Category Archives: Best of 16-17

The Bronze Key by Holly Black & Cassanadra Clare

The Bronze Key by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare. August 30, 2016. Scholastic Press, 256 p. ISBN: 9780545522311.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.4; Lexile: 740.

Magic can save you.
Magic can kill you.

Students at the Magisterium are supposed to be safe. Under the watchful eyes of the mages, they are taught to use magic to bring order to a chaotic world.

But now the chaos is fighting back. Call, Tamara, and Aaron should be worrying about things like pop quizzes and magic contests. Instead, after the shocking death of one of their classmates, they must track down a sinister killer… and risk their own lives in the process.

As Call, Tamara, and Aaron discover, magic can only be as good as the person who wields it. In evil hands, it has the capacity to do immeasurable harm, unless it is stopped in time.

In this striking third book of Magisterium, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare present us with a school where anything, good or evil, can happen, and the only way to unlock the truth is to risk everything to find it.

Sequel to: The Copper Gauntlet

Part of Series: Magisterium

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2016 (Online))
Grades 5-8. This third return to the Magisterium series finds Call, the not-so-evil-after-all reincarnation of a dark overlord, headed back to school with his two best friends Aaron and Tamara. But all, it seems, is not well, as it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Call. The three conduct their own investigation into the would-be murderer, but they’re blocked at every step, and Call knows he can’t trust anyone. Except, of course, for Aaron and Tamara, right? The crew gets a year older with every book (Call is 14 now), and romantic subplots are starting to peek out even as the narrative grows more ominous. This installment is the third in a planned five-book series, and the plot seems to have stalled somewhat; despite uncertain loyalties and ambiguous characters, this lacks the punch of its predecessor, until the dark turn of an ending. Still, that cliff-hanger finale alone should be enough to get readers to sign up for book four.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2016)
Book 3 in the Magisterium series continues the escapades of 14-year-olds Call, Tamara, and Aaron as they pursue their Bronze Year studies at the Magisterium.Readers of Books 1 and 2 now know that white Callum Hunt has the soul of Constantine Madden, the deceased Enemy of Death, who had wreaked so much havoc on mages. Also in on the secret are Tamara, of Indian descent, and Aaron, white—Call’s best friends and fellow apprentices at the Magisterium, where they are in their third year of mage-studies. But, Call believes, no one else in the Magisterium knows. Ensuing events, however, seem to indicate that someone wants Call dead. Author-collaborators Black and Clare fail to make this third book as engrossing as the first two. The tension surrounding the question of whom Call can trust—could Aaron be trying to kill him?—never gets off the ground: Call stews improbably and shallowly, while astute readers will have figured out who the culprit is long before. Engrossing adventures abound but, alas, are frequently fueled by flimsy, contrived logic that does neither characters nor readers justice. The narrative repeatedly fills readers in on things that happened in the previous book, which reads as, well, filler, and there’s no significant movement forward plotwise until the ending setup for Book 4. Only unevenly entertaining and suffering from middle-book syndrome. (Fantasy. 10-14)

About the Authors

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), The Darkest Part of the Forest, and her new series which begins with The Cruel Prince in January 2018.

She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

Her website is www.blackholly.com.

 

Cassandra Clare was born overseas and spent her early years traveling around the world with her family and several trunks of fantasy books. Cassandra worked for several years as an entertainment journalist for the Hollywood Reporter before turning her attention to fiction. She is the author of City of Bones, the first book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy and a New York Times bestseller. Cassandra lives with her fiance and their two cats in Massachusetts.

Her website is www.cassandraclare.com.

Teacher Resources

Magisterium  series Discussion Guide

Around the Web

The Bronze Key on Amazon

The Bronze Key on Goodreads

The Bronze Key on JLG

The Bronze Key Publisher Page

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Summerlost by Ally Condie

Summerlost by Ally Condie. March 29, 2016. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 272 p. ISBN: 9780399187193.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.6; Lexile: 600.

It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (December 15, 2015 (Vol. 112, No. 8))
Grades 4-7. Condie makes her middle-grade debut with a tender novel about a family coming to terms with a personal tragedy. The summer after Cedar loses her father and brother Ben in a car accident, her mother moves their family, now just three of them, to Iron Creek, Utah, home to the Summerlost Shakespeare Festival. Cedar finds an unexpected friend in Leo, a theater nerd obsessed with Lisette Chamberlain, a famous actress who made her start at Summerlost before dying young. In their time off work at Summerlost, Leo and Cedar run unauthorized Lisette Chamberlain tours while trying to piece together what really happened to her. The mystery of Lisette plays second fiddle to the novel’s centerpiece: the special friendship between Cedar and Leo, which helps Cedar deal with her grief. An aching sense of loss pervades the story, focusing more on Ben than on Cedar’s dad. Though it is never named in the story, readers will put together that Ben was on the autism spectrum. A nuanced portrait of grief deeply grounded in the middle-school mind-set.

Horn Book Magazine (May/June, 2016)
A local theater festival sets the stage for YA author Condie’s (Matched and sequels) first middle-grade novel. Twelve-year-old Cedar Lee, her little brother Miles, and their mother settle into their new summer home in Iron Creek, “a small town in a high desert.” Cedar’s father and other brother, Ben, were killed in a car accident the previous summer, leaving the Lee family shaken. The strain of putting on a brave face leads Cedar to seek out distraction at Iron Creek’s theater festival; there she befriends the enthusiastic Leo, who gets her a festival job and introduces her to the legends surrounding Lisette Chamberlain, a famous local actress who died under mysterious circumstances. The friends begin giving unofficial tours about Lisette’s life — Leo looking to fund a trip to England, Cedar looking for relief from her family’s stress and from thinking about the objects showing up on her windowsill, which she thinks Ben’s ghost could be leaving. While Cedar and Leo’s investigation into Lisette’s past is compelling enough, the book’s strongest impact comes from the characters’ personal struggles: Leo has trouble fitting in with his family, and Cedar’s guilt about her impatience with Ben, who was developmentally disabled, casts another shadow over her grief. Condie focuses on the miscommunications that trouble all relationships, with honest interactions that keep the story feeling authentic right up to the thoughtful conclusion. sarah berman

About the Author

Ally Condie is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband, three sons and one daughter outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.

Her website is www.allysoncondie.com.

 

Around the Web

Summerlost on Amazon

Summerlost on Goodreads

Summerlost on JLG

Summerlost Publisher Page

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan. June 7, 2016. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 384 p. ISBN: 9780553524857.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 790.

Julia has the unusual ability to be . . . unseen. Not invisible, exactly. Just beyond most people’s senses.

It’s a dangerous trait in a city that has banned all forms of magic and drowns witches in public Cleansings. But it’s a useful trait for a thief and a spy. And Julia has learned–crime pays.

Her latest job is paying very well indeed. Julia is posing as a housemaid in the grand house of Mrs. Och, where an odd assortment of characters live and work: A disgraced professor who sends her to fetch parcels containing bullets, spiders, and poison. An aristocratic houseguest who is locked in the basement each night. And a mysterious young woman who is clearly in hiding–though from what or whom?

Worse, Julia suspects that there’s a connection between these people and the killer leaving a trail of bodies across the frozen city.

The more she learns, the more she wants to be done with this unnatural job. To go back to the safety of her friends and fellow thieves. But Julia is entangled in a struggle between forces more powerful than she’d ever imagined. Escape will come at a terrible price

Part of Series: Witch’s Child (Book #1)

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Alcohol

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 17))
Grades 9-12. Julia is the best thief and spy in Spira City. At 16, she knows every twisted alleyway and escape route it holds. She also has the ability to “be unseen”—not to become invisible, exactly, but to pull herself into gaps in the air. This unusual talent has proven dead useful in her line of work, which has been her lot ever since her mother was drowned as a witch (magic and folklore are illegal in the kingdom of Frayne). Home is now with her brother and the ragtag gang that contracts her jobs. This is how Julia has ended up posing as a maid in the house of Mrs. Och, but her snooping assignment is becoming more dangerous by the day. Strange meetings, secretive guests, and frightening sounds inhabit the house’s walls, while outside, a serial killer is on the loose. Egan nimbly builds a fantasy world resembling early modern Europe—with a class system, scourge survivors, prescribed religion, and witch hunts—and laces it with original mythologies to fuel the story’s action. Readers will find themselves immediately immersed in the narrative and invested in the fate of Julia, who is both feisty and flawed. There is a richness to this inaugural volume of the Witch’s Child trilogy, and readers will be hard pressed to put it down.

Horn Book Magazine (July/August, 2016)
Julia is a thief in Spira City, sent by a mysterious employer to gather information from the wealthy Mrs. Och’s house. Though Julia has never understood her ability to turn almost invisible, that talent helps her spy and steal. Posing as a housemaid, Julia learns that Mrs. Och is defying the fervidly anti-magic government by secretly smuggling well-connected witches to safety. (Less-fortunate witches are drowned in public “Cleansings,” as Julia’s mother was years before.) Mrs. Och’s newest houseguests are a beautiful witch and her toddler son — a child with powers that interested parties would kill to claim. Julia is drawn into a battle encompassing her targets, a corrupt politician, and the terrifying forces behind her assignment. While this fantasy’s world-building, politics, and magical history are indeed interesting, these are surpassed by the daring criminal escapades and by Julia’s internal conflicts. Julia’s self-made family of thieves (including brother Dek and love-interest Wyn) is a likable crew that works together, even through the personal betrayals that add emotional complexity to the novel. The villains, too, are attractive in their wickedness. Following Julia and her comrades makes for a tricky, frightening, relentlessly exciting adventure colored with moral ambiguity and magical intrigue. The fast-paced plot concludes nicely, but with plenty of questions left open for further installments in the series. sarah berman

About the Author

My superpowers: high-kicking, list-making, simultaneously holding two opposing opinions

My weaknesses: fear of flying, excessive list-making, lame-ass mortality

My allies: The Canadian Mounties, my made-for-walking-in black boots, Mick, the English Language

My mission: the coexistence of ambivalence and joy.

Her website is www.catherineegan.com.

Around the Web

Julia Vanishes on Amazon

Julia Vanishes on Goodreads

Julia Vanishes on JLG

Julia Vanishes Publisher Page

A Storm Too Soon by Michael Tougias

A Storm Too Soon: A Remarkable True Survival Story in 80 Foot Seas by Michael Tougias. May 24, 2016. Henry Holt and Co., 240 p. ISBN: 9781627792813.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.0; Lexile: 1090.

When a forty-seven-foot sailboat disappears in the Gulf Stream in the throes of a disastrous storm, it leaves behind three weary passengers struggling to stay alive. This middle-grade adaptation of an adult nonfiction book tells the story of the four intrepid Coast Guardsmen who braved this ruthless storm in the hopes of saving them. A spellbinding tale of courage and survival from the author of The Finest Hours, now a major motion picture.

Part of Series: True Storm Rescues

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Alcohol; Domestic abuse

 

Book Trailer/Actual Footage

Reviews

Booklist (August 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 22))
Grades 5-8. When three men set out to sail from Florida to France, they hardly suspect the terrifying fate awaiting them. After several peaceful days aboard the Sean Seamour II, the sailors are overtaken by a sudden storm. Gigantic waves sink the boat, along with the men’s supplies. The exhausted sailors cling to a damaged life raft that provides little defense against the wind and waves. Meanwhile, back on land, a search-and-rescue plane deploys with the nearly impossible mission of locating the raft in the maelstrom. Once the raft is spotted, it is a constant struggle to track it while the helicopter crew maneuvers a rescue swimmer into 80-foot waves—large enough to possibly take down the aircraft. This true story, adapted from the 2013 adult book of the same title, reads like a thriller, with one thing after another going wrong and each challenge seemingly impossible to overcome. The courage displayed by the team may inspire readers to learn more about their exciting (if life-threatening) careers.

Kirkus Reviews (May 1, 2016)
In an adaptation for young readers of his A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue (2013), Tougias tells the story of the Sean Seymour II, a 44-foot sailboat swamped in a Gulf Stream storm in 2007. For Rudy Snel, Jean Pierre “JP” de Lutz, and Ben Frye, it’s a dream voyage to cross the Atlantic from Florida to France in JP’s beloved boat. Conditions are favorable, the boat is in great shape, and the white men will be sailing in May, ahead of the hurricane season. They will simply sail northeast toward Bermuda and turn due east toward Europe. But best-laid plans go awry, and they find themselves caught in a storm of otherworldly proportions. Eighty-foot rogue waves sink the boat, and all hope resides in their life raft and their global position-indicating radio beacon. Tougias’ third-person narrative, condensed and more tightly focused than the adult version, brings to life the struggles and heroism of the sailors and rescuers alike, highlighting life lessons learned. The urgent present-tense narration places readers in the action, with smoothly woven detours adding information on such details as the trick to getting into a lifeboat, how sharks attack, and brief biographies of the rescuers. Readers will be fascinated by details about rescue boats, hypothermia, sharks, the Gulf Stream, and the difficult lives after survival. A sure-fire hit with young readers who are always ready for a good disaster tale. (epilogue, author’s note) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Michael J. Tougias is an award winning author and co-author of 24 books.

Among his bestsellers are The Finest Hours (Disney Motion Pictures’ version will open in 45 countries in January 2016), Fatal Forecast, Overboard, King Philip’s War, and There’s A Porcupine In My Outhouse: The Vermont Misadventures of a Mountain Man Wannabe.

Tougias lectures across the country on each of his book topics. He also offers leadership/inspirational programs for business groups, and has spoken to companies and organizations such as General Dynamics, Raytheon, Massachusetts School Library Association, New York University Surgeons Round Table and many more.

His website is www.michaeltougias.com.

Around the Web

A Storm Too Soon on Amazon

A Storm Too Soon on Goodreads

A Storm Too Soonon JLG

A Storm Too Soon Publisher Page

The Ebola Epidemic by Connie Goldsmith

The Ebola Epidemic by Connie Goldsmith. February 1, 2016. Twenty-First Century Books, 112 p. ISBN: 9781467792448.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1160.

An ordinary blue thermos holding blood samples from a sick nun in Zaire reached Belgium’s Institute of Tropical Medicine in September 1976. From the samples, researchers discovered a new virus, which they named the Ebola virus after a river in Central Africa. The virus killed two hundred eighty people before it seemingly disappeared into the jungle. No one suspected the virus would erupt in West Africa nearly four decades later to cause an unprecedented epidemic.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Clinical discussion of death and dying

 

Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2015 (Vol. 112, No. 7))
Grades 7-10. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa may have caused widespread—and, in some areas, overblown—panic about the disease, but in many ways, medical response to the epidemic was underwhelming. This comprehensive guide begins with the story of the initial discovery of the virus, in 1974, and elaborates on the nature and dangers of the disease before going into the most recent occurrences and their aftermaths. Though it doesn’t make light of the very real and devastating effects Ebola can have on families and entire communities, this is also careful not to contribute to sensationalism: Ebola is a dangerous virus, yes, but not a particularly efficient one, with diseases like the flu killing many more people each year. Goldsmith cites an editorial that compared the Ebola paranoia in the U.S. to that of fearful attitudes during the AIDS crisis before discussing the initial, inefficient international response to the incident and the ongoing search for a cure. A solid, valuable look at a still-mysterious illness and a tumultuous time in recent history.

Kirkus Reviews starred (November 1, 2015)
Welcome to the you-better-be-Brave New World of emergent viruses. Much of this crisp and informative book chronicles the Ebola outbreak that savaged Liberia and parts of neighboring countries in September 2014. Goldsmith, a veteran health/science writer, knows how to invest readers in her story. Here, with the help of a swarm of photographs and maps, she explains how the virus found its way to Liberia–an engrossing story in itself–which necessitates a little background information. Goldsmith delivers science in a serious yet welcoming tone (no one gets talked down to); pathology can be fascinating in its own right, but Goldsmith makes the development of vaccines and rapid-result Ebola tests just as absorbing. There is good material on Doctors without Borders as well as on the locals who took part in the effort to educate people about the nature and transmission of the virus. There is also a pithy explanation of viruses–“Not really alive, yet not quite dead, viruses are the zombies of the microscopic world”–including their ability to shift shape, which makes designing a vaccine so difficult. Meanwhile, a creepy image of the virus snakes across the pages, innocent-looking as spaghetti or yarn, deadly as a blue-ringed octopus. An arresting, illuminating, and unlikely-to-be-forgotten story. (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Connie Goldsmith writes books about history, health, and science for older children. An RN with a master’s degree in health, Ms. Goldsmith lives near Sacramento, California.

Her website is www.conniegoldsmith.com.

Teacher Resources

Ebola Outbreak Lesson Plans

Around the Web

The Ebola Epidemic on Amazon

The Ebola Epidemic on Goodreads

The Ebola Epidemic on JLG

The Ebola Epidemic Publisher Page

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen. March 22, 2016. Roaring Brook Press, 208 p. ISBN: 9781626722026.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.3; Lexile: 580.

The Shining meets “Hotel California” in this supremely creepy middle grade novel about the bizarre things that happen to two girls stranded at a desert inn.

Eleven-year-old Quinn has had some bad experiences lately. She was caught cheating in school, and then one day, her little sister Emma disappeared while walking home from school. She never returned

When Quinn’s best friend Kara has to move away, she goes on one last trip with Kara and her family. They stop over at the first hotel they see, a Victorian inn that instantly gives Quinn the creeps, and she begins to notice strange things happening around them. When Kara’s parents and then brother disappear without a trace, the girls are stranded in a hotel full of strange guests, hallways that twist back in on themselves, and a particularly nasty surprise lurking beneath the floorboards. Will the girls be able to solve the mystery of what happened to Kara’s family before it’s too late?

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Dark subject matter including death; child abduction; and vivid depiction of hell; Grotesque imagery

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2016 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Long-time friends Quinn and Kara find their friendship sorely tested when Kara’s family moves to California and Quinn accompanies them on a road trip to their new home. An unexpected stop at a strange desert inn full of increasingly spooky disappearances reminds Quinn too vividly of how her younger sister, Emma, went missing earlier that year. When Kara’s parents and brother appear to vanish, Quinn is determined to solve the inn’s mystery. The employees have names that might tip off astute readers to the inn’s real nature—Sharon and Persephone, for instance. Eerie flashbacks to Emma’s plight haunt Quinn, who catches glimpses of the little girl at the inn, but always in places she can’t reach. In an attempt to escape, the girls face increasing terror—a subbasement of horror and a flight across a scorching landscape that further tests the way Quinn and Kara are linked. For readers who enjoy being scared silly, this will fit the bill while also providing them with a thought-provoking ending.

Kirkus Reviews starred (January 1, 2016)
A haunted hotel seeks new victims in this middle-grade suspense novel. Eleven-year-old Quinn’s best friend, Kara, is moving. Quinn is having difficulty letting go, so she makes the trip from Denver to Santa Monica with Kara and her family. When Kara’s parents stop to rest at the Inn Between, a grand Victorian hotel in the desert, Quinn is unnerved by the hotel’s strange architecture, its isolated location, and the odd guests and even odder hotel employees. Kara’s parents and brother disappear after the first night. Knowing they aren’t safe, the girls resolve to escape, even if it means traveling through the hot desert with little food and water, but before Quinn can leave the Inn Between, she must wrestle with some demons–both literally and figuratively. Shifting between past and present as Quinn reflects on her difficult relationship with her younger sister, Emma, and her immediate dilemma with Kara and the Inn Between, Cohen’s emotionally gripping tale perfectly captures the essences of friendship and sibling love. Heavy themes are handled with sensitivity, offering a cathartic experience for readers who may be dealing with similar situations. Readers should not be misled by the book’s innocuous cover–the book deals with such dark subjects as death and child abduction, and the concept of hell is described in vivid, frightening detail. Readers looking for a mystery with heart, humor, and hairy moments will be captivated. (Supernatural fiction. 9-12)

About the Author

Marina Cohen grew up in Scarborough, Ontario, where she spent far too much time asking herself what if… She has an M.A. in French Literature and is the author of several horror and fantasy novels for kids and teens.

In elementary school, one of her favorite authors was Edgar Allen Poe. She loved stories like The Tell-Tale Heart and The Pit and the Pendulum and aspired to write similar stories. She is a lover of the fantastical, the bizarre, and all things creepy.

Her website is www.marinacohen.com.

Around the Web

The Inn Between on Amazon

The Inn Between on Goodreads

The Inn Between on JLG

The Inn Between Publisher Page

Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend

Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend. March 8, 2016. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 272 p. ISBN: 9780374302306.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 520.

The first month of school, thirteen-year-old Anna Collette finds herself…

Dumped by her best friend, Dani, who suddenly wants to spend eighth grade “hanging out with different people.”

Deserted by her mom, who’s in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt.

Trapped in a house with her dad, a new baby sister, and a stepmother young enough to wear her Delta Delta Delta sweatshirt with pride.

Stuck at a lunch table with Shawna the Eyebrow Plucker and Sarabeth the Irish Stepper because she has no one else to sit with.

But what if all isn’t lost? What if Anna’s mom didn’t exactly mean to leave her? What if Anna’s stepmother is cooler than she thought? What if the misfit lunch table isn’t such a bad fit after all?

With help from some unlikely sources, including a crazy girl-band talent show act, Anna just may find herself on the road to okay.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Mild sexual themes; Attempted suicide; Allusion to self-harm

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (February 15, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 12))
Grades 7-10. Anna, the 13-year-old protagonist of Friend’s bittersweet story, thinks her life is falling apart. It’s bad enough her best friend, Dani, doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Anna also has to deal with her mother’s recent suicide attempt. Now, while her mother is in the hospital, Anna has to live with her father, his new (and young) wife, and their baby, Jane. At school, she sits at the outcasts’ table during lunch. Eventually, however, she finds her own place there and at her father’s house, where she realizes that her stepmother, Marnie, is genuinely nice. Anna is a gem of a character—funny, wise, and clever. Friend has a finely tuned ear for language, which is nicely reflected in Anna’s first-person narrative, where she is usually circumspect in her speech but sarcastic and sharp in her thoughts. Her transformation is sympathetic, convincing, and compelling as she takes the time she needs to heal from her own adversity and accept that life isn’t going to be perfect. Readers will revel in her journey.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2016)
Middle school bitchiness is elevated to high art in this poignant tale of a girl dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s suicide attempt. Anna is so “been there, done that” it defies her mere 13 years on Earth. After a lifetime of dealing with her flaky mom’s emotional highs and lows and her distant dad’s remarriage to the beautiful Marnie, Anna has learned how to shut people out and shut down her own emotions. However, the loss of her one-time best friend, Danielle, to the popular set proves to be one body blow too many. Friend’s sixth novel (My Life in Black and White, 2012; Lush, 2010) and first for middle-grade readers reverberates with honest eighth-grade emotion. Anna’s first-person delivery is wry, sad, heartbreaking, in-your-face, and raw. She captures the utterly helpless feeling of a child trying to deal with the very grown-up problem of a parent’s mental illness, with a father who doesn’t communicate well and a life that isn’t going how it should. Friend balances heartache with humor, creating in Anna a memorable, funny, and genuine girl and serving up middle school angst with a teen edge. While her cast isn’t particularly diverse, they are memorable; as so many protagonists have done before, Anna learns that sitting with the weirdos is a whole lot more fun than toeing the mean-girl line. An upper-middle-grade winner. (Fiction. 12-14)

About the Author

Natasha Friend was born to an English professor father and a poet/actress mother. She was raised in a house without a television. At the time, she thought this was the worst form of child abuse. Now, she understands the method to her parents’ madness: they wanted her to be a reader.

Spending most of her childhood at the Hamilton Public Library, Natasha found her mecca, the young-adult section, and her hero, Judy Blume. She, too, wanted to write stories about girls who felt alone. Girls whose parents were screw-ups. Girls with spunk and spirit and resolve.

Natasha began dictating stories to her father, who typed them up on his 1930’s Remington typewriter. Most involved rainbows, unicorns, and poor orphan girls discovering treasure.

She knew she was supposed to be a writer in seventh grade, when a sweet boy gave her a love poem and she felt compelled to correct it for syntax and rhyme scheme.

Today, Natasha is the award-winning author of Perfect, Lush, Bounce, For Keeps, and My Life in Black and White.

When she isn’t writing, she is building forts and making chocolate-chip pancakes.

Natasha lives on the Connecticut shoreline with her husband, three children, and dog, Beckett.

Her website is www.natashafriend.com.

Around the Web

Where You’ll Find Me on Amazon

Where You’ll Find Me on Goodreads

Where You’ll Find Me on JLG

Where You’ll Find Me Publisher Page

Last of the Giants by Jeff Campbell

Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species by Jeff Campbell. March 1, 2016. Zest Books, 272 p. ISBN: 9781942186045.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1180.

Today, an ancient world is vanishing right before our eyes: the age of giant animals. Over 40,000 years ago, the earth was ruled by megafauna: mammoths and mastodons, saber-toothed tigers and giant sloths. Of course, those creatures no longer exist, due to the evolution and arrival of the wildly adaptive human species, among other factors. Many more of the world’s biggest and baddest creatures—including the black rhino, the dodo, giant tortoises, and the great auk—have vanished since our world became truly global. Last of the Giants chronicles those giant animals and apex predators who have been pushed to extinction in the modern era.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Harsh realities of the wilderness

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (April 15, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 16))
Grades 8-12. Bigger is better—except when it comes to wildlife. Or at least that’s how mankind has reacted against giant species, causing what scientists are now calling “the sixth extinction.” Campbell opens with an explanation of this widespread wave of extinction and our crisis of coexistence with wildlife. He then focuses on 13 giant species that once thrived—until humans arrived. Using the unscientific term giant loosely, he includes 10 megafauna (a scientific term referring to animals 100 pounds or larger) as well as smaller species that dominated their surroundings. Also representing a variety of species alive in the modern era (the last 500 years), individual chapters are devoted to a range of animals, from lions, tigers, and the California grizzly to the giant tortoises of the Indian Ocean, baiji (a river dolphin), and the passenger pigeon. Complemented by graphic novel–style illustrations, each chapter looks at what life was like when humans were introduced to the animal and the role they had in the animal’s extinction. Campbell is careful, however, to place the human activity in its historical context. Emphasizing the connection between extinction and conservation throughout, the author also relates how scientists are trying to save similar, sub-, and hybrid species of those now extinct. These timely, important, and fascinating stories will encourage readers to save all life, no matter its size.

School Library Journal (April 1, 2016)
Gr 9 Up-The extinctions of giant (both in size and number) species at the mercy of nature and humanity turn out to be a fascinating and jarring lesson for our present. Chronicling the fates of aurochs, moa, passenger pigeons, and sea cows, alongside the unresolved destinies of today’s lions and tigers, this work gazes back at evolutionary history through a retrospect that, with the aid of Campbell’s humorous and scientific tone, is truly 20/20. Thankfully, the text’s explorations of these annihilated species are complex and perceptive and go beyond the usual worn conclusion of human-wrought woe. Mixing geology, ethnography, history, zoology, biology, industry, and sociology, Campbell demonstrates how interconnected Earth’s species and societies-human and nonhuman-are. By examining the complex web of evolution through the misfortunes of these lost species, the author drives home that our present is not a final, linear result of history but rather an ever-evolving system that needs care and attention. To that end, a “Call to Action” section laden with resources for the aspiring activist appears at the end; though there is no index, an extensive list of works cited illuminates a path for those who wish to read further. VERDICT Required reading for the budding naturalist and a good pairing for a STEM or history curriculum, too.-Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

About the Author

Jeff Campbell is a freelance writer, book editor, and creative writing teacher. Most recently, he’s published two nonfiction books for young adults: Last of the Giants (Zest, 2016), about extinct and endangered animals, and Daisy to the Rescue (Zest, 2014), about animals saving humans and animal intelligence. For twelve years he was a travel writer for Lonely Planet, coauthoring over a dozen guidebooks to US destinations. As an editor for over twenty years, he has specialized in pop culture, self-help, sports, and YA fiction. He also teaches creative writing to kids and adults with the Writers Circle (NJ).

Her website is www.jeffcampbellbooks.com.

Teacher Resources

Last of the Giants Educator’s Guide

Around the Web

Last of the Giants on Amazon

Last of the Giants on Goodreads

Last of the Giants on JLG

Last of the Giants Publisher Page

The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande

The Distance Between Us: Young Readers Edition by Reyna Grande. September 6, 2016. Aladdin, 336 p. ISBN: 9781481463713.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.1; Lexile: 780.

When her parents make the dangerous and illegal trek across the Mexican border in pursuit of the American dream, Reyna and her siblings are forced to live with their stern grandmother, as they wait for their parents to build the foundation of a new life.

But when things don’t go quite as planned, Reyna finds herself preparing for her own journey to “El Otro Lado” to live with the man who has haunted her imagination for years: her long-absent father. Both funny and heartbreaking, The Distance Between Us beautifully captures the struggle that Reyna and her siblings endured while trying to assimilate to a different culture, language, and family life in El Otro Lado (The Other Side).

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns; Child abuse and neglect; Domestic violence; Harsh realities of poverty; Corporal punishment; Death of a child; Graphic description of a dead body; Allusions to suicide; Alcoholism; Gang violence; Shoplifting; Ethnic slurs

 

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Reviews

Booklist starred (September 1, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 1))
Grades 5-8. Reyna’s parents have moved to El Otro Lado (The Other Side) and have left her behind. In this young readers edition of her memoir, Grande writes about a difficult time in her childhood when her parents moved to the U.S. and she stayed behind in Iguala, Mexico, with her older siblings. Grande shares a timely story of a transnational family and the economic and emotional hardships she endured—such as not being adequately taken care of by her grandmother and being called an “orphan” by other children. While her parents have left in search of work, Reyna just wants her family back together and does not entirely understand why they had to leave in the first place. Readers will be captivated by Grande’s beautiful and heart-wrenching story, from her detailed inner thoughts to the descriptions of the environment around her. Her longing to reconnect with her father, whom she refers to as the “man behind the glass,” because she only knows him through an old framed photograph, is one readers will avidly follow. Grande’s memoir offers an important account of the many ways immigration impacts children. Similar stories that touch on themes of immigration and family include the young-adult adaptation of Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey (2013) and Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air (2015).

Kirkus Reviews (June 15, 2016)
This moving coming-of-age memoir by novelist Grande was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in 2012. It has now been adapted for a younger audience.The grown-up Grande writes credibly in the voice of her younger self about growing up in Iguala de la Independencia in southern Mexico. The book starts as her mother is leaving for the United States to join her husband, who left two years before. Grande and her older siblings are left in their grandmother’s care. Life in Iguala is one of grinding poverty and abusive treatment. Their parents have left with the dream of earning enough money to build a house back in Iguala; meanwhile the children have their own dream of being reunited with their parents and once more being a family. As Grande’s parents’ marriage collapses, their mother returns only to leave again and again. Eventually, their father takes them to the U.S. The author describes a life that, though different, is not easy on the other side of the border. They must live in fear of deportation, learn a new language, cower under their father’s abusive treatment, and make do, always on the financial edge. Though redacted for young readers, this edition pulls no punches, and its frank honesty does not read “young” in any way. Read this along with Francisco Jimenez’s biographical series, starting with The Circuit (1997). This heartrending and thoughtful memoir puts a human face on immigration’s personal toll. (Memoir. 12-18)

About the Author

Reyna Grande is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, The Distance Between Us, which the Los Angeles Times hailed as “the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.” A National Book Critics Circle Awards finalist, The Distance Between Us is about Grande’s life before and after coming to the U.S as an undocumented child immigrant. It is about what is lost and what is gained in the pursuit of a better life. The Common Reading book selection at colleges and universities across the nation, in September 2016, The Distance Between Us was republished for young readers ages 10-14.

Born in Mexico in 1975, Grande was raised by her grandparents after her parents left her behind while they worked in the U.S. She came to the U.S. at the age of nine as an undocumented immigrant and went on to become the first person in her family to obtain a higher education. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing and Film and Video from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University. She is a sought-after speaker at middle/high schools, colleges and universities across the nation, and teaches creative writing workshops.

Her website is www.reynagrande.com.

Teacher Resources

The Distance Between Us Discussion Guide

The Distance Between Us Lesson Plans

The Distance Between Us Reading Guide

Around the Web

Seriously Shifted on Amazon

Seriously Shifted on Goodreads

Seriously Shifted on JLG

Seriously Shifted Publisher Page

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina. March 8, 2016. Candlewick, 320 p. ISBN: 9780763674670.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 680.

After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.

Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.

And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?

Award-winning author Meg Medina transports readers to a time when New York seemed about to explode, with temperatures and tempers running high, to discover how one young woman faces her fears as everything self-destructs around her.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Drugs; Domestic abuse; Racism; Murder

 

Book Trailer

Reviews

Booklist starred (February 1, 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 11))
Grades 9-12. It’s 1977 in New York, and almost-18-year-old Nora is about to graduate high school and is saving up for her own place. Of course, it’s not as easy as just moving out. Her Cuban immigrant mother, who only speaks Spanish, relies on her to navigate everyday life. Meanwhile, she coddles Nora’s firebug younger brother, Hector, whose short temper is getting more violent by the day. No matter what Nora tells her mother, she does nothing about Hector and faults Nora for his delinquency, and, before long, his terrifying, uncontrollable rages become too scary to handle on her own. Medina artfully links Nora’s escalating domestic turmoil with the infamous summer of 1977, marked by blackouts, sweltering heat, racial tensions, arson, and the Son of Sam killings, all of which simmer menacingly in the background. Medina weaves historical context throughout Nora’s first-person narrative, expertly cultivating a rich sense of atmosphere while still keeping her characters sharply in the foreground. Nora herself is wonderfully multifaceted—hardened by responsibility, delighted by disco, crazy about the handsome boy at her job, and, all the while, stalwart and determined to make her life on her own terms. Powerfully moving, this stellar piece of historical fiction emphasizes the timeless concerns of family loyalty and personal strength while highlighting important issues that still resonate today.

Horn Book Magazine (March/April, 2016)
This vividly evoked coming-of-age story is set against actual events in 1977 New York City, when tensions rose throughout a city enduring an oppressive heat wave, culminating in the historic blackout of July 13th. Seventeen-year-old Nora Lopez faces an insecure future after graduation. The very real fear of an at-large serial killer is magnified by the violence at home, where her brother Hector’s increasingly volatile behavior is dismissed by her mother as merely hormones. College seems impossible: Nora’s mother barely scrapes by with her unstable (and decreasing) factory hours. Nora helps out financially with her job at Sal’s Deli but also manages to stash away some cash in hopes of someday getting away. For now, she escapes by hanging out with best friend Kathleen, going to the movies, and planning a big night out to celebrate their eighteenth birthdays. Nora even starts to fall for Pablo, the sweet new stock boy at Sal’s (and “a stone-cold Latin fox,” according to Kathleen), but the looming fear of a killer targeting young couples and the weight of her family’s secrets make her pull away. Nora is an empathetic character, and Medina depicts her troubled family and their diverse Queens neighborhood with realistic, everyday detail. Numerous references to New York’s budget crisis, arson wave, and “Son of Sam” newspaper articles deliberately ground the story in a real time and place, while an ample sprinkling of seventies disco and funk song references creates a brighter soundtrack for the dreams and romance of teenage girls, hinting at a hopeful future for Nora. lauren adams

About the Author

Meg Medina is an award-winning Cuban American author who writes picture books, middle grade, and Young Adult fiction.

She is a two-time Pura Belpré award winner, receiving the 2016 honor distinction for her picture book, Mango, Abuela and Me, and the 2014 medal for her young adult novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

 

Meg’s work examines how cultures intersect, as seen through the eyes of young people. She brings to audiences stories that speak to both what is unique in Latino culture and to the qualities that are universal. Her favorite protagonists are strong girls.

In March 2014, she was recognized as one of the CNN 10 Visionary Women in America. In November 2014, she was named one of Latino Stories Top Ten Latino Authors to Watch. When she is not writing, Meg works on community projects that support girls, Latino youth and/or diversity in children’s literature.

She lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia.

Her website is megmedina.com.

Teacher Resources

Burn Baby Burn Discussion Guide

Around the Web

Burn Baby Burn on Amazon

Burn Baby Burn on Goodreads

Burn Baby Burn on JLG

Burn Baby Burn Publisher Page