Monthly Archives: February 2019

Spooked! by Gail Jarrow

Spooked!: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow. August 7, 2018. Calkins Creek Books, 144 p. ISBN: 9781629797762.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.8; Lexile: 1000.

Acclaimed author Gail Jarrow explores in riveting detail the famous War of the Worlds radio broadcast from 1938, in this nonfiction title. Jarrow highlights the artists behind the broadcast, the broadcast itself, the aftermath, and the repercussions which remain relevant today.

On the night of October 30, 1938, thousands of Americans panicked when they believed that Martians had invaded Earth. What appeared to be breaking news about an alien invasion was, in fact, a radio drama based on H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre players. Some listeners became angry once they realized they had been tricked, and the reaction to the broadcast sparked a national discussion about fake news, propaganda, and the role of radio. Archival photographs and images, as well as an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index round out this stellar nonfiction title.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (June 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 19))
Grades 5-8. Orson Welles and his colleagues were certain their radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds would be a flop. Instead, on Halloween eve 1938, it shook the nation with fear of alien attack. Why were Americans so gullible? Notable nonfiction author Jarrow (Fatal Fever, 2015) sets the stage, or rather the living rooms, for a time when listening to radio broadcasts ranked as the country’s favorite pastime. With intriguing details, complemented by rarely seen archival photos and illustrated scenes from Wells’ original story, she explains how this medium worked and how actor Orson Welles designed, directed, and voiced popular radio dramas, along with the other writers, performers, and sound technicians for the Mercury Theatre program. Jarrow then pieces together the script and performance, highlighting elements used to heighten the tension. Numerous and astounding reactions to the panic, including an influx of emergency telephone calls, are also described. Although interesting in its own right, the author extrapolates on this phenomenon, comparing it to today’s fake-news controversy. In this vein, readers can see how some panicked listeners didn’t check other sources, while others enjoyed the drama by following its clues. Ensuing freedom of the press debates and a sampling of modern-day social media hoaxes extend the theme. An enriching bridge that connects history with current events.

Horn Book Magazine (September/October, 2018)
In 1938, on the night before Halloween, an American radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells’s science-fiction novel about a Martian invasion, caused widespread panic and hysteria. Producers Orson Welles and John Houseman (who later went on to have legendary careers in theater and film) updated the novel’s setting from turn-of-the-century Britain to contemporary America, interrupted the scheduled program with fake news updates, referenced real place names, and even used an actor who sounded like President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Jarrow infuses her tightly plotted narrative with plenty of drama and suspense while weaving in sufficient background information, biographical vignettes, and play-by-play commentary to establish context. She concludes with a discussion of some subsequent hoaxes—and the requisite author’s note, source notes, bibliography (including a link to the radio broadcast itself online), and index. Meghan McCarthy’s picture book Aliens Are Coming! (rev. 7/06) tells the same story for a younger audience, but this longer account is welcome: despite its somewhat stodgy design, it’s an admirable feat of nonfiction storytelling.

About the Author

Gail Jarrow is the author of many popular nonfiction books, including Red Madness, Fatal Fever, and Bubonic Panic. Her books have received numerous starred reviews, awards, and distinctions, including Best Book awards from the New York Public Library, School Library Journal, the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksKirkus Reviews, and the National Science Teachers Association.

Her website is www.gailjarrow.com

Teacher Resources

War of the Worlds Lesson Plans

War of the Worlds Broadcast to teach Media Literacy on Newseum

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Spooked! on Amazon

Spooked! on Barnes and Noble

Spooked! on Goodreads

Spooked! on LibraryThing

Spooked! Publisher Page

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Toxic by Lydia Kang

Toxic by Lydia Kang. November 6, 2018. Entangled: Teen, 340 p. ISBN: 9781640634244.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

Hana isn’t supposed to exist. She’s grown up hidden by her mother in a secret room of the bioship Cyclo until the day her mother is simple gone – along with the entire crew. Cyclo tells her she was abandoned, but she’s certain her mother wouldn’t leave her there to die. And Hana isn’t ready to die yet. She’s never really had a chance to live.

Fenn is supposed to die. He and a crew of hired mercenaries are there to monitor Cyclo as she expires, and the payment for the suicide mission will mean Fenn’s sister is able to live. But when he meets Hana, he’s not sure how to save them both.

As Cyclo grows sicker by the day, they unearth more secrets about the ship and the crew. But the more time they spend together, the more Hana and Fenn realize that falling for each other is what could ultimately kill them both.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Violence

 

About the Author

Lydia Kang is an author and internal medicine physician. She is a graduate of Columbia University and New York University School of Medicine, and completed her training at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. She lives with her family in the midwest.

Her website is lydiaykang.com

Around the Web

Toxic on Amazon

Toxic on Barnes and Noble

Toxic on Goodreads

Toxic on LibraryThing

Toxic Publisher Page

Blacklisted!: Hollywood, the Cold War, and the First Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner

Blacklisted!: Hollywood, the Cold War, and the First Amendment by Larry Dane Brimner. October 9, 2018. Calkins Creek, 176 p. ISBN: 9781620916032.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1230.

Sibert award-winning author Larry Dane Brimner follows in vivid detail the story of nineteen men from the film industry who were investigated for suspected communist ties during the Cold War, and the ten who were blacklisted for standing up for their First Amendment rights and refusing to cooperate.

World War II is over, but tensions between communist Soviet Union and the U.S. are at an all-time high. In America, communist threats are seen everywhere and a committee is formed in the nation’s capital to investigate those threats. Larry Dane Brimner follows the story of nineteen men—all from the film industry—who are summoned to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities. All nineteen believe that the committee’s investigations into their political views and personal associations are a violation of their First Amendment rights. When the first ten of these men refuse to give the committee the simple answers it wants, they are cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted.

Brimner brings the story of the trial and its consequences to life, giving readers an in-depth look at what it’s like to fight for the most basic of our Constitutional rights. The book includes an author’s note, a bibliography, source notes, and an index, as well as archival photographs, documents, cartoons, images, and quotations from the accused and their accusers.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 9-12. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?” That was the question asked of 19 men (Hollywood screenwriters, directors, a producer, and an actor) in 1947 congressional hearings. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) played on Americans’ fears of communists by investigating “subversive” influences in the movie industry. Ten men were charged with contempt of Congress, tried, found guilty, and imprisoned, while many others were blacklisted. The author of the Sibert Award-winning Twelve Days in May​ (2017), Brimner presents an informative account of the HUAC hearings and their repercussions for the Hollywood Ten. In the chapters covering those hearings, the extensive use of quotes gives the writing great immediacy, while the commentary clearly explains the motivations of the committee members and the viewpoints of those called to testify before them. The well-captioned illustrations include archival photos, documents, and political cartoons. Most easily understood by readers with some knowledge of the period, this tightly focused book presents a meticulously detailed narrative of events related to the 1947 hearings. More broadly, Brimner offers a cautionary tale about the damage done to individuals and society when constitutional rights are denied by officials sworn to uphold them.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2018)
Brimner brings to life a shameful episode in American history when citizens working in the film industry were accused of disloyalty and subversion and persecuted for defending their First Amendment rights. In 1947, tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were at an all-time high. The House Committee on Un-American Activities, which included members with ties to the KKK, called Hollywood actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters to answer accusations that they were Communists. Ten who appeared refused to answer questions, citing their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. The “Hollywood Ten” were afterward denied work by all Hollywood studios. Brimner vividly chronicles the hearings and their fallout, braiding stories of individuals into the overall narrative. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo worked under pseudonyms; director Edward Dmytryk, unable to work covertly, later cooperated with the committee and named names. Drawing heavily on hearings transcripts, Brimner also includes a great deal of historical background to put the story in context. He notes that the origins of HUAC were rooted in America’s first “Red Scare” following the Russian Revolution, and he challenges readers to consider if things are all that different today, citing contemporary examples. The many archival photographs included are testament to the overwhelming whiteness of both Hollywood and Congress. A chilling look at a time when the government waged war on civil liberties, with the public a complicit ally. (bibliography, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Larry Dane Brimner is the recipient of the 2018 Robert F. Sibert Award for the most distinguished informational book for children for his title Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1961. He is known for his well-researched, innovative, and award-winning nonfiction for young readers, and is the author of multiple acclaimed civil rights titles, including Strike!: The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights; and Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor.

His website is www.brimner.com

Teacher Resources

Hollywood v. HUAC Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Blacklisted! on Amazon

Blacklisted! on Barnes and Noble

Blacklisted! on Goodreads

Blacklisted! on LibraryThing

Blacklisted! Publisher Page

The United States of Sports by Bill Syken

The United States of Sports: An Atlas of Teams, Stats, Stars, and Facts for Every State in America by Bill Syken. December 4, 2018. Sports Illustrated Kids, 240 p. ISBN: 9781547800001.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 7.4.

The United States of Sports takes kids on a first-of-its-kind journey across the U.S. with stops in every state in the union. Super cool maps with unique hand-illustrated icons show where all the great sites can be found, including arenas, stadiums, halls of fame, championship golf clubs, the greatest ski mountains, Olympic cities, and more. Each state’s Greatest Moments and homegrown heroes are pro led, and we wouldn’t forget to run down all the numbers! Championships, pro teams, famous events, and more— spread by spread—it’s the book to pore over this season.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

 

About the Author

After reporting for several newspapers, Bill Syken spent eight years as a staff reporter and editor at Sports Illustrated, where he continues to work as a writer and editor for its books division. He earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Missouri. He lives in Philadelphia.

His website is www.billsyken.com

Around the Web

The United States of Sports on Amazon

The United States of Sports on Barnes and Noble

The United States of Sports on Goodreads

The United States of Sports on LibraryThing

Speechless by Adam Schmitt

Speechless by Adam Schmitt. November 6, 2018. Candlewick Press, 304 p. ISBN: 9781536200928.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 5.8.

How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake weren’t uncomfortable enough, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction. As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Mild language, Violence, Alcohol

 

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 5))
Grades 5-8. Honesty isn’t always pretty, but it courses through Schmitt’s debut in more ways than one. Jimmy, 13, is already uncomfortable at his cousin Patrick’s wake, but that distress escalates to panic when Jimmy’s mother informs him that he has to speak at tomorrow’s funeral. As he stands in the funeral home, he racks his brain for a nice memory of Patrick—the cousin he hated—to use for his eulogy. The narrative dips in and out of the wake to follow Jimmy’s memories of his 13-year-old cousin, none of which is appropriate for a speech. The temperamental boy ruined every toy or occasion he touched, but Schmitt drops clues that place Patrick on the autism spectrum, sadly undiagnosed and untreated. Complex family relationships surface with humor and candor, with adults painted as flawed and prone to delivering sharp words or even a smack. All these elements combine to make the reader as uneasy as Jimmy, who, through his recollections, gains a better understanding of the boy lying in the coffin and, ultimately, of himself.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2019)
Even at his cousin’s wake, Jimmy maintains his snarky persona that so irritates his parents and others around him. It is the day before the wake when Jimmy’s parents tell him that he must give a short eulogy for his 13-year-old cousin, Patrick. Immediately, Jimmy resists, as he can’t imagine any positive remarks he can make about Patrick, as Patrick had done nothing but ruin many pivotal moments in Jimmy’s life. “Patrick was the kind of guy who would kick your dog,” Jimmy explains to readers. “And not to see what the dog would do but what you would do.” Leading up to the time of the funeral, Jimmy reflects on different past experiences, times when Patrick always seemed to ruin every occasion. As the family gets closer to the actual funeral, these reflections help Jimmy to gain a more objective perspective of how troubled Patrick really was—not necessarily the intentionally destructive person Jimmy had painted Patrick to be. As Jimmy processes his memories, readers get an ever clearer understanding of a mentally ill child who desperately needs help but doesn’t get it. Schmitt simultaneously paints a realistic picture of a close but flawed family who must navigate the sudden death of a young family member and all the feelings that come with it. The book adheres to the white default. A complicated, hard, and heartfelt look at a child’s mental illness. (Fiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Adam P. Schmitt has lived outside of Chicago his entire life. His family currently lives in Oswego, IL, where the race of suburbia meets the quiet of farm country.

He met his wife on an awful blind date, but since she was after his money and fortune from being a public middle school teacher, they did end up going out again. They have two boys (Aidan, Anderson) who keep them busy with sports, cat videos, and traveling anywhere they can.

His days are spent as an educator, his nights as a husband, father, and writer.

His website is www.adamschmittwrites.com

Around the Web

Speechless on Amazon

Speechless on Barnes and Noble

Speechless on Goodreads

Speechless on LibraryThing

Speechless Publisher Page

Girls on the Line by Jennie Liu

Girls on the Line by Jennie Liu. November 1, 2018. Carolhoda, 232 p. ISBN: 9781512459388.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 720.

A powerful, dual-narrative coming-of-age story set in 2009 China.

Luli has just turned sixteen and finally aged out of the orphanage where she’s spent the last eight years. Her friend Yun has promised to help her get work. Yun loves the independence that her factory job brings her. For the first time in her life she has her own money and can get the things she wants: nice clothes, a cell phone…and Yong, her new boyfriend. There are rumors about Yong, though. Some people say he’s a bride trafficker: romancing young women only to kidnap them and sell them off to bachelors in the countryside. Yun doesn’t believe it. But then she discovers she’s pregnant the same day she gets fired from her job. If she can’t scrape together enough money to terminate the pregnancy, she’ll face a huge fine for having an unauthorized child. Luli wants to help her friend, but she’s worried about what Yong might do…especially when Yun disappears.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Abortion, Strong language, Strong sexual themes, Underage drinking, Underage smoking, Graphic birth scene

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Sixteen-year-old Luli has just aged out of the Chinese orphanage where she’s been living for eight years since her grandfather died. Her fellow orphan and friend Yun, who left the orphanage a year earlier, gets Luli a job at the electronics factory where she works. In alternating chapters, the girls relate the dramatic story of Yun’s unplanned pregnancy, her human trafficker boyfriend’s plans to sell their baby, and Luli’s loyalty to Yun despite Yun’s growing coldness. Liu’s debut novel, based on her immigrant parents’ past and her own trips to China, is set in 2009 and offers an insider’s view of the very real plight of young women affected by China’s one-child policy. The unusual setting and focus provide a much-needed look at the people who produce the goods we rely on worldwide and the hardships they face. Liu provides an authentic voice and portrayal of young Chinese women in difficult situations. Readers will learn much from this absorbing and realistic tale.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2018)
It is 2009 in the city of Gujiao, China: 16-year-old Luli and 17-year-old Yun, best friends, have aged out of their orphanage and are now enjoying the exhilarating independence of factory work. Their wages and dorm life offer an exciting taste of freedom, as does Yun’s handsome new boyfriend, Yong. Yun’s jealous ex-boyfriend says that Yong is illegally trafficking brides to the countryside, but Yun refuses to believe it. When she becomes pregnant, however, Yun, Luli, and Yong each have their own agendas, and their decisions and deceits result in a compelling, action-packed chain of events. During this time, China’s One-Child Policy made unmarried and multiple pregnancies illegal for most: Mothers would be fined for unauthorized pregnancies, and without an official permit would not even be allowed into a hospital to give birth. Told in the first person from the two girls’ alternating points of view, readers will be drawn into their emotional lives through sharing both their quiet, day-to-day routines and the moments of high drama, all of which are direct results of policies that trapped ordinary citizens and forced them into making terrible decisions. An affecting and original thrill ride highlighting the bond between two friends put in a horrible situation by actual Chinese government policies. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Jennie Liu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She has been fascinated by the attitudes, social policies, and changes in China each time she visits. She lives in North Carolina with her family.

Her website is www.jennieliuwrites.com

 

Around the Web

Girls on the Line on Amazon

Girls on the Line on Barnes and Noble

Girls on the Line on Goodreads

Girls on the Line on LibraryThing

Girls on the Line Publisher Page

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden. September 4, 2018. Sky Pony Press, 256 p. ISBN: 9781510737488.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Rdg Lvl: 6.0.

Some people can do their homework. Some people get to have crushes on boys. Some people have other things they’ve got to do.

Seventh-grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there’s Lenny, her mom’s boyfriend—they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Her only friend Fuchsia has her own issues, and since they’re in an entirely different world than the rich kids, it’s best if no one notices them.

Zoey thinks how much easier everything would be if she were an octopus: eight arms to do eight things at once. Incredible camouflage ability and steady, unblinking vision. Powerful protective defenses.

Unfortunately, she’s not totally invisible, and one of her teachers forces her to join the debate club. Even though Zoey resists participating, debate ultimately leads her to see things in a new way: her mom’s relationship with Lenny, Fuchsia’s situation, and her own place in this town of people who think they’re better than her. Can Zoey find the courage to speak up, even if it means risking the most stable home she’s ever had?

This moving debut novel explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl, living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Seventh-grader Zoey doesn’t think she’s as good as other kids at school who have nice things. She also doesn’t have the inclination to do homework because she’s too busy taking care of her siblings—Bryce (four), Aurora (three), and baby Hector—all offspring of different fathers. They and their mother live in a trailer with Mom’s fussy bully of a boyfriend, Lenny, and his cantankerous father. When Zoey’s social-studies teacher makes her join the school debate club, she begins to see situations with fresh eyes and from both sides—an ability she courageously applies to the gun debate after a school lockdown occurs. She also comes to understand that instead of succumbing to Lenny’s intimidation, Zoey’s mother has choices, including moving out and getting a protection order. This engrossing debut novel, narrated by the resourceful Zoey, takes the reader on her journey from the dire side of the class divide to a life of cautious hope as she learns the world is big enough for choices, actions, and results.

School Library Journal (August 1, 2018)
Gr 5-8-Zoey is a seventh grader in rural Vermont. Her mother works a low-wage job and the family is impoverished. Zoey must care for her three younger siblings, there often isn’t enough food to eat, and her clothes are almost never clean. Completing homework is often impossible. On top of all this, they live with her mother’s boyfriend, Lenny, who is moody and sometimes mean. Zoey knows that if she could be like an octopus, her favorite animal, she would be better able to handle all these demands, as well as camouflage herself when necessary. Zoey’s English teacher reaches out and convinces her to join the school debate club. While the protagonist is reluctant at first, she finds she enjoys it. Over time, she learns about debate tactics, like discrediting your opponent, and realizes that Lenny has been manipulating her mother. Another plot point involves gunshots in the school parking lot, which are blamed on a student who lives in the same trailer park as Zoey. This heartbreaking, beautifully written book about finding one’s voice will offer some readers a relatable reflection and others a window that can help build empathy and understanding. VERDICT Braden’s story raises many thought-provoking and timely questions about the difficulty of escaping poverty and the prevalence of gun violence. Highly recommended.-Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, MA

About the Author

Ann Braden writes books about kids struggling to find their voice amidst the realities of life. She founded GunSenseVT, a grassroots group focused on championing the common ground on the issue of guns in Vermont, which recently helped pass landmark gun violence prevention legislation. She also founded the Local Love Brigade, which now has chapters all over the country sending love postcards to those who are facing hate. Ann is the co-host of the children’s book podcast, “Lifelines: Books that Bridge the Divide,” along with Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, and is a former middle school teacher. She lives in southern Vermont with her husband, two children, and two insatiable cats named Boomer and Justice.

Her website is www.annbradenbooks.com

Teacher Resources

The Benefits of Being an Octopus Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Amazon

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Barnes and Noble

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on Goodreads

The Benefits of Being an Octopus on LibraryThing

The Benefits of Being an Octopus Publisher Page

Dear Sister by Alison McGhee

Dear Sister by Alison McGhee. October 2, 2018. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 192 p. ISBN: 9781481451420.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 3.4; Lexile: 560.

What do you do when you have an incredibly annoying little sister? Write her letters telling her so, of course!

Whininess, annoyingness, afraid of the darkness, refusal to eat lima beans, and pulling brother’s hair. This is the criteria on which little sisters are graded. Inspired by the notes Alison McGhee’s own kids would write each other, this heavily illustrated collection of letters and messages from an older brother to his little sister reveal the special love–or, at the very least, tolerance–siblings have for each other.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Book Talk

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 4-7. When an eight-year-old boy gets a baby sister, his true feelings emerge in a series of letters and drawings addressed to her. At first, there’s a lot of antagonism: the narrator draws over-the-top pictures of his sister (“Even though it is not my fault that you look like this, they decided not to put my picture of you in your baby book”), writes her a regular progress report (“whininess: world class”), and sends her birthday cards (“Happy sixth birthday to someone who is still obnoxious”). But 10 years go by, and his attitude gradually softens. The epistolary format is comically complemented by Bluhm’s cartoon drawings, appearing in heavy pencil scrawls in the beginning chapters, and in a more refined hand as the narrator’s drawing skills steadily improve. Glimmers of plot appear, mostly about the boy’s best friend moving away, but more endearing is the slow-but-steady growth of affection. The ending might be a touch schmaltzy for the target audience, but the dry humor and clever format should nevertheless appeal to any kid with a sibling.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Over the years, a boy’s letters to his younger sister reveal his changing impressions of her and their relationship in this epistolary graphic novel. For the unnamed 8-year-old boy, life was less complicated before his baby sister was born. Now his parents (aka “the wardens”) ask him to write cards and letters, sometimes with accompanying drawings, to his new sibling. Beginning each note with “Dear Sister,” the boy recounts his life with honesty, expressing his frustration with her incessant crying, having to read her the same book for “the 763rd time,” and his lack of privacy. Mixed in are several apology letters that reveal that the wardens fail to understand his perspective. Only his friend Joe offers diversion. Signing his initial letters “From, Brother,” he informs his sister that he’s holding out on the love part until he’s made up his mind. During a 10-year-period, however, his letters gradually reflect his growing affection for her. When Joe moves away, it’s the sister, who’s always adored her big brother, who understands his pain. And as their friendship and affection grow, perhaps the brother enjoys connecting with—and yes, reading to—his sister after all. While books on sibling rivalry abound, this volume brings freshness to the topic with McGhee’s gentle humor and poignant scenarios (though adults may respond more strongly than kids). Bluhm heightens both with childlike sketches for the brother’s drawings and emotive illustrations for the storyline. Dear indeed for preteens facing big changes and adults with fond memories. (Graphic fiction. 10-13)

About the Author

Alison McGhee writes novels, picture books, poems, and essays for all ages, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Someday, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages. She lives in Minneapolis, California and Vermont.

Her website is alisonmcghee.com

Around the Web

Dear Sister on Amazon

Dear Sister on Barnes and Noble

Dear Sister on Goodreads

Dear Sister on LibraryThing

Dear Sister Publisher Page

Deadfall by Stephen Wallenfels

Deadfall by Stephen Wallenfels. December 10, 2018. Disney-Hyperion, 384 p. ISBN: 9781368014267.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA:.

Twin brothers Ty and Cory Bic are on the run. When they encounter a dying deer in the middle of a remote mountain road with fresh tire tracks swerving down into a ravine, they know they have to help. But when they reach the wrecked car the vehicle appears empty, with signs that the driver escaped.

Until they hear a sound coming from the trunk.

Ty and Cory are escaping demons of their own. But what they discover in the trunk puts them in the crosshairs of something darker and more sinister than their wildest nightmares.

Told through a gripping, lightning-fast narrative that alternates between present and past, this unputdownable survival thriller unravels the tangled circumstances that led Ty and Cory to the deer in the road and set them on a perilous course through the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs, Marijuana, Mild sexual themes, Strong language, Underage smoking, Violence, Weight shaming, Domestic abuse, Sexual abuse, Human trafficking

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. In a stolen Volvo on a lonely stretch of treacherous road, twin brothers Ty and Cory pull over to avoid hitting a dying deer. The deer leads them to a car wrecked in the canyon below, the driver gone—but when they find a girl, tied and injured in the trunk, they’re thrown into a strained and dangerous situation. But 16 months ago, circumstances set Ty and Cory onto a dire path of their own. Since then, they’ve been paying for their father’s crimes, while trying to carve out a future for themselves, and in the woods now, everything is more connected than it seems, and it’s all coming to a head. Chapters alternate between the third-person past narration and the present, told in Cory’s tense, first-person voice. The busy story lines of the past-tense chapters contrast sharply with the urgent, single-minded present-day scenes, where survival is the goal, but the alternation keeps things moving, and sweet, good-natured Cory is easy to root for. A suspenseful thriller for fans of wilderness survival stories.

Kirkus Reviews (October 1, 2018)
Troubled twin brothers go from the frying pan into the fire when they encounter a girl who needs their help in the cold wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Sixteen-year-old twins Ty and Cory Bic’s father, Benny, was an unstable grifter and a cruel and abusive father, especially hard on overweight, thoughtful Cory. Following Benny’s death in a fire, the boys, who are presumably white, are shuttled to Luster, Oregon, where they find stability with their new foster parents, the Motts, whose powerful patriarch is on the cusp of a Senate run. After stumbling on a damaging secret about Mr. Mott, the boys take off, discovering a wrecked car in the woods with a zip-tied teen girl in the trunk. The driver is nowhere to be found. Cory is left to tend to the seemingly mute girl after being separated from Ty. As her condition worsens and the wolves, human and otherwise, circle the door of their hideout, Cory realizes that the considerable sins of their father are coming back to haunt them. Told in flashbacks and Cory’s tense, present-day narration, Wallenfels’ (Bad Call, 2017, etc.) tightly plotted roller coaster ride features very bad guys doing very bad things and fraught family drama. Aspiring chef and avid gamer Cory is worth rooting for, and his complex relationship with the volatile Ty, plus themes like physical abuse and abuse of power, adds depth. A hair-raising, explosive thriller. (Thriller. 14-18)

About the Author

Stephen Wallenfels is an avid outdoorsman from Richland, Washington. He was a freelance writer in the health and fitness field for many years, and now works as the IT and creative director at a large fitness company. Stephen’s first novel, POD, has been published in six languages.

His website is stephenwallenfels.com

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Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk. July 31, 2018. Graphix, 272 p. ISBN: 9781338139228.  Int Lvl: 3-6; Lexile: 340.

Sixth grade was SO much easier for Danielle. All her friends were in the same room and she knew what to expect from her life. But now that she’s in seventh grade, she’s in a new middle school, her friends are in different classes and forming new cliques, and she is completely lost.

When Danielle inherits a magical sketchbook from her eccentric great aunt Elma, she draws Madison, an ideal best friend that springs to life right off the page! But even when you create a best friend, it’s not easy navigating the ups and downs of relationships, and before long Danielle and Madison are not exactly seeing eye-to-eye.

To make matters worse, Danielle has drawn the head of her favorite (and totally misunderstood) cartoon villain, Prince Neptune. He’s also come to life and is giving her terrible advice about how to make people like her. When she rejects him and he goes on a rampage during a school pep rally, Danielle and Madison have to set aside their differences to stop him!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cartoon violence

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Dany is an awkward seventh-grader navigating her way through the perilous world of middle school when she stumbles upon her great-aunt’s enchanted sketchbook; suddenly, her talent for drawing gives her the amazing ability to create friends out of thin air. But Dany’s creations start to turn on her; first her perfectly engineered best friend, Madison, begins to search for meaning in her own life. Then Prince Neptune (the disembodied head of the handsome villain of Dany’s favorite show, the Sailor Moon-esque Solar Sisters) plots his evil reign over Connecticut. At once cringeworthy and delightfully absurd, Making Friends, much like middle school itself, is somewhere between teenage cynicism and a childlike mastery of fantasy. Although Gudsnuk’s characters are sometimes suspiciously wise beyond their years, and her stylized visual references perhaps a bit too meta-referential for some younger readers, they will certainly recommend this story to readers for whom middle school is a distant and painful memory. Middle-schoolers, meanwhile, will appreciate Gudsnuk’s light touch in bringing an empathetic, joyful, and judicious treatment to those tough in-between years.

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2018)
Making friends is tough in a new school; could a magical notebook be the answer? Seventh grade is not beginning well for Dany; her two besties are not in any of her classes, and not only is she having a tough time making new friends, she is also being bullied. One day, Dany inherits an unusual sketchbook from her recently deceased great-aunt. While sketching her favorite evil prince from the beloved anime Solar Sisters, she discovers that anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Dany then creates for herself the perfect best friend: Madison Fontaine, a trendy new girl from New York City who is knowledgeable about trends, sassy, and fun. However, Dany soon learns that even if you tailor-make your own BFF, how you treat them still matters. This charming graphic novel features full-color, manga-inspired illustrations and a breezy plot that blends wish fulfillment and fantasy with an approachable and contemporary storyline. With a broad brush, Gudsnuk hits many of the angst-y issues of middle school, including popularity, bullying, family relationships, body image, and fandom, creating appeal for a large swath of readers. Main character Dany is white and seemingly comfortably middle-class, as is her creation, Madison. Secondary characters offer a bit more inclusivity, portraying different races, ethnicities, and orientations. A nifty pastiche of middle school matters. (Graphic fantasy. 7-12)

About the Author

Kristen Gudsnuk is a comics writer and illustrator. She got her start with the webcomic Henchgirl, which was later published by Scout Comics in single issue and Dark Horse Comics as a collection. Her newest works include the middle grade graphic novel Making Friends, from Scholastic Books, and Modern Fantasy, a miniseries from Dark Horse (written by Rafer Roberts). Gudsnuk also illustrated the VIP series by Jen Calonita, published by Little, Brown. Originally from Shelton, CT, she now lives in Queens, NY with her boyfriend and dog.

Her website is kristengudsnuk.com

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Making Friends on Amazon

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Making Friends Publisher Page