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The purpose of this site is to give you more information and resources about each of the new titles the Media Center adds to its collection monthly.  Each title has its own info page with details about the book itself, the author, reviews, and book trailers and teacher resources if applicable.

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Renoir’s Dancer by Catherine Hewitt

Renoir’s Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon  by Catherine Hewitt. February 27, 2018. St. Martin’s Press, 480 p. ISBN: 9781250157652.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1170.

Catherine Hewitt’s richly told biography of Suzanne Valadon, the illegitimate daughter of a provincial linen maid who became famous as a model for the Impressionists and later as a painter in her own right.

In the 1880s, Suzanne Valadon was considered the Impressionists’ most beautiful model. But behind her captivating façade lay a closely-guarded secret.

Suzanne was born into poverty in rural France, before her mother fled the provinces, taking her to Montmartre. There, as a teenager Suzanne began posing for—and having affairs with—some of the age’s most renowned painters. Then Renoir caught her indulging in a passion she had been trying to conceal: the model was herself a talented artist.

Some found her vibrant still lifes and frank portraits as shocking as her bohemian lifestyle. At eighteen, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, future painter Maurice Utrillo. But her friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas could see her skill. Rebellious and opinionated, she refused to be confined by tradition or gender, and in 1894, her work was accepted to the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, an extraordinary achievement for a working-class woman with no formal art training.

Renoir’s Dancer tells the remarkable tale of an ambitious, headstrong woman fighting to find a professional voice in a male-dominated world.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong sexual themes, Alcohol

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Hewitt (The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret, 2017) continues her mission to tell the stories of covertly powerful, yet overlooked French women in this step-by-step, swerve-by-swerve biography of the artist’s model and muse, “revolutionary” artist, and mother of an artist, Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938). A wildly impulsive country girl who loved to draw, she was raised by her determined single mother, a hotel maid who boldly brought them to Paris, where beautiful and talented Valadon modeled for prominent artists and became one of few women artists whose work was shown in prestigious exhibitions. Valadon, who “danced to no one’s tune but her own” and reveled in Montmartre café life, provides Hewitt with a glorious cast, including Renoir, van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Degas—ardent champions of Valadon’s work—and André Utter, Valadon’s much younger husband. Valadon lived a life of ceaseless tumult and trauma as her son (father unknown), a prodigy burdened with afflictions exacerbated by alcoholism, lurched from crisis to crisis, even as he attained fame and wealth as Maurice Utrillo, the great painter of Parisian street scenes. Hewitt’s straight-ahead telling of Valadon’s dramatic, many-faceted story captures this artist of “honesty and passion,” this “matriarch of creative rebellion and gutsy expressivity,” with precision, narrative drive, and low-key awe.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 15, 2017)
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) may not be a name most people mention when they discuss great artists. This biography should change that.One might wonder how Valadon, whom Hewitt (The Mistress of Paris: The 19th-Century Courtesan Who Built an Empire on a Secret, 2015) describes in this excellent biography as having “revolutionized the art world and irreversibly altered the place of women within that world,” hasn’t received more widespread recognition. One reason is that Valadon adhered to no school of painting; another is that she was “a victim of the company she kept.” Some may think of her only as the mother of cityscape painter Maurice Utrillo or the model who inspired Renoir’s Dance at Bougival and The Large Bathers or the muse of Toulouse-Lautrec. Born in rural France to a linen maid and a father she never knew, Valadon moved to Montmartre with her mother and sister after her father died. When she was older, she frequented clubs like Le Chat Noir, where young artists discussed their desire to depict “contemporary life, the sweat and odour of real men and women.” A self-taught artist, she started as a nude model. But when Edgar Degas saw her secret drawings, he said, “you are one of us,” and helped her become the first woman painter to have works accepted into the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Hewitt chronicles Valadon’s romances and her difficulties in raising Maurice, whose childhood fits led to his lifelong battle with alcoholism. More importantly, the author demonstrates that Valadon’s works were revolutionary not just because of her style—“sharp, almost crude contours,” with the use of single lines for profiles—but because of the subject matter, such as children who, far from looking like the cosseted offspring of impressionist works, were naked, awkward, and “lonely, so incredibly lonely.” Hewitt sums up Valadon’s achievement perfectly: “Other artists showed what viewers wanted to see. Suzanne showed them what was true.” A well-researched tribute to and resurrection of a master of fin de siècle art.

About the Author

Catherine Hewitt studied French Literature and Art History at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her proposal for her first book, The Mistress of Paris, was awarded the runner-up’s prize in the 2012 Biographers’ Club Tony Lothian Competition for the best proposal by an uncommissioned, first-time biographer.

She lives in a village in Surrey. Her website is www.catherinehewitt.co.uk

Around the Web

Renoir’s Dancer on Amazon

Renoir’s Dancer on Goodreads

Renoir’s Dancer Publisher Page

A World Below by Wesley King

A World Below by Wesley King. March 6, 2018. Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781481478229.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.9; Lexile: 670.

A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Told from three different points of view, this fast-paced adventure novel explores how group dynamics change under dire circumstances. Do the students of Mr. Baker’s class really know each other at all? Or do they just think they do? It turns out, it’s hard to hide in the dark.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. A field trip to Carlsbad Caverns takes a turn for the worse when an earthquake plunges Mr. Baker’s eighth-grade class into an icy underground river. Eric manages to crawl ashore quickly, but he’s separated from the group. Silvia finds herself uncomfortably in the lead of the rest of the class, and she urges them on to find Eric, who’s using the tips he learned from his favorite survival books to struggle through the caverns alone. Unbeknownst to the class, however, they’ve tumbled into a section of the caverns occupied by a community of people who took refuge in the caves generations ago and are so wary of surface dwellers, they’ll kill the intruders on sight. King’s at his best when describing the kids’ survival efforts and the unusual fictional flora and fauna they discover while they’re stranded. The plotline about the underground community is less successful, particularly the explanation of the origin of the kingdom, which is fairly clumsy. Still, readers who love survival thrillers might appreciate the kids’ high-stakes adventure in a fascinating location.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
King’s latest sends readers tumbling belowground in a quest for survival.Brown-skinned, biracial Eric and Latina classmate Silvia each bring their own metaphorical baggage into the limestone caverns below the New Mexico desert, beyond their daypacks filled with water bottles and snacks. When an earthquake sends them and their classmates tumbling into the unexplored abyss below the famous Carlsbad Caverns, they not only face a challenge to survive, but must also do battle with their inner demons. Meanwhile, King Carlos, of the mysterious underworld Midnight Realm, fears he is facing literal demons as the student intruders encroach upon his kingdom. After four generations underground, he and his people have thoroughly internalized his Hispanic great-grandfather’s warnings against the cruel race that lives above. Though oversized flora and fauna threaten at every turn, the true challenge for each of the three principal characters is to overcome their faulty beliefs about themselves and others. The narrative shifts focus among each as readers follow them through the subterranean landscape and on their own psychological journeys as well. For those both above- and belowground, healing from generations of exclusion and feelings of otherness is a consistent theme, which is, alas, quickly wrapped up and tied with a too-simple bow of forgiveness and inclusion. Careful readers will also wonder at both the paucity of Spanish surnames in this New Mexico school and the plot-driven choice of Carlos’ ancestors to speak English rather than Spanish when they took up residence below. Nevertheless, the quick-paced adventure and positive message of setting aside past hurts are sure to appeal. A multifaceted journey from darkness to light. (Adventure. 8-12)

About the Author

Wesley King lives in Ostrea Lake, Nova Scotia, in an old century home on the ocean, where he spends most of his time with his laptop and a cup of tea and relies on his far more capable wife to keep him alive.

His website is www.wesleykingauthor.com.

Around the Web

A World Below on Amazon

A World Below on Goodreads

A World Below Publisher Page

Twelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn

Twelve Steps to Normal by Farrah Penn. March 13, 2018. jimmy patterson, 384 p. ISBN: 9780316471602.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 700.

James Patterson presents this emotionally resonant novel that shows that while some broken things can’t be put back exactly the way they were, they can be repaired and made even stronger.

Kira’s Twelve Steps To A Normal Life

1. Accept Grams is gone.
2. Learn to forgive Dad.
3. Steal back ex-boyfriend from best friend…

And somewhere between 1 and 12, realize that when your parent’s an alcoholic, there’s no such thing as “normal.”
When Kira’s father enters rehab, she’s forced to leave everything behind–her home, her best friends, her boyfriend…everything she loves. Now her father’s sober (again) and Kira is returning home, determined to get her life back to normal…exactly as it was before she was sent away.

But is that what Kira really wants?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Underage drinking

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. Kira’s life changed eight months ago when her alcoholic father went to rehab, and she moved from her small Texas hometown to stay with her aunt. She left behind her dance team, close friends, and a boyfriend. Now it’s time to return, and she’s nervous. Is her father sober for good? Will she and Jay resume their relationship? When Kira discovers her father has opened their home to three friends from rehab, and Jay is now dating one of her best friends, she is furious and plans her own “12 steps” to the life she once had. Although Kira’s path is often predictable—denial, anger, grief, and understanding take turns leading her through emotional growth—Penn nicely captures the all-consuming emotions of a teen wrestling life into some sort of order. A comfortable new romance and an unexpected death provide comfort and catharsis. Penn’s note to the reader explains that she too had a father who suffered from alcoholism, and it’s this loving, compassionate hindsight that will speak honestly to readers in the same situation.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 15, 2018)
The 12 steps to sobriety are tough; the 12 steps to repairing high school friendships are also difficult. After a year away, Kira is returning home to small-town Cedarville, Texas, to once again live with her recovering-alcoholic father in the house they once shared with Kira’s late grandmother. The white teen’s re-entry stumbles immediately when she learns that some of her father’s fellow rehab patients are staying there too. Kira also needs to work on rekindling friendships with her friends, as she avoided contact with them after she left. Then there’s Jay, Kira’s ex-boyfriend, who has moved on in Kira’s absence to friend Whitney. What’s a girl to do? In Kira’s case, the answer is to create her own 12-step program to return to a normal life. Penn creates a realistic character in Kira, one who finely balances the rational thoughts of a child of addiction with the emotional struggles of a high school student. Kira’s journey should speak to many teenage readers, even those who do not have firsthand experience with addiction or addicts. All of the characters (there are some people of color among Kira’s friends) are captured with a sophisticated eye and create a well-rounded story. Latino Alex—a friend-turned–love-interest—may be too good to be true, but readers will probably easily forgive that. An author’s note offers resources. A smart recommendation for readers looking to escape into a substantive world of personal discovery. (foreword) (Fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Farrah Penn was born and raised in a suburb in Texas that was far from the big city, but close enough to What-A-Burger. She now resides in Los Angeles, CA with her gremlin dog and succulents. When she’s not writing books, she’s writing things for BuzzFeed or sending texts containing too many emojis. 12 Steps to Normal is her first novel.

Her website is www.farrahpenn.com.

Around the Web

Twelve Steps to Normal on Amazon

Twelve Steps to Normal on Goodreads

Twelve Steps to Normal Publisher Page

Troublemakers by Catherine Barter

Troublemakers by Catherine Barter. April 1, 2018. Carolhoda Books, 360 p. ISBN: 9781512475494.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 760.

When she was three, Alena’s activist mother died. She’s been raised by her half-brother and his boyfriend in East London, which is being targeted by a lone bomber. Alena desperately wants to know about her mother, but her brother won’t tell her anything.

Alena’s played by the rules all her life, but that’s over. When she starts digging up information herself and does something that costs her brother his job and puts the family in jeopardy, Alena discovers she can be a troublemaker–just like her mother.

Now she must figure out what sort of trouble she’s willing to get into to find out the truth.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 8-11. Alena has lived with her brother, Danny, since she was three. She knows he and his boyfriend share secrets about Alena and Danny’s mother’s troubled life. But every time Lena tries to talk to Danny about it, he shuts her down. At 15, Lena feels old enough to handle the truth, and if Danny won’t give it to her, well, she’ll start making trouble herself by trying to dig up the real story. Her two friends, Ollie and Tegan, will be there to help her through the triumphs and sorrows that soon come, as Lena tries to navigate her confusing past and uncertain future with a frightening present—an unknown person called the East End Bomber is terrorizing her area of London. Barter’s debut displays impressive skill and authenticity in relating issues of family secrets and grief. Readers will connect with Lena on her dramatic, heartrending journey as she begins to suss out the ambiguity of other people’s choices and fateful decisions that happened long before she was born.

Kirkus Reviews starred (February 15, 2018)
A 15-year-old London girl struggles with family tensions against a backdrop of bombings, crime, and political skulduggery.Lena, whose mum died when she was only 3, has been lovingly raised by her brother, Danny (20 years her senior), and his partner, Nick. But Danny’s just gotten a job working for a law-and-order political candidate, and now there’s constant tension at home. There’s a bomber attacking East London supermarkets, and Danny’s boss—in statements Danny wrote for him—uses anti-crime language that Nick, who runs a hippie coffee shop that displays anti-establishment leaflets, despises. As the couple decide to separate to ease the tension in their relationship, Lena becomes increasingly curious about the mother she doesn’t remember, further infuriating her brother. Why is Danny so hostile toward their mother’s old friends? Real life is messy, Lena learns. As well as that: You don’t have to be political to be moral; good people sometimes do rotten things; doing right sometimes hurts the wrong people; and you don’t always get cinematic closure with the secrets of your past. Several secondary characters represent the multiculturalism of modern London; Lena and her family are assumed white. Amid a thoroughly contemporary story about terrorism, email leaks, and a divisive political climate, Lena’s coming-of-age is wonderfully individual and heartbreakingly real. (Realistic fiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Catherine Barter grew up in Warwickshire, and then lived in Norwich for ten years, where she worked in a library, a bookshop, and for an organisation campaigning for the rights of garment workers. After gaining a PhD in American literature, she ditched academia for the lucrative world of independent bookselling. Currently she lives in East London and co-manages Housmans, a radical independent bookshop in King’s Cross.

Her website is catherine-barter.com

Around the Web

Troublemakers on Amazon

Troublemakers on Goodreads

Troublemakers Publisher Page

The Baseball Fanbook by Gary Gramling

The Baseball Fanbook: Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-it-All by Gary Gramling. April 3, 2018. Sports Illustrated, 192 p. ISBN: 9781683300694.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.5; Lexile: 1160.

Everything You Need to Become a Hardball Know-It-All

The next book in the Fanbook series from Sports Illustrated KidsThe Baseball Fanbook has all the nerdy-cool insider knowledge that fans ready for next-level, in-depth stats need to know to impress their friends, family, coaches, and any season ticket holders they may meet. Tailor-made for baseball fanatics ages 8 and up who know the basics of the sport they love, may play it, and are looking to become super fans, this new fanbook is filled with fun trivia, unique lingo, and illustrated behind-the-skills how-to’s. Chapters include Team Tidbits (salient baseball facts about every MLB team), Think Like a Manager (essential strategies to understand), He Reminds Me Of (compares current players to legendary greats of America’s favorite pastime), and much more!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
A wide-ranging sampler of records, stats, stars, highlights, lowlights, sidelights, and general baseball talk.Modeled on Gramling’s Football Fanbook (2017), the topical chapters each offer assortments of quick-fix descriptions or anecdotes interspersed with plenty of diagrams, spot art, and color photos of players in action. The target audience is hard to define, as readers are expected to know already about steroids, racism, the Dead Ball era, and the significance of an asterisk on a record such as the number of home runs in a season or career. Bafflingly, though, they’re assumed not to know what a “check swing” (sic) is, nor how to practice batting and catching alone at home. Still, along with major league team-by-team “Tidbits” and instructions for keeping score, there are instructions for shelling sunflower seeds with one’s teeth (the last demonstrated by a girl with brown skin and black braids). Likewise, a section pairing stars of the past and present offers intriguing comparisons; souvenir-ball and autograph seekers will find sensible advice; and hot-dog lovers will slaver over lovingly detailed descriptions of the toppings on, for instance, the classic “Dodger Dog” or the “Cracker Jack and Mac Dog” available at Pirates games. Immersive, though the pitch is definitely at browsing dippers and flippers. (Nonfiction. 10-13)

Publishers Weekly (April 30, 2018)
Gramling offers a nostalgia-filled guide for baseball fans: the pages themselves are designed to look like those of a weathered and dog-eared almanac for devoted collectors of baseball cards, stats, and memorabilia. Chapters focus on topics such as record-breaking baseball players, obscure facts (“baseball’s first umpires wore coats with tails and top hats”), and skills to master, which include breaking in a baseball glove, sliding into base, and dressing up a hot dog with toppings. There’s a chapter on baseball lingo, one that compares today’s players to those from the past, and a section titled “Think like a Manager,” which provides an insider’s look at running a baseball team. Gramling offers an array of player stats, facts, and practical info, spiced up with humor and a big-hearted affection for the game.

About the Author

Gary Gramling is an award-winning writer and editor for Sports Illustrated, and formerly of Sports Illustrated Kids. He spent his childhood in Connecticut as a sports fanatic, rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Steelers. And, well, he never really grew up. He won SI’s first-ever Emmy award for his writing on “A Boy Helps a Town Heal,” and was the story editor on the acclaimed SI longform piece “Finding Danny Watkins.” He currently resides in southwest Connecticut with his wife, Elizabeth, and two children who are surely on their way to being smarter and more talented than he is.

His website is si.com/author/gary-gramling

Around the Web

The Baseball Fanbook on Amazon

The Baseball Fanbook on Goodreads

Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher

Losers Bracket by Chris Crutcher. April 3, 2018. Greenwillow Books, 250 p. ISBN: 9780062220066.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

When it comes to family, Annie is in the losers bracket. While her foster parents are great (mostly), her birth mom, Nancy, and her sister, Sheila, would not have been her first picks. And no matter how many times Annie tries to write them out of her life, she always gets sucked back into their drama. But when a family argument breaks out at one of Annie’s swim meets and her nephew goes missing, Annie can’t help but think this is her fault. With help from her friends, her foster brother, and her social service worker, Annie searches desperately for her missing nephew, determined to find him and finally get him into a safe home.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Mild sexual themes, Drugs, Criminal culture, Aftermath of abuse

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 7-10. Annie Boots has had a self-described crazy life. Thanks to a highly dysfunctional family—an absent father and a mother who has a history of using—she has been in and out of the system since she was an infant. Now 17, she has been living with a foster family for eight years and, though her foster father forbids her to have anything to do with her biological family, Annie is ineluctably drawn to them and meets them clandestinely. Her good-for-nothing older sister has a 5-year-old son, Frankie, whom the sister isn’t sure she loves, and so Frankie often stays with Annie, who loves him dearly. When he disappears one day, Annie blames herself for having inadvertently brought her foster and biological families together, a meeting that does not go well and is the catalyst for Frankie’s running away and vanishing. Annie finds allies in Walter, her mother’s long-suffering boyfriend, and in her former caseworker, Wiz. She also finds supportive friendships in her library book club and in Leah, a champion swimmer. Crutcher has written another thoughtful book about kids in extremis; no one writes better about this subject, as he once again demonstrates. If it has a fault, it may be a tendency to preach, but it is still deeply felt and will speak to readers’ hearts as well as their minds. His many fans won’t want to miss it.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Annie Boots, a talented white teen athlete in long-term foster care, employs an innovative strategy to circumvent an order prohibiting contact with her birth family. The Howard family (Pop, Momma, and son, Marvin) meet Annie’s needs, but she refuses to sever contact with her half sister, Sheila, and their biological mother, Nancy. Annie knows they’re violent drug abusers but hopes to at least help protect Sheila’s disturbed 5-year-old son. She recalls her own miserable early years of repeatedly being removed from, then returned to, Nancy’s custody, skilled as she was at cheating on drug tests. The title references Annie’s practice of combining basketball tournaments with secret birth-family encounters, deliberately losing early games so that more must be played in order for the team to advance. Physical fitness, good looks, and intelligence signal worth in the story, while Annie’s mother and half sister are portrayed as sullen, slovenly, and criminally inclined, repeatedly betraying the children who trust them. One-dimensional characters deliver didactic pronouncements, among them Annie’s social worker—mood set to righteous indignation—who rails at a broken child protection system, its failures vaguely attributed to generations of irresponsible parents and incompetent dupes. At a time of growing income inequality and widespread drug addiction, the judgments rendered here appear harsh and simplistic. A portrait of a troubled family that falls short. (Fiction.14-18)

About the Author

Chris Crutcher grew up in Cascade, Idaho, and now lives in Spokane, Washington. He is the critically acclaimed author of six novels and a collection of short stories for teenagers, all chosen as ALA Best Books. In 2000, he was awarded the American Library Association’s Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution in writing for teens. Drawing on his experience as an athlete, teacher, family therapist, and child protection specialist, he unflinchingly writes about real and often-ignored issues that face teenagers today.

His website is www.chriscrutcher.com/

Around the Web

Losers Bracket on Amazon

Losers Bracket on Goodreads

Losers Bracket Publisher Page

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy. February 6, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 176 p. ISBN: 9780544785076.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.4; Lexile: 560.

At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.   Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. “In my lifetime, we have barely had any peace,” says 11-year-old Ali Fadhil as he braces for the impact of 1991’s Operation Desert Storm, the second war he’s weathered in his short life. Ali loves the West and it’s many offerings: comic books, TV shows, and video games. He doesn’t love Saddam, Saddam’s war, or having to put life on hold while coalition forces strike Basra, Ali’s beloved, ancient hometown. Of course, Ali knows better than to criticize the dictator publicly or risk his family’s harm. Armed with a brisk first-person narrative, Roy (Yellow Star, 2006) captures Fadhil’s real-life recollections of the Gulf War. What strikes are the mundane aspects of the brief war: going out to play and explore a familiar but ruined neighborhood, the boredom and fear of awaiting scheduled airstrikes, living with uncertainty about loved ones returning home. Still, there’s room for optimism and humor despite Fadhil’s harrowing experience. Roy ends with Fadhil’s third war, and his role in bringing Saddam to justice is the poetic finale of a personal fight.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
Ali’s hometown of Basra, Iraq, is near the border with Kuwait, which makes it a dangerous place to live in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm.Eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil is a fan of American television and Superman comic books. He loves English class and playing football (soccer) with his friends. His Christian, Kurdish family’s affluent lifestyle is interrupted when a coalition of countries initiates military action to stop Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Because of the war, Ali’s father is away, bombs fall daily, and Ali sleeps in “the safe room” with his mother and siblings. The food supply is cut off, so the family depends on government rations once their own stores run out. When his older brother, Shirzad, is appointed head of the family in his father’s absence and his mother begins burning his precious comic collection for heat, Ali has nearly all he can handle. Based on co-author Fadhil’s own childhood, the novel reads somewhat like a journal, detailing scenes in the neighborhood and changes to daily life, but as is often the case with real life, it lacks a solid climax and resolution. While Ali’s voice and emotional life lack the vitality that would draw readers in to the story, the snapshot of his society at war is strong, and there are very few children’s books in English with Kurdish protagonists. A well-researched piece of historical fiction, just a bit flat as a novel. (Historical fiction. 8-13)

About the Author

Jennifer Roy is the author of the highly acclaimed Yellow Star, which won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, was an ALA Notable Book, a School Library Journal Best Book, and a NYPL Top Book. She is also the author of Cordially Uninvited and Mindblind and the coauthor of the Trading Faces series.

Her website is www.jenniferroy.com.

Teacher Resources

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein Teacher’s Guide

Around the Web

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein on Amazon

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein on Goodreads

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein Publisher Page

Lights, Camera, Disaster by Erin M. Dionne

Light, Camera, Disaster by Erin M. Dionne. March 27, 2018. Arthur A. Levine Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781338134087.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 4.1; Lexile: 630.

Hester Greene loves making movies. With her camera in hand, she can focus, make decisions, and have the control she lacks in life, where her executive function disorder (think extreme ADHD plus anxiety) sabotages her every move.

But middle school is not a movie, and if her last-ditch attempt to save her language-arts grade–and her chance to pass eighth grade, period–doesn’t work, Hess could lose her friends, her year, even her camera. It will take more than a cool training montage to get her life together, but by thinking outside the frame, she just might craft a whole new ending.

Written partially in script form, with STOP/PAUSE/PLAY/REWIND moments throughout, this laugh-out-loud story will speak to any budding filmmaker, or unintentional troublemaker, in every act of their lives.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 5-7. Hester is a hot mess. An eighth-grader with executive function disorder, she just can’t seem to get it together, despite the support of her family and her school counselor. Papers, her locker, and her schedule are impossibly hard to manage. She excels, though, at filming things, and her video camera seems like an extension of her arm and brain. When a tough English teacher threatens to hold her back, her parents take the camera away, and without it, Hester spirals further, finding herself distanced from friends and classmates. An encounter with an immigrant girl who lends her graphic novels, and the encouragement of a documentary filmmaker open new paths for her. A bit disjointed at times, the book will nevertheless hit home with readers who can empathize with Hester’s disorganization. Things look up as Hester learns to play to her interests, and her film about her classmates strikes a chord—making the point that kids are much more than their classwork and grades.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
A middle schooler struggles with executive function disorder in this thoughtful middle-grade novel.Hester loves filmmaking more than anything else. Not only is it her passion—she carries her video camera everywhere—but it also makes the most sense to her. Her executive function disorder makes traditional schoolwork difficult despite dedicated strategies at school and home. Luckily, her best friends, white Max and Indian-American Nev, have always been supportive and understanding. Hess loves collaborating with them on filmmaking projects, and she can’t wait to show their spy film at the middle school talent show. However, she struggles to balance all of her commitments—in addition to difficult schoolwork and the trio’s movie, she’s working on an extra-credit film project. In serious danger of failing eighth grade and thus unable to participate in the talent show, Hess feels her world spinning further out of control. Ashamed and devastated, she finds solace and support in the kindness of a few teachers, her supportive parents, and a graphic novel–loving ELL student who wears a hijab and has emigrated from the Middle East. The book’s hopeful finale is tidy and clichéd but undeniably satisfying. Through Hester’s thoughtful first-person narration, structured with “fast forward,” “pause,” and “resume play” asides, Dionne creates a flawed, lovable, sympathetic character who, thanks to her support network, is ultimately able to become “the director of [her] own story.” Readers will root for and relate to Hester. (Fiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Erin Dionne’s latest book for tweens is Lights, Camera, Disaster (Scholastic 2018). She’s the author of 5 other books for young readers, including the 2014 Edgar Award finalist Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial 2013). Her first picture book, Captain’s Log: Snowbound, will be released in 2018 from Charlesbridge Publishers. She teaches at Montserrat College of Art and lives outside of Boston with her husband, two children, and a very indignant dog.

Her website is www.erindionne.com

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The Summer of Broken Things by Margaret Peterson Haddix

The Summer of Broken Things by Margaret Peterson Haddix. April 10, 2018. Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 393 p. ISBN: 9781481417648.  Int Lvl: YA.

Fourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.

But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Video Review

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 9-12. When the father of rich, athletic 14-year-old Avery Armisted invites 16-year-old Kayla Butts, an old childhood friend, on their summer trip to Spain, Avery could not be less thrilled. But for Kayla, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, taking her far from her small-town life, where her closest friends are the geriatrics at the nursing home where her dad, an injured veteran, lives. Once in Spain, the girls are rocked by the revelation that 14 years ago, Kayla’s mother was the gestational carrier for Avery when her biological mother couldn’t become pregnant. Short chapters alternate between the girls’ points of view as they reel from the exposure of the long-held family secret. Madrid constitutes a worthy backdrop for this summer of self-discovery and questioning, as Kayla and Avery sort out their own histories amid a growing understanding of the larger world. Despite probing some of the same themes as Robin Benway’s Far from the Tree (2017), Haddix’s story doesn’t carry quite the same emotional heft. Still, it shines a light on surrogacy, a topic rarely discussed in YA fiction.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
For two American teens, a summer trip to Europe turns out to be far more complicated than they ever expected.Avery doesn’t want to go to Spain with her dad—she’ll fall behind in soccer and he’ll just be working all the time. When she finds out that he’s already chosen a “friend” to accompany her—Kayla, an older girl she used to play with as a little kid—the summer feels even more doomed. But for Kayla, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime, a huge gift her family could never afford. In Spain, the two white girls struggle to find their places among the locals and their language class friends as a jaw-dropping revelation changes their relationship forever. It takes a near tragedy to make them realize that while they might not have chosen this path, how they move forward is their choice. Through chapters told in alternating points of view, Haddix offers a fully realized portrayal of teen girls dealing with the vagaries of their parents’ lives. Spain forms a vivid backdrop to the girls’ confusion and revelations, and Avery and Kayla are each so completely sympathetic that it’s hard to choose whom to root for when they’re at war. The trip to Spain you wouldn’t wish on anyone, except in the form of this terrific book. (Fiction. 13-18)

About the Author

Margaret Peterson Haddix grew up on a farm near Washington Court House, Ohio. She graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) with degrees in English/journalism, English/creative writing and history. Before her first book was published, she worked as a newspaper copy editor in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a newspaper reporter in Indianapolis; and a community college instructor and freelance writer in Danville, Illinois.

Haddix and her husband, Doug, now live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two children. Her website is www.haddixbooks.com

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The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean. April 3, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316388283.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1300.

A young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, chronicling the extraordinary stories behind one of the greatest scientific tools in existence: the periodic table.
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, greed, betrayal, and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoonfollow elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Adapted for a middle grade audience, the young readers edition of The Disappearing Spoon offers the material in a simple, easy-to-follow format, with approximately 20 line drawings and sidebars throughout. Students, teachers, and burgeoning science buffs will love learning about the history behind the chemistry.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 7-12. Even Amazon.com can’t claim “bubbles, bombs, toxins, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, crime, and love” in one place. This history of the periodic table of elements, a young readers edition adapted from the adult best-seller, turns a seemingly dull topic into a treasure trove of scientific discovery. As Kean introduces such essentials as the periodic table “castle,” what an element is, fathers of the periodic table, and where elements come from, he weaves in stories of awe and amusement about pioneering scientists. From the CIA’s (unattempted) plan to assassinate Fidel Castro with thallium to aluminum’s 60-year reign as the world’s most precious metal to the mood-stabilizing effects of lithium on poet Robert Lowell, the best tales derive from the elements themselves and bring together chemistry’s relationship with economics, social history, politics, psychology, and even the arts. Although the author does an excellent job of explaining elements and chemical properties, students with a basic understanding of chemistry will appreciate his narrative more. This solution to dry lectures will spark a positive reaction in readers.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
This adaptation of a book for adults meanders through the history, uses, and misuses of the periodic table’s elements. After a promising introduction about the author’s childhood fascination with mercury, the first chapter bogs down in an explanation of atoms too brief for those new to chemistry to make much of it. A dull summary of the men who created the periodic table follows. Those who make it through the first chapters will be rewarded by more-interesting, even dramatic topics such as chemical warfare, atomic bombs, and poisonous elements. Kean has collected numerous anecdotes and groups them together loosely by similarities. While the stories within chapters tend to be chronological, the book zigzags back and forth through history. Almost all the players are adults, mostly white men, with the exception of a teenage boy who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. Occasional colloquialisms (“yuck”) seem aimed at younger readers, but overall the adaptation makes few concessions to its audience. For example, the terms “quantum mechanics” and “nuclear fission” appear with little explanation. (A closing glossary helps to compensate for this.) The text refers to Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about “starting the Manhattan Project” without further description, assuming readers have previous knowledge. Not for a general audience, this will most likely attract readers already in their element among beakers and Bunsen burners. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota, which means more to him than it probably should. He’s a fast reader but a very slow eater. He went to college in Minnesota and studied physics and English. He taught for a few years at an experimental charter school in St. Paul, where the kids showed up at night. After that, he tried to move to Spain (it didn’t take) and ended up in Washington, D.C. He has a master’s degree in library science he will probably never use. He wishes he had a sports team he was passionate about, but doesn’t, though he does love track & field.

His website is samkean.com/

Teacher Resources

The Disappearing Spoon Discussion Questions

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The Disappearing Spoon on Amazon

The Disappearing Spoon on Goodreads

The Disappearing Spoon Publisher Page