SLJ’s March 2017 Popular Picks

Spring is around the corner, and with it comes SLJ's March Popular Picks!

Spring is around the corner, and with it comes SLJ's March Popular Picks! This month's list includes a sunny picture book that celebrates summer by Tom Brenner, a sweet LGBTQ middle grade romance from Barbara Dee, and the perfect title for penguin-crazy young readers by Nic Bishop.


Barnett, Mac. Places To Be. illus. by Renata Liwska. 32p. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062286215. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –Two young bear friends go on many adventures. The cubs can be seen staring upward and observing shapes in the sky. They help an older bear after he drops his groceries. They sneak a few cookies in a hiding spot. The bears also tell stories, build things, and take part in a variety of other daily activities. Throughout, the friends express and share a range of feelings, such as happiness, sorrow, tension, and joy. The book’s whimsical pastel artwork provides a dreamlike feel, and the use of curved lines adds a sense of movement and dimension. The characters’ expressions pair well with the words chosen to illustrate each scene. This work highlights the beauty and complex nature of friendship. The soothing narrative shows friendship as constant despite changing circumstance. VERDICT This winning read-aloud can be used to encourage friendship in young children.–Deanna Smith, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY

Brenner, Tom. And Then Comes Summer. illus. by Jaime Kim. 32p. Candlewick. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763660710. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –With this sunny celebration of the season, readers will find themselves eagerly anticipating June. Brenner and Kim have created a nostalgia-inducing suburban setting whose cheerful residents are treated to an endless stream of fireworks, games of hide-and-seek, Fourth of July parades, and trips to the lake. As in his previous titles (And Then Comes Halloween; And Then Comes Christmas), Brenner relies on a “Then...when” structure (“When the days stretch out like a slow yawn,/and leaves and grasses sparkle with dew/.... Then throw on flip-flops and breathe the sweet air”) for another ode to a beloved time of the year. Featuring evocative, concrete images—“bugs as big as thumbs bang against windows”—the lyrical verse captures all the exuberance and simplicity of a childhood summer. Kim’s illustrations, rendered in acrylic paint with digital tools, depict a rosy-cheeked, diverse array of children as they gleefully sell lemonade, cycle down the street, and indulge in ice cream. Buoyant and infused with energy, these picturesque images call to mind an idyllic time and place without electronics or screens and where kids are free to roam with minimal supervision. VERDICT An enchanting purchase for most library collections, especially those seeking additional seasonal materials.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

Clarke, Jane. Old MacDonald’s Things That Go. illus. by Migy Blanco. 32p. Nosy Crow. Apr. 2017. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763693268. POP

PreS –In this mash-up of “Old MacDonald” and transportation vehicles, a new storytime song is born. The oversize pages of this picture book are built for holding wide open as readers’ arms pan the book’s full-bleed spreads around a semicircular crowd to show off the slightly quirky and retro illustrations in this charming title. Most riffs on popular childhood songs have a forced sound to them, but right from the first page, Clarke hooks listeners into following the well-known tune as she introduces a wide range of vehicles, complete with their own sound effects. First comes the bike, with the “ding-ding” of a handle bar bell. It is followed by a truck, a tractor, a combine harvester (the only vehicle that may present those reading the text with a slight challenge), a bus, a boat, a digger, and a fire truck. Not to be outdone, a train and a plane are also included, with the shiny red bike on the final refrain of “Old MacDonald had a farm/He loved things that go!” satisfyingly closing out the tale. Although the illustrations were created digitally, they have the appearance of hand-drawn images, complete with texture and cross-hatching detailing in the sprawling farmland backgrounds. The familiar cast of farm animals are here, too, with plenty of expression and character, offering young readers ample opportunities to giggle as they look for their favorite animal with each page turn. VERDICT Purchase for both circulating and storytime collections so a copy is always at the ready for class visits, read-alouds, and home reading. A fun take on a classic rhyme.–Lisa Kropp, Lindenhurst Memorial Library, NY

dePaola, Tomie. Andy & Sandy and the Big Talent Show. illus. by Tomie dePaola.32p. (An Andy & Sandy Book). ebook available. S. & S. Jun. 2017. Tr $8.99. ISBN 9781481479479. POP

K-Gr 2 –The fourth installment of the series shows a more tender side of friendship. Sandy is encouraging Andy to join her in the talent show, but Andy is uncertain as to what kind of talent he has to offer. Sandy seems to be able to do it all; she can juggle, tumble, and hula hoop, but Andy can’t do any of those things. Sandy comes up with the idea that they dance. She tells Andy to “follow me,” and the next few pages show Andy trying to do just that, with Sandy taking the lead. On the day of the talent show, Sandy gets stage fright, but Andy saves the day by making it seem like part of a comedic act, telling Sandy to “follow me.” The subsequent wordless sequential panels bring readers into the humor of the moment, emphasizing that this is a story of two supportive friends who have each other’s backs. DePaola’s classic acrylic and colored pencil illustrations with rich colors and spare lines have plenty of action and facial expressions, giving necessary textual clues to emerging readers. VERDICT This title should have a welcome home in most beginning reader collections.–Danielle Jones, Multnomah County Library, OR

Fleming, Candace. Bulldozer Helps Out. illus. by Eric Rohmann. 40p. ebook available. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481458948. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –The cute yellow construction vehicle from Bulldozer’s Big Day is back on the job. He’s easy to relate to, like the smallest child on the playground who’s not allowed to join the game. The other members of his group—Cement Mixer, Crane, Digger, Dump Truck, Roller, Scraper, and Grader—call the shots. On this busy day at the site, Bulldozer is the only one who doesn’t have a task. When he asks to help, he’s sent to clear a small grassy area strewn with metal and bricks. There, he comes face-to-face with a project that even the toughest truck would quail at. This is a wonderful second “Bulldozer” collaboration from Fleming and Rohmann. VERDICT With dramatic and captivating block print illustrations, a well-told and engaging story, and an all-star cast of vehicular characters, this is a must-have for preschoolers starting a love affair with things with wheels.–Susan Weitz, formerly at Spencer-Van Etten School District, Spencer, NY

Miller, Tim. Moo Moo in a Tutu. illus. by Tim Miller. 32p. (Moo Moo and Mr. Quackers). HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062414403. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –A bovine with big dreams and a dubious duck team up in this hilarious romp about a wild idea, a terribly executed plan, and unabashed determination. When Moo Moo gets “the best idea in the whole world,” Mr. Quackers stops trimming his bonsai to respond hesitantly, “Another one?” He replies, further alarmed, “Are you for real!?!” when Moo Moo saunters out in a large handmade pink tutu. Without lessons or a backward glance, the cow and the duck head to the ballet and purchase two tickets. Moo Moo goes backstage while Mr. Quackers finds a seat in the audience. Unsurprisingly, the cow causes quite a commotion, eventually landing with a smash in the orchestral pit, while the duck dutifully claps and cheers. Moo Moo decides to retire while at the top of her game and soon enough has another brilliant idea: to forgo her solo career in favor of cajoling Mr. Quackers into an acrobatic circus duo. Miller’s style is a mixture of comic strip and full-page illustrations done amusingly in pastels and thick black lines. The hilarious speech bubble asides from Mr. Quackers pair perfectly with the bold illustrations to create a winning format for this tale of pluck. VERDICT A sublimely silly read-aloud for storytime and small group sharing.–Jenna Boles, Greene County Public Library, Beavercreek, OH

Turnbull, Victoria. Kings of the Castle. illus. by Victoria Turnbull. 44p. Candlewick/Templar. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763692957. POP

K-Gr 2 –George is a young monster who doesn’t want to waste his night doing the usual monster activities. Instead, he goes out to the beach with his dog, Boris, to “build a sand castle that would turn any monster green with envy.” As they build their sand structure, a strange, dragonlike creature with fins and who walks on two legs emerges from the sea and introduces itself to George and Boris. After an amusing yet ultimately failed attempt at communicating with each other, George and the creature find out that they have things in common and realize that they do not have to be afraid of those who seem different. Their newfound friendship yields a gigantic, eye-popping sand sculpture that requires a gatefold to fit it all on the spread. This is a funny and uplifting story of taking a chance on a new friend and the rewards of a little patience and tenacity. Turnbull’s colored pencil illustrations are bright, with a little bit of haze perfectly capturing the moonlight bathing the sand and the ocean. VERDICT A fantastical tale of friendship and acceptance that will be enjoyed by many young readers and can be shared one-on-one or with a group.–Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library

Vega, Denise. If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed. illus. by Zachariah Ohora. 40p. ebook available. Knopf. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780553496550. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –A brown-skinned girl in fuzzy bunny slippers faces the unenviable nightly task of putting her overtired monster to bed. An omnipresent narrator engages the unnamed main character and readers by discussing the importance of monsters getting their rest. Grumpy monsters are no fun, and with a series of “don’ts” that are reminiscent of what a chiding adult might say to a rambunctious child, the narrative proceeds to present what not to do, as readers follow the main character and her shaggy monster on their typical nighttime routine. Vega’s incorporation of alliteration and wordplay, when woven with Ohora’s bold acrylic art, creates a humorous discourse ideal for storytelling. Diversity abounds as the main character’s parents, a white father quivering in the arms of her black mother, are shown to be incapable of putting monsters to bed. Vega reassures readers that “it’s not their fault; they’re just not good at it” and proceeds to list other concerns, such as sheep counting and avoiding the “Monster Stomp,” which includes “waggle-wiggling, fur-flicking, [and] claw-clenching.” The narrator provides six steps in the second half of the book, charmingly scrawled in a childlike print. Each step is fully illustrated on a spread. Strikingly bold artwork depicts a large, multicolored, bristly monster whose furry horns bear a passing resemblance to the young main character’s hair puffs, slyly suggesting that bedtime routines are tough for monsters and children alike. VERDICT A superb example of picture book collaboration, this appealing title will be popular in most collections.–Rachel ­Zuffa, Racine Public Library, WI


Bertman, Jennifer Chambliss. The Unbreakable Code. 368p. (Book Scavengers: Bk. 2). ebook available. Holt. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781627791168. POP

Gr 4-6 –This second installment leaps in right where the first left off, with middle schoolers Emily and James on the trail of a new coded mystery. Things are heating up as an arsonist called The Phoenix leaves a trail of hidden books and small fires all over San Francisco. While worrying about family finances, figuring out what their teacher Mr. Quisling is up to, taking part in a historical treasure hunt, and planning the school dance, the intrepid heroes have more than enough on their cipher-loving minds. Though the plot stands alone, readers may need to revisit the first book in the series to catch up on necessary exposition. Without the weight of explanation, though, the story speeds satisfyingly along and is, all in all, a successful sequel. Includes supplementary back matter on geographical and historical references. VERDICT Readers who loved the first volume will find this follow-up even more satisfying. Purchase extra copies where there are fans.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library

Dee, Barbara. Star-Crossed. 288p. ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. Mar. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481478489. POP

Gr 4-6 –When it is announced that the eighth grade play will be Romeo and Juliet, Mattie and her friends shift from obsessing over boys to auditioning for the show. The class’s best-looking lad, Liam, is chosen as Romeo, even though he’s a clod with the lines. British-born Gemma is Juliet, naturally. Mattie’s interest in Gemma intensifies, and eventually Mattie admits the crush to herself. Mattie is recast as Romeo when Liam drops out. Once the kissing scenes begin, Mattie passes out from nerves, but by opening night, she and Gemma are a brilliant, star-crossed couple. This is a mostly breezy young teen romance: the besties are supportive, the boys are pawns, the mean girls are nasty, the school cafeteria is a stage, etc. It is also a sweet coming-out story for junior high readers. The clever Shakespeare content is a bonus, and Dee deserves praise for a strong example of gender-blind casting. The charming cover art accurately portrays the spirit of the novel. VERDICT A fine choice for middle school libraries in need of accessible LGBTQ stories, and a great option for students reading or performing Romeo and Juliet.–Elaine Fultz, Madison Jr. Sr. High School, Middletown, OH

Foster, Stewart. Bubble. 352p. ebook available. S. & S. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481487429. POP

Gr 5-8 –Eleven-year-old Joe Grant has lived in a sterile “bubble” within a London hospital since babyhood, afflicted with a rare genetic autoimmune disease. His sister Beth, a medical student, and the hospital staff are his only human contact, and he spends his time watching TV, reading on his iPad, taking lessons online, and communicating via computer with Henry, a boy with a similar condition who is quarantined in a Philadelphia hospital. Henry is anticipating a walk outside in a special suit developed by NASA, and Joe longs for the same opportunity. He keeps his spirits up by indulging in a superhero fantasy, imagining himself soaring through the city as Spider-Man. When a new night nurse, Amir, is assigned to him, Joe is at first put off by Amir’s strange ideas—including his belief in alien beings from other planets—but he is soon won over when Amir offers him hope of a temporary escape from his confinement. Joe’s first-person narrative details the minutiae of his condition and care and effectively conveys the monotony of his daily existence. His conflicting feelings of fear for his life and longing for adventure are poignantly depicted, and while some plot elements strain credibility, readers will empathize with Joe’s situation and be drawn into the story. References to British sports and popular culture, though unfamiliar, make sense in context. VERDICT Presenting a difficult subject with hope, this is an accessible option for most middle grade readers and likely to spark discussion.–Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NY

Hymas, Allison K. Under Locker and Key. 256p. ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481463430; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781481463423. POP

Gr 4-7 –Meet Jeremy Wilderson, Scottsville Middle School’s resident retrieval specialist. If you’ve had your phone confiscated by a teacher, an eighth grader stole your lunch money, or you left your math book on the bus, Jeremy’s your guy. His retrieval skills are unrivaled, and he is on his way to becoming a legend. The only thing standing in his way is Becca Mills, Scottsville’s student detective. When one of Jeremy’s heists leads to the school master key falling into the hands of a criminal mastermind, Jeremy and Becca must team up to stop the villain before he takes over the school. Details given throughout the story keep readers guessing, while leading up to a satisfying ending. Jeremy’s family and the relationship between his best friends add to the believability and relatability of the novel. Many readers will appreciate that even though Jeremy and Becca are in the youngest grade at school, they are still able to accomplish big things. With no bad language or violence, this title is perfect for those who prefer a lighter crime story. VERDICT A great pick for middle grade readers who enjoy crime capers such as Gordon Korman’s Swindle and Varian Johnson’s The Great Greene Heist.–Ashley Leffel, Griffin Middle School, Frisco, TX

Jeter, Derek with Paul Mantell. Fair Ball. 176p. ebook available. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481491488. POP

Gr 4-6 –Ten-year-old Derek Jeter has his plate full with baseball, finals, and family. His beloved Little League team is vying for a spot in the playoffs, he’s trailing just a few points behind his academic rival Gary, and being a good son and big brother are always top priorities. As summer approaches, the last thing this competitive young athlete needs is for his friend Dave to start acting weird. Breaking plans and avoiding eye contact, Dave causes Derek to question their friendship, and this distraction begins affecting both boys on the field. In the end, Derek learns an important life lesson. Short chapters allow the action to move quickly, and explicit messages about hard work and positivity are woven into the dialogue. An overarching theme is that while life is not fair, we are responsible for our attitudes toward challenges and our decisions. Important topics are covered authentically, including race, bullying, immigration, and disabilities. One drawback is the unfortunate choice to name Derek’s team the Indians; this problematic detail clashes with the book’s otherwise positive approach to diversity. VERDICT Purchase where sports fiction is in demand and where there are fans of the series.–Whitney LeBlanc, KIPP New Orleans Schools, LA

Kress, Adrienne. The Door in the Alley. illus. by Matthew C. Rockefeller. 320p. (The Explorers: Bk 1). ebook available. Delacorte. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781101940051. POP

Gr 4-6 –Rational and risk-averse Sebastian is challenged by the director of the madcap Explorers Society to do something he shouldn’t: steal a box. The contents of the box relate in some way to Evie, an orphan who lives at a school but regularly dines with a very boring couple known as the Andersons. One night, two dangerous men burst into the Andersons’ house in pursuit of a key. The two children find themselves caught up in a perilous chase involving Evie’s grandfather and a group of explorers known as the Filipendulous Five. This is a rollicking read, full of derring-do and old-fashioned villainy. A narrator inserts sly and humorous comments alongside amusing footnotes. Comical chapter headings include “In Which Great Revelations Are Greatly Revealed” and “In Which We Meet a Pig in a Teeny Hat. Again.” The language is quite sophisticated, with challenging vocabulary. Readers of Lemony Snicket will find a tale of adventure in a similar vein to “A Series of Unfortunate Events”: the last sentence reads, “Don’t you just hate stories that end in cliff-hangers? They are just so....” VERDICT A quirky and lighthearted romp with likable characters and ample plot twists and turns; hand to fans of Lemony Snicket.–Michelle Anderson, Tauranga City Libraries, New Zealand

Peers, Bobbie. William Wenton and the Impossible Puzzle. tr. from Norwegian by Tara Chace. 272p. ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481478250. POP

Gr 4-6 –This fast-paced, engaging novel grabs readers’ attention right from the get-go with a description of William’s grandfather’s disappearance down a dark tunnel. William, hidden with his family in secrecy in Norway under an assumed name, breaks codes in his bedroom, hoping his parents will not find him (code breaking is the entire reason for the family’s hidden identities). Still, William feels a call, a vibration, inside him to solve and understand puzzles. Oslo’s History of Science Museum hosts a special exhibit, The Impossible Puzzle, and William’s class takes a field trip to the museum on the last day of the exhibit. Of course, William slips away from his class to see the puzzle. What happens next unfolds just like one of William’s broken codes, bit by bit, piece by piece. With secret societies, powerful science, and advanced technologies at every turn, William does not know whom to trust, only that he must keep solving each clue in the hopes of saving his grandfather and maybe the world. VERDICT Part “Alex Rider,” part “Artemis Fowl,” part Da Vinci Code for kids, this title will captivate action and mystery enthusiasts.–Sarah Knutson, American Canyon Middle School, CA


Brashares, Ann. The Whole Thing Together. 304p. ebook available. Delacorte. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780385736893. POP

Gr 7 Up –A winning novel exploring complicated family relationships, love, grief, and forgiveness. Although readers may need to refer to the Thomas/Harrison family tree a few times when starting Brashares’s new YA title, they will quickly recognize her familiar style and be engrossed in this emotional story of two teens claiming their places in their complex and fractious families. Following a contentious and extremely bitter divorce, Lila and Robert and their three very young daughters take weekly turns at their beloved shared vacation house in an exclusive beach town in Long Island, NY. Lila and Robert each remarry and have another child only weeks apart, and teens Ray and Sasha grow up sharing the same bedroom in the beach house on alternate weeks but have never met face-to-face. That is, until one day, when they unexpectedly meet at a New York City party and are instantly attracted to each other. As they try to explore their feelings while navigating their families’ tensions, a tragedy interrupts a planned celebration. The author’s legions of fans will gravitate to this well-plotted work with mostly believable, thoroughly developed, and relatable characters. VERDICT A priority purchase for most collections serving teens.–Susan Riley, Mamaroneck Public Library, NY

Dirkes, Craig. Sucktown, Alaska. 352p. ebook available. Switch Pr. May 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781630790554. POP

Gr 9 Up –Eddie has screwed up. He partied too hard and failed his first semester of college in Anchorage, AK. To rectify his mistakes, he agrees to take a 12-month job as a reporter at the Delta-Patriot newspaper in the “unromantic shithole” of Kusko, AK, located in the remote Yukon Delta. He lives with his boss, Dalton, and also helps Dalton take care of his sled dogs. All the while, Eddie plans to hide his expulsion from his father and brother until he can reenroll. There’s little to like about Kusko other than Dalton’s sled dogs; Eddie’s neighbor friend Finn, who sells weed; and his love interest, Taylor, an overachieving high school senior. Soon, Eddie is flying out to neighboring villages to do reporting and begins to sell weed as a way to make money to leave Kusko sooner than planned. Each deal gets progressively worse, and Eddie messes with the wrong person, who has friends on the police force. Eddie wisely resolves to quit selling, but when Finn loses his job, Eddie makes an impulsive choice that lands him in big trouble. Dirkes sets the scene for an interesting story full of crass, realistic teenage boy humor. Fans of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will be drawn to Dirkes’s writing. The author effectively wraps up the narrative and its message about making good decisions. VERDICT A strong addition for collections in need of funny YA.–Adrienne L. Strock, Nashville Public Library

redstarLee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. 528p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062382801. POP

Gr 9 Up –A trio of high-born, determined, and wildly charismatic teenagers get more than they bargained for in this rollicking 18th-century Grand Tour of the Continent gone awry. Endearing rake Lord Henry Montague (or Monty) and his biracial best friend (and unrequited love), the infinitely patient Percy, leave England to drop Monty’s fiercely intelligent sister Felicity off at finishing school. The friends then spend a year traveling. After the Grand Tour, Monty will return home to help his demanding father run their estate and Percy will go to Holland to law school. If Monty’s dad catches wind of him still “mucking around with boys,” Monty will be cut off from the family. The trip is intended to be a cultural experience. However, no one could have predicted that one seemingly petty theft would set off an adventure involving highwaymen, stowaways, pirates, a sinking island, an alchemical heart, tomb-raiding, and a secret illness. From the start, readers will be drawn in by Monty’s charm, and Felicity and Percy come alive as the narrative unfolds. The fast-paced plot is complicated, but Lee’s masterly writing makes it all seem effortless. The journey forces Monty and friends to confront issues of racism, gender expectations, sexuality, disability, family, and independence, with Monty in particular learning to examine his many privileges. Their exploits bring to light the secret doubts, pains, and ambitions all three are hiding. This is a witty, romantic, and exceedingly smart look at discovering one’s place in the world. VERDICT A stunning powerhouse of a story for every collection.–Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN

Lord, Emery. The Names They Gave Us. 400p. Bloomsbury. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781619639584. POP

Gr 8 Up –Lucy seems to have a normal and uncomplicated life; she has loving parents, an attentive boyfriend, and good grades, and she is the captain of the swim team. But on the night of her junior prom, she learns that her mother’s breast cancer is back and that she will need a mastectomy. Lucy’s mother is the center of her universe, and this realization makes Lucy question her faith, which she has always relied upon. Her doubts form the core of the book. Outwardly, Lucy has it together, but still her parents decide that she won’t be a summer camp counselor at the family’s church camp but instead will work at the “hippie” camp across the lake. They want her to make friends, see the lives of others, and not obsess about her mother’s cancer and chemotherapy. The “hippie” camp is a retreat for children with difficult home lives. Lucy’s experiences there illustrate her naïveté about the world around her, which might become tedious for some readers, but other times her maturity and compassion toward others are spot-on. This small character inconsistency should not be a problem for most. VERDICT This solid coming-of-age story with family drama and personal growth is a must-have for libraries with Jenny Han and Jennifer Niven fans.–Lisa Nabel, Tacoma Public Library, WA

Menon, Sandhya. When Dimple Met Rishi. 384p. ebook available. S. & S./Simon Pulse. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481478687. POP

Gr 7 Up –Dimple is a headstrong girl who is passionate about coding and web development much to the chagrin of her parents, who wish she would focus more on her appearance and attracting a husband. Basking in her acceptance to Stanford, Dimple is surprised when her parents agree to let her attend a six-week “Insomnia Con” in San Francisco. Not long into her convention, Dimple discovers why her parents were so willing to let her go. She has been set up to meet a potential husband—the very traditional yet charming Rishi. The plot is moderately paced as the romance between the pair flops, then flourishes. The characters are refreshing, even if familiar. Rishi has a hidden love of comics, Dimple is a feminist who secretly yearns to please her parents, and the “Aberzombies” are the superficial prep school kids who get their jollies by making Dimple and Rishi feel like outsiders. The strength of the story comes from its blending of Indian culture and values into a modern-day romance that scores of readers can enjoy. This novel touches on issues of identity while remaining light and fun. VERDICT A strong choice for any young adult collection.–Christina Vortia, Hype Lit, Wesley Chapel, FL

Murphy, Julie. Ramona Blue. 432p. ebook available. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062418357. POP

Gr 9 Up –Seventeen-year-old Ramona Blue stands out in her tiny town of Eulogy, MS, not only because of her height (6’3”) and her hair color (blue). She is also just one of two out lesbians in town. Comfortable in her own skin, Ramona does not question her sexuality—despite attempts from her absentee mother to set her “straight”—until her old childhood friend Freddie moves back to town. Unexpectedly drawn to Freddie, Ramona starts to rethink her identity. Is she gay? Bisexual? What she learns eventually is that labels are not important and that she is OK with figuring things out as she goes along. This atmospheric story unfolds slowly like the hot and humid days of the Deep South. Ramona is an immensely likable narrator; she’s selfless, responsible, and earnest. When the possibility of a swimming scholarship to a community college arises, Ramona rejects the idea initially, as she plans to remain in her dilapidated trailer park home and waitress full-time in order to support her pregnant, unwed older sister. The well-drawn secondary characters who populate Ramona’s world could have been clichéd and stereotypical but are instead given three-dimensional lives through believable dialogue and actions. VERDICT A must-have work that will resonate with teens, especially those questioning their sexual identities.–Melissa Kazan, Horace Mann School, NY

Vincent, Rachel. Brave New Girl. 272p. ­ebook available. Delacorte. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780399552458. POP

Gr 6 Up –Vincent weaves elements of various dystopian classics with thrilling, jaw-dropping moments and just enough romance to produce an immensely satisfying albeit derivative novel. Lakeview’s inhabitants belong to clone cohorts, each one engineered for a specific purpose. Dahlia, 16, belongs to the Dahlia cohort, thousands of girls genetically engineered to be hearty and smart and to work for the good of the Lakeview community. Any thoughts or desires contrary to the principles Management deems important are flaws. Flawed clones are exterminated. Imagine Dahlia’s terror when she experiences the stirrings of romance (a flaw, romance being an “obsolete biological imperative”) after being trapped in an elevator with Trigger, 17, a soldier. Trigger’s training has prepared him for subterfuge and risk-taking, which he encourages in Dahlia. Her orderly life soon crumbles, and while not unpredictable, what unfolds is thoroughly entertaining. The pair’s secret dalliances endanger their lives and lead the heroine to a horrifying realization: she is not flawed; Dahlia was designed perfectly for another life in another city—which leads to an even darker discovery. Shallow character development presents the biggest weakness, yet plot-driven readers will be pleased. Genetic engineering is a hot-button issue, and this work could lead to some interesting discussions. VERDICT This perfectly paced, suspenseful, and familiar yet fresh novel will appeal to many readers, who will eagerly await its sequel.–Laura Falli, McNeil High School, Austin, TX

Yu, Jennifer. Four Weeks, Five People. 384p. ebook available. Harlequin Teen. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780373212309. POP

Gr 9 Up –A realistic debut novel set in upstate New York at Camp Ugunduzi, a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teens. The quickly paced story is told in alternating points of view among five unique and diverse campers, just introduced and grouped together during the four-week-long camp. Clarissa, who has obsessive–compulsive disorder, wants to get better and experience some “normal” teen activities. Andrew, whose eating disorder caused his band to break up, is guilt ridden and longs to recover. Ben, unable to separate fantasy from reality, prefers to go through life pretending to be in a movie, complete with voice-overs. Cold, unfeeling Stella has been to camp before and doesn’t want to be back. Narcissistic Mason feels that he has no problem but is merely surrounded by idiots. Thrown together without social media or daily luxuries, the teens find themselves getting comfortable with one another, despite initial trepidation. One thing they all share is annoyance at the counselors: middle-aged hippie Josh and overbearing prude Jessie. When tragedy strikes, the teens’ progress and outlook are tested. The emotionally charged yet hopeful ending will encourage understanding and empathy among even the most reluctant readers. Background material is added piecemeal as characters think back to the situations that brought them here. The book includes mature language and content (e.g., underage drinking and smoking). At times the work is raw and heartbreaking. The language is realistic, which teens will appreciate. VERDICT Recommended as a first purchase. Humorous scenes throughout will delight readers, despite the heavy subject matter.–Laura Jones, Argos Community Schools, IN


Harper, Charise Mericle. The Amazing Crafty Cat. illus. by Charise Mericle Harper. 128p. First Second. Apr. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781626724860. POP

Gr 1-4 –How does one navigate the terrain of school, with its tricky fraction worksheets and class bullies? For Birdie, the answer is through crafts. With the help of her imaginary alter ego, the Amazing Crafty Cat, Birdie is able to prepare for the perfect birthday. She has made enough panda cupcakes for everyone in class (even Anya, the class bully), she has a beautiful dress, and the weather is lovely. Everything is perfect—until disaster strikes. On the walk to school, Birdie trips and all the cupcakes fall to the ground, and after she calls home for help, her grandfather shows up with olives and cottage cheese instead of dessert. Luckily, Birdie “transforms” (no one else is aware of her pretend metamorphosis) into an anthropomorphic feline to save the day using crafts. Harper effectively captures the highs and lows of grade school. Reminiscent of a child’s doodles, the digitally rendered illustrations are artful while engagingly playful; they move the narrative forward and add some visual humor to the already funny text. The book also includes six easy DIY projects that will appeal to would-be Crafty Cats. VERDICT A charming addition to early reader graphic novel collections and a solid option for young crafters and fans of the author.–John Trischitti, Midland County Public Libraries, TX

Meyer, Marissa. Wires and Nerve: Vol. 1. illus. by Douglas Holgate. 240p. ebook available. Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2017. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781250078261. POP

Gr 7 Up –The “Lunar Chronicles” continue in this entertaining graphic novel sequel to the existing volumes. This follow-up to the futuristic fairy-tale retellings centers on Iko, cyborg mechanic Cinder’s best friend. Acclimating to her human body, the android is trying to help Queen Cinder of Luna ease tensions with Earth by hunting down rogue wolf-hybrid soldiers who were once enslaved by Cinder’s evil stepmother and have now been banished to the green planet. Joined by other familiar characters (Cress, Winter, Thorne), loyal Iko defends the new queen against her enemies. Fans will be able to jump easily into this narrative and will welcome the protagonist’s humorous commentary and the friends’ camaraderie. Newcomers will be helped by a prologue that introduces all of the main characters and flashbacks that are sprinkled throughout. This first volume in a duology is split into seven chapters, each action-packed and fast-paced. The romantic tension building up between Iko and a protective royal guard not only is juicy but also speaks to deeper themes—humanity, loyalty, prejudice, sovereignty, and more. The blue and white monochromatic art lends itself well to the setting: a futuristic Earth and the Lunar kingdom. VERDICT The diverse cast, the charming dialogue, and the clean design make this sci-fi fantasy sequel a must-have for graphic novel and YA collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal


Bishop, Nic. Penguin Day. photos by Nic Bishop. 32p. ebook available. Scholastic. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545206365. POP

K-Gr 2 –Striking full-color photographs accompany simple text describing a day in the life of a penguin family. Pictured are the small rockhopper penguins of the Antarctic with their distinctive orange beaks and amusing head feathers. Baby penguin is hungry for breakfast, and Mama, with her many companions, must venture into the sea to hunt for food. The journey is arduous, and the ocean is filled with predators, but the stalwart penguins find safety in numbers and return to the colony with a meal for their babies. In the meantime, Papa penguin must guard his offspring against a hungry skua also looking to feed her young. The emphasis on family will appeal to young readers, who will not object to the minor anthropomorphizing of the penguin colony. The author’s note includes some additional facts and identifies the various penguins from the colony that were depicted in the photographs. VERDICT Sure to be a hit with penguin-crazy youngsters, this will make a fine addition to units on animal families and a solid classroom or library read-aloud.–Eva Elisabeth VonAncken, formerly at Trinity-Pawling School, Pawling, NY

Etler, Cyndy. The Dead Inside. 304p. ebook available. Sourcebooks/Fire. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781492635734. POP

Gr 9 Up –In 1985, when 14-year-old runaway Etler was given the choice by police to either go home or be placed into foster care, she chose the latter. At home, she was routinely molested by her stepfather; her mother knew but denied it. Although being in foster care worked well for Etler, she was later transferred by her parents to Straight Inc., a drug treatment facility that turned out to be a cultlike organization bent on “rehabilitating” teen patients through abuse and isolation tactics. Etler’s harrowing story details Straight Inc.’s bizarre rules, routines, and practices and her eventual chilling transformation into a true believer. The writing is fast-paced, and references to 1980s slang, music, and culture abound. Fans of dystopian novels, books about cults, and survival stories will find this account impossible to put down. Previously self-published in 2012 as Straightling: A Memoir, this is the first installment in Etler’s story, with a sequel already in the works. Back matter offers further information on Straight Inc. Readers will be relieved to learn that the enterprise closed in 1993 but should be unsettled to discover that similar facilities still exist. VERDICT A can’t-miss memoir for fans of Ellen Hopkins and Laura Wiess.–Miriam DesHarnais, Towson University, MD

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Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones


Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

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