The Perfect Score by Rob Buyea

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Gavin, Natalie, Trevor, Scott, and Randi are all looking forward to sixth grade with Mr. Mitchell, and are dismayed when they learn at the end of the summer that he has left, replaced with Mrs. Woods who is coming out of retirement to teach them.  Each kid is struggling with different issues, including an abusive brother (Trevor), an overly ambitious mom pushing her in gymnastics (Randi), a know-it-all attitude that’s resulted in no friends (Natalie), learning disabilities (Gavin), and immaturity and impulsivity (Scott).  They take turns telling the story of how each gradually comes to enjoy Mrs. Woods’ teaching style, only to see the best parts of sixth grade disappear to make way for standardized test preparation.  The test becomes high-stakes for each one of them for a different reason, and the stress about not doing well results in a plan to cheat.  When their perfect scores arouse suspicion, the truth comes out, but with it comes the truth about many of the other issues in the kids’ lives.  There’s a lot to resolve with both students and teachers, but the school year ends on a high note.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of the author’s Mr. Terupt series will enjoy this new book told in a similar style, with five different narrators.  Many readers will find something to connect with in at least one of the main characters.

Cons:  In today’s Common Core world, a straight multiple choice standardized test seems unrealistic.

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The Friendship Code (Girls Who Code book 1) by Stacia Deutsch

Published by Penguin Workshop

Summary:  Lucy is excited to learn how to code in a new after-school club.  Her best friend, Anjali, is part of the theater club, and Lucy doesn’t have any coding friends.  When she gets an anonymous note written in code, she enlists some of the other girls from the club to try to help her solve the mystery.  With the help of her older brother Alex, Lucy and her three new friends create a game that eventually reveals the identity of the note writer.  By the time the mystery is solved, the four have formed a friendship and are ready to move along to book #2.  144 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Two books about girls coding in the same week!  This one manages to sneak a few coding lessons into a book about friendship that coders and non-coders (and soon-to-be coders) will all enjoy.  Written by the creator of the Girls Who Code movement (www.girlswhocode.com) that is starting coding clubs for girls all over North America.

Cons:  Anjali seemed like an extraneous character.

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Click’d by Tamara Ireland Stone

Published by Disney Hyperion

Summary:  Allie has worked hard at CodeGirls summer camp, developing at app called Click’d that’s designed to help people make friends.  Her final presentation is so successful that she’s invited to enter the annual Games4Good competition, where  young programmers showcase their games designed to make the world a better place.  Allie’s plan is to keep Click’d under wraps until after the competition, but her friends’ enthusiasm is so flattering that she ends up releasing it early.  Before long, much to Allie’s delight, the game goes viral, but within a few days there’s a security flaw, and one of her friend’s private texts appears on other kids’ phones.  Allie knows she has to fix the problem before the competition, but the only person who can help her is Nathan, another super coder at her school, a fellow competitor at Games4Good, and her long-time nemesis.  It’s a roller-coaster week for Allie as she navigates the highs and lows of both the tech industry and seventh grade.  304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A fast-paced, funny story about two smart and talented coders whose skills don’t always extend to the social world of middle school.  Good messages about friendships are subtly woven into the light, breezy plot.

Cons:  Click’d didn’t really seem like it belonged in the Games4Good contest, going up against other games that addressed homelessness and the world’s water supply.

The Trail by Meika Hashimoto

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Toby is hiking the Appalachian Trail from his home in Vermont to the northern end in Maine.  From the opening scene, it is evident he’s not as knowledgeable and well-prepared as he should be for such a strenuous journey, but it is equally clear that his determination comes from a need to prove himself.  As the story unfolds, the reader learns of the friendship between Lucas, the leader, and Toby, the follower, and of the bucket list they made one June with ten goals for the summer.  One of these, “Jump off the rope swing at the quarry”, led to Lucas’s death, and Toby’s guilt over this has driven him, a year later, to try to cross off the final item, “Hike the Appalachian Trail from Velvet Rocks to Katahdin”.  Along the way, he befriends two older boys; they save him from hypothermia, and Toby later saves one of their lives.  He also rescues an abused dog who teaches him the power of love. Toby’s growth as a hiker along the journey becomes a metaphor for his personal growth, as he finally learns to forgive himself and move on.  240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Plenty of adventure and the gradual unfolding of Toby’s and Lucas’s story will keep readers moving quickly along The Trail.

Cons:  The whole “wilderness journey as life metaphor” has been done before (hello, Gary Paulsen); but of course that doesn’t mean readers won’t be able to enjoy yet another take on it.

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The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Picking up right after The War That Saved My Life ended, the story begins in the hospital where Ada is awaiting an operation on her clubfoot.  The surgery is successful; shortly afterward, Ada and her brother Jamie get the news that their abusive mother is dead, killed by a German bomb.  Susan is now the children’s legal guardian, and she moves the family into a cottage on Lord and Lady Thorton’s property.  Before long, Lady Thorton is forced to join them.  Susan needs a job, and Lord Thorton finds her one, tutoring Ruth, a Jewish refugee from Germany who is studying for her entrance exams for Oxford.  At first, everyone is unwelcoming to Ruth, unwilling to trust anyone who is German, but slowly she becomes a part of the makeshift family.  The inevitable tragedies of war teach Ada about courage, trust, and love, as she slowly starts to heal the scars from the years with her mother, and learns to embrace her new family and home.  400 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Here’s that rare sequel that is every bit as good as the first one.  So many memorable characters, all of whom must deal with multiple heartbreaks from the war, but do so with courage and grace.  Carve out some time before opening this up; it’s hard to put down once you start.

Cons:  Although this book is every bit as deserving of Newbery recognition as The War That Saved My Life, I would be surprised if the committee gives another award for the sequel.

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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo

Published by Carolrhoda

Summary:  Auma dreams of attending high school on a track scholarship and eventually becoming a doctor.  She’s at the top of her class, the fastest runner on the track team, and her father is earning good money in Nairobi to help his wife and four children back in their small Kenyan village.  One day he returns home unexpectedly, though, and before long, it’s clear he is too sick to work.  Like so many other adults in Auma’s village, her father wastes away and eventually succumbs to a mysterious disease.  Eventually, Auma learns more about AIDS, the disease that takes her mother within a year of her father’s death.  Determined to escape this fate herself, she refuses the marriages her grandmother tries to arrange, and gets a scholarship to one of the best high schools in her province.  After a year at school, though, her younger siblings are malnourished and doing poorly academically.  Auma decides to take time off from her own studies to work in Nairobi.  The story ends with her on the bus to the city.  Although her dreams have been deferred, it’s obvious she is determined not to let go of them completely.  An author’s note tells of her childhood in Kenya and current work with HIV/AIDS orphans in that country.  304 pages; grades 6-8.

Pros:  An inspiring story of Auma’s courage and strength to overcome incredibly daunting obstacles including poverty, disease, and a society that does not value girls and women.  Readers will learn about a world that is very different than most of their experience, and will come to have a better understanding first world problems versus third world ones.

Cons:  Some reviews recommend this starting at grades 4 and 5, but I would be hesitant to put it in my elementary library.  Auma thwarts a would-be rapist, and there are some pretty detailed descriptions of the sexually-transmittable aspect of AIDS.

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Ben Franklin’s In My Bathroom! By Candace Fleming, illustrated by Mark Fearing

Published by Schwartz & Wade

Summary:  When Nolan and his younger sister Olivia receive a package containing an antique crystal radio set, they’re unsure about how it works.  They try twisting dials and flipping switches, and before they know it, they have conjured up Benjamin Franklin from the year 1789.  Ben is quite taken with the 21st century, and insists on going on a tour to see how some of his creations, like the public library and fire station, are faring.  Along the way, he shares stories from his life, told in comic book style.  People are startled, but charmed, by the eccentric old man wandering around town with the two children, and Franklin thoroughly enjoys himself until he starts contemplating the possibility of never seeing his 18th-century friends and family again.  Nolan, who is dealing with an absent father, is sympathetic and finds a way to send his new friend back home.  Billed as Book 1 in the History Pals series, the illustration of the radio offers some hints about what other times in history are planned for the rest of the series. Includes a 10-page section at the end with more information about Franklin, including a bibliography and websites.  272 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Readers won’t realize they’re getting a dose of history education in this fast and funny tale.  A large font, plenty of illustrations, and frequent comic book page inserts make this a good choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  The bathroom/toilet front cover may turn off some adults; there’s actually very little bathroom humor.

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