Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Anne of West Philly: A Modern Graphic Retelling of Anne of Green Gables by Ivy Noelle Weir, Myisha Haynes (Illustrator)


As a fan of Anne of Green Gables, I was excited to read this new graphic novel set in modern Philadelphia. Anne is a foster child taken in by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. She has a big personality and big dreams, and she makes new friends and finds a family to love her. Readers wouldn't have to know the story of Anne of Green Gables to enjoy this book, but those who do know the story will especially enjoy the way the author both follows and doesn't follow the original plot. Highly recommended for middle school libraries. 

American Murderer: The Parasite that Haunted the South by Gail Jarrow


The picture on the cover of this book is a close up of a hookworm that latches onto the intestinal wall of human hosts, sucking away their nutrition like a vampire. This nonfiction book tells the story of how hookworms infected people in the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s and of the scientists who discovered why people were sick, exhausted and unable to work or study. It took years to convince government officials of the problem and years to find ways to get treatment to the people who needed it most--mainly rural southerners. Gail Jarrow has researched this topic and presents it with many photos and a fascinating narrative. Anyone (or any age) interested in public health or history will want to read this book. Highly recommended for middle schoolers on up to adults. 

Dreamer: A Graphic Memoir by by Akim Aliu, Greg Anderson Elysée, Karen De la Vega (Illustrator), Marcus Williams (Illustrator)


This graphic memoir is perfect for middle schoolers. It tells the true story of Akim Aliu, a Ukrainian-Nigerian boy who moves to Canada and discovers the sport of hockey. Unfortunately, as a dark skinned child he faces overt discrimination and many obstacles on his path to becoming a professional hockey player. It's a story of family and friendship and overcoming great challenges. Akim Aliu and Greg Anderson Elysee spoke to the 6th graders at my school and kids were riveted and loved their book. This is essential for middle school classrooms and libraries. 

Underground Fire: Hope, Sacrifice, and Courage in the Cherry Mine Disaster by Sally Walker


The year is 1909 and almost 500 men are working underground in a coal mine in Cherry, Illinois. Many of the men are immigrants to the United States, some are just teenagers, and all of the men have families counting on their income for food and shelter. An underground fire breaks out that has disastrous consequences for many of the miners. This detailed nonfiction book was absolutely fascinating to me as an adult reader. Sally Walker is a master researcher and writer and I would read any book she writes. There are stories here of the women and children left behind, and the desperate attempts by miners trapped underground to keep themselves alive until help comes. Highly recommended for nonfiction readers--but truth be told, this is probably a book that will have more appeal to adults than to children because it's so detailed and nuanced. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

This is the story of two high school cheerleaders who are chasing a national championship. Chanel and Eleanor have been best friends for years, but the events of senior year are going to test their friendship and bring them adult challenges. Eleanor, who is white, is recovering from a serious concussion and starting a relationship with a star football player. Chanel, who is Black, is driven to achieve and makes some poor decisions when dealing with pressure. The pressure mounts when the entire cheer team takes a knee during the national anthem to protest racism. At first the cheer team has support and others join in the protest, but as time goes on, the school cracks down on the students and it becomes harder to see how to turn a single protest into meaningful action for racial justice. It's a realistic look at how complicated it can be to stand up for social change. Recommended for 8th grade-up. 

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab by Priya Huq


Nisrin, an 8th grader who does not usually wear traditional dress from Bangladesh, is the victim of a hate crime while wearing a head scarf. After a summer of therapy, she is ready to start high school, and makes the decision to wear the hijab every day. It is not a decision that is welcomed by her family, but she perseveres and faces discrimination at school and questions at home about her decision. The year is 2002 and she is living in Oregon, and she has a lot to learn about her own family and culture, as well as how to navigate high school as a person who charts her own course. It's an engaging story with a lot to think about and learn about. This graphic novel is highly recommended for middle school libraries.

The Da Vinci Code (adapted for young adults) by Da Brown


The Da Vince Code (adapted for young adults) tells the same story as the adult novel--an exciting, puzzling thriller involving ancient symbols, secret societies, and Biblical secrets. I've read the book several times and every time I'm caught up in the puzzles and the twists and turns. This YA version is 400 pages, and while they did make cuts, it still captures the full sweep of the story of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu as they find the clues left behind by Sophie's grandfather after being murdered at the Louvre Museum. This book isn't about characterization and fine writing--it's pure action, puzzles, and intrigue. It starts off strong and can hook young readers. I have found this to be a great intro to adult fiction and Dan Brown's other work for 8th graders who are good readers.  

The Superteacher Project by Gordon Korman

Mr. Aidact, a new teacher at Brightling Middle School, at first seems a little strange, but as the year goes by he becomes the most popular teacher in the school. He coaches the field hockey team, he covers detention every afternoon, he can answer any trivia question correctly, and he can stop any spitball from flying. Oliver and Nathan, famously good at pranks, decide to find out more about their new teacher and they uncover a secret that they're not sure they want to let out. I don't want to spoil the whole book in this review, so that's all I'll say about Mr. Aidact. Just know that this is a classic Gordon Korman book. Kids get put into a strange situation and they triumph with humor and heart. I think middle schoolers will like this book, but it skews younger, so definitely good for elementary schoolers as well. Thank you Gordon Korman for all your many books that bring so much pleasure to middle schoolers!

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith


This award-winning graphic novel absolutely blew me away. It tells the story of Tommie Smith, Olympic runner and champion of justice, beginning with his childhood as a sharecropper's son in Alabama. His family fled the south for opportunities in California, and that's where Tommie discovered his athletic talent. He faced numerous hurdles and racial injustice (including being called the n word) but he managed to excel in the classroom and on the track and in college classes. He stood for justice in his teens and twenties, but never more so than after winning the Olympic gold medal. Young readers will relate to his family life, his loving parents, his athletic dreams, and his growing need to stand up for fairness and freedom. It is an American shame that he was not hailed as a hero until many years later. I recommend this book to EVERYONE--from middle school-up. Give this one to kids and adults. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Other Boys by Damian Alexander


This heartbreaking yet hopeful graphic novel tells the true story of a boy who is bullied for his sexual orientation. Damian is now in seventh grade and is refusing to speak--not to teachers or students or anyone at school. We find out that in addition to a lifetime of taunts and slurs, Damian's mother was killed by his father when he was a baby, and he has lived with that trauma as well as the trauma inflicted on him by other students. The artwork is colorful and bright and the story flashes between the present (seventh grade) and past years and we see how Damian has always been his unique self. Most kids can relate to bullying and how hurtful it can be, and hopefully this honest memoir will build empathy and understanding among young readers. 

The Civil War of Amos Abernathy by Michael Leali

 Amos Abernathy and his best friend, Chloe, volunteer at a living history park. Amos, who is white, and Chloe, who is Black, are joined by a new volunteer, Ben. Amos develops a crush on Ben, but it is not well-received by Ben's conservative family. Along the way the kids realize that many voices are missing from their living history park--including LGBTQ+ and African American voices. They research a new exhibit that will bring in new stories, including the story of Albert D.J. Cashier, a Civil War soldier who may have identified as a trans man if he were living today. The story flips between past and present as the kids plan a project and implement it, and as the tenuous relationship between Amos and Ben is tested. This book about crusading kids would go well with Alice Austen Lived Here by Alex Gino.  

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys


I Must Betray You takes readers back to 1989 in Communist Romania near the end of the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Christian is a Romanian teenager who is brought into the vast citizen spy network against his will and discovers that no one can be trusted. This is both a gripping thriller of a story and an eye-opening lesson in recent history. Ruta Sepetys is a master of historical fiction for young adults and her books cross over into adult reading as well. There's a lot to learn here and it's easy to see how pervasive and oppressive the regime was in keeping people silent and isolated and helpless. Highly recommend for readers in 7th grade-up. 

Strong as Fire, Fierce as Flame by Supriya Kelkar

The year is 1857 and a 13-year-old girl in India escapes from death on her husband's funeral pyre. Meera runs from her village and all she has ever known, and finds herself a servant in the home of a wealthy British family that is part of the East India Company. Meera's eyes are opened to the oppression and injustice that her country suffers under British colonization and she learns that there are young people resisting the violent rule of the colonizers. I love a book that puts me in another place and time and teaches me about history while I read a compelling story. I can't wait to recommend this book to middle schoolers. 

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner

A good middle-school level nonfiction book gives me (a curious adult) a great overview of a subject and leaves me wanting to know more. This gem of a book covers the history of hominins (everyone on the human family tree but not including apes). I found myself wanting to tell people all kinds of facts and new information. Did you know that every living person with ancestors from Europe, Asia, the Americas, or Oceania is 1-2 percent Neanderthal? Did you know that it is only recently that there has only been one species of hominin existing on earth? Denisovans were the last hominin to share the planet with us and we don't know a lot about them. This book takes us back millions of years to Australopith hominins (many of us have heard of "Lucy"), Homo Habilis ("Handy People"), Homo Erectus, on up to Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo Sapiens (us!). Along the way we examine tool making, skull size, fire making, talking, and storytelling. This is the best explanation of evolution that I have ever encountered, and it gave me a mind-boggling view of the long long history of our beautiful and complex earth. Honestly, this is a great read for anyone and it includes lovely artwork, photos, and snarky footnotes. And do not miss the author's note on race among the backmatter. Highly recommended and not just for kids. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Counting Down With You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Karina Ahmed, a high school junior, follows all of her parents rules. They expect her to get good grades, go to medical school, and not to ever go on a date. When her high school English teacher asks her to tutor another student, she knows that tutoring notorious bad boy Ace Clyde will not be approved by her father. However, her parents go to Bangladesh for 30 days, leaving Karina with her more understanding grandmother. When Ace tells people that he and Karina are dating, she has 30 days to figure out how to react. This enjoyable romance gives a glimpse into the difficulties faced by first generation American students who find themselves caught between what their parents want and what they want. I loved learning about Bangladeshi culture and especially loved the relationship between Karina and her grandmother. Recommended for grades 8-up.