The Name of The Star by Maureen Johnson is an amazingly fun and frightening story you won’t want to miss. The story revolves around Rory Deveaux, an 18-year-old girl from Louisiana who has the opportunity to attend a boarding school in London for her senior year. The transition proves challenging as we witness her try to make friends, struggle with difficult classes, and much to Rory’s dismay, learn to play field hockey. However, even more distressing are the brutal murders which are taking place in close proximity to her school. Young women are being killed in the same manner and on the same dates as the Jack the Ripper murders a hundred years before. Rippermania has taken over the city as everyone anxiously awaits the next victim to be discovered.
It turns out that Rory is the only witness to any of the crimes and this fact puts her in the sights of the killer. The story takes a decidedly paranormal twist as the Shades, a secretive police force, become involved in the case. Their specialty is finding and dealing with ghosts. They are determined to protect Rory and stop the new Ripper before he strikes again. This novel is a fantastic read that teens and adults alike will enjoy. You won’t want the story to end and the great news is it doesn’t have to! This is the first novel in a series called The Shades of London.
Interested in polishing up on your Ripperology? Check out Jack the Ripper and the Case for Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect by Robert House or Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper: Case Closed by Patricia Cornwell, both available at your library. Amaze friends with sordid facts regarding this legendary unsolved mystery.
Once there was a young Jewish boy named Felix living in Nazi occupied Poland. He was naïve as to why his parents left him at a Catholic orphanage. Felix got tired of waiting for them to come back for him so he chose to leave the safety of the nuns and go back home. This poignant story by Morris Gleitzman shows the Holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child. The 10-year-old cannot understand the things he witnesses. Why are people found shot outside a farmhouse? Why are there strangers living in his house? The reader follows his conjectures and rationalizations until he very slowly comes to the realization that the Jews are being eliminated and his parents are gone.
Then he befriends a 6-year-old girl named Zelda. They escape a train bound for a concentration camp and spend every moment trying to hide from the Nazis. Felix makes up stories to distract Zelda from hunger and fear. The author Richmal Crompton is his hero, and he prays to her when he is scared. The children are taken in by a kind woman. She bleaches their hair and gets them fake documentation so they can hide in plain sight, but they all live in constant fear of discovery. Felix witnesses unspeakable cruelty and hatred and although he feels anger, makes a conscious choice not to become like the Nazis.
These novels are historical fiction at its best. Thoroughly researched and simply presented with the authentic voice of a child. It is one thing to learn the facts of the Holocaust and an entirely different matter to witness them from a child’s perspective.
The eyes are often said to be the windows to the soul, but what if you could be on the inside looking out through those windows? And what if that person is a killer?
Slide by Jill Hathaway is named for the special “ability” that teenager Sylvia (Vee) possesses…when she is tired she can slide into someone else’s body if she touches something that they have touched. The trouble is that she cannot control it, so she spends much of her time trying not to touch things. This gets her wrongly labeled as OCD, narcoleptic, and just plain crazy. She hides the truth from her family (which is not difficult since her mother is dead, her father is a workaholic surgeon and her sister is a popular cheerleader who looks down on the rest of the school.) She also hides it from her best friend Rollins, who might be sympathetic but he has his own secrets to hide. But when Vee slides one night and finds herself standing over the dead body of her sister’s best friend with a bloody knife in her hand, she knows she has to gain control of her sliding and try to discover who the killer is.
Slide is a fast-paced mystery for those readers who like just a hint of the supernatural. Vee is a strong heroine who is remarkably well-grounded despite the trauma in her young life. Slide has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and is Hathaway’s first novel.
Embrace by Jessica Shirvington is an exciting new novel for older teens that will also appeal to adults who read paranormal romance. This is the first book in a series that is already very popular in Shirvington’s native Australia.
When Violet Eden turns 17, she receives a cryptic letter from her deceased mother that says that Violet will have to choose. Soon, Violet learns about a secret that will change her life forever. She is a member of the Grigori, a race of part-human, part-angel warriors whose job is to hunt exiled angels who seek vengeance on Earth. Violet will have to choose—will she embrace and accept her life as a Grigori or turn her back on it?
Violet is also in the middle of a love triangle. Her friend and training partner, Lincoln, is her Grigori partner. He has known what she is since he met her, and Violet feels betrayed that he has kept the secret from her. Soon after learning about her role as a Grigori, she also meets Phoenix, an exiled angel who she finds intriguing. Phoenix is honest about who and what he is, and it’s clear that there’s much more to Phoenix than meets the eye. Can Violet really trust him?
Embrace is engaging and filled with romance, intrigue, and action. Violet is a tough heroine--think Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking on evil angels! The angel mythology in the story is unusual enough to engage the reader.
Christopher Paul Curtis delivers again with a Depression-era historical fiction in The Mighty Miss Malone. Readers will delight in getting to know the mighty 12 year old Deza Malone (a character in Curtis’ Newbery winner Bud, Not Buddy) and her family. Brother Jimmie is small but has a beautiful singing voice, and Mom and Dad just want the best for their kids. The family is a tight unit and even has a motto: “a family on a journey to a place called Wonderful.” Deza is smart and spunky and even while her family is struggling with unemployment and illness, she has an optimistic outlook and a strong sense of self and her future. The family’s strong bond is tested when Mr. Malone seeks work in Flint, Michigan. But Deza, Jimmie and their mother decide to follow him and travel with him on his journey. There are hardships, but this story is filled with humor, a strong sense of history and place, and truly wonderful characters. Readers wanting more should check out the reading guide provided by Random House.
One of the frames Curtis uses to share Deza’s story is the boxing match of 1936 which saw German Max Schmeling face off against the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis. This match took on great significance because of Adolf Hitler’s increasingly powerful Nazi Germany. All Americans, and in particular African-Americans, pinned great hope for their future in this boxing ring. When Louis lost, African-Americans’ spirits sank even lower as they grappled with the Depression. In 1938, the two met in a rematch in Yankee Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, and Louis was victorious. The win helped boost morale across the country. Matt de la Peña shares the story of the second match in A Nation’s Hope: the Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis. Kadir Nelson’s remarkable illustrations highlight this story which was a watershed cultural event. Of special note to locals – Baltimore Colts’ legend Artie Donovan’s father was the referee during this match!
The challenge of a new sibling is addressed in several new picture books which provide different spins on the blessed event. In Lola reads to Leo, by Anna McQuinn and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw, our favorite book lover Lola is delighted to welcome new brother Leo. Lola helps care for Leo by sharing her love of reading. She brings him a soft book for his crib when she meets him, holds her best bear story while Mommy feeds him, and tells him a duck tale during his bath time. While many new baby books focus on the negative, this gentle celebration of family and reading offers the fun side of being a big sib! Other Lola stories include Lola Loves Stories and Lola at the Library.
Gia has heard all she can about "the ding-dang baby" that her mother is expecting in Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Sophie Blackall. But that baby is all ANYONE wants to talk about. Gia is worried about the upheaval ahead and already knows what she will miss the most: “My whole, whole life.” Her emotions come to a head with a very public meltdown. But Mama is able to calm her by showing Gia her important role in their expanding family. The subtle seasonal changes complement Gia’s changing attitude. This is an honest story about the very real feelings children have when faced with change.
Molly already has a sister, but not the sister of her dreams. “I was hoping for a little sister who was just like me, but I got Chloe instead.” In Chloe, Instead by Micah Player, Molly colors with crayons while Chloe eats them. Molly loves books. Chloe loves to tear pages. Molly is frustrated but still sympathetic and Player uses stylized, colorful graphics and simple text to share her perspective. Player is a graphic designer whose work might be familiar to Target shoppers – he designed the branding for their popular Paul Frank line. (Learn more about this exciting new voice at www.paperrifle.com.) With this fresh story, Molly does come to see that Chloe’s personality can be fun too, and readers who are still on the fence about a younger sibling will see that there may be some good in it after all!
Quality picture books have the ability to engage both the youngest and oldest of readers with stories and illustrations that work together to capture the imagination. One Cool Friend, by Toni Buzzeo with illustrations by David Small, falls into that elite category of books we return to again and again. Tuxedo-clad Elliot is a “proper young man,” a boy who prefers quiet, solitary pursuits. When his scientist father proposes a trip to the aquarium, Elliot is unsure. He’s quickly enchanted by the penguins, asking his distracted father if he might have one. A misunderstanding leads a confident Elliot to pop the smallest Magellanic bird into his backpack for the journey back to their spacious, well-appointed home. His new friend proves to be a delight, if not a bit of a challenge.
Small works in pen and ink, ink wash, watercolor, and colored pencil, rendering charmingly witty pictures that add a surprising amount of humor and depth to the story. Readers will delight at the details Small works in to give depth to the character of Elliot’s father, details that begin to hint at the surprise that reveals itself as the story progresses. This is a sophisticated, nuanced book that demands multiple readings in order to fully appreciate the interdependence of Buzzeo’s highly original plot and Small’s clever illustrations.
Most kids love alphabet books and this one will not disappoint. In Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, Zebra is organizing the alphabet into an A-B-C show and Moose cannot wait! His eagerness gets him into trouble with Zebra and the others. See what happens when one excited Moose doesn’t get his way. Perfect for the youngster who knows the alphabet and who has felt disappointment! Beautiful bold pictures accompany the story and will make the reader laugh out loud. Poor Moose will tug at the reader’s heart. Fans of Mo Willems’ Pigeon books will surely enjoy this twist on the traditional ABC book. Check it out to see why Z is for Moose!
In a world of superheroes, Question Boy defeats Garbage Man, Paperboy, Mailman and others with his unending questions. Nobody had enough answers for him until he meets…..Little Miss Know-It-All. In Question Boy Meets Little Miss Know-It-All by Peter Catalanotto, the two have a showdown at the park. Miss Know-It-All starts out strong, but Question Boy fights back with the dreaded “Why? Why? Why?” Showcasing two of the most annoying but utterly adorable traits of childhood, this brightly colored picture book will strike a chord with children and adults alike. A crowd gathers to watch the little boy with unending questions take on the girl with all the answers (even if she has to make some up.) Tensions rise. Who will triumph in this battle of annoying childhood traits? The artist complements his story with expressive pictures. By making community workers into superheroes, Catalanotto reminds the reader of that certain time of childhood when seeing the trash truck was an event and getting the mail could be the highlight of a day. (And adults, don’t worry, the author kindly lists Miss Know-It-All’s made up facts on the back cover, so there’s no need to research.)
Goofiness abounds with the newest detective agency to hit the scene. The Goofballs are four elementary school friends with unique goofy talents like making funny disguises and nutty inventions. Jeff, Mara, Brian and Kelly have been a team since first grade. They solve mysteries. In The Crazy Case of Missing Thunder, by Tony Abbott, the gang is hired to find a rich kid’s missing pet. With the help of Jeff’s dog, Sparky (the official Goofdog), the friends ferret out clues and don disguises, all the while dropping puns and having a good time.
This series is sure to be a hit with young readers who enjoy a mystery and a good laugh. Your 2nd to 4th grader will giggle at the word play and have a good time. It’s a fresh silly series for your young reader who is ready for chapter books. Parents will love the underlying message of friendship and self-confidence the young sleuths demonstrate. Be sure to also check out the second in the series - The Startling Story of the Stolen Statue.