43 authors from various backgrounds include a few YA well-knowns—John Scieszka, Joseph Bruchac, Carrie Mesrobian, Will Weaver—and many new and upcoming names. The stories reflect the writers’ adolescent experiences with conflict, bullying, family, school, friendship, unrequited love, sex, and more. Love, or the abysmal lack of it, is central to many of the stories, while profanity is primarily reflected in situations rather than word choice (though the language is occasionally graphic). The stories are, by turns, edgy, nostalgic, poignant, sad, and humorous, with some offering a combination of these qualities. VERDICT Readers of Break These Rules: 35 YA Authors on Speaking up, Standing out, and Being Yourself edited by Luke Reynolds (Chicago Review, 2013) and Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Zest, 2012), may appreciate this compilation.–Diane P. Tuccillo, Poudre River Public Library District, CO

Rauch, Georg. Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hitler’s Army. tr. from German by Phyllis Rauch. 352p. glossary. illus. photos. Farrar. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780374301422.

Gr 8 Up–In this glimpse into history, Rauch, a young Jewish man in Third Reich Vienna, describes his experiences during World War II. Strongly opposed to Nazi rule, Rauch and his mother hid Jews in their apartment, helping them escape to safety, and worked with the underground resistance. But when Rauch was drafted into Hitler’s army (though he admitted to having Jewish heritage), he was stationed on the Russian Front, facing the constant threat of death from hunger, the elements, and Soviet soldiers. The story is well paced, offering a fascinating and intriguing look at the era. VERDICT A good supplementary purchase for libraries looking to expand their historical memoir section, complementing titles such as Leon Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Possible Became Possible…on Schindler’s List (S. & S., 2013).–Clair Segal, LREI, New York City

Schatz, Kate. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries who Shaped our History..and Our Future. illus. by Miriam Klein Stahl. 64p. City Lights. Mar. 2015. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780872866836.

Gr 5 Up–Colorful and hip potraitures create a visual sensation that immediately draws in readers. Profiled are 26 American women from the 18th through 21st centuries, who have made—or are still making—history as artists, writers, teachers, lawyers, or athletes. The women come from a variety of economic and ethnic backgrounds and many had to overcome extreme hardships. One woman represents each alphabetical letter beginning with Angela Davis, an activist, teacher, and writer, and concludes with Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist and writer. Readers will also encounter Carol Burnett, the Grimke Sisters, Lucy Parsons, Rachel Carson, and Sonia Sotomayor, among others. Interestingly, the letter X is designated for the women, “we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.” The book’s conclusion challenges readers to be strong and to make a difference in their own communities and suggests 26 things that students can do to be rad. VERDICT Classes across the curriculum can utilize this informative book.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel

LEGO MindstormsValk, Laurens. The LEGO® MINDSTORMS® EV3 Discovery Book: A Beginner’s Guide to Building and Programming Robots. 352p. further reading. index. photos. websites. No Starch Press. 2014. pap. $34.95. ISBN 9781593275327. LC 2010011157.

Gr 6 Up–A tome for fans of robotics and LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Kits. Hyper-detailed instructions—with full color, easy-to-read and understand illustrations—help budding enthusiasts navigate EV3 Kits with clear language and step-by-step directions. Readers learn the basics of assembling a simple robot before being introduced to various programming tricks to be used on the EV3 Brick, the colloquial term for the Mindstorms mini-computer. Be forewarned that in order to take full advantage of the programming functionality of the kit, including the ablity to create and edit programs, users must have a computer to connected to their EV3 Brick (though basic programming on the EV3 Brick can be done without one). Each chapter contains several short challenges, dubbed “discoveries,” which are cleverly accompanied by a legend: whimsical gear wheels represent the estimated amount of building time; tiny Microsoft Windows–esque blocks show the expected level of programming expertise; and a small clock estimates the length of time it should take to solve the challenge. The size, advanced vocabulary, and organization of the book evokes a science or physics textbook, which is warranted due to the amount of complex and detailed programming information contained within. However, colorful images keep it from feeling too academic. VERDICT This book will find a home in libraries with makerspaces and/or those that offer robotics or science clubs, LEGO teams, or other STEM-oriented groups.–Amy M. Laughlin, Darien Library, CT

Yee, Paul, retel. Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook. illus. by Shaoli Wang. 160p. notes. Interlink. 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781566569934.

Gr 4 Up–This is a fine collection of quintessential Chinese fairy tales and recipes. The stories are told with tangy and intriguing details that invite American readers to consider the Chinese perspective. The symbiosis between the recipes and the stories is impressive; paired with each dish is a traditional tale. Yee and Wang share the Chinese characters that go with proverbs that pair traditionally with dishes. The stories are short, requiring only 15 or 20 minutes to read aloud. The renditions of the tales are impressive and will be appreciated by a wide age range; they are easy to read but not oversimplified. VERDICT Educators may find this valuable for geography units or lesson plans involving Chinese culture.–Amy Thurow, New Glarus School District, WI

NONFICTION Graphic Novels

treasurycomp2cover.inddGeary, Rick. A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II. illus. by Rick Geary. 400p. bibliog. NBM. 2015. lib. ed. $29.99. ISBN 9781561639076.

Gr 10 Up–With an amazing eye for detail, Geary chronicles five different Victorian-era murders previously published as individual volumes. They include the Borden Tragedy, Mary Rogers, the Bloody Benders, Madeleine Smith, and the assassination of President Lincoln. Geary so thoroughly researches each and every case that he is able to portray events from all sides. Backed by numerous sources, the murders chosen for this anthology are presented in such a way that readers can’t help but become engrossed in the drama. The events prior to each murder are meticulously provided, as are the aftermaths. The stories unfold as if one were watching a classic black-and-white noir film. In the case of Madeleine Smith and her secret lover, Emile, the story is enhanced by bits and pieces of their actual correspondence. The illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to these rather bleak and sordid moments in history and the use of pen and ink makes some of the content less graphic and more tolerable than if it were in color. History fans, true crime aficionados, and readers of nonfiction graphic novels will all find something quite enthralling in this collection. VERDICT Fans of Geary’s other historical adaptations won’t want to miss this one and this compendium will likely make fans of those new to his work.–Carol Hirsche, Provo City Library, UT

SLJ1502-Nfic5upGN_Rehr_TerroristRehr, Henrik. Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, the Assassin Who Ignited World War I. illus. by Henrik Rehr. 232p. maps. Graphic Universe. Apr. 2015. lib. ed. $33.32. ISBN 9781467772792; pap. $11.99. ISBN 9781467772846. LC 2014021939.

Gr 8 Up–In the words of Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, turn of the century Eastern Europe was a powder keg simply waiting for the right spark to explode into what we now know as World War I. The nationalist, revolutionary, and terrorist, Gavrilo Princip, was just the man to set the fire that would ignite the keg. The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the inciting factor that instigated what was one of the 20th century’s bloodiest wars. But little is known about the motives behind the assassination. Here, Rehr imagines the circumstances leading up to the killing. Princip and his coconspirators were real people living in a desperate time. They yearned for a free Serbia, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia and were willing to do anything in order to achieve their dream. This intriguing and ultimately harrowing narrative humanizes a historic event. The author is able to breathe life into this confusing and conflict-filled portion of European history. The stark black-and-white artwork and theatrical art-filled splash pages transport readers to 19th-century Eastern Europe. VERDICT This fictionalized account based on historical fact is an excellent contribution to graphic novel collections.–Morgan Brickey, Marion County Public Library System, FL

From the Adult Books 4 Teens blog

And from SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens blog, the following titles are perfect for teens looking to cross over to adult books.

Knisley_Age of License_KNISLEY, Lucy. An Age of License: A Travelogue. illus. by Lucy Knisley. 189p. Fantagraphics. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9780345544926. LC 2014023994.

This short, absorbing travelogue is based on a journal the graphic novelist kept during her travels through Europe and Scandinavia in September 2011. Heartbroken after ending a relationship, Knisley accepted an invitation to participate in a Comics convention in Norway, which inspired a month of visiting friends and family. Shortly before leaving, Knisley met a boy from Stockholm, Henrik, who invited her to visit him, too. Knisley chronicles her pre-trip jitters (traveling “unhomes” you), as they vied with excited anticipation of a new perspective on life. The conference went well, as did her time with Henrik. So well that he accompanied her to Berlin for a few days, and arranged to meet her in Paris for a romantic finish to her adventures. It was while visiting a friend in Bordeaux that she met an older man who termed this period of her life “L’Age Licence”—a time of exploration before familial or career obligations make experimentation impossible, a time to decide what kind of life you want to have. As in the Alex Award-winning Relish (First Second, 2013), friends, family and food continue to be Knisley’s preoccupations. Predominantly black & white panels are punctuated by full-page color paintings of a pretty view, a delectable snack, the portrait of a friend, or a dress in a shop window. The many teens who travel for exchange programs, volunteer activities, or family trips will recognize Knisley’s nervousness about leaving the familiarity of home, the freedom and pleasures of exploration, insecurity about the future, and the revelations afforded by time away from routine. This ingenuous and wise travel narrative will charm readers of any age.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

SLJ1502-AB4T_Stevenson_Just MercySTEVENSON, Bryan. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. 316p. notes. Spiegel & Grau. 2014. Tr $28. ISBN 9780812994520.

Only a handful of countries condemn children to death row, and America is one of them. What is the one commonality of people on death row? The race of the victim. If the victim is white, the perpetrator is 11 times more likely to be condemned to die than if the victim is black. In heartbreaking and personal details, Stevenson interweaves these statistics with real stories and his fight to change the injustices. He was 23 years old, studying law at Harvard when he was called to an internship in Georgia where his first assignment was to deliver a message to a man living on death row. This brought him face to face with what became his calling: representing the innocent, the inadequately defended, the children, the domestic abuse survivors, the mentally ill— the imprisoned. This fast-paced and relentless book, told in short chapters featuring different people’s stories, reads like a John Grisham novel. Walter, who was at a barbecue with over 100 people at the time of the murder he was accused of, spent more than six years on death row. All Jenkins wants from Stevenson is a chocolate milkshake, as he cannot understand what is going on. The stories include those of children, teens, and adults who have been in the system since they were teens. This is a title for the many young adults who have a parent or loved one in the prison system and the many others who are interested in social justice, the law, and the death penalty. A standout choice.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Juvenile Hall, CA

The original reviews of the following works appeared in SLJ’s February print magazine.

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Growing Up in a Cult | SLJ Spotlight Fri, 27 Feb 2015 14:00:08 +0000 There’s been such a rise of young adult novels set in cultlike environments that, however queasy-making, has been difficult to ignore. The teens in the following works grapple with coming of age in restrictive communities and must eventually choose between forging their own path or holding onto the beliefs they’ve long-treasured. From Lisa Heathfield’s debut novel to acclaimed author Pete Hautman’s latest offering, these titles explore ideas of faith, family, and freedom with honesty and respect.

downfrommountainFixmer, Elizabeth. Down from the Mountain. 276p. ebook available. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807583708. LC 2014027714.

Gr 9 Up –Fourteen-year-old Eva and her mother are members of the Righteous Path, a 17-member cult located in Colorado. Eva struggles to be obedient and is justifiably afraid of Prophet Ezekiel’s fierce moods and demands. Her faith is further shaken when her mother must suffer a difficult pregnancy without medical attention or proper nutrition. Eva and Rachel, the youngest of Ezekiel’s 10 wives, are sent down the mountain to purchase supplies and sell Eva’s handmade jewelry in the nearby town. Eva is fearful and amazed at the contrast between her stark, strict life and the freedom of the “heathen” world. She is also surprised at the kindness of the people she meets, contradicting everything Ezekiel has told them. Meanwhile, Ezekiel has become paranoid that outsiders may try to attack them and spends most of their money buying guns instead of food to last through winter. With the help of a young man whom she meets in town, Eva learns more about the broader world. Her forced betrothal to Ezekiel pushes Eva to take action, leading to a gripping climax. Fixmer, a therapist who has counseled former religious cult members, has written a taut psychological drama with believable and sympathetic characters. The first-person narrative sustains a tense mood throughout, with frequent referrals to tragic real-life cults, such as the Branch Davidians of Waco, TX. This book is similar in theme but less violent than Carol Lynch Williams’s The Chosen One (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009). VERDICT Readers will be caught up in this realistic story of a brave girl rebelling against a fundamentalist society.–Martha Simpson, Stratford Library Association, CT

edenwestredstarHautman, Pete. Eden West. 320p. Candlewick. Apr. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763674182; ebk. ISBN 9780763676902.

Gr 10 Up– Since he was five years old, Jacob has lived inside the Nodd, 12 square miles of Montana land that he works on along with other members of the Grace. Jacob has been taught that the world is wicked and that the Grace will return to Heaven on an ark that the Prophet Zerachiel will be sending shortly—it is The Truth. Jacob’s world begins to turn upside down with the arrival of several beings. Tobias’s family travels from Colorado to join the Grace—and yet Tobias won’t stop questioning and pushing against The Truth. During his patrols along the Grace’s border, Jacob meets Lynna, a worldly girl with whom he should not interact—but he cannot help but be attracted to her. The third newcomer, a lone wolf, begins to slowly kill off the sheep and threaten the well-being of all the Grace. Jacob’s faith is tested as he struggles to reconcile what he knows to be The Truth and what is happening around him. Hautman delivers a captivating character study, studiously demonstrating the reasons why some people are drawn into cults and quietly revealing how unquestioned power turns rotten. Jacob is a realistic and relatable protagonist and his complex relationships with those around him—and himself—ring true. Eden West is both quiet and loud, understanding and judging, and absolutely engrossing. Readers will be quick to judge the Grace but may find themselves looking inward to their own beliefs as they move through the story. VERDICT A heartbreaking, uplifting, and fantastic read.–Emily Moore, Camden County Library System, NJ

seedHeathfield, Lisa. Seed. 336p. Running Pr. Teen. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780762456345. LC 2014949872.

Gr 9 Up –Seed is at the center of 15-year-old Pearl’s life: it is the isolated family of which she is part, it is the house in which she lives, and it is the remote patch of land around that house where she sows and gathers crops for her family’s sustenance. Pearl is happy at Seed. She does not often leave because according to Papa S., the leader of Pearl’s family, Seed is pure and leaving risks contact with poisoned Outsiders who may taint Pearl’s spiritual core. The teen knows Papa S. is truthful, but when three Outsiders unexpectedly join the family, the patriarch’s word—and Pearl’s entire reality—is challenged. Heathfield’s debut novel is the first in a two-book series. Pearl’s development over the course of the novel is realistic and relatable, and readers will become attached and even frustrated with the heroine. The smooth pacing and sophisticated yet age-appropriate style of the work lend credence to the story as it transforms the everyday activities of Seed into complex issues of physical and emotional abuse, budding self-esteem and increasing self-reliance, fear as a means of control, and belief as an expression of faith or as a means of deception. VERDICT Seed will hold readers’ attention as the story’s mood slowly changes and the work builds to an ultimately stunning conclusion.–Maggie Mason Smith, Clemson University R. M. Cooper Library, South Carolina

thirteenHoyle, Tom. Thirteen. 240p. Holiday House. May 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823432943; ebk. ISBN 9780823433827. LC 2014028416.

Gr 7 Up –In this dark thriller by a first-time British author, a sadistic self-appointed messiah leads his brainwashed cult in murdering boys born on New Year’s Day of 2000. Now 2013, only a few remain, including protagonist Adam, who runs, fights, and kills for his life, aided by his love interest and neighbor, Megan. Interspersed with Adam’s action-packed running around are various scenes of gruesome murders, torture, and cinematically threatening posturing by the cultist leader, Coron, and his fit teenage disciples. Hoyle removes Coron’s mystique fairly early by explaining that the “Master” he serves is merely a “shadowy production, a sort of echo, in Coron’s sick mind.” He also ends the novel with a list of real-life cults gone bad. Descriptive passages (“Gasoline was spilled carefully, thoughtfully, arteries linking to veins”) and well-formed chapters, which almost all end in dramatic single-sentence cliff-hangers, keep this work thrilling, if readers can keep track of the very large cast of dispensable bad guys. VERDICT Though characterization and dialogue are a bit weak, this gruesome survival story will most likely garner a readership among violence-craving, action-loving anglophiles.–Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

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March 2 Is Seuss Day | Touch and Go Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:40:23 +0000 Each year, in celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2, we offer reviews of Seuss apps published during the previous 12 months—and check to see if we might have missed a few earlier titles. Oceanhouse Media (OM) is the place to go if you are looking for any of Geisel’s books in digital. To date, OM has published dozens of Seuss and “Dr. Seuss Learning Library” titles for iOS, Android, and other devices. Earlier round-ups of Seuss apps have included Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss! and The “Very Serious” Nonsense of Dr. Seuss. And FYI, the Dr. Seuss Camera – Happy Birthday to You! Edition is still free, if you would like to create a few birthday cards in his honor. This year we report on three apps.

camel 2The Cat in the Hat is at it again—this time with Dick and Sally on an adventure to discover: Is a Camel a Mammal? (Oceanside Media, iOS $5.99; PreS-Gr 2). The app is an interactive version of Tish Rabe’s book by the same title (Random, 1999) in the “Dr. Seuss Learning Library” series. The rhyming text includes bits of information about a variety of mammals both large and small from elephants to pygmy shrews, including where they live, what they eat, and how they move.

The app’s interactive features are mostly language-based; viewers can tap on any word in bold to learn its meaning, or touch a picture to see its label appear and hear it voiced. A tap to an image of Seuss’s Thing 1 or Thing 2 characters will provide additional facts.

The home screen offers “Read to Me” and “Read It Myself” options. The narration provided is exuberant and humorous, suited to Seuss’s lyrical text. Users may also choose to record their own voice. Sound effects can be heard throughout the production: lions roaring, elephant trumpeting, mice squeaking, and so forth. While this app doesn’t contain many added features, fans of The Cat in the Hat will gravitate to this book-based app.–Stephanie Rivera, Naperville Public Library

Screen from 'Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry" (Oceanhouse Media) Ruiz & Mathieu

Screen from ‘Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry” (Oceanhouse Media) Ruiz & Mathieu

In addition to answering the question Why Oh Why are Deserts Dry? (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $3.99; PreS-Gr 2) Tish Rabe’s story app, based on her book by the same title (Random, 2011), and featuring familiar Seuss characters, quickly dispels the notion that deserts are only hot, empty, and bare places.Rather, while their climates are harsh, they are ecosystems where many animals and plants thrive, and in some cases, snow falls. Desert denizens—from honeypot ants and Gila woodpeckers to vultures and kangaroos—and how they regulate their body temperature, find food, and avoid predators is explained  through an accessible text and animated graphics and other visuals by Aristed Ruiz and Joe Mathieu. Information on plants offers facts on root and storage systems. In addition, individual deserts, including the Namib, Sahara, Mojave, and Gobi, and the creatures and weather particular to each, are considered along with how dunes are formed and what an oasis is, among other topics. Animated details such as how the sandgrouse finds and offers water to its offspring will delight viewers. Several reading and listening modes are provided as well as recording option. An accessible intro to ecosystems packed with information.—Daryl Grabarek, School Library Journal 

kingExploring the themes of “work hard, play hard,” The King’s Stilts (Oceanhouse Media, iOS $4.99; Android, $4.99; PreS-Gr 4) is one of Seuss’s earliest stories (Random, 1939), and one of few the author wrote in narrative form. John Bell’s expressive narration captures the Seuss’s trademark cadence and flow with a lively pace in this story.

App operation is straightforward with options to “Read to Me,” “Read it Myself,” or “Auto Play.” Original illustrations in Seuss’s familiar black, white, and red style appear side-by-side with the text. Children can tap on individual words to hear them spoken aloud or tap on pictures to showcase new vocabulary. Personal narrations can be recorded.

This long-playing story will appeal to older preschoolers and elementary children, and may revive this classic story for a new generation.—Deborah Cooper, Savona Free Library, Savona NY

For additional app reviews visit our Touch and Go webpage.

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Librarians and the Changing Job Market | Consider the Source Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:22:24 +0000 Did you see the fascinating graphic in the New York Times article by Gregor Aisch and Robert Gebeloff  titled, “The Changing Nature of Middle-Class Jobs?”

The graphic focuses on American jobs that pay $40–80,000 a year (adjusting to the current value of a dollar) and presents, occupation-by-occupation, the gender makeup of that workforce. It also examines whether the number of jobs in various categories have grown or declined between the years 1980-2012. The overall message is hardly news—traditionally male industrial work is rapidly declining, while work that is significantly female in areas such as health, is increasing. In a related article by Gebeloff, Dionne Searley, and Eduardo Porter, the accompanying headline captures this shift: “Health Care Opens Stable Career Path, Taken Mainly by Women.” Where do librarians fit into this picture? And what can we learn from the shifts in other fields?

No one will be surprised to see that “librarians, archivists, and curators” are significantly female, or that job numbers in those professions are slipping. But those figures are almost flat, declining only slightly. For my purposes I’d rather not lump those three professions together, but it is rather heartening to see a picture that is fairly level rather than rapidly falling. Anecdotally, I have been hearing about large school systems in, for example, in New York City and in the San Francisco Bay area, which are rushing to hire school librarians.

There are other intriguing bits in this data that might be useful. One area of strong growth is the increase in elementary teachers—up nine percent over the period. I knew that we were experiencing a demographic bulge in the first years of the 21st century—the Baby Boom Echo Echo (grandchildren of the Boomers)—until the 2008 recession made many families put budget and planning ahead of growth. I’d like to see some data on whether the growth in these teaching jobs matches the demographic curve. After all, if you look on the decline side, you’ll discover the number of high school teachers is down five percent.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the 12 percent growth in “other teachers and counselors”—since this group is neither elementary or high school teachers or university professors nor therapists or social workers (all counted in other categories). If other means middle school—well, that is interesting—but the sample may be both too small and too jumbled to be useful. What is clearly useful is the plus side of the chart—with nurses, technologists, and managers at the top. Institutions all see the need for these trained professionals. To my eyes, school librarians are trained professionals, educators skilled at using technology. A librarian’s skill set is the adapted-to-the-school-version of all of these growth professions. They are digital learning leaders.

There has been a shift—the librarian is no longer a person who warehouses objects. She is a manager, a technologist, an investigator, a technologist, an explorer, a curator, and a creator. I don’t see a need in this chart for what it is that librarians do, but I do see a need for professionals to announce themselves, to make who they actually are clear to administrators. And, as the New York City and San Francisco examples suggest, schools systems are ready to listen.

That’s what I see in these lines. What do you see?

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Coming in March: “A Crossover Year” Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:00:23 +0000 SLJ1503_CoverDetail_600

“The announcement of the Youth Media Awards is always a high point of the year,” writes Nina Lindsay in our March cover story. “But something ticked up a notch on February 2, 2015. When I tried to explain it, I found myself breaking into tears. I was not alone. The emotional response that day, while focusing on different aspects of the award outcomes, seemed to stem from a single current. What was it?”

Lindsay, children’s services coordinator for the Oakland (CA) Public Library, who writes, with Jonathan Hunt, the SLJ blog Heavy Medal, unpacks this special awards season in “A Crossover Year.” Representing diversity on several levels, are the 2015 YMAs a harbinger of real change? It’s an opportune time to consider the possibilities, given an especially long, brutal winter, when we look hopefully to spring and, with it, renewal.

Also in this issue, we introduce a new element from our enewsletter Curriculum Connections: a standards-aligned lesson plan based on the new picture book Bird & Diz (Candlewick) by Gary Golio and Ed Young.

Our Libro por Libro column takes the 2015 Pura Belpré winners and shows how these outstanding titles can be used in libraries and classrooms. In the feature story “Serving Conservative Teens,” an educator recommends titles for teen patrons of diverse faiths.

And librarian Tiffany Whitehead offers tips on helping students game the Web with research tricks using, of all things, Google.

We look forward to your comments. The cover story posts here Monday, March 2.

Happy spring.



Above illustration for the March cover story “A Crossover Year” by Lee White.

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Heroic Reads: Supporting Collaborative Summer Library Programs | Focus On Wed, 25 Feb 2015 22:07:49 +0000 SLJ1502-FocusOn-opener

This year, summer reading participants all over the country will explore the ways in which “Every Hero Has a Story.” In libraries, heroic journeys can be found on every shelf, from epic fantasies to realistic family dramas. The hero is one of the oldest and most familiar protagonists to children and, indeed, to stories. Throughout history, humans have venerated and honored their heroes, be they Odysseus on his legendary voyage in long-ago Greece or the first president of the United States, a mere 200 or so years past. Heroic stories have taken many forms, and the summer reading theme is broad enough to be interpreted in different ways. Yet recent media successes point squarely at a uniquely American invention: the superhero. Ask any movie-going child today to name a hero, and then listen as the names of characters from Marvel and DC comics roll off the tongue. The next wave of superhero blockbusters promises to introduce additional personalities to our national lexicon. Once a film has premiered, finding tie-in books about these immensely popular characters is a snap, but what about titles that relate the adventures of heroes not seen on a big screen? Librarians looking to diversify their superhero offerings with heroics that haven’t been branded by a conglomerate will find much to love in the list that follows. Help imaginations take flight this summer by giving readers entirely new heroes to root for. Check out the Collaborative Summer Library Program site.

Early Elementary Grades


ARNOLD, Tedd. Super Fly Guy. illus. by the author. (Fly Guy). Cartwheel. 2006. lib. ed. $17.20. ISBN 9780738383347; Tr $6.99. ISBN 9780439639040; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9780439903745; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780545666466.

K-Gr 2–Arnold’s perennially popular Fly Guy shines in his second, heroic outing. When kindly lunch lady Roz allows Fly Guy to hang out with his friends in the school cafeteria, she is fired. Will Fly Guy be able to save her job and the day? The slapstick humor and cheerful illustrations make this early reader a winner.

DELAPORTE, Bérengère & Jean Leroy. Superfab Saves the Day. illus. by Bérengère Delaporte. Owlkids. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781771470766.

PreS-Gr 2–Superhero costumes do not a hero make in this tale of fantastic outfits and less-than-fantastic timing. Superfab misses every chance to save the day because he spends so much time picking out his costume. When a sartorially challenged villain arrives in town, is it finally Superfab’s time to shine? Bright pencil illustrations perfectly complement this humorous tale.

DILLARD, Sarah. Extraordinary Warren: A Super Chicken. illus. by author. S. & S. 2014. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781442453401; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781442453418.

PreS-Gr 2–Warren is an ordinary chick with dreams of superheroics in this early reader/graphic novel hybrid. Full-color illustrations follow our bespectacled hero as he tries to find the strength to beat a crafty fox and save his friends. The text works surprisingly well as a read-aloud, so Warren should find fans in the elementary and picture book set.

FELDMAN, Thea. Gabe: The Dog Who Sniffs Out Danger. illus. by Chris Danger. (Hero Dog). S. & S./Simon Spotlight. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481422383; pap. $3.99. ISBN 9781481422376; ebk. $3.99. ISBN 9781481422390.

K-Gr 2–The first entry in a new series, this warm early reader recounts the adventures of Gabe, a bomb-sniffing dog on the frontlines of U.S. military service. The high-interest, true-life story is presented with clarity, age-appropriate language, and engaging illustrations. Young nonfiction readers will find much to appreciate here.

GAIMAN, Neil. Fortunately, the Milk. illus. by Skottie Young. HarperCollins. 2013. lib. ed. $16. ISBN 9780606359658; Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062224071; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780062224088; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780062224095.

Gr 2-4–An ordinary father is forced to find his heroic side on a quest to pick up a bottle of milk. Generously illustrated with black-and-white drawings, Dad’s increasingly ludicrous tale of aliens, pirates, and dinosaurs recalls Grandpa’s adventures in James Stevenson’s Could Be Worse! (Greenwillow, 1977) and will leave readers giggling long after the story ends. Audio version available from HarperCollins.

HALE, Shannon & Dean Hale. The Princess in Black. illus. by LeUyen Pham. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780763665104; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780763678883.

Gr 1-3–Princess Magnolia is as dainty, perfect, and pinkly attired as a princess should be, until the Monster Alarm rings! Then she ditches the pink for an all-black outfit, and the Princess in Black heads out to save her kingdom once again. The Hales neatly turn princess stereotypes on their heads in this colorful, joyful romp.

HARPER, Charise Mericle. Wedgieman: A Hero is Born. illus. by Bob Shea. Random. 2012. lib. ed. $13.55. ISBN 9780606268073; RTE $11.99. ISBN 9780375970580; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9780449810422.

K-Gr 2 –Bright, bubbly illustrations from Bob Shea add verve to this humorous early reader, the origin story of a comically named superhero. Veggieman wants children to eat their vegetables and grow big and strong but finds fame when an errant stick has children misinterpreting his V for a W.

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-Elem2KIRBY, Stan. Captain Awesome to the Rescue! illus. by George O’Connor. (Captain Awesome). Little Simon. 2012. lib. ed. $14.75. ISBN 9780606263221; Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781442440906; pap. $4.99. ISBN 9781442435612; ebk. $4.99. ISBN 9781442435629.

Gr 1-3–Eugene is an ordinary second grader with a secret identity. Nobody knows he’s also Captain Awesome, daring defender of good. Will a missing class hamster give Captain Awesome a chance to shine? Large text, simple sentences, and dynamic black-and-white illustrations make this a perfect first chapter book.

MARKO, Cyndi. Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking! illus. by author. (Kung Pow Chicken). Scholastic. 2014. lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780545610629.

Gr 1-3–Copious chicken puns fill this lighthearted romp about a chick named Gordon Blue and his brother Benny. Together, they are a crime-fighting duo out to save the streets of Fowladelphia from evil. Full-color illustrations and graphic elements make this a great choice for kids just beginning to read chapter books.

MORALES, Yuyi. Niño Wrestles the World. illus. by the author. Roaring Brook/Neal Porter Bks. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781596436046; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466839540.

PreS-Gr 2–All it takes is a quick costume change for an ordinary boy named Niño to become a “world champion lucha libre competitor!” The delightfully hyperbolic text describes Niño’s battles with foes both demonic and extraterrestrial. Bright pops of color and liberal use of Spanish words make this Pura Belpre winner a surefire hit.

PILUTTI, Deb. Ten Rules of Being a Superhero. illus. by author. Holt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780805097597; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466882287.

PreS-Gr 2–A boy in costume as the trusty sidekick to his toy Captain Magma imparts the essential rules of good superhero-dom to readers in this funny, knowing tale. Bold, childlike illustrations display Captain Magma’s goofy superpowers: a winning personality, the ability to enjoy a good snack, and solid napping skills.

ROSEN, Michael. Send for a Superhero! illus. by Katharine McEwen. Candlewick. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763664381.

PreS-Gr 2 –A bedtime comic recounting the adventures of amusingly literal- named superheroes (Super-Flying-Through-the-Air-Very-Fast-Man) gets pushed to the heights of silliness through frequent interjections from Dad and his children alike. Will Extremely Boring Man save the day by putting everyone to sleep? A fun, mixed-media tale whose sly humor is sure to please.

Middle Grades

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-MidGrANDERSON, John David. Sidekicked. HarperCollins/Walden Pond Pr. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062133144; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062133151; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780062133168.

Gr 4-7–Drew’s got his hands full with his secret life as a superhero sidekick-in-training, his extremely attuned senses, and middle school. When a villain thought long defeated threatens his world, Drew finds good and evil increasingly difficult to define. Blending a traditional coming-of-age story and an epic battle for the soul of a hero, Sidekicked zips along, brimming with action and lots of heart.

BACON, Lee. Joshua Dread. (Joshua Dread). Random House. 2013. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780375990274; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780307929983; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780375987212.

Gr 4-6–Joshua’s parents breed zombies in the basement and spend their nights trying to take over the world—they’re the Dread Duo, really bad bad guys. Joshua thinks he’s a villain, too, but when his parents are kidnapped he finds himself an unwitting hero. Laugh-out-loud humor and a nuanced portrayal of relationships make this a winner. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

BELL, Cece. El Deafo. illus. by the author. Abrams. 2014. lib. ed. $22.05. ISBN 9780606361484; Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781419710209; pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781419712173; ebk. $17.10. ISBN 9781613126219.

Gr 3-6–This warmly illustrated graphic memoir chronicles the author’s struggles to find friendship and acceptance while learning to use a high-powered hearing aid called the Phonic Ear. After losing her hearing at a young age, Bell finds herself isolated from her peers until she realizes her aid can help her become El Deafo, Listener for All.

JENSEN, Marion. Almost Super. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062209610; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062209627; ebk. $1.99. ISBN 9780062209634.

Gr 4-6–The Bailey and Johnson families are archenemies, but when the latest generation of kids gets duds instead of useful superpowers on their 12th birthdays, brothers Rafter and Benny find themselves working with their sworn nemesis, Juanita, to save the world. Zany humor and death-defying action sequences power this story of accepting differences to new heights. Audio version available from Blackstone Audio.

KRAATZ, Jeramey. The Cloak Society. (The Cloak Society). HarperCollins. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062095473; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062095480; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780062095497.

Gr 4-7–Alex Knight knows he’s destined to be a super villain—after all, he’s in training with the world’s preeminent villain group. But a budding friendship with a future superhero has Alex questioning his path. Kraatz’s references run wide, from Shakespeare to familiar comic book superheroes, while the climactic final battle sets up sequels readers will clamor for.

MILLER, Jeff. The Nerdy Dozen. HarperCollins. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062272621; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780062272638; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780062272645.

Gr 4-7–Neil Andertol is mercilessly picked on by bullies at school, but in the online world of Chameleon, his alter-ego, ManofNeil, is a hero. When government agents bring Neil and other skilled players to a secret camp, he scores a chance to become a hero IRL. Gaming, adventure, and courage brighten this twist on the kid-spy genre.

SANTAT, Dan. Sidekicks. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine. 2011. lib. ed. $24.50. ISBN 9780606229982; Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780439298117; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780439298193.

Gr 4-6–Captain Amazing’s pet dog, hamster, and chameleon develop superpowers of their own along with an intense desire to be their owner’s new sidekick in this vibrant graphic novel. With the help of a feral cat, will they be able to save the day? Full-color panels, bold lettering, and high-stakes action are sure to satisfy readers seeking adventure.

ZEHR, E. Paul. Project Superhero. illus. by Kris Pearn. ECW Pr. 2014. Tr $13.95. ISBN 9781770411807.

Gr 4-6–Jessie starts a diary to keep track of her busy year, studying heroes at school and creating her own heroine at home. An intriguing blend of diary entries, science facts, and actual letters from contemporary heroes makes Zehr’s novel hard to categorize, but its heart and humor will resonate with readers. Spot illustrations and graphic panels add visual interest.

Young Adult

SLJ1502-FocusOn-Strip-YACARROLL, Michael. Super Human. Philomel/Speak. 2011. lib. ed. $20.85. ISBN 9780606230841; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142419052; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101187692.

Gr 7-10–When a mysterious plague wipes out the adult superheroes, three teen heroes and a petty thief have to fight for their lives and the future of humanity against an ancient evil. The action starts on the first page and never lets up, and the life-and-death consequences will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Bloody good fun.

DALRYMPLE, Farel. The Wrenchies. First Second. 2014. pap. $19.99. ISBN 9781596434219; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466858664.

Gr 8-10–Two brothers meet a terrible demon in the woods; a boy is drawn into the pages of a comic book; and a gang called the Wrenchies fight for survival in a postapocalyptic world in this absorbing, dark graphic novel. Graphically violent and meticulously illustrated, The Wrenchies takes readers on a grisly journey they won’t soon forget.

KEHOE, Tim. Furious Jones and the Assassin’s Secret. S. & S. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442473379; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781442473386; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442473393.

Gr 7-9–Shortly after the suspicious death of his mother, a secret government agent, Furious Jones witnesses the assassination of his reporter father. Furious must take up his mother’s super-spy mantle and solve the mystery behind her death if he hopes to see the light of another day. A hero is born in this pulse-pounding espionage thriller.

POPE, Paul. Battling Boy. First Second. 2013. lib. ed. $28.15. ISBN 9780606361255; Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781596438057; pap. $15.99. ISBN 9781596431454. ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781596431454.

Gr 7-10–A new superhero must step into battle in this action-packed graphic novel. Monsters swallow people whole in Acropolis, and a young demi-god from another planet may be the city’s only hope. The intense pen-and-ink drawings recount epic battles alongside emotional complexities such as withheld parental love and the moral ambiguities of government propaganda.

YANG, Gene Luen. The Shadow Hero. illus. by Sonny Liew. (Shadow Hero). First Second. 2014. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9781596436978; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781466858688.

Gr 7-10–For five issues in the 1940s, a comic book superhero called the Green Turtle defended China from Japan. In this exciting graphic novel, Yang and artist Liew create a new backstory for the forgotten Green Turtle. They pay tribute to his creator Chu Hing’s original intentions in new protagonist Hank Chu, a Chinese-American teenager who becomes the Green Turtle after a tragedy.

Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla is the assistant head of Children’s Services at the Darien Library, CT.



Numbers League. Bent Castle Software. 2014. Version 1.1.0. iOS, requires 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPad. $3.99. (Accessed 12/17/14).
Gr 1 Up –Superheroes make math fun in this skill-building app. Each superhero is assigned a number, which must be combined with other numbers (through addition, multiplication, etc.) to capture villains. Increasingly difficult levels will challenge users, while bright, comic book–style graphics entice them to keep playing.

Super Stretch Yoga. The Adventures of Super Stretch. 2012. Version 1.2. iOS, requires 3.2 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad. Free. (Accessed 12/17/14).
PreS Up –An animated, costumed superhero and his animal friends guide children (and parents) through beginning yoga poses. Adorable real-life tots model correct poses in short videos. Explanations of the poses are brief and age appropriate, while homepage navigation allows users to either choose a pose or complete the whole practice.

WordGirl Superhero Training. PBS Kids. 2013. Version 1.1. iOS, requires 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPad. $1.99. Android, requires 2.3 or later. Compatible with Android-based devices. $1.99. (Accessed 12/17/14).
Gr 1 Up –Build vocabulary, pair synonyms, and more in this cheerful app. Male or female superheroes can be created to play through the app’s mini games, with a diverse array of hair/skin colors available. Easy navigation and a wide variety of word-based gaming make this a top choice.

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March Madness & Hoop Dreams | Great Books about Basketball Wed, 25 Feb 2015 17:32:16 +0000 The Crossover? From stats to free verse to early basketball history, this list's got game. ]]> Hoops fans are gearing up for the 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament, which takes place from March 17 to April 6. From picture books to YA novels, nonfiction works to tall tales, this selection of titles will captivate B-ball enthusiasts with sizzling courtside action and solid storytelling.

basketballbellesBasketball Belles: How Two Teams and One Scrappy Player Put Women’s Hoops on the Map. by Sue Macy. illus. by Matt Collins. Holiday House. 2011. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780823421633.

Gr 2-5—Agnes Morley, a high-spirited young woman who grew up working on her family’s New Mexico ranch and preferred breeches and spurs to ruffled skirts, narrates this true tale. Sent by her mother to Stanford in the hopes that the university would make a lady out of her, Agnes nonetheless took part in the first-ever hoops matchup played between two women’s college teams at Berkeley in 1891. This from-the-court account includes brawling action, a close score, and the resounding message that “a lady can be tough and strong as well as refined and polite. She can even play basketball.” Exuberant artwork and vibrant text bring history to life.

beastlybasketballBeastly Basketball. by Lauren Johnson. illus. by Eduardo Garcia. (Sports Illustrated Kids Graphic Novels). Capstone/Stone Arch. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781434264909.

Gr 4-8—Invited to join his school’s downtrodden basketball squad after his kung fu studio closes down, Joe shares his martial arts skills with the other boys to help build discipline and cooperation. Each player is eventually assigned a style that suits his particular strengths (Oscar is a “tiger—ferocious yet stealthy,” while Tim is “goofy and agile—a real funky monkey”). After a month of hard work, the Beasts—each wearing his designated animal on his jersey—are ready for a stellar season. Energy-packed artwork, simple dialogue, lighthearted humor, and a powerful message about teamwork make this graphic novel a good pick for reluctant readers.

crossoverThe Crossover. by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Harcourt. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544107717; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780544289598.

Gr 6-10—“A bolt of lightning on my kicks…/The court is SIZZLING/My sweat is DRIZZLING/Stop all that quivering/Cuz tonight I’m delivering.” Seventh-grader Josh has the skills to back his swagger, as does his brother Jordan, twins coached by their one-time pro-baller dad and encouraged by their straight-shooting mom. Though they have their differences—Josh plays forward and wears dreads, while his shooting guard brother gets his head shaved monthly—the two are inseparable on court and off…until Jordan lays eyes on the new girl at school, which is only the beginning of a season filled with changes and challenges. Expertly crafted poems mix basketball metaphors, an authentic voice, and a meaty range of moods and emotions to introduce a memorable protagonist who’s got game—and plenty of heart.

thefinalfourThe Final Four. by Paul Volponi. Viking. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670012640; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780142423851; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781101566954.

Gr 8 Up—This absorbing novel opens during the NCAA semifinal at the Louisiana Superdome as the powerhouse Michigan State Spartans take on the underdog Trojans of Troy University in front of 56,000 roaring fans. While the nail-biting game heads into triple overtime, flashbacks introduce four of the star athletes, peeling back their on-court personas to reveal backstories filled with hard-won accomplishments and anguish, emotional highs and lows, and the trials of growing up. Supplemented by journal entries, newspaper accounts, live TV interviews, and play-by-play announcing, Volponi’s crisp narration tells a gripping tale while also airing controversial issues about amateur athletics.

foultroubleFoul Trouble. by John Feinstein. Knopf. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780375869648; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780375871696; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780375984549.

Gr 8 Up—Forward Terrell Jamerson, considered the top high school basketball player in the country, and his teammate and best friend, point guard Danny Wilcox, navigate a senior year teeming with pressure on and off the court. Though coached by Danny’s clear-thinking and protective father, the boys are aggressively—and sometimes unscrupulously—pursued by college staff, sporting goods company reps, and self-serving agents. The viewpoint shifts between the two protagonists: the hot-tempered Danny, who would do anything to protect his friend, and the sometimes naïve Terrell, who is well aware of how his decision will affect his family’s future. Blending tense game action with an eye-opening look at the college recruitment process, this novel keeps readers turning pages until the final whistle is blown.

HomecourtSTATHome Court. (STAT: Standing Tall And Talented). by Amar’e Stoudemire. illus. by Tim Jessell. Scholastic. 2012. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780545431699; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780545387590; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9780545473996.

Gr 3-6—Loosely based on the childhood of NBA All-Star Stoudemire, this series opener introduces 11-year-old Amar’e, nicknamed STAT by his dad (“It stood for Standing Tall And Talented. That’s how he wanted me to act and who he wanted me to be.”). Far from hoops obsessed, the likable boy prefers to play just for fun, also spending time participating in other sports, hanging out with his friends, keeping up his honor roll grades, and working for his landscape business owner dad. However, when a group of slightly older bullies take over the neighborhood court, Amar’e comes up with a cleverly thought-out solution that also proves he’s got skills. Straightforward language, page-turning action, and inviting black-and-white illustrations tell a fast-reading tale of friendship, family, and figuring things out.

HORSEH.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination. by Christopher Myers. illus. by author. Egmont. 2012. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781606842188.

Gr 3-6—After restating the rules (one player makes a shot that the other has to duplicate or get a letter: “Spell ‘horse’ and it’s ‘Giddy-up, you’re out’”), two creative kids play this familiar game at a basketball court in the city, quickly escalating beyond traditional moves—“layup, jumper from half-court, bounce shot”—and begin to shoot for the moon…literally. Starring two gracefully lanky B-ballers, this celebration of soaring imaginations, friendly one-upmanship, and easy-going athleticism is illustrated with lithe paintings and collaged photos. The audio version (Live Oak Media, 2014), narrated by Dion Graham and Christopher Myers, recently won the 2015 Odyssey Award and is a fantastic supplement to the print book.

hoopgeniusHoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball. by John Coy. illus. by Joe Morse. Carolrhoda. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780761366171.

Gr 1-4—In December 1891, a young educator in Springfield, MA, reluctantly took over the bored and boisterous all-male gym class that had already driven two instructors to quit. The quest for a fun activity was on, and after trying indoor football, soccer, and lacrosse (all too rough), James Naismith finally found success with a game played by arching a soccer ball into a peach basket (the only receptacle readily at hand). Delightfully burly mustache- and muscle-packed artwork and lively text make for a riveting read-aloud.

nextNext. by Kevin Waltman. Cinco Puntos. 2013. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781935955641; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955658.

Gr 7 Up—Pushing 6’3” and scorching hot on the court, freshman Derrick Bowen has his sights set starting as point guard at Indianapolis’s Marion East High, but senior Nick Starks already owns the position and is determined to box him out. Coach Bolan wants D-Bow to concentrate more on his fundamentals than his flash, resulting in time on the bench. Meanwhile, an invitation for Derrick to transfer to and play for an elite private school in the suburbs has his family divided, and he can’t seem to stop making a fool out of himself in front of the girl he likes. Filled with multidimensional characters and lyrically presented hoops jargon, Derrick’s first-person narrative blends breathless game action with meaty quandaries about cooperation, self-realization, and coming-of-age. D-Bow returns for his sophomore year in Slump (Cinco Puntos, 2014).

planetmiddleschoolPlanet Middle School. by Nikki Grimes. Bloomsbury. 2011. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781599902845; ebk. $12.99. ISBN 9781599907277.

Gr 5-8—Baggy jeans–wearing, basketball-jamming, self-confident Joylin has always felt content with who she is, “But lately,/my outside has been changing/and my inside keeps telling me/more is on the way./Trouble is,/I’m not sure/I’m ready.” In this accessible, free-verse novel, the 12-year-old narrator candidly describes the woes and wonders of adolescence. As longtime friendships shift and change, she begins to notice boys, and, suddenly, it doesn’t seem as easy to define herself—on or off the court. Humorous, heartwarming, and empowering.

sasquatchSasquatch in the Paint. by Kareem Abdul-Jabar & Raymond Obstfeld. (Streetball Crew.) Disney-Hyperion. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423178705; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781423192541; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781423187851.

Gr 5-8—After a six-inch summertime growth spurt, eighth-grader Theo Rollins finds himself transformed from under-the-radar science geek to basketball squad centerpiece. Everyone expects big things, but Theo, uncomfortable in his new body and unfamiliar with the game, is struggling. Gradually, he realizes that he loves hoops but improvement will require dedication, the willingness to balance extra practice with school work and other commitments, and some soul searching. Often laugh-out-loud funny, this satisfying sports story stars a relatable protagonist, features a case of strongly drawn characters, and soars with truths about friendship and self-discovery. The series continues with Stealing the Game (Disney-Hyperion, 2015).

slamdunkSlam Dunk!: The Top Ten Lists of Everything in Basketball. Sports Illustrated Kids. 2014. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781618931290.

Gr 4-8—Ranking everything from the greatest players to game-winning shots, brick-wall defenders to high-flying dunkers, memorable quotes to distinctive coiffures, this handsome book is packed with fan-thrilling visuals and facts. Snappy paragraphs introduce do-or-die game situations and recount career highlights, while dazzling full-color and black-and-white photos dramatize the action on the hardwood as players dribble, drive, shoot, and defend. Fun for browsing and perhaps arguing about placements with friends.

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“Little Big Girls” explores puberty and its effects | DVD Pick Wed, 25 Feb 2015 14:00:54 +0000 Little Big Girls. 52 min. Dist. by National Film Board of Canada. 2014. $295 (PPR). ISBN unvail. Gr 5 Up–Three of the times in a girl’s life when she’s told she’s a “big girl” are depicted in the animated introduction: when she learns to use the potty; then when she rides her bike without training wheels for the first time; and lastly, when she gets her first bra. The subject here is early puberty, and the candid interviews with girls who [...]]]> littlebiggirlsLittle Big Girls. 52 min. Dist. by National Film Board of Canada. 2014. $295 (PPR). ISBN unvail.
Gr 5 Up–Three of the times in a girl’s life when she’s told she’s a “big girl” are depicted in the animated introduction: when she learns to use the potty; then when she rides her bike without training wheels for the first time; and lastly, when she gets her first bra. The subject here is early puberty, and the candid interviews with girls who have experienced it make the film emotionally engaging. Most of these girls started puberty at nine years of age, setting them apart from their peers, making them self-conscious, and forcing them to grow up before they were emotionally prepared. This resulted in low self-esteem, loneliness, and sometimes in becoming sexually active before they were ready. The anguish these girls speak of will likely arouse empathy in viewers. Experts ranging from medical researchers, a school sexologist, a psychologist, and doctors from Canada, the United States, and Denmark offer theories and facts. Girls in developed countries are entering puberty on average 12 months earlier than they were 25 years ago, with menstruation beginning about four months earlier. Also, the order of the signs of puberty has become scrambled, appearing in different sequences. There are possibly innocuous causes, such as better nutrition and better health, and alarming reasons: the use of food additives and the presence of hormone disrupters in the environment—plastics and chemicals in cleaners and fragrances, to name a few. VERDICT This excellent film will arouse sympathy and understanding on an important topic for students.–Constance Dickerson, Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, OH

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Warm Stories for Cold Nights: Curl up with a CD or digital download| Listen In Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:21:53 +0000 SLJ1502-ListenIn-Snowman-Open

Throughout the long winter and the still-cold months of early spring, many listeners are seeking a promise of warmth, comfort, and contentment and a sense of well-being. For those who are ready to make a commitment to snuggle down and listen to a good story, the selection of titles here offers excellent narration paired with recent and classic tales that will provide respite from long, cold winter nights. Stories of a gorilla, a bear, science, magic, and more combine to satisfy the yearning for a tale well told. If the medium is the message, this medium—the audiobook—delivers a message of pure delight to happy listeners.

Early elementary

BOND, Michael. A Bear Called Paddington. 2 CDs. 2:40 hrs. Harper Audio. 2005. ISBN 9780060760717. $17.99.

Gr 2-5 –Stephen Fry flawlessly relates the hilarious escapades of a young bear from darkest Peru, transplanted to the hustle and bustle of London. From Paddington’s love for marmalade to his penchant for getting into trouble, Fry keeps the laughs coming with his dry narration. Now a motion picture, the original story will be enjoyed just as much by children and their parents as the recent cinematic update.

MCDONALD, Megan. Judy Moody, Mood Martian. 2 CDs. 2:11 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2014. ISBN 9781491502365. $24.99.

K-Gr 3 –Barbara Rosenblat’s droll interpretations of bossy Judy, her classmates, and her whiny little brother, Stink, ensure that listeners know exactly who is talking. When the class celebrates Backwards Day, Judy combs her hair, wears matching clothes, and becomes a cheerful girl, but then she triple dog dares herself to continue this incredible behavior, and her friends can’t understand what is happening, providing listeners with inside knowledge that elevates the fun.

middle grade

APPLEGATE, Katherine. The One and Only Ivan. 3 CDs. 3:45 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2013. ISBN 9781470351236. $30.75.

Gr 4-8 –The 2013 Newbery Medal winner, with its heartwarming depiction of concern for others, is a great choice for family listening. Adam Grupper’s voicing of trapped gorilla Ivan is appropriately older and deep-voiced, while baby elephant Ruby sounds youthful and vulnerable. His frenetically exuberant portrayal of Bob the dog steals the show. Offer this to families wanting literature that prompts discussion.

FOXLEE, Karen. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. 5 CDs. 6:20 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. ISBN 9780804168366. $35.

Gr 4-8 –For those who like their stories a little scary, Jayne Entwistle’s ethereal, nuanced narration heightens the tension in a modern fairy tale based on the “Snow Queen.” Grieving her mother’s death, Ophelia and her father and sister move to a snowy city where her father is curating a collection of ancient swords. In the museum, Ophelia discovers a boy whose terrifying story leads her to prove her capacity for friendship, allegiance, and love.

GRABENSTEIN, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. 5 CDs. 6:20 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. ISBN 9780 804168083. $45.

Gr 4-8 –Solidarity and perseverance are featured in this adventure, narrated with energy and enthusiasm by Jesse Bernstein. Elusive Mr. Lemoncello invites a dozen 12-year-olds to spend the night in his new library, where they must use their library skills to solve puzzles, escape from the building, and win the grand prize. Bernstein’s spot-on middle school voices provide a you-are-there listening experience.

HOLM, Jennifer L. The Fourteenth Goldfish. 3 CDs. 3:04 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. ISBN 9780804193825. $30.

Gr 4-8 –In this humorous story, sixth grader Ellie is shocked when her mother brings home a teenager who turns out to be her estranged grandfather. Melvin has discovered how to reverse the aging process, and Ellie learns a great deal of science while helping him retrieve his research. But Ellie understands something her scientist grandfather does not—discoveries can have unintended consequences. Georgette Perna admirably voices the disparate ages and stages of the various characters.

LIN, Grace. The Year of the Dog. 3 CDs. 3 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2007. ISBN 9781428133624. $25.75.

Gr 3-7 –Combining humor and food for thought, Lin takes listeners through one year—the year of the dog—with Grace, whose Taiwanese heritage sometimes sets her apart from her classmates. Narrator Nancy Wu’s childlike inflection and pacing perfectly capture Grace, her younger sister, and her friends, and Wu is equally effective in accurately voicing Grace’s more composed parents.

LLOYD, Natalie. A Snicker of Magic. 8 CDs. 8:14 hrs. Scholastic Audiobooks. 2013. ISBN 9780545706797. $34.99.

Gr 3-7 –Employing a slight drawl, Cassandra Morris creates each quirky character in this Southern tale of love, loss, and loyalty. Felicity Pickle feels right at home in Midnight Gulch. It’s where her wandering mama grew up, and there seems to be a bit of lingering magic there. Felicity herself has magical qualities—she sees words everywhere, describing things that are or might be. With her new friend Jonah, Felicity sets out to right wrongs of the past in a gentle story that appeals to a broad age range.

MONTGOMERY, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. 9 CDs. 10:12 hrs. Tantor Audio. 2003. ISBN 9781400100712. $32.99.

Gr 5-9 –Listeners will be captivated from the moment freckled, red-haired, orphan Anne arrives to turn life upside down for the Cuthberts, who meant to adopt a boy to help on the farm. The beloved story about the true meaning of family is narrated with consummate skill by Shelly Frasier, whose inflection and pacing embodies early 20th century speech, fully capturing Anne’s lively imagination and zest for life.

WOODSON, Jacqueline. Brown Girl Dreaming. 4 CDs. 3:56 hrs. Penguin Audio. ISBN 9780553397260. $38.

Gr 5-9 –This 2014 National Book Award-winning memoir describes growing up between worlds—mother and grandparents, rural South Carolina and Brooklyn, and Jim Crow and the civil rights movement—in elegant, moving free verse made even more intimate by Woodson’s conversational reading of her own story. Listeners will feel she’s sitting right there, talking about her family and the joy and pain she experienced as a child.

young adult

BODETT, Tom. Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier. digital download. 4:40 hrs. Listening Library. 2007. ISBN 9780739360347. $14.

Gr 7 Up –Bodett’s languid narration perfectly suits this story of an awkward Alaskan teen who just can’t seem to do anything right. He falls off his father’s fishing boat, gets into trouble with the school bully, and certainly doesn’t understand how to deal with girls. Fifteen vignettes follow Norman from age 13 to 16 in this funny, heartwarming coming-of-age story.

BRAY, Libba. Beauty Queens. 12 CDs. 14:30 hrs. Scholastic Audiobooks. 2011. ISBN 9780545315234. $35.99.

Gr 8 Up –Listeners will be drawn into the plight of these Miss Teen Dream contestants from their dramatic introduction, their survival after a plane crash on a deserted island, and the unfolding of unforeseen dangers. Bray’s talents as writer and narrator are evident as she fully voices multiple characters, complete with deft accents and underlying ironic humor in this entertaining yet thoughtful story with themes of feminism, survival, and friendship.

CRAWFORD, Brent. Carter Finally Gets It. 7 CDs. 9 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2010. ISBN 9781423391807. $29.99.

Gr 7 Up –Fourteen-year-old Will Carter is stumbling through his freshman year of high school. Obsessed with girls, he seems to get himself into more than his fair share of trouble in this laugh-out-loud coming-of-age story. Nick Podehl narrates with great enthusiasm and humor, heightening the hilarity for listeners.

Sharon Grover is head of youth services at the Hedberg Public Library, Janesville, WI. Lizette (Liz) Hannegan was a school librarian and the district library supervisor for the Arlington (VA) Public Schools before her retirement.

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ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom Wants to Know About Your State’s Challenged Books Tue, 24 Feb 2015 21:52:51 +0000 ALA picThe American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) wants to hear about book challenges in your state or region. The OIF is currently finalizing its database on 2014 book challenges around the United States, and “even if you think we probably already know about it, send it to us anyways,” says Kristin Pekoll, assistant director of OIF, in an email.

Pekoll goes on to write:

“Challenges reported to ALA by individuals are kept confidential, and we will cross-check your report with existing entries in the database to avoid duplications.”

There are a variety of ways to report challenges and support OIF’s data compiling, including:

The final deadline for reporting 2014 challenges to OIF is Friday, February 27.

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Beboppin’ with “Bird & Diz” Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:15:02 +0000 SLJ1503-CCLesson_BirdDizint-logo


With bursts of rhythm and flashes of color, Gary Golio and Ed Young’s stunning new picture book Bird & Diz (Candlewick, March 2015; Gr 3 Up) captures the spirit and genius of bebop artists Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and their classic rendition of “Salt Peanuts.” Golio and Young’s is a virtuoso performance, mirroring that of the artists they so ably portray as they play off each other with their instruments. Against a background of rusty brown, Young’s pastel artwork featuring vibrant blues, pinks, orange, and green—and a minimum of black line—offers an impressionistic image of the musicians and the music as it skit-scats, swirls, and bounces between the artists, through a jazz club, and across the pages of this concertina. Invite lyrics, color, and sound into your classroom with this standards-aligned lesson for the book, designed for grades three and four, but easily adaptable for students through grade nine.—DG

Teaching note:

This guide is aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Reading (Literature), Speaking and Listen­ing, and Writing. As students answer each question, encourage them to support their claims with evidence from the text.

The lesson plan: Throughout Bird & Diz, Golio uses examples of figurative language to highlight Parker (Bird) and Gillespie’s (Diz) bebop music. Ask students to answer the questions below regarding the meaning of the figurative phrases and terms. (Reading Literature: Craft and Structure: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)

Allow students time to consider the author’s use of figurative language. Ask them what the phrase, “Diz’s cheeks swell up, like a frog with glasses” says about Gillespie. Can a person’s cheeks look like a frog’s? What imagery is the author conveying to readers? Why is it important? Use details from the text to support your answer.

Prompt students to explore the figurative language about Parker. The author notes, “Bird’s fingers fly across the brass. Is that smoke coming out of his horn?” Ask whether “smoke” actually comes out of an instrument. What is Golio trying to tell us about the saxaphonist’s playing? Look at Young’s illustration. How does it support this phrase? Support your answer with textual evidence.

Have students use a graphic organizer (see chart below) to locate additional figurative language about the musicians in the text. Allow them to explain their interpretation of each phrase (e.g., meaning) using clues from the story.

As they read or listen to the book, prompt kids to think about the vivid details about bebop music. Based on the descriptions of Parker and Gillespie’s instrumental playing, ask: What is bebop? How do the details in the story enhance readers’ understanding of bebop? Imagine the music; how does it sound? Use examples from the story to support your answer. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Music (audio) connection: Play a CD of the artists’ collaborative efforts in the classroom and suggest that students explore the music of these artists at home with an adult. (Relevant YouTube offerings include “Bloomdido,” “Leap Frog,” “Salt Peanuts.”) While listening to the tunes, students should record their observations and opinions. Have them share their notes with a partner and highlight what they believe is special or unique about the music. (Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)



Bird & Diz (Candlewick)
By Gary Golio and Ed Young

Writing connection: After listening to several recordings, children can write a brief journal entry about bebop. The entry should include (a) a description of how the music sounds, (b) a discussion of how well the music (sound) matches the descriptions in the story, and (c) an opinion that highlights the reason people were so excited about bebop music. (Writing: Text Types and Purposes: W.CCR.1)

Encourage students to revisit the illustrations in the text and ask them to select their favorites. Ask, Why did you chose those images? What concept or details (e.g., characters, mood, and setting) from the story does it help you understand? Provide examples from the story in your response. If you were the teacher, how would you explain the importance of illustrations to students? (Reading Literature: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.7, R.L., 4.7)

Photography connection: Have students examine the photograph of the musicians in the book. Ask them: Do Parker and Gillespie look like the images that you created in your mind while you read or listened to the story? What is similar? What is different? What is the tone of the picture? Use examples to support your response.

Push children to think about the importance of collaboration in the classroom and throughout life. Ask: What does this story tell us about these artists’ collaboration? Why is this lesson important? Which examples from the story show that they worked well together? How do the musicians influence one another as they play (e.g., sequence of events)? What actions from the story support your response? (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.3, R.L., 4.3)


Music (video) connection: If possible, give students another opportunity to listen to the music of Parker and Gillespie. Have them go online to YouTube (in school or at home with an adult) and watch the “Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie—Hot House—1951” video. Encourage them to jot down what they notice as the musicians play together. Does this seem like a strong musical duo? Why? Give students time to discuss their observations with a partner. (Speaking and Listening: Comprehension and Collaboration: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Text-to-world connection: Have students elborate on these questions: Can you think of other musicians who have collaborated to create a new song or type of music? Why is it important to work with others instead of always working alone?

Ask students to read the book’s afterword. What new information did they learn about Parker and Gillespie? How are these details related to the information shared in the story? Based on the story and the afterword, why was bebop revolutionary? Support your response with evidence from both texts. (Reading Literature: Key Ideas and Details: RL.3.1, R.L., 4.1)

Text-to-text and writing connections: Instruct students to use online resources or related books to explore the life of Parker or Gillespie. Once the research is complete, students can write a report or an essay that includes (a) a clear introduction, (b) highlights of the major events in the musician’s childhood and early career, (c) explanation of the influence of his music, (d) cohesive conclusion, and (e) reference list of all sources. (Writing: Research to Build and Present Knowledge: W.CCR.8)

Extended music (audio) connection: Ask students to go to YouTube with an adult and listen to music that the artists composed individually. How is it similar to and different from the collaborative pieces that they produced? Create a 10-minute oral presentation about your listening experience that incorporates visual examples and samples of the music reviewed. (Speaking and Listening: Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas: RL.3.4, R.L., 4.4)

Dawn Jacobs Martin has spent her career supporting students with disabilities through various roles as a practitioner, researcher, special education director, and assistant professor. Daryl Grabarek is the editor of SLJ’s enewsletter Curriculum Connections, and a contributing editor to Book Reviews.

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Net Neutrality: Why You Should Care About the FCC Vote Tue, 24 Feb 2015 16:02:49 +0000 FCC Takes Another Swing at Net Neutrality While Netflix Agrees To Pay for Faster StreamingThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will hold a vote on February 26 on whether to reclassify Internet broadband services as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Under Title II, the FCC will be able to regulate the Internet—and therefore Internet service providers (ISP)—as a public utility, like telephone service and electricity, enabling the FCC to champion the cause of “net neutrality,” or equity across the Internet.

“The proposed rules would ban paid prioritization in which companies pay for faster access (commonly referred to as “fast lanes”) to consumers,” reports circa. “The rules would also ban throttling [the intentional slowing down of the Internet by service providers]…”

The principle of net neutrality is tossed around but not necessarily understood. And for schools and libraries, both providers of Internet access, it’s a terribly important issue.

What is net neutrality?

EH_150224_NetNeutralityNet neutrality is the principle of maintaining a free and open Internet, so that the access provider, such as Verizon or Comcast, must provide the user the same quality of service and speed across the board to all websites. In the past, it’s been possible for ISPs to “favor” delivery of content to companies, such as Netflix or Amazon, which are able to pay additional fees for the delivery of faster and better service to their users.

Under net neutrality, such favoritism in exchange for money paid would be banished. ISPs would be required to make all legal content and applications available on an equal basis, so the user gets the same quality delivery whether connecting to government websites, movie streaming and game websites, news services, or the bank, according to the FCC Fact Sheet.

What’s the deal with the FCC vote?

On January 14, 2014, a federal court ruled that the FCC was overreaching its authority in trying to regulate the Internet as a utility when it had already been defined by the FCC as an information service, says Verizon v. the Federal Communications Commission.

Now, the FCC is proposing to reclassify Internet service as a utility service, and the new rules will treat ISPs similarly to other public utility providers. As public utility providers, ISPs wouldn’t be able to charge differentially based on content or intentionally slow down delivery of content in order to favor prioritized content. The FCC received an unprecedented four million comments from the public during a four month fact-finding period that began in May 2014, including one from President Obama, who strongly stated his position supporting a free and open Internet with no blocking, no throttling, increased transparency, and no paid prioritization. During the comment period, people made it abundantly clear that they view broadband Internet access as a necessity, a utility akin to electricity and telephone service.

So what’s not to like? Opponents of net neutrality fear vastly reduced opportunities for investment, creativity, and innovation. By blocking fast lanes and other potential forms of revenue, ISPs argue the new rules will limit financial growth and their ability to sustain infrastructure improvements and develop new technologies. ISPs are also greatly concerned that the new rules would result in rate regulation, new taxes and fees, and mountains of paperwork.

Proponents of net neutrality say that the new rules would level the playing field. At present, a few large companies, including Comcast and AT&T, have been able to amass a monopoly-like lock on the ISP industry. These giants are also well-known for garnering low consumer satisfaction ratings and may be the only ones to benefit from the status quo. Without net neutrality, they have the means to control the flow of information, giving priority to some types of content while degrading or throttling service for other types that can’t pay for prioritized treatment.

What is the impact OF NET NEUTRALITY on libraries?

A library’s core mission is to provide the public with equitable access to information, regardless of format. In today’s world, public libraries are leading providers of high speed access to the Internet, particularly for those without access to broadband services at home. The prevailing debate doesn’t really address the fate of public and non-profit institutions. Net neutrality will enforce that libraries aren’t relegated to dispensing second-class delivery of Internet services.

For school libraries, the stakes may be even higher. The vast majority of American schools rely on federal E-Rate funding, which mandates the installation of Internet filtering software to meet requirements of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Internet service is often already seriously compromised by filtering practices that overreach actual requirements of the law. Faced with an Internet experience that is characterized by crawling speeds and redacted content, today’s students are finding schools (and school libraries) hopelessly irrelevant. And with so much content blocked or throttled, students can’t be taught to critically assess what they find online, according to the American Library Association (ALA) report “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later.”

Another threat comes in the form of big package education publishers who offer self-contained, “school safe” content. In a world without net neutrality, big corporate education giants are likely to partner with big corporate ISPs to deliver this “walled garden” content at high speeds. Schools will be forced to pay extra if they want their students to be able to engage with content in a timely way. High quality free content that isn’t part of the package, such as the Library of Congress American Memory Collections, could languish in the realm of the throttled.

The ALA stands squarely on the side of net neutrality. Last July, the organization joined ten other education and library organizations in filing joint public comments with the FCC. Courtney Young, ALA president, emphasized the role of America’s libraries in collecting, creating, and disseminating essential information to the public over the Internet and in enabling users to create and distribute their own digital content and applications.

Come February 26, progress toward leveling the information playing field will be thwarted or born.

Frances Jacobson Harris is a retired school librarian who’d worked at the University Laboratory High School in Urbana, IL, for 27 years and is the author of “I Found It on the Internet: Coming of Age Online,” American Library Association, 2011

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Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Echo” Reverberates With Hope| Interview Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:41:40 +0000 Listen to Pam Muñoz Ryan reveal the story behind Echo, courtesy of


IECHOn her epic novel Echo (Scholastic, February 2015; Gr 5-8), Pam Muñoz Ryan weaves together three stories of young people living through a tumultuous period in the 20th century: 12-year-old Friedrich Schmidt in 1933 Germany, as the Nazi Party gains momentum; orphaned 11-year-old Mike Flannery in 1935 Philadelphia during the Depression; and Ivy Maria Lopez living in Southern California in 1942 as World War II rages. Their stories revolve around a single Hohner Marine Band harmonica and are framed by a tale of a lost boy, three sisters, and a witch’s curse. Here Ryan discusses the origins of the story, how it grew, and the unexpected twists it took.

This is such a departure for you, isn’t it? What led you to these three stories?
It is a departure. I didn’t plan it like that in the beginning. I was researching what I thought would be my next book: a little-known court case, Roberto Alvarez v. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District, the nation’s first successful school desegregation court decision.

How did the thrust of your book change so dramatically?
I went to Lemon Grove, in East San Diego County. Looking through school yearbooks, I came across a photo of a class; half the students were barefoot and each kid was holding a harmonica. The librarian had attended that very school, and her brother was in that picture. Then I discovered Albert Hoxie’s Philadelphia Harmonica Band, a 60-member boy band. When I started researching that group, I noticed that in the photographs the band members were all holding Hohner Marine Band harmonicas.

That led me to the Hohner harmonica route. The situations [that I was exploring] lent themselves to a girl that might have played the harmonica [and the Lemon Grove case inspired many of Ivy’s circumstances] and to another child—a boy—who could have played in Hoxie’s band, which had many orphans in it [like my character Mike]. Not until I went to the Hohner factory did I learn that they had child apprentices [like Friedrich]. What I thought would be a small novella, ended up this gigantic book!

World War II definitely casts its shadow over these three children’s lives.
I didn’t set out to write a book that spanned a war. When I started researching the Hohner harmonica factory in Germany, and that period, I stumbled across a law about children that had hereditary diseases. Part of what made Friedrich’s story interesting is that we don’t hear about what happened to the people that didn’t look “perfect,” including Germans. [Friedrich, the apprentice at the harmonica factory had a large, wine-colored facial birthmark].

How did you keep track of the three stories, their themes, and the issues in each?
With a giant seven-foot-long whiteboard! I had to get one for my office, to keep everything straight, recording the calendar months and the leitmotifs that run through each story. A theme throughout the book was the warehousing of [people]; women in the fairy tale, and in Friedrich’s story, anyone who opposed Hitler, and of course, later, the Jews. In Mike’s story, it’s children [in the orphanages], and in Ivy’s story, Japanese Americans. I had to keep these recurring themes straight, and to remember to tie the threads as I moved through each story.

One of my favorite lines in Friedrich’s story is when he anticipates his audition for the conservatory: “How could he want something and fear it so much at the same time?”
Friedrich’s story is so much about the disillusionment of dreams. In his mind, he thought that he could have maybe gone to the conservatory, but he would still have stayed there in his town. His biggest worry was the audition, but there’s something larger [Hitler] that jeopardizes his entire existence.

In Mike’s story, [the adoptive mother] is the one who’s completely disillusioned  about the circumstances of her life—there’s another subtle theme about women being repressed. A lot of societal issues [were addressed in the book], and I had to present them matter-of-factly.

There’s the wonderful quote in Mike’s story as the boy goes through the music store that seems to reverberate with the harmonica’s journey: “Isn’t it wonderful! Music is just waiting to escape from all these instruments.”
There was the idea, as far back as my book The Dreamer (Scholastic, 2010) about Pablo Neruda. His premise was that your tangible essence travels with your tools, with anything that you’ve used with your hands. I love the idea that the harmonica carried something positive and self-affirming with it from [person to person]…that sense of euphoric well-being. It sounded so beautiful. I wanted that idea to carry that through the book.

Tell us about the fairy tale as a frame for the three stories.
From the moment they learn about Otto, the three sisters, and the witch’s curse, I wanted readers to suspend disbelief. By couching the three stories within a traditional fairy tale, I was saying to readers, “Come with me and believe…there’s some scary, hard stuff coming. The book is a dark forest, but we’ll make it to the end….”


TB-imageListen to Pam Muñoz Ryan reveal the story behind Echo, courtesy of

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Spotlight On Ecosystems | Terrestrial Biomes & Their Denizens Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:18:23 +0000 When we think of the major terrestrial biomes (desert, grassland, forest, tundra), we envision of dramatically different climates, flora, and fauna. If only it were so simple! Each biome can contain unique ecosystems, varying in the array of plants and animals and their specific climate adaptations. For instance, grasslands include both temperate prairies, where bison s shoulder snowy winds, and tropical savannahs, where lions bask in the hot sun. This biodiversity within each ecosystem can inform learners about food chains, endangered species, climate change, and the impact of humankind on the environment. These titles recommended here look at land-based ecosystems through a variety of lenses, from the informative and instructional to the aesthetic and emotional, all with a keen respect and awareness for the world we live in. Most are picture books, for preschool to upper elementary students, and offer a mix of read-aloud and read-alone options.

sand swimmersIn the seemingly lifeless sand waves and deep crevices of a blistering desert, frogs burrow into the clay, moles bulldoze through the sand, and a host of other creatures hunt, eat, and thrive. Author and illustrator Narelle Oliver’s authentic, orange-and-brown earth-tone illustrations in Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Desert Wilderness (Candlewick, 2015; Gr 2-5) depict life above and below ground, where creatures such as lizards and marsupials work in the cool of the night. Equating the landscape imagery to a rippled expanse like the ocean, Oliver relates the feelings she had upon visiting this barren, but breathtaking, area. In a parallel narrative, she offers historical perspective in the form of clever sketches and maps, describing early European explorers forging through a terrain that was hazardous enough to break a horse’s leg and so hot that hair ceased to grow. This title is a standout for offering two perspectives on each page, revealing the paradox of nature and highlighting humankind’s misconceptions about the environment.

deserts around the worldUpper elementary and middle readers will find the beautiful photography and maps and fact boxes in Molly Alojan’s The Mojave Desert (Crabtree, 2012; Gr 3-7) appealing for inquiry projects. Though relatively small, this desert located in the Southwestern United States is typical of many deserts in its climate, geographic features, and the amazing adaptations of its plants and animals (most notably here, the yucca, Joshua Tree, gecko, burrowing owl, chuckwalla lizard, desert bighorn). Equal attention is given to the human factor, starting with a history of indigenous peoples such as Paiute, Cahuilla, and namesake Mojave who succeeded growing corn, beans, and pumpkins using desert springs for water. A discussion of the degradation of this desert, that includes Las Vegas in its borders, touches on urbanization, water depletion, and off-road vehicles. Readers are exposed to the dilemma of balancing the Mohave as a tourist destination, recreational area, and mining resource, with a conservation ethic. Other volumes in the “Deserts Around the World” series by Alojan include: Gobi, Kalahari, and Sahara. Great Victoria and Atacama were authored by Lynn Peppa.

desert bathsDesert animals and their habitat are introduced to a much younger audience in Darcy Pattison’s Desert Baths (Sylvan Dell, 2012; PreS-Gr 2). Pattison’s premise is that desert animals stay clean, quite nicely, with little water—including the gecko whose long tongue moistens its own eyeballs, the snake that sheds its dusty skin, and the javelina (a wild pig) that bathes in mud at night. Desert Bath’s illustrator, Kathleen Rietz, uses bold earth tones for realistic paintings of a dozen animals (roadrunner, bobcat, mule deer, desert tortoise, and more) in their desert landscapes at various times of day and night, and frames them in a decorative nature pattern. The book, which would work as a read aloud choice, contains several appended pages of matching games, fun facts, bath themed true-false questions, and an activity that asks students to guess time of day from clues in the illustrations. Another Pattison and Rietz collaboration yielded the similarly themed Prairie Storms (Sylvan Dell, 2011; K-4), arranged by the changing seasons, and with slightly more narrative for older readers.

little burroAwarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for his lifetime contribution to science, Jim Arnosky is a noted nature book author and illustrator (Every Autumn Comes the Bear, Sketching Outdoors in Spring). In the charming story Little Burro (Putnam, 2013; PreS-Gr 1), a wild burro baby makes her first trip across the hot desert canyon to swim in a lake. She follows her mother tentatively on the steep trails and rocky terrain, not knowing where she is going, but is enthralled by her first water experience and happily returns home to eat twigs and water-filled cactus plants. In an author’s note, Arnosky comments he was inspired by a group of wild burros he observed at an Arizona lake. The authentic depiction makes for a good introduction to desert habitat, as well as a satisfying read aloud of a creature not afraid to try new things. Aronsky’s illustrations, in blues, pinks, and muted canyon colors, have a timeless quality. The little burro is drawn realistically—but adorably—and children will be instantly drawn in to the account of her special day.

who needs a prairieMuch of the world’s food is grown on grassland, and the importance of protecting this ecosystem is highlighted in Karen Patkau’s Who Needs a Prairie? (Tundra, 2014; Gr 1-3). The book jacket is a call-to-action and inside, the message is relayed in flowing, lyrical text and artistically painted landscapes. Author/illustrator Patkau renders the temperate prairie seasons accurately, as well as emotionally, such as deer foraging in a blizzard, creatures fleeing a grass fire, and a meadowlark singing after a rain. A few diagrams explain concepts such as a food chain, or how sod’s unique denseness protects against frost or fire. A world map of prairies shows readers where other grasslands exist, but the book’s focus is clearly the Great Plains. A glossary, and more detailed information about prairie plants and animals, is appended. Other ecosystems in the series include: Who Needs a Desert?, Who Needs an Iceberg?, Who Needs a Jungle?, Who Needs a Reef?, and Who Needs a Swamp?—all great to read-aloud choices for content vocabulary and text-to-picture connections.

out on the prairie“Out on the prairie where the snakeroot greets the sun/Lived a shaggy mother bison and her little calf One/ ‘Wallow!’ said the mother. ‘I wallow,’ said the One/So they wallowed in the dust where the snakeroot greets the sun.” The rhymes introduce youngest readers to plants and animals of the Badlands National Park. Donna M. Bateman’s Out on the Prairie (Charlesbridge, 2012; PreS-Gr 1) also features frogs jumping through clover, grouse chasing beetles, grasshoppers hopping through the grama grass, as their numbers increase one-by-one to ten. Susan Swan’s cut paper and mixed media illustrations are lively, capturing the natural textures of a dusty bison, wispy grasses, coarse-coated coyotes, and the like. The movement of animals matches the action of the text, and the double-paged scenes are filled with sensory details. Extras include a more detailed description of the South Dakota badlands and species of plants and animals referred to in the rhymes.

where snow leopardIn the highest expanse of elevated land, the Tibetan Plateau, plants and animals have adapted physically to very cold and harsh conditions. Focusing mainly on large animals, Naomi C. Rose’s Where Snow Leopard Prowls: Wild Animals of Tibet (Dancing Dakini, 2013; Gr 2-5) features research-friendly information on Red Pandas, Chirus, Wild Yaks, and more. Most striking are the illustrations of boldly colored animals against an uncluttered tan background, for close-up examination. “Did You Know?” sidebars relate facts related to the frigid environment, such as the thick hairy paws of the Snow Leopard keep it from sinking in snow. Intended for elementary researchers, the narrative is chunked in three or four paragraphs and appended activity suggestions include creating yak masks, in the Tibetan tradition, to promote harmony with nature. While lacking detailed how-to instructions, many of the ideas promote human respect for nature, and suggested books and web sites underscore conservation.

avatiAvati, the Inukitut word for environment, covers an expansive area in the far North where the Inuit have lived for thousands of years. In Avati: Discovering Arctic Ecology (Inhabit Media, 2012; Gr 2-4), Mia Pelletier dispels the notion of a cold and barren landscape and invites readers to explore the Arctic’s seasons and its numerous thriving habitats such as floe edges, ocean cliffs, and tundra. Her conversational narrative includes detailed scene descriptions and sensory information, such as the “Prreep! Prreep!” of the sandpiper and “BzzzzZZZZZZ” of mosquitos. The book’s landscape format accommodates the double-page illustrations by Sara Otterstätter, where all possible inhabitants (flora and fauna) share one scene, including some above- and below-ground depictions. A glossary underscores important vocabulary. The value in this title lies in its point-of-view, a reminder that this biome is, and was, vital and life sustaining for the Inuit, who have maintained a strong relationship to their environment. The book would be a good read-aloud introduction to tundra or Inuit habitat.

what if ... lemmingsEnvironmentally conscious students can learn what would happen to the balance of wildlife in the tundra if just one animal became extinct in What if There Were No Lemmings?: A Book about the Tundra Ecosystem (Picture Window, 2011; Gr 2-4). Author Suzanne Slade describes lemmings as a “keystone species” that are a main source of food for owls, ermines, and other creatures that eat meat. Carol Schwartz’s double-paged illustrations show the affected species in solid black, alongside colorful images of those that might survive for a time. As pages turn, the tundra landscape depicts black shapes for the wolves, foxes, hares, and voles. The suggestion of the species impacted is powerful and can jumpstart discussions about the interdependence of animals and plants.Additional visuals to support the concept include a food web diagram, a world map of the lemming population, and reassurance that their numbers are thriving. Tundra animals potentially at risk appear in the back with a glossary, book, and web site resources.

Students can also address the question of keystone species through other titles in the series including: What If There Were No Bees? A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem; What If There Were No Gray Wolves? A Book About the Temperate Forest Ecosystem; What If There Were No Sea Otters? A Book About the Ocean Ecosystem.

what eats whatWhile the concept of a food chain is the main focus of Slade’s Lemmings, it relates many aspects of the ecosystem’s relationship between habitat and its denizens. In Lisa J. Amstutz’s What Eats What In a Forest Food Chain (Picture Window, 2013; K-Gr 2), the sun shines on the oak tree, the trees drop acorns, a weevil eats the seeds, a mouse eats the weevil, and so on. In the book’s clearly written text each animal is identified as a producer, consumer, scavenger, and omnivore. Rich greens and browns of the forest characterize Zack McLaughlin’s illustrations, and his detailed acrylic paintings provide crucial context for the habitat for such animals as snake, bird, coyote, vulture, and their prey. Decomposers such as worms and bacteria are shown breaking down the dead animals (not too gruesome) as the soil becomes enriched and the cycle continues. A glossary, index, web sites, and further reading aid inquiry. Other titles in the “What Eats What” series include: Suzanne Slade and  Zach McLaughlin’s What Eats What In an Ocean Food Chain? and What Eats What In a Desert Food Chain? and Suzanne Slade and Anne Wertheimand‘s What Eats What In a Rain Forest Food Chain?

eagles are backNoted nature writer Jean Craighead George (Julie of the Wolves; My Side of the Mountain) tells a story about a  boy who helps a forest ranger monitor two eagle eggs in the 1950s in an effort to encourage nesting and reverse the near extinction of these birds due to hunting and DDT. The Eagles are Back (Dial, 2013; Gr 1-4) ends with the boy, now grown, returning with his son to watch the eagles soar. Bringing to light humankind’s obligation and concerted efforts to protect habitats is a theme throughout George’s body of work. Wendell Minor’s illustrations display an authenticity achieved from his visits to Yellowstone Park and the earthy, voluminous plein-air watercolor paintings and make this a standout.  The author and illustrator work can also be experienced in their The Wolves are Back (Dutton, 2008; Gr 1-5), and The Buffalo are Back (Dutton, 2010; Gr 1-5). The titles encourage observation and participation, elements touted in new science standards to help engage students’ environmental problem solving sensibilities.

forestsAnother team that has collaborated on a number of books offers a concept book about forests for beginning readers. Catherine Sill’s simple text on a plain white page allows readers to soak in John Sill’s realistic watercolor paintings opposite, in About Habitats: Forests (Peachtree, 2013; PreS-Gr 2). The color plates are a stunning variety of colors and scenes of a boreal, tropical, conifer, or deciduous forest (and more) and one or more of its animal or bird denizens. Spare one-sentence descriptions accompany the illustrations, but further facts appear in an afterward, nicely formatted alongside a thumbnail of the illustration. This extra information adds relevant details about temperature ranges, the role of plants, and concerns about endangered species. Additional teacher resources include a glossary, bibliography, and web sites. Ideal use might include a picture walk through the forest, as a concept introduction, allowing students to make inferences from the illustrations. Also in the “About Habitats” series: About Habitats: Deserts; About Habitats: Grasslands; About Habitats: Mountains; About Habitats: Wetlands; and About Habitats: Oceans.

“Over in the forest/Where the clean waters run/Lived a busy mother beaver/And her little kit one.” Young children love rhymes and Marianne Berkes’s Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek (Dawn, 2012; PreS–Gr 2) is interactive way to learn about forest animals, their tracks, and their babies, while they count them up. The engaging verse describes the lives of 10 creatures and the proper terminology for offspring such as possum joeys, turkey poults, or turtle hatchlings, and can be sung to the tune of, “Over in the Meadow,” (musical notes found in the back of the book). Other appended information points out that, despite mostly factual, the numbers of babies typically born don’t necessarily match the text depictions. Appealing cut paper illustrations by Jill Dubin, in browns and greens, also contain fun-to-find hidden animals on each page, as well as drawings of true-to-size animal tracks. Lists of hands-on and indoor learning activities, web sites, and related books will be especially valuable to teachers.

islandsBeginning readers can be independent researchers using Ellen Labrecque’s Islands (Heinemann, 2014; Gr 1-3). Arial color photos differentiate tidal islands from barrier, coral, and others, and labeled world maps show where they are typically found. Sections devoted to sample plants, animals, and people (such as Polynesians) that inhabit particular islands, flesh out the big picture about indigenous peoples, their culture, and how exploration played a role in settlement. Large read-alone font and terms in bold, such as “mainland” and “sandbar,” are defined in a glossary, though many context clues are provided for young readers. The fresh and vivid photography makes this a first grab for students’ interest, but more importantly, what scientists are currently studying about islands, such as rising sea level and tsunamis, covered briefly in concluding pages, serves as a key reminder about the vulnerability of this terrestrial biome. Also in the “Learning About Landforms” series by Leabreque: Caves and Valleys, and by Chrris Oxlade, Volcanoes and Mountains .

savannahsA minimal text in large font is coupled with gorgeous full-page photographs of the grassland ecosystem known as the savannah. Precious McKenzie’s Savannahs (Rourke, 2011; Gr 2-5), is a slim volume noting the basic characteristics of African, Australian, and South American savannahs, and a few of their plants and animals. Close-up photos of kangaroos allow visual learners to zone in on details, such as a thumb-sucking joey in one’s pouch and a meerkat’s razor-sharp claws. Two pages are devoted to environmental concerns, such as overgrazing, expanding human population, and poaching. Suggested solutions are the establishment of national parks, and promoting ecotourism. A glossary, web sites, and index will help elementary or lower-ability middle grade learners. Despite the copyright date, the information is timely. The “Eye to Eye With Endangered Habitats” series also includes Rainforests; Glaciers; Oceans; and Coral Reefs.


Eds. note: Classrooms and libraries with iPads should consider two related apps appropriate for elementary students, Plants (Tinybop; K-Gr 5) and The Prairie that Nature Built (Dawn; PreS-Gr 3). The first explores three biomes: deciduous forest, temperate grassland, and arid desert. The second is based on Marybeth Lorbiecki’s the book of the same title (2014). Both explore their respective biomes through texts that examine the interconnections of plants, animals, and landscape; detailed illustrations; and multiple interactive opportunities. For more about these two apps, follow the links provided.

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How Do You BOB?: Librarians, Parents Share the Ways They’re Celebrating Battle of the Kids’ Books Tue, 24 Feb 2015 15:03:38 +0000 CelebrateBoB_bigWith just a few weeks to go until the first Battle of the Kids’ Books (BOB) match on March 9, schools, parent groups, and librarians across the country are gearing up for this year’s March Madness–style tournament. The following are a few examples of how BOB is being celebrated as a fun, educational, and community-building event.

Christina Keasler, tween librarian at the Glen Ellyn Public Library in Illinois, stumbled upon BOB through Pinterest. Building upon an already established relationship with the local independent bookstore, The Bookstore, Keasler has set up a Mock BOB tournament for the fourth to eighth graders in her community. Students can submit their bracket predictions from March 1–8 for the chance to win a gift certificate for the bookstore. Also, participants can post reviews of the contenders on the library website, receiving candy each time they do.

Kentucky library media specialist Sherri Powers inherited BOB from her predecessor and has kept the ball rolling at Flaherty Elementary School, though she’s tweaked aspects of the one-on-one elimination tournament and made it her own. Instead of continuing the Quiz Bowl–like format of her school’s previous celebrations, she has devised a unique point system. First, because she teaches primary grades, Powers modified the bracket to include only the seven middle grade titles (including Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover). Each contender’s points will be allotted according to three categories: how many kids score 80 percent or higher on its Accelerated Reader quiz, circulation statistics, and how many votes it receives via an Edmodo account she’s created.

Library media specialist Sherri Powers her BOB bracket for middle grade students at Flaherty Elementary School, KY.

Library media specialist Sherri Powers modified her BOB contenders for middle grade students at Flaherty Elementary School, KY.

The media specialist has partnered with homeroom teachers in her school, and the class with the most points will receive a pizza party. In addition to the 10–15 copies that she has of each contender in the school library, most of the teachers have a few extra books in their classroom libraries. What Powers appreciates most about the project is the ability to connect with other educators via social media, sharing and receiving resources and book recommendations on Twitter and other online platforms.

Three-year BOB veteran Donna Cook, library director at Central High School in Pollock, TX, continually comes back for more because the competition gets teens to not only talk about books but actually read them. In town where basketball rules, the high school students are especially drawn by the March Madness model. “They like the competition aspect of it. They also like the ability to make predictions. High school kids don’t pay too much attention to authors generally, but for BOB they spend a minute or two thinking about the judges as they’re announced, trying to analyze the type of genres they write and therefore might lean toward.” A pizza party for participants and their friends are also added bonuses.

This year, Cook has incorporated several new tweaks that have upped the ante at Central High. Now a 1:1 school, the high school has given each student a Chrome Book, and the librarian wasted no time in using the technology now at her disposal. With the help of her school’s tech team, she’s created BOB-related Google Documents in which the teens can submit their brackets and reviews through their devices. “Many people thought that once we implemented the Chrome Books, the library would become a wasteland. But we use events like these to make a commotion around reading,” Cook says. She and her team promote participation in BOB during English classes and morning announcement and have begun toying with the idea of getting teachers to create brackets of their own.

Because of BOB’s popularity and the library’s limited amount of copies, Cook has had to figure out alternative ways for students to participate. Going as far as checking out books from the local public library and university, Cook has also shortened the checkout period for the BOB titles. “But we’re [still] out of copies. So, we have told the students they can qualify for predictions and the tournament by reading one of the winners from the past years (including Hunger Games and Okay for Now). Now we have more kids who can ‘play the game’ with us,” she shares.

Even parents are joining in the BOB fun. A few years ago, Iowan Kristine Anderson and two other friends started reading and participating in BOB. They created a Facebook group to post reviews of the contenders and discuss the author judge’s choices. As their children grew old enough to read the books, the parents began sharing and reading with them. This year, the original three, now living in different parts of the country, opened up the group to their Facebook friends, branching out to include 15 moms across the United States, with half of them reading the BOB contenders with their children. The newest members have even started reading previous BOB competitors. “We thought that it would be a fun activity to do together and use in order to stay in touch in a way that is totally different. This list gives us more to discuss, instead of the usual Best Books of the Year lists,” says Anderson.

And of course, a BOB tournament wouldn’t be complete without the Penguin Young Readers event, in which editors and designers hash it out over who gets to take home the papier mâché trophy filled with candy. As you can see below, the competition has already begun heating up.

Other ideas for Celebrating BOB:

Download 2015 BOB Brackets to keep track of winners.

Download 2015 Battle Plan as a fun visual for your library.

Fill out your predictions before March 9 for a chance to win a prize.

Create Book Displays. Check out the Provo City Library’s awesome display.

Participate in the Undead Poll (February 25–March 8), in which fans can vote for their favorite contenders. The book that receives the most votes will resurrect from the dead to compete in the final round.

Comment, Tweet, Blog and you might make it on the Peanut Gallery. The event’s hashtag is #sljbob.

See also: Tips for Creating a “Mock BoB” | SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books

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Cartoonists Talk About “Charlie Hebdo” Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:53:29 +0000 Charlie Hebdo shootings, players in the cartoon/graphic artist world gathered at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York City to discuss issues, including censorship, satire, and the power of the visual medium.]]> Photo credit. Michelle Sweatt / PEN American Center

(From l. to r.) Emmanuel Letouzé, Molly Crabapple, Leonard Lopate, Françoise Mouly, and Art Spiegelman. All photo images courtesy of Michelle Sweatt / PEN American Center

According to cartoonist and journalist Molly Crabapple, “Art hits people in a visceral way. It gets under their skin.” She and other cartoonists and graphic artists were on hand February 19 at the “After Charlie: What’s Next for Art, Satire, and Censorship?” event at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), a panel that was moderated by WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate and organized by FIAF, PEN American Center, and the National Coalition Against Censorship to discuss the obstacles to free speech that cartoonists often face, the challenges of producing potentially offensive material, and whether Charlie Hebdo went too far.

Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker and Toon Books publisher, also attested to the power that cartoons wield—one that the written word lacks. Referring to The New Yorker cover that featured Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie watching the Supreme Court on television (to represent the Court’s historic ruling on gay marriage), Mouly said, “Few people can really get a response, even when they are writing in The New Yorker.” Cartoons, however, are a different story. “This image got seen not only on the cover of the magazine,” said Mouly, “but with the Internet, it got seen millions of times around the world.”


Françoise Mouly

While the dangers of censorship were stressed, Mouly and her husband, cartoonist and author Art Spiegelman, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (Pantheon, 1991), both raised the point that attempts to suppress incendiary material can often have an unintended effect: increasing publicity for a magazine or artist. Mouly discussed visiting Charlie Hebdo offices in 2006, when the magazine published its first Mohammed image, eliciting much controversy. After the outcry, Mouly said, the magazine’s editors were “thrilled,” as other journalists “rallied to their cause and denounced censorship,” bringing their circulation from 10,000 to 100,000 readers.

Spiegelman agreed, citing the example of one of his drawings, published in Harper’s magazine. The image accompanying his article, “Drawing Blood,” featured a woman’s naked torso, and as a result, Canadian bookstore Indigo refused to carry it. However, he said, the issue eventually became Harper’s best-selling issue of the 20th century.

Panelists addressed another difficult topic: self-censorship, or the practice of self-editing one’s work to avoid potentially offensive content. Though Crabapple said that she’s committed to free speech, she also emphasized the potential damage that art can cause.

“I won’t… [mess] with people who are already oppressed in my art,” she said. “It’s not because I’m self censoring….I won’t use my art to punch down.”

Spiegelman stated that often bans result in provocative art rather than stifling it. “Why on earth would I care about drawing Mohammed one way or the other until I’m told I can’t?” For him, restrictions often ignite a spirit of “youthful rebellion.”

Similarly, Crabapple described her own run-ins with censorship—which, in one instance, she said, actually led to surprisingly creative results. When she visited Guantánamo Bay detention camp several years ago in order to document conditions for a piece for Vice, she was told that portraying the faces of the guards and soldiers was banned. The drawing Crabapple eventually produced accompanying her article, “It Don’t Gitmo Better than This,” depicted Guantánamo soldiers with dead-eyed smiley faces, with a prisoner the sole individual permitted an actual visage—an innovative and chilling choice.

Molly Crabapple discusses her cartoon for the piece "It Don't Gitmo Better than This." Photo credit. Michelle Sweatt / PEN American Center

Molly Crabapple discusses her cartoon for the piece “It Don’t Gitmo Better than This.” (from l. to r.) Leonard Lopate, Crabapple, Art Spiegelman, Françoise Mouly, and Emmanuel Letouzé.

Though many have criticized Charlie Hebdo for its often crass-seeming images, with some alleging that the cartoons crossed the line into racism, Spiegelman pointed out that the publication was often quite sly. The cover that first brought Hebdo notoriety was published in 2006, showing a weeping Mohammed, head in his hands, saying, “C’est dur d’être aimé par des cons” (“It’s hard being loved by jerks”). Spiegelman pointed out that not only was the cartoonist taking aim at fundamentalists, rather than at all Muslims, the image also technically didn’t violate the ban on showing the prophet, as his face was covered.

Mouly compared some of the Hebdo images to Barry Blitt’s The New Yorker cover that depicted President Barack Obama wearing Muslim garb and fist-bumping First Lady Michelle Obama in the Oval Office. Published right after Obama received the Democratic presidential nomination, the cover wasn’t intended to denigrate him but to demonstrate ignorance of the rumors and innuendo being said about him. However, there were still some who were afraid the image would be taken out of context, said Spiegelman. But, he said, “Nobody really was conned by this….[and] it actually functioned in an unusually great way. You could mention that [Obama] was black. It changed the discourse.”

Photo credit Michelle Sweatt / PEN American Center

Françoise Mouly compares the Hebdo cartoons to the controversial 2008 New Yorker cover. (from l. to r.) Leonard Lopate, Molly Crabapple, Art Spiegelman, Mouly, and Emmanuel Letouzé.

Cartoonist Emmanuel Letouzé tackled head on the criticisms that some have leveled against Hebdo for being disrespectful to Muslims. “Facts matter. You can do an analysis of how many cartoons they published in the past eight years that have anything to do with the prophet…. It’s probably less than one percent.” He stressed, too, that the Hebdo artists always drew with an underlying message or social commentary.

Crabapple and Mouly warned, too, of the dangers of lumping all Muslims in with fundamentalists. Crabapple brought up the point that there is in fact an Islamic tradition of drawing the prophet and cautioned against assuming that all Muslims adhere to more extreme forms of the religion.

She went on to describe seeing photos and videos of those around the Muslim world who showed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo following the attacks, from journalists in Syria to Muslims in Iran and Turkey.

Mouly added, “Western media has accepted an edict from a very small minority [of Muslims],” and she cautioned against blindly swallowing that image of Islam without questioning or researching.

Overall, the panelists stressed the importance of the thought-provoking message underlying cartoons. Said Letouzé, “Political cartoons need to [have] a point, something you can discuss. The cartoonists published in Charlie Hebdo made a point. It’s not an insult, it’s a political message.”

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Water: Earth’s Most Precious Resource Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:26:29 +0000 All living things need water. However, 97 percent of Earth’s supply consists of the salt water in our oceans, 2 percent is frozen in ice caps and glaciers, and only 1 percent is reachable and suitable for human consumption. Recently, factors such as drought, climate change, and increased demand have raised concerns about the availability of and access to safe drinking water across the globe. Classroom units about this subject can span the curriculum with studies that incorporate science (the water cycle, the importance of water to life, water’s role in the ecosystem), geography and history (water availability and usage worldwide), and environmental and social issues (conservation, fair access). Ranging from artful picture book poems to more straightforward nonfiction treatments, the books featured here use an intriguing variety of approaches to introduce these topics.

Tie your water studies to World Water Day (March 22, 2015), a date set aside by the United Nations to celebrate water, bring about positive change for global citizens who suffer from water-related issues, and prepare for future water management (this year’s theme is “Water and Sustainable Development”). Information and resources are available at the website.

Present the Facts with a Splash of Wonder

waterisswaterTwo siblings explore the outdoors throughout the seasons to discover that Water Is Water (Roaring Brook, May 2015; K-Gr 4)…unless it changes form. Miranda Paul’s rhyming text and Jason Chin’s lush-hued paintings depict the workings of the water cycle by portraying a series of transformations that seem almost magical but can be readily observed in our day-to-day world.

Beginning as a liquid, water is drawn from the tap by a thirsty boy, “Drip./Sip./Pour me a cup./Water is water/unless…/it heats up” to become the steam whirling and swirling above his sister’s mug of hot cocoa (evaporation). “Steam is steam unless…/it cools high” to form clouds in imagination-stirring shapes, while low-forming clouds result in a “Misty./Twisty” foggy fall morning (condensation). And so on, through “Patter/Splatter” rain (precipitation), puddle-splashing fun (runoff), a crisp day of ice skating (back to solid), “Pack./Stack./Shape it…” snow (ice crystals), and rubber-boot squishing spring (mud formed from snowmelt mixed with dirt). Filled with vibrant action and warmhearted humor, the illustrations hold the attention of readers while they soak up the science (facts and terms are appended).

allthewaterintheworldFlowing with cadenced rhymes and effervescent language, George Ella Lyon’s All the Water in the World (Atheneum, 2011; K-Gr 4) illustrates the water cycle and emphasizes water’s importance to all living things. “That rain/that cascaded from clouds/and meandered down mountains,/that wavered over waterfalls/then slipped into rivers/and opened into oceans,/that rain has been here before.” Katherine Tillotson’s digitally created artwork echoes the text to portray purple-tinted scene where a “Tap dance/avalanche/stampede/of drips and drops…” saturate a cityscape, or an arid landscape coated in creams and browns where “everything/waits/for an open gate/in a wall of clouds/for rain sweet and loud.”

Students can compare this book to Water Is Water to identify similarities and differences in how the authors and illustrators approach the topic and convey information. As you read both books aloud, they can determine which phase of matter is being exhibited on each spread and provide evidence for their answers from the texts and illustrations.

waterrollswaterrisesPresented in both English and Spanish, Pat Mora’s lyrical Water Rolls, Water Rises/El agua reuda, el agua sube (Lee & Low, 2014; K-Gr 4) explores the many forms that water takes, how it moves and flows, and what it means to human life. Each spread, spectacularly illustrated by Meilo So with fine-lined details and sparkling colors, depicts a different setting (locations are identified at book’s end), providing snapshots of particular landscapes and cultures while also underscoring the universal need for this vital resource. “Water rises/into soft fog,/weaves down the street, strokes an old cat” near Venice’s Grand Canal; “slithers and snakes/through silent canyons” along China’s Yangtze River; fills deep wells, “sloshes in buckets, quenches…thirst” in a rural Kenyan village; “rests,/drowsy in reservoirs” in a Sahara oasis, or loops and leaps into “glimmering sea waves” that “spangle and splash” coastal cliffs in Mexico.

Children can look closely at these scenarios to appreciate each area’s natural beauty, think about each example’s role in the water cycle (or phase of matter), and investigate how water is utilized by local inhabitants. Bring the discussion back home by having students describe how the water cycle plays a part in their own community and daily activities. They can each draw a scene and write a poem to provide an example, whether they focus on a classroom water fountain, a recent snow storm, or a local body of water.

Drop by Drop: Take a Closer Look

raindropsrollApril Pulley Sayre’s Raindrops Roll (S & S/Beach Lane, 2015; K-Gr 4) artfully zeroes in on a particular aspect of the water cycle. The rhyming text bubbles with ear-tickling onomatopoeia and pitter-patter rhythms to describe an oncoming storm, the effects of rain on flora and fauna, and the wonders secreted within a drop of water. The brief narrative is greatly enhanced and expanded by crystal-clear close-up photographs saturated with colors and textures.

One spread encourages children to think about the exact moment that precipitation hits the ground—“Rain waters…” (a photo shows beads rolling down a camouflaged leaf insect), “and washes…” (a dazzling orange pumpkin), “and weighs down” (gently curving blades of grass). Rain also “Makes mud” (enjoyed by a scampering salamander), “fills” upturned leaves like tiny cups, and “spills” into a gushing stream. And when it stops, “…raindrops remain./They gather./They glob together” to adhere to flower petals, magnify and reflect (like minute mirrors), and “linger in lines” of a spider web, before they “slowly dry” (evaporate). Sayre appends “A Splash of Science” section that provides additional information about the forms and properties of water. Each spread can be paused over and discussed to further explore scientific concepts as well as the breathtaking beauty of the language and the images.

waterwaterwaterNancy Elizabeth Wallace’s Water! Water! Water! (Amazon, 2014; K- Gr 3), illustrated with lively collage artwork, provides a solid overview that is accessible and fun to read aloud. Noticing that water is all around him, Walter the warthog decides to make it the subject of his new blue notebook. In a delightfully childlike sequence, simple observations (watching raindrops cling to window glass) lead to further exploration (a visit to the library) and experimentation (using a dropper and bottle cap to see how drops behave). Walter also investigates a shrinking puddle (evaporation), how plants absorb water (capillary action), and why ice cubes stick together (cohesion). When his friend Willa adds her own water facts, the discussion expands to cover global water supply, the lack of clean fresh water, and conservation tips. Augment the reading experience by replicating Walter’s experiments in the classroom, and/or creating a classroom book about water with teams of students researching, writing, and illustrating different chapters.

One World, One Well: Go Global

onewellRochelle Strauss employs an effective metaphor to make far-ranging concepts accessible and drive home important points about conservation. The premise is simple: children are asked to imagine that all of the water in the world—oceans, lakes, underground rivers, polar icecaps—comes from One Well (Kids Can Pr., 2007; Gr 2-5). Because it’s all connected, “how we treat the water in the well will affect every species on the planet, including us, now and for years to come.”

Working within this premise, spreads focus on the water cycle; water usage by plants, animals, and people; the amount of fresh water accessible for human use; global distribution of and access to water supplies; growing demands on a finite supply; pollution; and the importance of protecting both quantity and quality. Additional facts appear throughout, and Rosemary Woods’s aqua-hued paintings provide glimpses at people and landscapes around the world. The book ends with a section listing simple ways that readers can become “Well Aware.”

everylastdropWritten in an appealingly conversational style, Michelle Mulder’s Every Last Drop: Bringing Clean Water Home (Orca, 2014; Gr 3-6) provides an engaging and fact-filled overview of water usage, management, and conservation. A fascinating look at the many methods utilized to collect and direct water throughout history is followed by explanations of the water cycle, how water reaches the tap, treatment and purification, and new ways to amass and filter drinking water.

Realistic assessments of the growing global demand for fresh water, inequities, and the effects of climate change and pollution are clearly presented, but balanced by specific examples of clever innovations adopted to improve the situation—families in the Kalahari Desert who use small solar-powered desalination devices to treat ground water, people in India’s Laporiya Village who have restored the tiered water collection system utilized by their ancestors; a mountain village in Chile where nets are used to catch fog resulting in an average of 4,000 gallons of water per day. Mulder has a knack for keeping a child’s viewpoint front and center, whether pointing out that in many countries kids walk up to six hours a day to get water (leaving little time for schooling) or celebrating young change-makers (a girl in Aluva, India, who initiated a rainwater harvesting system, or students in Matamoros, Mexico, tasked with teaching the adults in their lives about water conservation). Well-chosen full-color photos span the globe and greatly expand the text’s meaning and impact. This informative and empowering book ends with simple things that readers can do to protect the world’s water supply.

ryanandjimmyRecounting an unforgettable true story, Herb Shoveller’s Ryan and Jimmy and the Well in Africa that Brought Them Together (Kids Can, 2006; Gr 3-6) shows readers that one individual can make a difference. In 1998, Canadian first-grader Ryan Hreljac learned that people in other parts of the world were growing sick and often dying due to polluted water. Resolving to earn the money to build a well that would supply a village in Africa with a safe water supply, Ryan began a years-long quest that included public speaking and fundraising; forging a pen-pal relationship with Akana Jimmy, an orphan in Agweo, Uganda; and a trip in the summer of 2000 to celebrate the completed well and seal the two boys’ friendship. When political events in Uganda placed Jimmy’s life in danger, the Hreljac family’s effort to bring him to safety in Canada resulted in the two being re-united.

Photos and text give readers a good understanding of each boy’s perspective and the challenges they faced, and recount an inspiring example of grass-roots activism, patient persistence, and wholehearted caring. Visit the Ryan’s Well Foundation website for updates on Ryan and Jimmy, information about water and sanitation issues worldwide, and a summary of completed and ongoing projects.

notadroptodrinkMichael Burgan’s Not a Drop to Drink (National Geographic, 2008; Gr 4-8) takes readers from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, where a robot maps and measures an underwater volcano, to the peak of a mountain in the Peruvian Andes, where researchers drill into the ice to extract samples that shed light on rising temperatures. Crisp, captioned photos and clearly written text discuss the effects of climate change, increased usage, and pollution on Earth’s water supply and the scientists who are working to understand and preserve this precious resource.

Burgan examines the work being done in many different fields and provides a look at intriguing new technologies, including the use of computer models to predict future temperature and rainfall trends, specific techniques being developed to provide safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation, and efficient methods for creating rooftop gardens in urban areas. Appropriate for more advanced readers and researchers, this book provides numerous avenues for further study while also emphasizing the importance of scientific discovery in our day-to-day world.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:

RL. 1.1. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
3.7. Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story.
RI 1.9 Identify basic similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).
RI. 2.9. Compare and contrast the most important points presented by two texts on the same topic.
RI. 3.7 Use information gained from illustrations…and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.
RI 3.9 Compare and contrast the most important points and key details presented in two texts on the same topic.
W. 2.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects.
W 3.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
SL. 1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud….

For additional resources for secondary students, see “Water, Water Everywhere: Our Unsustainable Future.”


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