The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Growing up in Germany in a family of scientists, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went his own way, showing a keen interest in theology at a young age.  At age 12, he lost his older brother in World War I and began a lifelong quest to understand human suffering in the light of his Christian faith.  When Hitler came to power in Germany, Bonhoeffer found himself with increasingly difficult choices to make. He founded the illegal Confessing Church to support those who opposed Hitler’s takeover of the German churches.  When that was shut down, he decided the moral choice was to join forces with those who sought to assassinate Hitler, and was part of two unsuccessful attempts before being arrested. He spent a year and a half in prison, ministering to other prisoners and guards and refusing a chance at escape because of the danger it would bring to his family.  Finally, Bonhoeffer was found guilty of trying to kill Hitler, and was executed on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler committed suicide.  Includes an author’s note, bibliography, notes, and an index. 176 pages; grades 6-12.

Pros:  I’ve read a lot of good reviews of this book, and I was not disappointed.  It’s kind of like a graphic novel, with the text well-incorporated into the black, turquoise, and red illustrations.  The rise of Hitler is chilling, and the lessons to be learned from the complacency of those in power in Germany can’t be overstated.  Hendrix clearly wants readers to think about how those lessons can be applied to today’s political situations. Bonhoeffer’s faith and humanity in the face of an increasingly inhumane world is inspiring to say the least.  Both the Newbery and Caldecott committees should give this book consideration.

Cons:  Some of the print was so small I had to take my glasses off to read it.  (If you’re over 45, you’ll understand what I’m talking about).

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Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Image result for fake blood whitney amazon

Summary:  A.J. is hoping that sixth grade will be different, but on the first day, things seem depressingly familiar.  His two best friends, Ivy and Hunter, continue to bicker, leaving him out of their ridiculous bets with each other.  Plus, they each had amazing summer adventures while A.J. stayed home and read.  His crush, Nia, is back, as dazzling as ever, but apparently unaware that A.J. exists.  Their new teacher, Mr. Niles, has a cool British accent, but seems pretty strict.  As the year goes on, A.J. tries to become cooler, pretending to be a vampire to impress Nia, who is obsessed with them.  This almost proves disastrous (she wants to be a vampire slayer), but in a weird way brings them together.  When Hunter goes missing and unsettling truths start to emerge about Mr. Niles, A.J. and his friends and sister have to band together to save themselves.  336 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  An entertaining graphic novel with sympathetic tween characters, a fun vampire theme, and good messages about friendship and being yourself.

Cons:  I kept putting off reading this because it seemed long, but once I started it, the pages flew by and I finished it in a day.

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Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo, pictures by Harry Bliss

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Rosie is kind of lonely; she barks at the dog at the bottom of her shiny silver bowl, but doesn’t get a response.  She wags her tail at a cloud that’s shaped like a dog, but that’s unsatisfactory as well. Finally, her owner gets the hint, and they head to the dog park.  There, Rosie meets a not-too-bright St. Bernard named Maurice, and a very bouncy, yappy little dog named Fifi.  Rosie’s ready to call it a day and head home when Maurice decides to play with Fifi and almost swallows her whole.  Rosie intervenes and is surprised when the three of them end up as friends. In the final chapter, a trip to the dog park and games with Fifi and Maurice have become part of the routine for Rosie and her owner. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  There’s plenty of humor in both the story and illustrations of this graphic novel style picture book. I’m a big Harry Bliss fan, and he doesn’t disappoint with his adorable, expressive dogs, while Kate DiCamillo knows how to perfectly capture small details of friendship.

Cons:  I’m sorry Fifi almost got eaten, but she did seem pretty annoying.

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Kristy’s Big Day (The Baby-Sitters Club) by Gale Galligan

Published by Graphix

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Image result for kristy's big day gale

Summary:  Kristy’s mom is getting married to her boyfriend, Watson Brewer, which means Kristy is facing many changes: a new stepfather, stepsister, and stepbrother, plus a move across town to Watson’s “mansion”.  When the wedding date suddenly has to move up, leaving just a couple weeks to pull it all together, Kristy and the Baby-Sitters Club step in to provide a week of childcare to the 14 children coming to the wedding.  It’s an adventurous week, from Karen Brewer terrorizing the kids at the playground with tales of monsters from Mars to Stacey’s trip to the movie theater that results in her group being kicked out for dropping Junior Mints on someone’s head. It all comes together in the end, though; the wedding is beautiful, and Kristy finds a gift that helps bring her new family closer together.  148 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  True confession: I am an embarrassingly huge BSC fan and own almost all the Super Specials (hidden in a desk drawer).  This wouldn’t be so bad if they were my childhood favorites, but the first book came out right after I graduated from college. I don’t usually review later books in a series (this is #6 of the graphic novels), but suffice it to say I love these adaptations even more than the originals, and commend Gale Galligan for being a worthy successor to Raina Telgemeier in both art and storylines.  

Cons:  Mallory is still an extremely minor character.  And where is Jessi?!

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

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Summary:  12-year-old Ebo lives with his alcoholic Uncle Patrick in Ghana; his sister Sisi has left to try to get to Europe.  When his brother Kwame also runs away, Ebo decides to try to find him and start a new life in a more prosperous country.  The brothers eventually reunite and make their way across the Sahara Desert to Tripoli, Libya. From there, they work and save money to take a boat across the Mediterranean Sea.  The story is told in chapters alternating between that boat journey and flashbacks relating the events leading up to it. There is extreme hardship, illness, and death every step of the way with a particularly heartbreaking tragedy at the end.  Ebo is persistent and optimistic, though, and his prospects for success in his new country seem promising. Includes a map; a creators’ note that tells more about refugees; and “Helen’s Story”, the story of a Sudanese woman’s harrowing journey to the United Kingdom. 144 pages; grades 6-8.

Pros:  This graphic novel would make an excellent companion to last year’s Refugee by Alan Gratz.  Although Ebo’s story is fictional, the events and hardships seem very real.  The artwork is beautiful, with stunning ocean and desert scenes providing sharp contrast to the difficult story line.

Cons:  While I think older elementary students would find this book engaging and learn a lot from it, be aware there is a lot of death and grief in the story.

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The Epic Origin of Super Potato (Super Potato book 1) by Artur Laperla

Published by Graphic Universe

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Image result for epic origins super potato

Summary:  When Super Max is called on to stop Doctor Malevolent from stealing a priceless statue from the museum, it seems like business as usual for this slightly narcissistic superhero.  But the evil Malevolent has a new weapon, and before Max can say “Tater Tots”, he has been transformed into a potato with the villain’s ray gun. Fortunately, his superpowers remain intact, so he becomes a flying, extra-strong potato.  Much of the story is about his attempts to turn back into a human (or at least get some decent hair), but in the end, his quest is futile, and it appears that he will be fighting crime as a potato in future installments. 54 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Captain Underpants and Dog Man may have to make some space for this new superhero who will appeal (wildly) to their fan base.

Cons:  Max’s/Super Potato’s hair (and his obsession with it) reminded me a bit of a shocking head of orange hair that is frequently in the news.

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Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

Published by Scholastic Graphix

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Summary:  Dani is struggling to make friends in seventh grade after she and her two best friends are put in different classes.  When she finds her deceased great aunt’s sketchbook (at a truly dysfunctional family gathering), she soon realizes that it’s magic.  When she draws dreamy Prince Neptune’s head (from her favorite comic series), not only does it come to life, but it starts calling her Princess Dani and declaring its love for her.  Dani’s next creation is a new best friend named Madison; this situation soon becomes awkward as Madison starts to wonder why her parents have left her in a new town and never call. As Dani tries to figure out how to use her new powers, she begins to make some non-magical friends as well.  When Prince Neptune turns out to have an evil plan in mind, Dani’s new friends rally to her side to defeat him. Turns out they all have a bit of magic in them, and there’s a hint of a sequel for these newly minted 7th grade superheroes. 272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm and the rest of the “girl” graphic novel crew will enjoy this new entry.  The middle school angst and friendship drama are real, and this one has a bit of the supernatural added.

Cons:  The battle against Prince Neptune bordered on the absurd.

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