Need something for a middle school/high school reluctant reader? Hand him/her Andreo's Race. During an international ironman competition of sorts, Andreo and his friend Raul discover the truth about their adoption from Brazil to Canada. Yes, it's highly unlikely that they would find the facts that they find, and yes, things wrap up a bit too neatly, but this is a FUN read full of adventure that also introduces issues of illegal adoption.
I LOVE Cynthia Lord's books. If you want heartfelt and beautifully written stories featuring characters on the precipice of adolescence--read her books! (Her Shelter Pet Squad series is perfect for beginner chapter book readers). A Handful of Stars is set in Cynthia Lord's beloved Maine, as are many of her stories (and like Half a Chance, also set in summer). If it weren't for Salma Santiago's quick thinking, Lily might have never found her blind dog, Lucky, in the blueberry fields. Lily and Salma quickly form a friendship based on their love of dogs and painting, even though it's highly unusual for a a girl from Lily's community and a girl from the migrant workers' camps to become friends. When Salma enters the annual Blueberry Queen pageant, it forces the community to face some truths about the lives of migrant workers (and what they think about migrant workers). Children's novels about prejudice often portray acts of prejudice in stark black-and-white and shocking scenes. A Handful of Stars features a more subtle type of prejudice that is masked with excuses and an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude (it also touches upon the prejudice faced by French-Canadians in Maine decades ago). Lord's closing paragraphs were so poignant and moving that I reread them several times. There is a great deal of kindness in this story, but not without moments of uncertainty and sadness. It's a sensitively rendered tale that is both timeless and contemporary.
With fewer and fewer World War II survivors left every day, the importance of preserving firsthand accounts from witnesses and survivors is crucial. Soon, there will be few left who remember the horror and brutality of that time, which is why books like The Boys Who Challenged Hitler are vitally important. Although Knud Pedersen was only a fifteen year old boy when Denmark capitulated to the Nazi regime, he was keenly ashamed of how quickly his government and fellow countrypeople surrendered to Germany, in comparison to Norway, which fought bitterly. Pedersen and his friends vowed to fight back, however they could, starting with small (but very dangerous if caught) acts of sabotage. Increasing awareness that *someone* was fighting back spurred other Danes to resist however they could; when the boys (all teens) were caught and imprisoned, they became national heroes. Phillip Hoose was fortunate enough to interview Knud Pedersen extensively before his death in 2014, and the result is this important and phenomenal account of ordinary yet extraordinarily brave teens who stood up to a monstrous regime.
Being Nixon: A Man Divided is at the top of the list. I knew I would like it when I realized that Evan Thomas would spend very little time detailing the lives of Nixon's parents. I have read so many presidential biographies in which the early lives and courtship of parents (and/or the history of his proud state of birth) were chronicled in agonizing detail. Unless the parents are John and Abigail Adams, I care very little. (This is why I ended up reading a short biography of Lyndon Johnson; I had very little patience for pages upon pages about his parents, grandparents, and the history of Texas.) Thankfully, Evan Thomas jumped right into the complex and bizarre life of Richard Nixon. This is nonfiction storytelling at its best; it's a compelling and fair judgment of a complicated man.
Dinoblock is a must-read for young dinosaur fans. Through intricate diecut pages and simple writing that introduces both the proper name of each dinosaur depicted and a singular characteristic of the beast, dinophiles will be drawn to this immense board book that goes beyond the regular simple board books known to most.
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House should definitely be on your radar. Rather than focus on the families who have resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Kate Andersen Brower interviewed the butlers, floral arrangers, chefs, and many other White House staff that keep a very busy, stressed, and public household running. If you're looking for salacious gossip, you'll be disappointed (some residents were liked more than others, however), but if you've ever wondered what it would be like to work at the White House, this one is for you.
As If : The Oral History of Clueless. While most Clueless fans will want to read this, this does run into the common problem of oral history books in that the minutiae is a bit overwhelming (like the ones on ESPN or Saturday Night Live). It's definitely fun to read about how the clothes were styled, how the unique vocabulary was created, but since there was very little drama in the making of the movie (no major tantrums or conflicts, no major scandals, everyone pretty much got along, and the movie was an immediate critical and financial success), it loses a bit of steam. Those interested in movie-making or the movie will definitely enjoy this.