Not If I Save You First

Fans of survival and adventure stories will love Not If I Save You First. Throw in humor and a little first-love-romance and this book hits a home run for me!

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: middle grade and up
5 out of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Ally Carter’s books! She always has strong female main characters, male characters that respect strong women, original plots, humor, adventure, and romance. Her latest work, Not If I Save You First includes all of these features and, as an additional bonus, it is set in the Alaskan wilderness. This is a stand-alone novel.

Madeleine Rose Manchester, aka Mad Dog, is the spunky and very capable main character. The book opens six years earlier, when Maddie was a talkative 10-year-old and her father was the head of the Secret Service. Maddie’s best friend is Logan, the son of the president of the United States, and they are inseparable. When Maddie’s father is seriously injured in the line of duty, he resigns his position and moves Maddie to the wilderness of Alaska where there is no internet or phones and a small one-room cabin becomes their home.

Six years later, Maddie is a young woman who knows how to throw a hatchet, start a fire, and survive in Alaska on her own. She is also completely aware of the importance of lip balm, painted nails, and hair ties. Maddie is a wonderful mix of abilities and doesn’t fit into any stereotypical image of girls. She is a woman of the 21st century who is fully capable of doing whatever she wants.

Logan is sent to Alaska because he has been sneaking away from his security detail and acting up in DC. His parents believe roughing it in Alaska will help him learn to shoulder responsibility. For the past six years, Maddie has been writing letters to Logan that he never answered. She is both hurt and angry and is less than thrilled by his arrival.

After Maddie’s father is called away to deliver supplies before a big storm hits, a terrorist shows up and abducts Logan. It is up to Maddie to save him. The rest of the story is full of the excitement and adventure as Maddie and Logan struggle to stay alive in the Alaskan wilderness, escape the assailant, and work through the hurt feelings that developed after six years apart.

Carter injects humor and romance into a plot filled with adventure and survival. The relationship between characters is well developed. The story is unique and full of surprises. Fans of Carter’s other books will definitely enjoy Not If I Save You First. There is a mention of the Blackthorn Academy and obviously, Maddie would make an excellent Gallagher Girl!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

This is a fun rom-com with a somewhat awkward main character that you hope get his happily ever after!

Chapter book, fiction, LGBTQ+
Young adult
William C. Morris YA Debut Award, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

This premise of this book reminds me of You’ve Got Mail, the 1998 Nora Ephron film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Two people meet over the internet, trade emails, and fall in love before meeting in person.

I think the story’s strength lies in the characters. The main character is Simon Spier. He has a close and goofy family and supportive friends. He has longtime friends Nick and Leah, and newer friends Abby and Blue.

This book is often touted as a coming out story, which it is, but it is also about friendship, discovering who you are, and how change affects friendship. Becky Albertalli does an amazing job depicting Simon wrangling with his feelings and struggling when friendships hit rocky patches. It can be hard to juggle school, extracurricular activities, family, and friendships. Add in being blackmailed and not being ready to come out and let people know you’re gay, and it can be overwhelming. Sometimes in life things get out of whack and people get hurt or feel left out. Simon has to learn to trust people with new information about who he is and that can be scary. The reader goes with Simon on his journey and it is both funny and heartfelt.

My favorite line is, “White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.” (p. 269) This probably sums up much of the story and the message that readers should take away. The default much of the time is straight and white. Simon makes us think about eliminating our default thinking and accepting people for who they are and how they define themselves.

This book will appeal to a lot of readers. It is funny, while tackling a serious topic in a thoughtful way. Fans of romantic comedy will really enjoy Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

Harriet the Invincible 

A fun retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the princess doesn’t sit around waiting for the curse to happen to her, but instead goes out and kicks some butt! Oh, and she’s a hamster…

Hybrid novel/graphic novel, fiction, fantasy
Interest level: grades 2-4; Reading level: 4.9
2017-2018 YHBA Intermediate nominee
4 out of 5 stars

Harriet Hamsterbone is a spirited hamster princess who decides that she isn’t going to sit around and wait for a hamster wheel to appear on her twelfth birthday so she can prick her finger, fall into a deep sleep, and then have some prince come to her rescue. Quite frankly, she’s a little skeptical that princes are capable of being heros, and she reasons that “the curse needs me alive until I’m twelve, or it can’t operate! I’m invincible!”

So Harriet sets out on her faithful riding quail, Mumfrey and spends the “next two years cliff-diving, dragon-slaying, and jousting on the professional circuit.” Harriet turns the usual fairytale hero/damsel in distress stereotype on its head. She empowers herself and determines that she won’t let anyone dictate how princesses should act.
Ursula Vernon injects a ton of humor into Harriet’s story. The format of the book contains paragraphs of text interspersed with graphic novel style panels. The illustrations are single color in the style of Dragonbreath (also by Vernon), Babymouse, and Lunch Lady. All these features combine to make a book that is perfect for readers who may not want to read traditional, text-only novels.

Harriet the Invincible
by Ursula Vernon
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-91343-0

The Teacher’s Pet

Everyone could see that the class pet was trouble. Everyone but the teacher, that is! Hilarity ensues as readers root for the children to save their classroom!

Picture book, fiction, humorous
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.8
4 out of 5 stars

Mr. Stricter is very excited by his classes’ science project! He’s has always wanted a pet, so when the class tadpoles are big enough to be released into the wild, the class gets to pick one to keep in the classroom.

They choose Bruno.
Zachariah OHora’s illustrations let observant readers in on the fact that Bruno may be a little more than Mr. Stricter expects. What is especially fun is the children’s scared and horrified faces versus the happy smiles of Mr. Stricter. Children will love this book as a read-aloud because they will delight in noticing that the illustrations do not necessarily match what the text is saying.

The children work together to solve the problem of Bruno. This is a great lesson that can be pointed out to children. Not all problems can, or should be, solved by adults.

Surely Mr. Stricter has learned his lesson and the next science project focusing on butterflies will go better…

This book is a fun and interesting story that will delight young readers. It will make an excellent read-aloud in a library or classroom. Don’t forget to check out the endpapers and note the very important difference.

The Teacher’s Pet
by Anica Mrose Rissi; illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Disney-HYPERION, 2017
ISBN 978-1-48474-364-5

The Bear Who Wasn’t There

This is a laugh out loud story that is missing its main character! Will bear every show up?

Picture book, fiction, humorous
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.5
5 out of 5 stars

Spoiler alert! The duck on the cover tips off readers to the whole problem in this story — the bear, who is the main character, never shows up. So how can this book be successful? LeUyen Pham has crafted an adorable menagerie of characters that help the reader look for the elusive bear.

The story begins on the cover with the title, The Bear Who Wasn’t There, and a duck announcing that the bear never shows up. Then the story is carried through on every page that follows, including the endpapers inside the covers, and the title page.

The reader and characters in the story break through the fourth wall and work together (most of the time) to try to find the bear. A jealous duck has recently written his own book, The Duck Who Showed Up and works very hard to convince the reader that his story is the one to read…who needs a bear anyway?!

The story abounds in word play and humorous situations. As the reader turns the page and enters a room with a sign guaranteeing the bear is inside, we discover instead that a prankster mouse is playing a trick on a giraffe on the toilet, who happens to be reading the duck’s book.
The author/illustrator herself even makes an appearance and tries to find bear. The story follows the bear’s footprints all the way to the back endpapers.

This book is delightful and would make an excellent and fun read-aloud.

The Bear Who Wasn’t There
by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press, 2016
ISBN 978-1-59643-970-2

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box

This is a humorous book for beginning independent readers.

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box
by Jonathan Fenske
Penguin Young Readers, 2015
ISBN 978-0-448-48511-9
Beginning reader, humorous
30 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm.
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Lvl: 1.1
Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor, 2016
5 out of 5 stars

This book features two friends, Fox and Pig. The story is divided into three independent parts, that build on each other. Each part begins with the same repetition:

I am Fox.
I am Pig.
I am little.
I am big.

At this point the reader discovers that Fox likes to play tricks on Pig. But much like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, things don’t turn out well for poor Fox.

Children will love the humor and recognize the irony of Fox always getting injured by his pranks. They will especially enjoy his growing collections of bandages and scrapes as they go to each subsequent part.
The simple, repetitive language is used in a rhyme scheme that makes the story delightful to read. I especially like the humor and storyline that does not try to condescend to young beginning readers.

Fans of Elephant & Piggie, or who enjoy funny stories will enjoy A Pig, a Fox, and a Box.