Jennifer Kitchel

Antonio Iturbe’s prize-winning third novel, The Librarian of Auschwitz, translated by Lilit Thwaites, is a haunting lyrical tale in the vein of Elie Wiesel’s Night and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

Iturbe interviewed real-life Auschwitz prisoner and survivor Dita Kraus in preparation for writing this fictionalized account of her life. Moving back and forth in time, Iturbe shows us Dita’s journey—from her middle-class family home in Prague to the Jewish ghetto known as Terezín, and finally to the family camp at Auschwitz. At 14, Dita is too old for the horrifying “lessons” being taught to the other imprisoned children, but she is entrusted to collect and distribute the few books snuck into the camp. Over the course of a year, the reader walks with Dita as she experiences the dehumanizing terror of life in a concentration camp.

The daily horrors of imprisonment are palpable, but Iturbe blends in moments of joy, love and mystery—each all the more poignant for their rarity. An essential addition to any reading list focused on the Holocaust, The Librarian of Auschwitz is best suited for an older teen audience due to some language and violence.

 

Jennifer Bruer Kitchel is the librarian for a Pre-K through 8th level Catholic school.

Antonio Iturbe’s prize-winning third novel, The Librarian of Auschwitz, translated by Lilit Thwaites, is a haunting lyrical tale in the vein of Elie Wiesel’s Night and Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl.

Todd Hasak-Lowy’s first book for young readers, 33 Minutes . . . Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt, is a funny story with some serious insights about middle grade boys and their friendships. While there are a lot of books out there about the friendships of girls, it’s easy to forget that boys have their own codes and paths of growth as they navigate into adulthood. 33 Minutes allows us to peak inside and see how a boy’s brain works.

The first chapter begins on a day in school at 11:41 a.m.—33 minutes until recess and the butt-kicking that Morgan plans to do to our narrator, Sam Lewis. The last chapter ends at 1:16 that afternoon, but Sam manages to tell us all we need to know in that short time. How, for instance, he and Morgan have been best friends for years but now Morgan is so angry that he can barely look at his former pal. Sam explains how the new kid Chris comes between them, along with divergent interests in football and academics, but he is hesitant to say what one thing happened that prompted Morgan to want to beat him up. By the time Sam tells us about the incident, we understand that it wasn’t just that one thing, that there were numerous little things that added up to a busted friendship.

Hasak-Lowy’s fast-paced book keeps the reader wondering—and dying to know—about Sam and what he’s going to do as the fight approaches. The story is about growing up and moving on, but It’s told with great humor as Sam tries to figure his way out of the mess. Bethany Barton’s illustrations add an immediate quality with hand-drawn pictures and funny lists. Morgan and Sam do not end up as you might expect, but the conclusion is highly satisfactory.

Hasak-Lowy has created a genuine voice in Sam Lewis, one with which any reader, whether jock or nerd, can sympathize.

Todd Hasak-Lowy’s first book for young readers, 33 Minutes . . . Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt, is a funny story with some serious insights about middle grade boys and their friendships. While there are a lot of books out there about the friendships of girls, it’s easy to forget that boys have their […]

British author-illustrator Dave Shelton has written a unique story about, yes, a boy and a bear in a boat. There are no other characters (other than a sea monster) and the boy and the bear do not have names. They call each other simply “Boy” and “Bear.” The only location in the story is the sea. In this setting, Shelton is able to create a quietly powerful fable about friendship.

The boy boards the board from a nondescript jetty at the beginning of the story and persistently asks the bear, who is the captain of the small rowboat, if “they are there yet,” although where “there” is, is never discussed. With such a blank canvas, the conversations between the bear and the boy become the plot and the action. How these two learn to get along and survive through storms, hunger and boredom is not only the heart of the story, it is the story.

Shelton’s book is mostly a quiet study, with a few harrowing moments, and the reader is drawn slowly into their world. It takes a while to realize that the normal things one would wonder about a story—Why is the boy in the boat? Where are they going? What happens when they get there?—are not the kind to be asked of this book. The ending is as much a mystery as the beginning, but the answers to the right questions are given: who the boy and the bear are to each other, what their strengths are together and whether their friendship will be enough to be everything there is.

With marvelous illustrations by the author, A Boy and a Bear in a Boat would be a wonderful choice to share aloud with a child.

British author-illustrator Dave Shelton has written a unique story about, yes, a boy and a bear in a boat. There are no other characters (other than a sea monster) and the boy and the bear do not have names. They call each other simply “Boy” and “Bear.” The only location in the story is the […]

Fantasy novels often seem to take place in a vaguely ancient British or Irish world, especially when the story involves fairies, elves or other magical creatures. Greek mythology has also had a certain popularity, but author Jasmine Richards breaks new ground for young readers by giving her debut novel, The Book of Wonders, a Middle Eastern flavor. She even includes Sinbad the Sailor as a somewhat major character, further enhancing the Arabian setting, and rewarding the reader with a refreshing new world to explore.

Zardi longs to leave her restrictive life as a girl from a good home in Arribitha. Her ambition is to sail and have wonderful adventures, like Sinbad on his ship, the Falcon. She is even more intrigued when her best friend Rhidan discovers that Sinbad may be able to tell him why he was orphaned and where he came from. But the event that spurs Zardi and Rhidan to action is the kidnapping of her father and sister by the evil Sultan Shahry?r. Now they must find Sinbad—and some answers—in order to free Zardi’s family.

Richards weaves in enough sorcery, djinnis (genies) and danger to keep any middle grade reader entranced. There are familiar scenes—like finding a djinni inside a lamp—and new creatures like the Queen of the Serpents and the giant brass horseman. While the main story line is resolved, others arise, assuring a sequel to come for this well-paced adventure.

Fantasy novels often seem to take place in a vaguely ancient British or Irish world, especially when the story involves fairies, elves or other magical creatures. Greek mythology has also had a certain popularity, but author Jasmine Richards breaks new ground for young readers by giving her debut novel, The Book of Wonders, a Middle […]

At the beginning of this story, almost-11-year-old Lexie’s mom tells her, “A big part of growing up is dealing with things we don’t like.” What she doesn’t tell her is how to deal with those things. This is something Lexie must discover for herself while on vacation with her father at the family beach house.

Lexie’s parents divorced about a year earlier, and as much as she dislikes going to the beach without her mom, she is looking forward to some time alone with her father. It isn’t until they arrive, however, that her dad tells her that his girlfriend is coming as well. And just when Lexie thinks she can get past this new thing that she doesn’t like, she finds that the girlfriend has brought her sons, Harris and Ben, too.

The reader can feel the tension mount as everyone tries to make a “nice vacation” and no one talks about the changes in their families. There are glimpses of Lexie learning how to make decisions for herself, especially when she realizes “that somebody had to stand up for me and I guess it had to be me.” But she says nothing until young Harris lets it slip that her father and his mother are planning to get married. We are as relieved as Lexie when she finally confronts her father and clears the air.

Lexie is a sweet, short story that will appeal particularly to young girls. Newbery Honor-winning author Audrey Couloumbis very deftly shows us the growth of her character in the passing of just a few days. Yes, growing up is dealing with things we don’t like, and Lexie will show you how to do it.

At the beginning of this story, almost-11-year-old Lexie’s mom tells her, “A big part of growing up is dealing with things we don’t like.” What she doesn’t tell her is how to deal with those things. This is something Lexie must discover for herself while on vacation with her father at the family beach house. […]

In the barest sense, this is a fantasy book with all the elements you might expect, but as any happy reader knows, it is not the story that makes the book so much as how it is written. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a mouthful of a title, but the prose throughout this book is wonderful—a “mouthful” in the most satisfying sense. Award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente writes beautifully with a rich and deep vocabulary that is every bit as enjoyable as the plot of the story.

September, the 12-year-old protagonist, is a perfectly ordinary girl, bored with her perfectly ordinary life, who eagerly accepts the offer of the Green Wind to bear her away to Fairyland. Here she meets the creatures you would expect (witches, fairies, pookas) as well as many original ones, including a wyverary (a wyvern whose father is a library). In her quest for a witch’s stolen spoon, she is also sent by the evil Marquess to bring back a magical sword that only September can retrieve.

September wonders at one point if she is in a merry tale or a serious one, but the narrator cautions us that “no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move.” However, she will learn that the choices she makes have everything to do with how her life will unfold. When September first arrives in the land of Fairy, she sees signposts directing her to lose her way, lose her life, lose her mind or lose her heart. She chooses (sensibly, considering) to follow the path where she will lose her heart, and, as a reader, you will lose your heart as well as you revel in Valente’s writing. Recommend this book to advanced readers in middle school. They will appreciate the challenge and love the story.

In the barest sense, this is a fantasy book with all the elements you might expect, but as any happy reader knows, it is not the story that makes the book so much as how it is written. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is a mouthful of a […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!