Book review: The Startup Squad, by Brian Weisfeld and Nicole C. Kear

Weisfeld, Brian and Nicole C. Kear. The Startup Squad. (Startup Squad series, book 1). Imprint, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781250180407. 172 pages. Ages 8-11. P7 Q7

Resa’s teacher, Ms. Davis, explains to the class about the sixth-grade trip and fund raiser. The class is going to Adventure Central and they will be selling lemonade for the fundraiser. The class is divided up into teams and each team will have their own lemonade stand. Resa’s best friend, Didi, is on her team, along with Harriet and Amelia. Harriet is energetic, colorful, optimistic, enthusiastic and full of ideas. Amelia is the new girl, who is quiet and logical. As the team works towards making their lemonade and selling it, Resa is very judgmental towards the others on her team and always wants things done her way. However, by doing things her way, they do not turn out as she expects. Resa learns that when working in a team, she cannot always have her way. Meanwhile, Val and her team of overachievers seem to be selling the most lemonade. Can Resa and her team regroup and win the contest? Will Resa learn the value of compromise? Resa can be a bit annoying since she goes too fast, does not have patience for others and focuses on their faults. The team members take time to talk to Resa and help her see how she is treating them. The illustrations on the cover show four girls of different races, showing diversity.

Verdict: Relationships are complex, especially when friends have different temperaments and strengths. The author did a good job of representing a wide variety of races and personality types. The overall message of compromise and seeing the strengths of others make this short chapter book one that will make the reader more open minded for having read it. I recommend it for public and school libraries.

February 2020 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman

Kadarusman, Michelle. Music for Tigers. “Prepublication advance reading copy.” Pajama Press, publication date April 28, 2020. [192 pages.] $17.95. ISBN 97817280543. Ages 8-12. P7Q9

Thylacines–Tasmanian tigers–are large, extinct, dog-like marsupial predators, once found across Australia, last seen on the island of Tasmania almost a century ago.  Like the North American Sasquatch, there are occasional sightings, with grainy video or photographs, but no credible evidence of living specimens has been found.  With Louisa’s scientist parents off to study endangered amphibians in the Ontario wetlands for the summer, middle-school violinist Louisa has to  has to spend her summer with her uncle in the Tasmanian rainforest.  Bush conditions—scary spiders and venemous snakes, kerosene lamps and inconsistent electricity, lack of internet—mean that Louisa cannot concentrate solely on practicing her violin for the upcoming auditions and the camp’s isolation throws her into the company of Colin, a boy on the autism spectrum.  Then there is the mystery of the large animal that seems to be stalking the camp, especially once Louisa begins practicing violin.  Her grandmother’s journal gives her the clue that the large animal might be a thylacine, descended from animals brought to the camp to protect them from encroaching loggers and miners at the turn of the 20th century.

Verdict: Students who enjoy  nature stories, especially those who are interested in cryptid species, will enjoy this book.  The idea that a large extinct predator species might actually be found is exciting.  I really liked the ways that Louisa and Colin interacted with each other, Colin sharing his knowledge of the bush and Louisa finding a way to demonstrate facial cues  to help Colin identify emotions.  This character and setting driven plot appeals on many levels and introduces a setting not well represented in children’s books in the United States.  I recommend it for middle school and public libraries.

February 2020 review by Jane Cothron.

Book review: A Drop of Hope, by Keith Calabrese

Calabrese, Keith. A Drop of Hope. Scholastic Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338233209. 305 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are middle school students in a small, struggling town in Ohio. When they learn about local folklore describing a “wishing well,” they find it and things begin to change! Calabrese does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a small American town, its school, and its diverse inhabitants. The story’s theme is how small actions can make change in ways we don’t even think of. The kids realize that people they know need help in various ways; they don’t know exactly how to approach the problems, but their good intentions and small actions do help greatly in the end. I liked that it isn’t clear if there is some magic going on or not (at least at first), that there is an old mystery that gets solved, and that odd combinations of characters end up developing positive relationships.

VERDICT: This is a wonderful book for readers who need to read something hopeful, kind and uplifting. I think we could all use more of this these days.

January 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason. Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781481438308. 188 pages. Ages 10-14. P8 Q8

This book is a set of ten separate short stories, but the characters are connected; they all go to the same school. Each chapter is titled with the name of a street, and the stories are about the kids walking home to that part of the neighborhood. There are chapters about friends, bullies, family drama and first loves, all told through the eyes of young people. Some are laugh out loud funny, and others are heart breaking. On Placer St. we meet the the Low Cuts, four friends with many things in common including qualifying for free lunch, and parents who were cancer survivors. These shared experiences made them tough, yet we learn how leaning on friends makes tough times better. The stories capture the social lives of inner city middle school students perfectly. Verdict: a great book for middle school and the J Fiction section of the library. Friends play such a huge role in the lives of middle schoolers and this book focuses on those important relationships.

December 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, by Tanya Boteju

Boteju, Tanya. Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens. Simon Pulse, 2019. $18.99. ISBN 9781534430655. 369 pages. Ages 13+.  P7 Q8

Nima has a crush on Ginny, but unfortunately, Ginny is straight and likes boys. Nima wants to declare her love to Ginny, but Ginny stops her and tells her she does not want anything to change the friendship they have. But what if that friendship is not enough for Nima? Nima attends a local festival and finds herself a “special guest” of a Drag queen, Deidre. Deidre takes her under her wing for a “night of gender-bending bliss” and opens her eyes to a whole new and exciting life. She has an instant connection with one of the Drag kings, Winnow. This starts an adventure, full of new experiences, self-discovery and fully realizing what she wants in life. The story is told in first person and includes Nima’s inner dialogue as she has self-doubt over her value, her actions and her desires. I learned a lot about the drag scene, including Drag kings. The text is cleverly written.

Verdict: Celebrating gender bending expression and teens as they explore their relationships, this LGBTQ+ novel will captivate and draw readers in. Readers will relate to Nima’s inner dialogue and realize that they are not the only ones who have insecurity. I highly recommend this book for high school and public libraries.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Roll with It, by Jamie Sumner

Sumner, Jamie. Roll With It. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781534442559. 250 pages. Ages 10+. P7 Q8.

Ellie is not only the new student; she is in a wheelchair and lives in a trailer park. When Ellie and her mom move to a new town to take care of her grandpa, she has to figure out how to maneuver around classrooms that are not set up for students in a wheelchair. Fortunately, Coralee, her new neighbor in the trailer park, befriends Ellie and becomes her first true friend. While Ellie engages in many of the same activities as other children, she shares her struggles with using the school bathroom, not wanting an aide to follow her around, and the awkwardness of people staring at her. Meanwhile, Ellie’s grandpa gets confused and puts himself in danger at times. Ellie’s mom wants to put him in a home for elderly people, but this makes Ellie fear that maybe her mom will put her in a home someday. Ellie’s favorite show is the Great British Bake Off and Ellie loves to cook, which may add familiarity for readers who enjoy the show. Readers will gain insight on what it is like to live with challenges while being inspired by Ellie, who does not let her disability define her or limit her. Sumner’s son has cerebral palsy, which inspired her to write this book.

Verdict: The message that children who are confined to a wheelchair can have just as meaningful life as children who can walk comes through loud and clear. Readers can relate to the issues that Ellie has to deal with. I highly recommend this book for all libraries.

October 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Without Refuge, by Jane Mitchell

Mitchell, Jane. Without Refuge. Carolrhoda Books, 2019. 282 pgs. Includes glossary. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-5415-0050-1. Gr. 6+. P7 Q8

Ghalib and his family live in Syria, his life was once very much like boys in America. He loved playing video games and he loved soccer. His life changes once the civil war started. Now he dreams of the day it will all end. Life for his family is becoming more dangerous every day. When a bomb goes off near him and his cousin, who looses a leg, the family knows it is time to leave. It is done in the early morning so they can avoid the soldiers who patrol looking for those they could recruit. Ghalib and his older sister, Bushra, are just the right age. Airstrikes separate Ghalib from his family as they try to leave. He comes into contact with those who do not have families to help protect them.  Together again, his family flees into the desert, in an overcrowded truck, but when the truck breaks down, the family has to walk the rest of the way. The end of the story for me was so frustrating as Ghalib and his sister are rescued by a helicopter, leaving the reader hanging as to what happens next.

Verdict: This would be a great book to read aloud in a class. Discussion on war, immigration, social issues and current events are some of the topics that could be covered.

September 2019 review by Carol Bernardi.