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The Librarians Recommend…Back to School Excitement

by Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
 | Aug 20, 2014

It’s hard to see the summer end, but students streaming back into the classroom get our librarians excited to book-talk students and hand-sell their favorite picks to teachers. They know some kids haven’t cracked a cover over the entire break, but these educators have been making stacks of their favorite brand-new titles.

Here are just a few of the books our “Librarians Recommend…”

Young Readers

West of the Moon (Abrams, 2014) by Margi Preus has a folk art cover that is appropriate to the story, but it may take some promotion with young readers. In a very unique take on the East of the Sun and West of the Moon folktale, Preus uses a tapestry of Norwegian folktales to tell Astri’s adventure-filled journey toward a new life in America. The book closes with a fabulous author’s note about the diseases and the folktales featured in the book. —CD

Science Fiction

News flash! Science fiction doesn’t have to be grim depressing dystopian disasters! It has been hard to find anything but dystopia in teen books but here’s a gem from Cecil Castellucci.  Tin Star (Roaring Brook, 2014) features fascinating aliens, nefarious plots, a space station on the edge of the known universe and a smart young human trying to survive by her wits. Lots of action, great characters, and a twisty plot make this a winner—especially as it comes in at a slim 233 pages! (Gr. 7-10) —LR


Dragons, an exiled princess, a forest that walks in the night and lyrical writing add up to an irresistible fantasy called A Creature of Moonlight (Houghton, 2014) by debut author Rebecca Hahn. Marnie lives with her grandfather on the edge of the forest where they grow flowers for the court. She is no ordinary village girl though and when her grandfather dies, Marnie must find her path between the court life of her mother and the magical world of her dragon father. Did I mention there are dragons? (Gr. 8-10) —LR

Spy Thriller

It’s Russia during the Cold War and the KGB will do anything to beat the American capitalists to the moon, even if it means developing a secret group of young people who have a variety of terrifying mental powers including reading minds and wiping away memories. Yulia is chosen (coerced) to join the group and yearns to escape to the West. But how do you plan an escape when all around you can read your thoughts? Teens won’t be able to turn read fast enough in this unusual and intriguing page-turner, Sekret (Roaring Brook, 2014) by Lindsay Smith. (Gr. 8-12) —LR

Environmental Mystery

The book I am most excited to share is going to be perfect for my seventh grade reluctant readers. Skink No Surrender, (Knopf, 2014) Carl Hiaasen’s new environmental mystery novel teams up an unlikely pair of “secret agent bounty hunters” in teen Richard and Skink, a hermit Vietnam vet and ex-governor of Florida lifted from Hiaasen’s adult novels. Richard and Skink hit the road together looking for Richard’s cousin who has run away with an online boyfriend that is not what he presented. The book is laugh-out-loud funny with some take-away messages about online safety and environmental stewardship. —CD


The end of Romanov Russia— it’s one of the most fascinating yet convoluted stories in history and has sparked ongoing speculation, rumor, and curiosity. Candace Fleming has written a brilliant book for young people, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia (Penguin/Schwartz & Wade, 2014) introducing young readers to the vivid personalities, rich culture, complex history and desperate secrets that marked this pivotal time. Splendidly researched and documented, the book is compulsively readable with an intimate you-are-there feel that includes outstanding primary source materials and photographs. This will change the minds of any teen who thought history was dull. (Gr. 8-12) —LR

My schools have a large Hispanic population, many of them children of migrant farm workers, so I eagerly snapped up an advance reader copy of Strike! The Farm Workers’ Fight for Their Rights (Calkins Creek, 2014) by Larry Dane Brimner when I saw it at the American Library Association annual conference this summer. Brimner brings to life the five-year Delano, CA, grape strike, the leadership (and shortcomings) of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and the effect it had on migrant workers and the growers. Archival photos and the inclusion of primary sources will make this great for teachers but I am most eager to be able to share this with my students whose families share some of the struggles presented here. —CD

English teachers are going to love the new collaboration between Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet called The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (Eerdmans, 2014). This picture book biography of list-maker Peter Roget is at the top of my list. It is fabulous, amazing, brilliant, gorgeous, stunning, and informative. —CD

My teachers and students are going to hear my excitement about Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific (Abrams, 2014) by Mary Cronk Farrell (Abrams, 2014) and a new entry in Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series called Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard (2014). Both are going to be great for classroom use and will also make great booktalks for student free choice reading. CD

Classroom Read-Aloud

Lisa Graff’s new book, Absolutely Almost (Penguin/Philomel, 2014) is the perfect book for a classroom read-aloud. The short chapters, sometimes just one page, introduce Albie who is starting fifth grade in a new school. Albie struggles in school. He works hard but it just never seems to be enough. "My whole life I've always been an almost. Almost, Albie, almost,” he says. I defy anyone to come away from this moving endearing story unmoved. (Gr. 4-7) —LR

Author Visit

I have an author visit scheduled for the end of September with Lisa McMann, author of The Unwanteds and my students are eagerly awaiting book four in the series, Island of Legends, which publishes Sept. 2. —CD

In Demand

Finally, two books that I NEED to read in the next few weeks because once my students know I have them I’ll never get my hands on them again: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic, 2014) a companion to the wildly popular graphic novel Smile. The tag line is: “Three weeks. Two sisters. One car. A true story.” The other book is Jonathan Stroud’s The Whispering Skull (Disney/Hyperion, 2014). This is book two in the Lockwood & Co. series that began with one of my favorite books from last year, The Screaming Staircase. Ghostbusting has never been so much fun. —CD

Cindy Dobrez is a middle school librarian in Holland, MI. Lynn Rutan is a former middle school librarian and current book reviewer and blogger from the same town. Together, the longtime pals and colleagues write Bookends: A Booklist Blog. 

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