Sunday, November 29, 2020

FLOODED: Requiem for Johnstown by Ann E. Burg


Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy in my wonderful NCTE/ALAN box of books. 

Author Ann E. Burg combines fact and fiction in this historical novel in verse. On May 31, 1889, the community of Johnstown, PA, was destroyed. More than two thousand souls perished including 396 children. 

Rich and famous men, members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, spent time in their fancy lodge atop the mountain above Johnstown. For years they had been warned that the neglected dam creating their cherished fishing lake was likely to fail during any heavy, prolonged rain. Members like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Charles J. Clarke, Cyrus Elder, and others ignored the warning, and when heavy rains began on Decoration Day 1889, the dam collapsed. Attempts in court to hold the men responsible failed, leaving survivors lost and bitter.

In FLOODED six young people share their stories of the days leading up to the tragedy and those who survived share stories of the aftermath. The names of those who tell the story are not the names of the famous and wealthy who caused the disaster. Rather they are the working class who struggled to care for their families often foregoing their own hopes and dreams. Author Ann E. Burg's spare, yet powerful words, paint a vivid picture that will keep this tragedy alive for those who may not even know it took place. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

GO WITH THE FLOW by Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann


Girls and women! The book you have been waiting for is HERE!! GO WITH THE FLOW is a graphic novel that explores the world of menstruation and its issues.

Sasha is a sophomore and new to Hazelton High. One terrible day she starts her period and becomes the focus of all the jokes. Abby, Brit, and Christine take her to the restroom only to discover the machines that dispense period supplies are empty. Brit offers her backup supply to Sasha, and the girls soon become fast friends.

Abby becomes obsessed with the fact that the bathroom tampon machines were empty and continue to be even after she reports it to the office. She also begins thinking about how some girls can't afford to pay for the products, but are expected to because the school doesn't provide them for free. She starts a blog called The Mean Magenta in an effort to get out the word about the unfairness girls deal with when it comes to periods. 

Spreading the word becomes the mission of the group even when their efforts fall on deaf ears or face objections from those who think the subject should be kept behind closed doors. They do find enough support and encouragement to change at least their little part of the world, and hopefully a following who will carry the cause even farther.

Authors Lily Williams & Karen Schneemann open eyes with their new graphic novel and make talking about periods a must for girls everywhere. GO WITH THE FLOW should be added to every middle school and high school library, public library, and classroom.

ISAIAH DUNN IS MY HERO by Kelly J. Baptist


Isaiah misses his dad. His sudden death left Isaiah feeling that he must step up to care for his mother and his little sister, but that's not as easy as he thought. His mom hasn't been working and her constant drinking means they haven't been able to pay the rent. Now they are calling a smoky old motel room home.

Reading stories written by his father in a worn notebook, brings Isaiah special pleasure. He likes to think of himself as a bit of a writer, although he prefers writing poems instead of stories. When he's not reading or writing, Isaiah and his friend Sneaky are selling candy in hopes of making some big bucks. Isaiah plans to use the money to help his mother get back into their apartment, but that's going to take a lot more money than he thought.

Author Kelly J. Baptist has created an extremely likeable hero in Isaiah Dunn. Readers will be rooting for Isaiah as he battles to save what's left of his family and honor the father he misses so much. Challenging friendships, dealing with bullies, and learning from his father's wise words make Isaiah a relatable protagonist.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

KENT STATE by Deborah Wiles


KENT STATE by Deborah Wiles is a riveting account of 4 days in 1970 on the Kent State University campus. Written in verse and told in multiple voices, this quick read will stay with readers as it encourages further exploration of a subject seen as historic to today's teens. 

Wiles tells the story of the days leading up to and including the killing of 4 students and the wounding of 9 others. The campus was the scene of campus unrest as students protested the Vietnam War. The protests were largely peaceful sit-ins until the local town leaders began to react. Spurred by unhappy, fearful townspeople and unfounded rumors about outsiders arriving to encourage the student protesters, the mayor and then the state's governor brought in police and then National Guard.

Tension increased and the result was the Guard firing on students and staff. Students simply heading to class or stepping out to see what was going on were killed or injured in at senseless attack. There was total confusion that ended in all factions remembering the events from completely different view points. Wiles tells readers that those differing view points still remain today as history is reviewed and relived on May 4 every year on the university campus.

I was in high school at the time of the shootings, and remember my mother's sadness as an alumni of Kent State. There are numerous parallels between the events of 1970 and the unrest present in many areas today. Teens who read KENT STATE are invited to seek hope and change as they learn about this tragic event from the past. This is a must read for high school students everywhere.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

THE BRIDGE by Bill Konigsberg


Two teens arrive on the George Washington Bridge in NYC. Both have reached a decision to end their time on this earth. Will he jump? Will she jump? Will both jump? What if neither jumps? THE BRIDGE follows the stories of Aaron and Tillie, but in an unusual way. Written in versions A, B, C, and D, readers get to read the story from all four perspectives. 

Aaron sees the girl standing at the railing a short distance away. As he watches, she ascends the railing and jumps to the river below. Ripped from his own personal focus and issues, Aaron dials 911 and reports the possible suicide and he returns home. After confessing his observation to his father and his own thoughts of jumping, Aaron seeks the help of a psychiatrist to help with the feelings of depression that threaten his personal safety.  Aaron's issues are not his alone as proven from the evidence of those closest to him.

Tillie struggles with being adopted. Her Asian features are the focus of taunting from classmates, and the sudden estrangement from her father is causing stress that seems beyond Tillie's control. She doesn't want to leave her mother and her little sister who she dearly loves, but everything is just too much. As she stands on the bridge she observes something she couldn't possibly imagine when the boy standing on the same bridge makes the decision to jump. Her reaction is panic and fear that this was what she was about to do.

Both teens jump to their deaths. This version is brief, but its impact is long lasting and far reaching. If only they knew how much their decisions would change those near and dear to them.

Aaron and Tillie both decide today is not the day. They form a sometimes uncomfortable friendship at first full of secrets and skepticism. As they open up to each other and other key people in their lives, they find that support helps. It doesn't solve all their problems, but it makes things a bit easier.

Author Bill Konigsberg takes an unusual look at depression and suicide. His words are frank and his focus on the rocky road that follows a diagnosis of depression will speak to those who have had their own personal experiences with mental health issues. Konigsberg takes a likely upsetting and ultimately serious issue and makes it relatable for teens without glamorizing it. I highly recommend THE BRIDGE.

Thursday, November 12, 2020


Cordelia Koenig is wrapping up her senior year. She's already accepted an early decision invite to attend her first choice college, and she only has one last high school responsibility - completing her senior project. Cordelia has known she would use poetry as the method of delivery, but only recently has she decided to use the results of her ancestry DNA test as the topic for her work.

Always feeling like the odd one out in her family of mother, father, and two sisters, Cordelia is eager to see the results of the test. What she doesn't gamble on is finding out the man she has always called "father" is not actually the man who provided half of her biological materials.

Now there is the stress of confronting her mother about a possible past affair without hurting the rest of her family. Her best friend Sana and her eighth grade crush Kodiak attempt to give her the support she needs, but at the same time they share their concerns and thoughts that maybe she should just let things stay as they are. This whole project thing is much more difficult and important than Cordelia ever imagined.

Author Dante Medema's new release THE TRUTH PROJECT is an outstanding novel combining verse, emails, and text messages into a riveting story about family, love, and trust. It is perfect for readers dealing with their own personal searches for their current and future selves.


Tuesday, November 10, 2020



Eighth grade is going just fine for Quinn. A small group of her friends is about to plan the spring dance. Even goofball Isaac wants to participate in the planning, that is as long as he gets to be DJ. 

Everything changes when the principal calls an emergency assembly to announce that spring break is starting a day early and will last three weeks instead of the usual one week. That would be awesome news except it is connected to the pandemic that according to Quinn's father is getting really serious.

Quinn and her friends can't believe how quickly everything changes. Social distancing, mask wearing, and online classes for school are just a few of the ways life changes. Keeping their spirits up is more challenging every day.

Author Eric Walters describes how life has changed for the world since earlier this year. He captures the fear, frustration, and sadness everyone has experienced as our lives have become all about keeping safe and trying to carry on as normally as possible. DON'T STAND SO CLOSE TO ME is a quick read from Orca Publishers that is the first book I've seen highlighting COVID-19 and its effects on the world as we know it. And, yes, for all you music fans out there, the oldie Don't Stand So Close to Me by the Police is referenced near the end.

Monday, November 9, 2020

TURTLE BOY by M. Evan Wolkenstein


Seventh grade is tough enough, but Will Levine has extra complications. He quickly earns the nickname "Turtle Boy" because of a genetic jaw deformity he inherited from a father he barely knew. Will has seen pictures of his father, but the man's chin was covered by a beard. Will was only four years old when his dad went into the hospital for hernia surgery and never woke up from the procedure. Now Will is facing surgery of his own that will require breaking his jaw and wiring it shut for weeks after.

Will is also in the midst of preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. This requires standing in front of a roomful of people, giving a speech, and reciting a passage from the Torah in Hebrew. Will has trouble answering a simple question when asked so how is he going to perform in front of a crowd?

Another reason Will earned the nickname Turtle Boy may be the fact that he knows just about everything there is to know about turtles. He has collected several turtles from the Back 40, an area behind his school used by the science classes. He would rather spend time with his turtles than most people he knows.

As part of his Bar Mitzvah requirements, Will must log volunteer hours in his community. When things don't work out at the local soup kitchen, his Rabbi suggests visits to a boy named RJ who is sick in the local hospital. This definitely sounds like trouble to Will, but he doesn't really have a choice. Meeting RJ ends up changing Will's thoughts about a lot of things, and it does a lot of good for RJ as well.

TURTLE BOY by M. Evan Wolkenstein is a heart-warming story about a boy figuring out how to fit in to a world that makes him feel uncomfortable and alone. TURTLE BOY is the perfect addition to any middle grade collection.