The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson
By Laura Shovan. Illus. by Abigail
Apr. 2016. 256p. Random/Wendy Lamb, $15.99
(9780553521375); lib. ed., $18.99 (9780553521382).
This skillful first novel by poet Shovan features 18 characters who narrate their pivotal
fifth-grade year in a variety of poetic forms.
The class is torn about the future of their school
building, which the district is actively planning to close, spurring some to political action
by petitioning to save Emerson Elementary.
Meanwhile, friends are made and lost, crushes
bloom, and the students’ home lives impact
their school lives. At times the sheer number
of protagonists, all given equal billing, makes
this novel in verse difficult to follow. However,
the multiethnic class is distinctive, and read-
ers will grow to care about students’ personal
struggles, such as whether Gaby’s English im-
proves or Mark’s grief over his father’s death
will heal. Back matter on the types of poems
utilized will prove useful for those wanting to
clearly written, first-person narrative, the vivid
scenes of fifth-grade conflicts, old and new
friendships, and affectionate family life make
this an accessible, appealing chapter book.
The Black Dragon.
By Julian Sedgwick. Illus. by Patricia
Mar. 2016. 352p. Carolrhoda, $18.99 (9781467775670).
When an explosion rips through 12-year-
old Danny’s school, it turns out to be the first
of many attacks he must dodge over the next
several days. The blast brings his parents, lost
in a fire, to the forefront of his mind, along
with his suspicion that their deaths were not
accidental. In an attempt to cheer Danny up,
his reporter aunt (and guardian) suggests that
he come with her to Hong Kong while she
investigates a story, giving him a chance to
connect with his Chinese heritage. They have
barely arrived when Aunt Laura’s research into
Hong Kong’s criminal underworld results in
her kidnapping. Equipped with unusual talents from growing up in a traveling circus,
Danny must attempt a death-defying rescue.
This first installment in the Mysterium series
is filled with action and stage magic, though
Danny’s struggles with identity and his parents’ deaths are never far from the surface,
making this adventure more than gangster
brawls and misdirection. —Julia Smith
By Kwame Alexander.
Apr. 2016. 320p. HMH, $16.99 (9780544570986).
Nick doesn’t think he is extraordinary, but it
is true that he and his best friend, Coby, are
stupendous soccer players. In addition, Nick’s
dad has written a dictionary, which means that
appendix lands Nick in the hospital, keep-
ing him from playing in a prestigious soccer
tournament. It sucks. Alexander treats read-
ers to the same blend of poetry, humor, and
insight that graced his Newbery-winning The
Crossover (2014), enhanced with a thrilling
literary zest. Mr. Mac, the school librarian, is
a former rapper who, after undergoing brain
surgery, joyfully embraced his true calling ped-
dling books to middle-school students. Book
after wonderful book is suggested to smart but
reading-averse Nick. It’s not a small thing to
incorporate big issues like bullying and divorce
into eminently readable free verse that con-
nects boys, sports, and reading. While some
may find Mr. Mac’s passion a bit overwhelm-
ing (while others may find it simply delightful),
middle-school readers and their advocates will
surely love Alexander’s joyous wordplay and
celebration of reading. —Diane Colson
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Newbery
winner and New York Times best-seller?
Alexander’s latest will surely have a lengthy
Hour of the Bees.
By Lindsay Eagar.
Mar. 2016. 368p. Candlewick, $16.99 (9780763679224).
Like her friends, 12-year-old Carolina eschews most of the Mexican side of her Mexican
American culture, shortening her name to Carol and flat-ironing her wild hair. But now she
is being forced to spend the
summer before her first year
of junior high in middle-of-nowhere New Mexico, as
her family prepares to move
her ailing grandfather, a man
she has never met before, off
his land and into a home for
people with dementia. At
first, the summer is as dry as she thought it
would be—her father, who hasn’t been home in
12 years, is strained; her mother is stressed; and
her older half sister is sullen. Then Grandfather
Serge begins to tell her stories that sound half-crazed, about her grandmother’s wanderlust
and his own rootedness, and about a lake in the
desert and a tree that made it so no one would
ever die. In spite of herself, Carol is drawn into
these stories, learning more about her family