September Starred Reviews

Get the inside scoop behind the whale who inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, take a walk on the wild side with The Accidental Highwayman, and blast off with Sally Ride, in the September stars, which offer the best of fiction, nonfiction, and multimedia.



Browne, Anthony. What If…? illus. by Anthony Browne. 32p. Candlewick. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780763674199. LC 2013952843.

PreS-Gr 2 –Young Joe is apprehensive about attending his friend Tom’s evening birthday party. He lost the invitation, remembers the street name, but forgot the house number. His mother assures him they’ll find Tom’s home if they just walk along the street and look in windows. As he and his mother search, Joe peppers her with questions that reveal his anxiety: “What if I don’t like the food?” and “What if there’s someone at the party I don’t know?” His mother patiently attempts to assuage his uneasiness. Joe’s fears feed his imagination, causing him to see disquieting visions in the houses they pass, including possible aliens, a huge elephant, and slithering snakes. Once they find the right place and Joe joins the party, it’s his mother who begins to have doubts about leaving him. The intriguing gouache and crayon illustrations are enjoyable to study as Browne subtly inserts strange images, including a rabbit on a roof and the shadow of a menacing bear. The common fear of dealing with a new situation is handled well, and Browne’s treatment of the topic will have readers nodding with understanding.–Maryann H. Owen, Children’s Literature Specialist, Mt. Pleasant, WI

Gantos, Jack. The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza. 160p. (Joey Pigza: Bk. 5). Farrar. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780374300838.

Gr 5-7 –The final “Joey Pigza” novel begins as Joey narrates his present situation back in his “roachy row house on Plum St.” He is without a medical patch to treat his ADHD because his mom can’t remember where she hid them. Joey’s father has gotten a botched face-lift and runs away again. When Joey receives a call at school from his frantic mother pleading for him to come home because she’s afraid she will hurt Carter Junior, Joey rushes home, afraid of what he might find. Things go from bad to worse as Joey tries to comfort his mom. She winds up checking herself into a hospital for depression, leaving middle-schooler Joey to care for his baby brother. Woeful metaphors describe Joey’s dysfunctional predicament and ensuing altercations with his dad, who is stalking the family in order to kidnap the baby. Joey takes responsibility for his condition, as well as challenges his father to do the same. This may be the darkest volume yet in Gantos’s series. Readers who have read the previous books and come to know and love Joey will appreciate the irony and emotional punch of his final triumph. Give this groundbreaking, heartbreaking title to readers mature and sensitive enough to understand the author’s black humor and seriousness.–D. Maria LaRocco, Cuyahoga Public Library, Strongsville, OH

Hagen, George. Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle. 384p. Random/Schwartz & Wade. 2014. lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385371049; Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385371032; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385371056. LC 2013032533.

Gr 5-8 –Gabriel Finley loves riddles. His father taught him one every day; every day, that is, until he disappeared. For three years Gabriel’s father has been missing and his father’s somewhat dotty but loving sister is taking care of Gabriel. Ravens also love riddles. They use riddles to distinguish themselves from valravens—evil birds who never laugh, who eat human flesh, and who turned humankind away from friendship with ravens. On Gabriel’s 12th birthday, his aunt gives him his father’s diary and he discovers that his father was an amicus, someone who could merge with a raven and fly through the sky. He also discovers that his father’s older brother, Corax, was also an amicus who turned evil and disappeared. Soon after, Gabriel rescues a baby raven and discovers that he, too, is an amicus. The raven, Paladin, tells Gabriel that they must find an object called a torc, which can grant any wish, before Gabriel’s Uncle Corax does. The titular character, along with Paladin; Septimus, a former inmate who knows his father; and three school friends, sets out to rescue of his father and, in essence, save the world. Hagen has crafted a tale that contains riddles, magic, courage, loyalty, and compassion in a way that is sure to engage readers. Gabriel inhabits a dark world where friendship is the guiding light and differences are respected and valued. This is a great read for fantasy lovers who have worn out their copies of “Harry Potter.” The ending suggests that more is to come, and more will be welcome.–Kathy Kirchoefer, Henderson County Public Library, NC

Heinz, Brian. Mocha Dick: The Legend and the Fury. illus. by Randall Enos. 32p. Creative Editions. Sept. 2014. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781568462424. LC 2013040661.

Gr 3 up –This intricately designed picture book tells the story of the real life whale that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. The tale begins in 1810, near the island of Mocha, with the spotting of a sperm whale by a whaling crew. The ship gave chase, harpooning the whale, who burst from the water, attacking the small boat (“The huge head shook savagely until only splinters remained.”). Christened Mocha Dick by the sailors, this giant continued to battle with whaling crews over the years, most famously sinking the 238-ton Essex in 1820, until meeting his end in 1859. Much like a tall tale, the legend of Mocha Dick is a combination of history and embellishment. Heinz’s text relies on powerful imagery to convey the strength and magnificence of the whale (“Droplets fell like jewels upon his back. His flukes hammered the surface like a cannon shot.”), while Enos’s linocut collage illustrations, surrounded by colorful borders, are reminiscent of scrimshaw and capture the story’s action well. Pair this exciting title with Eric Kimmel’s Moby Dick: Chasing the Great White Whale (Feiwel & Friends, 2012) to contrast the real and fictional whales or with Nathaniel Philbrick’s Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin, 2002) to give students more information on the Essex.–Jackie Partch, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

Hosie, Donna. The Devil’s Intern. 240p. Holiday House. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780823431953; ebk. $16.95. ISBN 9780823432653. LC 2014002402.

Gr 10 Up –Hosie has written a book that will not only entertain but maybe even enlighten. Seventeen-year-old Mitchell Johnson has spent the last four years in Hell, where he is the Devil’s intern in the accounting office. With the number of new arrivals on the rise, Hell’s finances are strained. Fortunately, the Devil has a plan to use his Viciseometer, a time-travel device, to limit the number of those destined for Hell. Mitchell sees it as an opportunity to change his fate and revisit the day he met his fate with a bus. After stealing the Viciseometer, he travels back to the past with three of his friends (a Viking prince, a 17th-century peasant, and a wild-haired gal from the 1960s) and attempts to alter history, only to learn that life and death are complicated and unpredictable. Interesting characters, nonstop adventure, and humor with a touch of heart will not disappoint teens looking for a dark comedy. Glimpses of the afterlife could also spark discussion among readers.–Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI

King, A. S. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. 308p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2014. Tr $18. ISBN 9780316222723.

Gr 9 Up –King returns with another wholly original work of magical realism. This eerie, provocative title centers on Glory O’Brien, on the verge of graduating high school. Though talented and whip-smart, Glory is an outsider whose social interactions are largely limited to her only friend, Ellie, who lives across the street in a commune, and her father, a one-time painter who’s been floundering since the suicide of Glory’s mother 12 years earlier. Both girls realize they have the power to see the past—and future—of strangers around them, and Glory slowly understands that an incredibly disturbing, Handmaid’s Tale–esque future lies in store, with the rights of women and girls being eroded and a second civil war breaking out. The teen is confronted not only by her future but by the past: she fears that she’ll go down the same path as her psychologically unstable mother and begins to learn about a falling-out that took place between her parents and Ellie’s years ago. As with works such as Ask the Passengers (2012) and Everybody Sees the Ants (2011, both Little, Brown), King has developed an unusual protagonist, yet one with a distinct and authentic voice. Elevating herself above the pack and imbuing her novel with incredible nuance, King artfully laces themes of disintegrating friendship, feminism, and sexuality into the narrative, as well as some provocative yet subtle commentary on the male gaze and the portrayal of women in our culture. This beautifully strange, entirely memorable book will stay with readers.–Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal

LaFevers, Robin. Mortal Heart. 464p. (His Fair Assassin: Bk. 3). ebook available. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Nov. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780547628400. LC 2014001877.

Gr 9 Up –This thrilling series conclusion narrates the fate of 17-year-old convent-raised Annith who impatiently awaits her assignment to serve as the god Mortain’s Handmaiden of Death. When the Abbess appoints her as Seeress, Annith is even more distraught, knowing that the position will condemn her to a life of celibacy and isolation. Vowing to confront her superior and aided by both the Helloquins (damned souls seeking redemption) and the Arduinnites (protectors of women and innocents), the teen escapes to the Breton court, where Duchess Anne and her followers are strategizing against the invading French. Distressed over her true parentage, Annith finds comfort in the Helloquins leader Balthazar, who has secrets of his own. LaFevers again mesmerizes her readers through the political struggles of 15th-century Brittany and the intrigues of the followers of Mortain. Details of court and village life in 1489 add vitality to the historic background, and back matter will further aid readers’ understanding of the times. Clear, fast-paced, dramatic prose reveals the story via short, action-packed chapters, and the expert craftsmanship of the writing is worth savoring. The protagonists’ sometimes-contradictory natures enrich their characters, and the intertwined relationships of realistic and Netherworld personages add depth to their personal stories. A plethora of strong females and their romantic relationships will have wide appeal for teens, making this a definite purchase where Grave Mercy (2012) and Dark Triumph (2013, both Houghton Harcourt) are popular and a strong story that can stand on its own.–Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, formerly at LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI

Link, Kelly & Gavin J. Grant, eds. Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales. 480p. ebook available. Candlewick. Sept. 2014. RTE $22.99. ISBN 9780763664732.

Gr 9 Up –Find a dark corner, light a candle, and wrap yourself in a blanket—these are stories that beg to be read in the dark. Between these pages readers will find entries by literary greats as well as new authors. Some of these tales are moving, others terrifying, but they all have one thing in common: monsters. In Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Moriabe’s Children,” a girl hears the kraken that drowned her father calling her to come to them. A disobedient teen discovers that interstellar space pirates are more monstrous than the creatures she’s been taught to fear in the amusing “Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler (The Successful Kind)” by Holly Black. In “This Whole Demoning Thing” by Patrick Ness, a young demon discovers how to be true to herself through music. And “Left Foot, Right” by Nalo Hopkinson is an eerily touching story about one girl’s crippling grief and the monsters that guide her through to the other side. From vampires to ghosts and from strange creatures made of mercury to half-harpies, these beasts will broaden readers’ perspectives. Teens will never think about monsters in the same way again. Long after the last page is turned, these tales will linger in readers’ brains, in their closets, under their beds, and in the shadows.–Heather M. Campbell, formerly at Philip S. Miller Library, Castle Rock, CO

Mader, Roger. Tiptop Cat. illus. by Roger Mader. 40p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Nov. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544147997.

PreS-Gr 3 –Mader makes smart use of the picture book form to convey the daily life and dramatic mishaps of a city-dwelling cat. A familiar sort in many neighborhoods, this black-and-white feline, expressive and unnamed, arrives in a new home. “Of all the gifts she got that day, the best one was the cat.” Long strips of small pictures follow the cat’s exploration of the rooms in his new home. Oh, look! These cozy bits open to a dramatic view of the place he likes best—the balcony. This is a fine, tall apartment building, and from the balcony the cat can get to the rooftop. The varied pages of small and large scenes convey the cat’s doings so effectively that this could actually work as a wordless book, but the spare text adds humor and drama. Every day, the animal climbs all the way to his favorite spot “on top of the world.” High atop a robust red brick chimney, he gazes out on a crowded city with the Eiffel Tower off in the distance. The balcony/rooftop peace erupts one day with the arrival of a pigeon (“A little jungle beast awoke within the cat.”). Alas, the cat’s leap for the bird leads to his plunge “down...down...down.” Humans make their only appearance with the cat’s landing in the arms of an astonished street merchant and the subsequent visit to the vet for an x-ray. “Nothing was broken except...his spirit.” The cowering feline and his subsequent varied hiding spots are a funny anti-climax, lasting only until the day a crow shows up on the balcony (“and that inner beast stirred again.”). Mader’s fine use of pastels and apt choices of detail, surfaces, and light and shadow provide storytelling and viewing sure to be widely enjoyed.–Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston

NELSON, Jandy. I’ll Give You the Sun. 384p. ebook available. Dial. Sept. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803734968.

Gr 9 Up –A resplendent novel from the author of The Sky Is Everywhere (Dial, 2010). Fraternal twins and burgeoning artists Jude and Noah are inseparable until puberty hits and they find themselves competing for boys, a spot at an exclusive art school, and their parents’ affections. Told in alternating perspectives and time lines, with Noah’s chapters taking place when they are 13 and Jude’s when they are 16, this novel explores how it’s the people closest to us who have the power to both rend us utterly and knit us together. Jude’s takes are peppered with entries from her bible of superstitions and conversations with her grandmother’s ghost, and Noah continuously imagines portraits (complete with appropriately artsy titles) to cope with his emotions. In the intervening years, a terrible tragedy has torn their family apart, and the chasm between the siblings grows ever wider. Vibrant imagery and lyrical prose propel readers forward as the twins experience first love, loss, betrayal, acceptance, and forgiveness. Art and wonder fill each page, and threads of magical realism lend whimsy to the narrative. Readers will forgive convenient coincidences because of the characters’ in-depth development and the swoon-worthy romances. The novel’s evocative exploration of sexuality, grief, and sibling relationships will ring true with teens. For fans of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (St. Martin’s, 2013) and Melina Marchetta’s realistic fiction. See author Q&A, p. 152.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

O’Porter, Dawn. Paper Airplanes. 272p. ebook available. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781419711848.

Gr 10 Up –In this captivating and at times gritty debut, O’Porter presents a funny and poignant coming-of-age friendship of Flo and Renée. It’s 1994, and the 15-year-olds are each facing their share of troubles on the small British island of Guernsey. Flo’s parents have split up, and she’s dealing with a critical mother at home and an incredibly domineering best friend at school. Renée is an extroverted troublemaker at school, but feels like a stranger in the home she shares with her bulimic younger sister and emotionally unavailable grandparents. The girls bond over the shared experience of familial tragedy and become close friends, exchanging notes on paper airplanes and finding in each other the support they crave. Readers will be drawn into the story, which moves quickly through alternating first-person narrations, which also serves to reveal potential cracks in the teens’ bond. By the end, each girl comes to learn the importance of friendship and forgiveness and that the past, while not forgotten, doesn’t have to define you. Though their behavior can be frustrating at times—Flo not standing up to mean girl Sally; Renée secretly having sex with Flo’s older brother (in a scene that is entirely more heartbreaking than risqué)—readers will root for the pair and will also eagerly await the sequel.–Amanda Mastrull, Library Journal

Rex, Adam. Smek for President! illus. by Adam Rex. 272p. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484709511.

Gr 4-8 –After successfully banishing the Gorg and ruining the Boovs’s plans to colonize planet Earth, J.Lo and Gratuity (Tip to her friends) are back in this sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday (Hyperion, 2007). The Boov, dumpy little aliens who find English grammar amusingly challenging, have now settled, somewhat peevishly, on one of Saturn’s moons. J.Lo, and Tip board J.Lo’s converted Chevy spacecraft, Slushious, and blast off to New Boovworld, only to find themselves on the run from the police and Captain Smek, who is now campaigning to become New Boovworld’s first president. Rex is a comic genius who has created a laugh- and groan-out-loud novel filled with spaceship chases, bubbling billboards, villainous villains, and reluctant heroes to say nothing of rousing games of Stickyfish and the obligatory garbage pit. Hilarious cartoons will please graphic novel aficionados. Don’t skip Appendix A: Rules for Stickyfish.–Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage Public Library, AK

Ryan, Carrie & John Parke Davis. The Map to Everywhere. 448p. Little, Brown. Nov. 2014. Tr $17. ISBN 9780316240772; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780316240765.

Gr 4-6 –Fin is so forgettable, no one can remember him for more than a few minutes. Left by his mother at an orphanage in the pirate city of Khaznot Quay at the age of four, he’s been on his own ever since. Fin uses his curse to his benefit by becoming a master thief. When he receives a letter directing him to steal a key in exchange for treasures and a promise to show him the way home, he accidentally releases the Oracle, an insane wizard who had been carefully guarded for centuries. Meanwhile in another world, adventurous Marrill, stuck in suburban Arizona, finds an enormous ship in a parking lot. Soon she’s traveling the pirate stream, a waterway connecting all worlds, joined by a wizard on a quest for the Map to Everywhere, which they will need to get Marrill home. Fin and Marrill’s paths intersect and they set about stealing and reassembling the map—each piece located in a different world. The task becomes further complicated when they realize the Oracle is also after the map. Alternating between Fin and Marilll’s points of view, a slower beginning allows for compelling character development in the first quarter the book. When the plots merge, the pacing picks up, mirroring the urgency of the characters, though readers may wish for more time to digest and appreciate the various worlds before racing on to the next. Husband and wife team Ryan and Davis have created wholly original settings, and the juxtaposition of Fin and Marrill’s backgrounds and personalities is enjoyable and humorous. This is an ambitious undertaking, and strong readers who enjoy adventure fiction and fantasy will inhale the first book in what has the potential to be an extraordinary series.–Juliet Morefield, Multnomah County Library, OR

Tripp, Ben. The Accidental Highwayman. illus. by Ben Tripp. 304p. Tor Teen. 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780765335494; ebk. ISBN 9781466822634.

Gr 6 Up –Tripp explains that this story of Kit Bristol, accidental highwayman from the mid-18th century, turned up in his ancestor’s sea chest. Orphan and trick rider, Kit works for James Rattle, whose mysterious nocturnal activities lead to a bloody death. Kit obeys his master’s last instructions, pulling back the curtain on a magical world that lives alongside his own. Kit must help fairy princess Morgana defy her father and escape marriage to King George III of England. As they journey to Ireland’s free Faerie state, they pick up a circus performer, a baboon, and a mildly delusional elderly gentleman to round out their motley crew. Fairy attacks from Morgana’s enemies impede their progress until they decide to form a carnival show to hide in plain sight. Humorous mayhem ensues. It is difficult not to be entertained by Kit’s first person narration that blends historical detail with the antics of the fairy kingdom. Tripp ably conveys the protagonist’s subtle sense of the ridiculous through his many mishaps, and conversations between magical creatures and uninformed mortals add to the book’s humor. Readers will root for star-crossed lovers, Kit and Morgana, and delight in their “opposites attract” romance, drawn onward by a rollicking plot. Informative footnotes occasionally pull readers out of the story, though they dwindle as the story progresses. Tripp’s detailed black-and-white illustrations are worth a second look. Fantasy readers, especially fans of Cathrynne Valente’s work, will enjoy the author’s elegant turns of phrase. A first purchase for all fantasy collections.–Caitlin Augusta, Stratford Library Association, CT

Graphic Novels

Bell, Cece. El Deafo. illus. by Cece Bell. 248p. Abrams/Amulet. Sept. 2014. Tr $21.95. ISBN 9781419710209; pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781419712173.

Gr 2-6 –Cece loses her hearing from spinal meningitis, and takes readers through the arduous journey of learning to lip read and decipher the noise of her hearing aid, with the goal of finding a true friend. This warmly and humorously illustrated full-color graphic novel set in the suburban ‘70s has all the gripping characters and inflated melodrama of late childhood: a crush on a neighborhood boy, the bossy friend, the too-sensitive-to-her-Deafness friend, and the perfect friend, scared away. The characters are all rabbits. The antics of her hearing aid connected to a FM unit (an amplifier the teacher wears) are spectacularly funny. When Cece’s teacher leaves the FM unit on, Cece hears everything: bathroom visits, even teacher lounge improprieties It is her superpower. She deems herself El Deafo! inspired in part by a bullied Deaf child featured in an Afterschool Special. Cece fearlessly fantasizes retaliations. Nevertheless, she rejects ASL because it makes visible what she is trying to hide. She ventures, “Who cares what everyone thinks!” But she does care. She loathes the designation “special,” and wants to pass for hearing. Bell tells it all: the joy of removing her hearing aid in summer, the troubles watching the TV when the actor turns his back, and the agony of slumber party chats in the dark. Included is an honest and revealing afterword, which addresses the author’s early decision not to learn ASL, her more mature appreciation for the language, and her adage that, “Our differences are our superpowers.”–Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York

Back to Top



Coe, Alexis. Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis. illus. by Sally Klann. 224p. appendix. bibliog. notes. Zest/Pulp. Oct. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781936976607.

Gr 9 Up –The year was 1892, and 19-year-old Alice Mitchell was in love with Freda Ward, 17. She determined that if she couldn’t marry Freda, nobody else would, either. The two women devised a plan to marry, with Alice posing as a man. However, their scheme was uncovered, and their families forbade the relationship. Freda moved on with her life and discovered other loves. Alice was unable to accept life without Freda and decided to kill her former lover when she visited Memphis. This true-crime drama uses primary-source documents of letters and transcripts from the trial to provide a rich, detailed description of Alice’s successful murder plot and the events following the verdict that declared Alice insane and sentenced her to an asylum. This is a captivating account, and readers will quickly become absorbed in the suspense surrounding Freda’s murder. Additionally, the book provides a foundation for discussion of sociocultural themes, such as how LGBT relationships have historically been viewed by society, gender and femininity, and even journalism.–April Sanders, Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL

Elliott, David. On the Wing. illus. by Becca Stadtlander. 32p. Candlewick. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763653248. LC 2013953538.

K-Gr 3 –Poetry flutters across the pages of this lovely book. Each selection is a short, spot-on depiction of a different species of bird. While these are not lengthy verses describing the birds in great detail, each poem is witty and thoughtful and enlivens its subject. The detailed acrylic illustrations complement the poems beautifully, and every bird seems to come alive on the spacious spreads. They are shown in realistic habitats, often in graceful movements that echo their natural elegance. Many of the pieces have a rhythmic, chirping quality that make them perfect read-alouds. Bird lovers, poetry enthusiasts, and children looking for a fun read will flock to this stunning title.–Ellen Norton, White Oak Library District, Crest Hill, IL

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs. Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious. illus. by Hayelin Choi. 32p. bibliog. further reading. websites. Readers to Eaters. Sept. 2014. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9780983661566. LC 2014939601.

Gr 2-4 –This picture book biography takes on Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley and the Edible Schoolyard Project. Using an enthusiastic, conversational tone and a free verse form (“In her travels, Alice learned/wonderful food was like a symphony/that woke people up, made them happier”), Martin shows how Waters’s fascination and love for fresh foods started young: at age three, the future chef won a costume contest, dressed up in a lettuce skirt, strawberry necklace, and crown made of asparagus. While in college, Waters studied cooking in France and brought home what she learned about selecting and preparing fresh foods. Before long, she opened Chez Panisse, a huge success. Finding fresh foods was not always easy, but as her reputation grew, growers began to come to her, and, eventually, her love and passion for fresh, locally grown food led her to organize the Edible Schoolyard Project, in which students plant and cultivate their own fruits and vegetables. Rendered with brush and black ink and enhanced digitally, the illustrations are colorful and simple. The book includes an afterword by Waters and an author’s note elaborating on the subject’s contributions to the local foods movement. A fine introduction to units on nutrition, healthy eating, and creative people making positive change.–Roxanne Burg, Orange County Public Library, CA

Neri, G. Hello, I’m Johnny Cash. illus. by A. G. Ford. 40p. bibliog. discog. Candlewick. Sept. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763662455.

Gr 3-5 –Even those who aren’t fans of musician Johnny Cash will appreciate the beauty of this biographical picture book. Written in free verse, with colorful, realistic illustrations done in oil, this title poignantly portrays the powerful influences of poverty, religion, family, and music on Cash’s life. When Cash was too young to work in the cotton fields, his father bought him a radio to keep him company. The boy could never turn it off, learning hundreds of songs that he sang to anyone who stopped by to listen. It became clear he had a gift that was meant to be shared with the world, but hard work to earn money for the family and a stint in the Air Force delayed that dream. This is a biography of one musician as well as a tale of how the determination to pursue a dream can pay off. The oversize format suggests Cash’s larger-than-life impact and image, but it also pulls readers in. Additional information is provided at the back, including more in-depth details about his life, a discography, and the ways in which the sociopolitical eras he lived through, such as the Great Depression and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, impacted his music. This is a real tribute to the Man in Black, written in an easily accessible, engaging manner that demonstrates the qualities he possessed that make him a hero to so many.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

Sisson, Stephanie Roth. Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos. illus. by Stephanie Roth Sisson. 32p. bibliog. notes. Roaring Brook. Nov. 2014. RTE $17.99. ISBN 9781596439603.

Gr 1-3 –Told in narrative format, this beautifully designed and illustrated picture book gives readers a glimpse into the childhood wonderings Sagan experienced as he looked at the night sky and imagined the possibilities. The images are wonderfully childlike, many appearing to be chalk on a dark, night sky background. The simple but lyrical text (“Carl thought about the stars hanging down like bulbs on long black wires”) conveys a dreamy, wistful quality, and the comic book–style panels and speech bubbles will keep kids intrigued as Sisson takes Sagan from an inquisitive boy to a scientist working in the field of astronomy. One particularly magnificent page should elicit gasps of awe from readers. It folds out to create a marvelous expanse that extends from a library room, where young Sagan is poring over a book about the solar system, up though the city landscape and ever upward toward the sun. Children will easily relate to and may even see themselves in Sagan’s youthful exuberance. Detailed notes illustrate the solid research and facts behind the narrative. A gorgeous, informative offering for biography and science collections.–Maggie Chase, Boise State University, ID

Back to Top


From the Adult Books 4 Teens blog

BROCKMEIER, Kevin. A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of the Seventh Grade. 208p. Pantheon. 2014. Tr $24. ISBN 9780307908988. LC 22013031895. In this masterful memoir, Brockmeier takes three significant narrative risks, any one of which could have opened him up to charges of gimmickry, trivialization, or both, but which together combine to produce a moving portrait of young adolescence. In the realm of gimmickry is Brockmeier’s odd decision to tell his story in the third person—a trick which might have gotten old quickly but for his second strange decision: to limit the scope of his memoir to his year as a seventh-grader. These two narrative tools give the memoir the feel and shape of a novel, but could have resulted in a very trivial book indeed were it not for Brockmeier’s third narrative risk: an incredibly gimmicky break into the realm of metafiction at the book’s midway point, in which contemporary Kevin freezes time to discuss young Kevin’s life, and whether he would have wanted never to have been born. It’s a play straight out of It’s a Wonderful Life, but it works beautifully to give thematic heft to the memoir, showing readers just how crucial this one year in Brockmeier’s life was: his self-consciousness came to a crucial breaking point; almost all of his friends turned on him, bullying him mercilessly; and yet he began to come into his own as a writer. The moment of metafiction represents what truly was a turning point in Brockmeier’s life, and anyone who suffered through middle school in self-doubt or was bullied, will find Brockmeier’s story emotionally resonant and ultimately optimistic.—Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

GRAEDON, Alena. The Word Exchange. 370p. Doubleday. 2014. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780385537650. LC 2013033165.

Graedon’s debut novel is an SAT-prep dystopian masterpiece. Anana works for her father, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But the NADEL is dying, along with the printed word. Americans are so dependent on their memes (wearable smartphones) that they welcome the invention of implants and mind-controlling technology. Unfortunately, corporations (including one helmed by Anana’s ex-boyfriend) misuse the tech, and viral word flu devastates the country. Not only do those affected substitute created words for real words, but they also become nauseous and mentally unstable. Thousands die, riots ensue, and the protagonist must find her missing dad to help solve the mystery of the communication disaster. Anana, her family, and friends speak like a SAT vocabulary prep book, using words like “amanuensis,” “ouroboros,” and “scurf.” That alone makes this book accessible to teens who think the SAT Vocabulary Novels from SparkNotes are an insult. But, Graedon also creates delightful new words, and, though they are slow-going at first, chapters from the point of view of word flu sufferers are stand-outs. Well-read bibliophiles will recognize the literary connections, especially to Lewis Carroll and Samuel Johnson. Give this to teens who don’t mind a slower novel than Max Barry’s Lexicon (Penguin, 2013), and who like to explore dystopian mind games of M.T. Anderson’s Feed (Candlewick, 2004).—Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

GROSSMAN, Lev. The Magician’s Land. 401p. Viking. 2014. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9780670015672. LC 2014010097.

“Can a man who can cast a spell ever really grow up?” This question is posed in The Magicians (Viking, 2009), the first book in Grossman’s trilogy that concludes with The Magician’s Land. Many coming-of-age stories are about leaving childhood behind but this fantasy series has always presented a more interesting idea; growing up means holding on to a bit of childlike magical thinking to fuel the dreams that will change the world. This is the journey readers have taken with Quentin as he’s aged from a sullen teenager to a prematurely hoary 30-year-old man. Banished from Fillory, with no kingdom to lead and nowhere else to go, Quentin returns to Brakebills in search of a job. After his tenure as a professor at his alma mater is cut short, he takes on the adventure of a magical heist. Meanwhile, Fillory is dying. Eliot and Janet are determined to find a way to save the collapsing magical world, but the end might be inevitable. The parallel narratives move at a slower pace than typical teen readers may expect, but there are numerous plot threads to resolve here, and Grossman does each one justice with satisfyingly loving details. An older reader who has followed the series will relish these moments, especially when the dual narratives converge. Fans won’t be disappointed with this emotional conclusion, full of the author’s wry voice, sharp characterization, and unique ability to blend pop culture with fantasy.—Joy Piedmont, LREI, New York City
Back to Top



Exclamation Mark. 6 min. Dist. by Weston Woods. 2014. $59.95. ISBN 9780545661140.

Gr 1-3 –Poor, sad, Exclamation Point. He doesn’t understand his role in the Land of Punctuation. His efforts to fit in don’t work, leaving him only one option: running away. Suddenly he is confronted by Question Mark, who interrogates him with—what else?—a million questions. “What’s your favorite food, what grade are you in, what’s your favorite movie, what, what, what…?!!” Exclamation Point reaches his breaking point and explodes by using himself in the proper manner. He gets it! He understands his responsibility. Emphasis, surprise, excitement and so on. His life has a point! Clever use of primary penmanship paper as the background, simple yet extremely expressive and endearing facial features within the punctuation dots jazz up what can be a very dry topic. Speaking of jazz, music by David Mansfield complements the story’s moods perfectly from its low points to its exuberant ones. Question Mark, voiced by Emily Eiden, almost steals the show as she interrogates timid Exclamation Point (­MacLeod Andrews)—think Charlie Brown and Lucy. Narrator Priscilla Holbrook keeps the story moving with dramatic pauses and wry inflections for some grammatical puns. Reproducible lesson plans with extension activities related to the Common Core State Standards are included inside the cover. Punctuation has never been this fun. A recommended title which can easily be adapted to use through the sixth grade.–Nancy Baumann, Literacy Consultant, Columbia, MO

Locomotive. 24 min. Dist. by Dreamscape Media. 2014. $38.99. ISBN 9781629236209.

Gr 2-4 –Brian Floca’s Caldecott Medal-winning book (S. & S., 2013) has been ably translated into video form in a way that respects the text and the propulsive yet informational tone. It covers the building of the transcontinental railroad, the experience of travel circa 1869, and the impact of steam power and train transportation on the settling of the American west. The presentation enhances Floca’s picture-book format with effective use of sound—the hiss of steam, the squeal of wheels on the rails, the steady beat of the train as it makes its way down the track. The use of fiddle music is judicious, and never becomes overbearing or distracting. The oversize text used in the book to indicate sounds appears with the sounds, making the translation from one form to another entirely faithful. The video is enriched by bonus features that provide further information on steam power, a concept with which students may not be entirely familiar, and background information on Locomotive. Tying to Common Core State Standards in language and social studies, this engaging presentation could be used to enhance and extend instruction in the middle elementary grades. Dreamscape Media delivers a visual work worthy of its inspiration. For most elementary school collections.–Ann Welton, Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
Back to Top


Wiles, Deborah. Revolution. (The Sixties Trilogy: Bk. 2). 10 CDs. 12:10 hrs. Listening Library. 2014. $50. ISBN 9780553395266. digital download.

Gr 5-8 –At home, 12-year-old Sunny’s prickly relationships with her blended family trigger yearning for her absent mother. In town, the community faces SNCCs, COFOs and COREs, invaders from the North who’ve come to register black voters despite violent local opposition. Stacey Aswad perfectly conveys Sunny’s sassy young voice while Francois Battiste becomes Raymond, the African American boy who personifies the struggle for civil rights. A full cast brings to life the excerpts from speeches, song lyrics, KKK leaflets, and gospel music that establish the setting as Greenwood, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964. The audio production adds value to this documentary novel (defined by Michael Hinken as “a genre that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction”) because hearing the words and music of the time connects listeners emotionally. The heartfelt reading of Langston Hughes’s poem, “I, Too, Sing America,” for example, is a powerful experience. An afterword discusses the effects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensured African Americans the right to vote. Wiles’s Revolution, second in “The Sixties Trilogy” (after Countdown), belongs in every library.–Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL

McCardle, Meredith. The Eighth Guardian. 10 CDs. 11:24 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2014. $52.97. ISBN 9781480566682.

Gr 7 Up –Action, conspiracy, love, and war are just a few of the fascinating elements in McCardle’s debut. Amanda Obermann’s mother is bipolar, her dad’s death is a mystery, and she’s a junior at Peel Academy, most of whose graduates go on to work for the FBI or CIA. Amanda, along with her classmates, is a genius. She’s already looking forward to working for the CIA with her long-term boyfriend, Abe, when they graduate next year, until her name is called at the graduate ceremony…as a junior! Instantly Amanda’s world comes crashing down. She is taken against her will to a top-secret government agency and is forced to take tests to be part of Annum Guard. Failure in Annum Guard results in life in prison. She’s stuck. She has to say goodbye to everything: her name (she’s now Iris), her family, Abe. The more she learns about Annum Guard, the further she wants to run. Narrator Amy McFadden flawlessly articulates the action throughout the story, giving life to all the characters. Listeners will eagerly be awaiting a sequel. Slight cursing will make this title appropriate for slightly older tweens, while some ethical themes make it ideal for discussion groups. Give this title to fans of time travel and historical fiction. A first-rate listen.–Amanda Schiavulli, Finger Lakes Library System, NY

SHERR, Lynn. Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space. 11 CDs. 13:30 hrs. Tantor Audio. 2014. $44.99. ISBN 9781494503406. 2 MP3-CDs.

Gr 9 Up –Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space, impressive had earned a newly minted doctorate in physics from Stanford when she applied for the space program, beating out a thousand applicants for the job. Her focus was on her work and that dedication led to all of her successes. Published originally for the adult market, this audiobook will light a spark in girls who do not yet know that the sky is literally their limit. Ride spent much of her post-NASA years encouraging young women to study math and science. Written by Ride’s close friend, news commentator Lynn Sherr, this is an objective look at the astronaut’s complex life with all of her strengths and her shortcomings. Ride kept her lesbian relationship with partner Tam O’Shaughnessy hidden from the public. Even close friends, including Sherr, were surprised by its revelation in her obituary. While listeners will never know Ride’s reasons for keeping her sexual orientation private, this biography will inspire young women who have grand ideas by knowing that this woman let nothing stand in her way. Pam Ward’s narration is straightforward, objective, and suits the book beautifully.—Joan Kindig, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing