Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner (2016)

samBlood and battles abound in the epic story of one of Japan’s first samurai.

Recommended grade level: 6 and up

Pages:   236 (for ISBN 9781580895842)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, action, history, international, Asia (Japan)

Tone/Style: grimly gleeful

Pace: fast

Topics: samurai, medieval Japan, war, revenge

Themes: loyalty, honor, death

Summary: Child exile. Teenage runaway. Military genius. Immortal hero.

Yoshitsune had little going for him. Exiled to a monastery, he had no money, no allies, and no martial training. He wasn’t big or strong or good-looking. His only assets were brains, ambition, and a dream. But childhood dreams can change history.

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Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen (2015)

markA fantasy adventure set in the ancient Roman Empire.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:   352 (for ISBN 9780545561549)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, adventure

Tone/Style: conversational, personal

Pace: moderate

Topics: magical objects, magical powers, slaves, gods, ancient Rome

Themes: family, loyalty, freedom, power

Summary: When Nic, a slave in the mines outside of Rome, is forced to enter a sealed cavern containing the lost treasures of Julius Caesar, he finds much more than gold and gemstones: He discovers an ancient bulla, an amulet that belonged to the great Caesar and is filled with a magic once reserved for the Gods — magic some Romans would kill for. Continue reading

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (2016)

girlLiterary fantasy and winner of the 2017 Newbery Medal.

Recommended grade level: 5 and up

Pages:  388 (for ISBN 9781616205676)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, fairy tale, award winner

Tone/Style: lyrical, mysterious, melancholy

Pace: leisurely

Topics: witches, magic, lost family, amnesia, hidden potential

Themes: family, sacrifice, sorrow, loyalty, loss

Summary: An epic fantasy about a young girl raised by a witch, a swamp monster, and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon who must unlock the powerful magic buried deep inside her.

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. Continue reading

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (2015)

most-dangerousThis tense story of a lesser-known figure from the Vietnam War era is a timely look at whistleblowing and patriotism.

Recommended grade level: 6-12

Pages:   384 (for ISBN 9781596439528)

Genre(s) and keywords: nonfiction, history, thriller, award winner

Tone/Style: informational

Pace: moderate

Topics: the Vietnam War, government secrets, peace movements, the news media, Watergate, information leaks

Themes: privacy, dissent, loyalty

Summary: From Steve Sheinkin, the award-winning author of The Port Chicago 50 and Bomb comes a tense, exciting exploration of what the Times deemed “the greatest story of the century”: how Daniel Ellsberg transformed from obscure government analyst into “the most dangerous man in America,” and risked everything to expose the government’s deceit. On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity, Most Dangerous further establishes Steve Sheinkin as a leader in children’s nonfiction. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Most Dangerous reads a bit like a cerebral spy thriller.  Those interested in secrets and conspiracies will gobble this up. Deep thinkers will be spurred to ask themselves questions about morality and patriotism for which there are no easy answers. As with all Sheinkin’s work, this will appeal to a wide swath of readers and will likely sway some fiction-only readers to give nonfiction a try.

Who won’t like this book?: This is a bit more rooted in politics and less rooted in action than some of Sheinkin’s other works. The moral questions posed may be over some readers’ heads.

Other comments: This is an incredibly timely peek into the past. If I didn’t believe before that history repeats itself, I certainly do now. Sheinkin includes a fascinating section at the end tying Ellsberg’s story to the story of Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. This is a 2015 National Book Award Finalist and the winner of the 2016 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Sequel(s):

Readalikes: In The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery, Sheinkin offers a close look at another morally murky figure from American history.  Though the Vietnam War isn’t a popular topic in young adult lit, there are lots of nonfiction books involving resistance and espionage from the WWII era, including The Boys Who Challenge Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose and The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb.

-Kylie Peters

Image source: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23310694

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry (2015)

worstThis comedy adventure will have kids cracking up. I booktalked this to 6th and 7th graders, to great success. (Make sure you mention the giant butt kite.)

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 224 (for ISBN 9781484708491)

Genre(s) and keywords: humor, diverse, adventure, reluctant readers, Latinx protagonist

Tone/Style: humorous, self-deprecating

Pace: moderate to fast

Topics: field trips, Washington, D.C., terrorism, kidnapping, covert activities

Themes: loyalty to friends

Summary: In this hilarious novel, written in the voice of eighth-grader Wyatt Palmer, Dave Barry takes us on a class trip to Washington, DC. Continue reading

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart (2016)

some kindA classic-style Western for a new generation.

Recommended grade level: 4-8

Pages: 234 (for ISBN 9780545665773)

Genre(s) and keywords: adventure, Western, historical fiction

Tone/Style: determined, folksy

Pace: moderate

Topics: human/animal relationships, the Wild West, friendship

Themes: loyalty to family, grief, doing the right thing, never giving up

Summary: Joseph Johnson has lost just about everyone he’s ever loved. He lost his pa in an accident. He lost his ma and his little sister to sickness. And now, he’s lost his pony-fast, fierce, beautiful Sarah, taken away by a man who had no right to take her. Continue reading

Camo Girl by Kekla Magoon

CamoGirl_jkt1A relevant drama about changing relationships in middle school.

Recommended grade level: 4-7

Pages: 224 (for ISBN 9781416978046)

Genre(s) and keywords: realistic fiction, diverse, African-American

 

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