Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood with Greg Dawson is a novel about the Holocaust told in verse and organized into seven parts. The story rings with Zhanna’s love for her Ukrainian homeland, sorrow for her lost family, and fury for both Stalin and the Nazis. The story opens with the insatiable curiosity of Zhanna Arshanskaya, a born explorer. Until 1935, Zhanna and her sister, Frina, live a candy-coated life in Berdyansk, Ukraine, nestled near the Sea of Azov. When Stalin begins to devour their country and imposes “death by hunger,” the family is forced to seek refuge inRead More →

Despite the prologue, this graphic novel (Messy Roots by Laura Gao) isn’t about the pandemic. The beautiful color pages of the first chapter describe what this book is really about: freedom and roots. Two concepts that can seem like opposites but that blend together in a beautiful combination in this book. Opening her story with her childhood in Wuhan, Gao makes it easy to see how different her adolescence in Texas is from her early years. As a child transplanted to the US at a young age, Gao quickly learns the importance of fitting in. She changes her Chinese name for the American “Laura” andRead More →

With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 having recently been commemorated, we all might wonder whether we have progressed as a nation in the last two decades. We might ask ourselves if we treat others better today than we did in the days and months after the attacks. Because today’s school age youth were not yet alive in 2001, they may wonder why September 11 carries the motto, Never Forget. They may wonder why history is so important.  Saadia Faruqi’s novel Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero will guide middle grade readers to understand these complicated questions with their layered answers. Readers will learn that historyRead More →

Told in 33 chapters by seven voices, Linked by Gordon Korman shares the story of a swastika that sets in motion a series of unintended consequences.  Because the administration at Chokecherry Middle School believes that information is the best antidote to the poison of prejudice, the 600 students who attend are subjected to tolerance education. Still, the swastikas continue to show up. What initially seemed to be a sick joke turns into something more sinister. The persistence dredges up 40-year-old memories of the Ku Klux Klan in Shadbush County and the Night of a Thousand Flames.  Soon, the quiet town of Chokecherry, Colorado, is madeRead More →

Betita is a nine-year-old girl with a loving family in modern-day America. She enjoys learning new words, spelling, drawing, and playing with other kids her age. What appears to be a rather normal life quickly begins to unravel into fear and uncertainty when her Papi doesn’t pick her up after school one day. After failing to reach her father, the principal drives Betita home. While her mother tries to hide her worry, Betita knows something is wrong, and she soon finds out that the almost-worst has happened. Her father has been deported, leaving her mother, who is newly pregnant, and Betita to fend for themselvesRead More →

Set in 1941 in Viteretz, Ukraine, Don’t Tell the Nazis is a historical fiction account of events during the Soviet Occupation of Ukraine, the few days of “freedom,” and the German infiltration that followed.   Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch frames her story around real people and events so as to be true to the history but takes liberties to humanize it. Readers follow the heroism of Krystia Fediuk, a twelve-year-old girl wishing to bring the hope back to her mama’s eyes after Tato’s death from cancer.  Krystia steps in to take on the tedious tasks that could wear her mama down, but she feels powerless against Ukraine’sRead More →

As a confirmed bibliophile who believes in the power of books, I didn’t need Suggested Reading by Dave Connis to convince me that a person can be undone by a book or that books serve like eyeglasses, giving us new insight by providing a perspective we didn’t realize we were missing. Similarly, Connis’ protagonist, Clara Evans has been built by books; they have shaped, changed, inspired, and guided her to her senior year at Lupton Academy (LA), a private school in Tennessee.  On the first day of her last year in high school, Clara learns about a school policy about “prohibited media”: LA’s librarian Mr.Read More →

Born to Austrian and Indonesian parents, Alexa is nearly ten years old and attends Nelson Elementary School in London.  She dreams of having the best job in the world: “being a reporter and getting to solve mysteries and go on adventures” (2) just like Tintin and Snowy, her favorite comic book characters. One day, a boy with lion’s eyes joins Alexa’s class and sits in the back.  Intrigued by the mysterious boy, Ahmet, Alexa and her friends—Josie, Tom, and Michael—set out to discover where Ahmet is from and how he came to be in London.  During their discovery phase, the group learns not only thatRead More →

Just as an apple, cut and cored, cannot be put back together, Nella Sabatini–a young Italian Catholic girl–feels undone, confused, and incomplete.  Restless with desire for things her parents cannot afford, for popularity that evades her, and for a sense of peace and quiet that is in short supply with a houseful of “barbarian brothers” and a grandmother who is demanding and grumpy, “ancient and ignorant,” Nella aches for answers to life’s toughest questions and difficult dilemmas.  With happy moments so ephemeral, she wishes, “If only you could store up happiness. . . . Dig a happiness hole, or keep a happiness piggy bank, savingRead More →