Fourth Friday – June 2020

free book bus donation

June has been surprisingly busy! We started out the month delivering 570 books for readers in need to two sister nonprofits.

Over the years we’ve collected lots of fun stuff, so crayons, bookmarks, pins, went along with the board books, picture books, middle grade, and young adult titles.


Second, we got some great middle grade and young adult recommendations from our volunteer teen reviewers! It is always exciting to see what resonates with them and why they would (or wouldn’t) recommend specific books.

Worth noting: May is #MentalHealthAwareness Month. Our teen volunteers submitted reviews of several young adult novels where mental health played a role in the plot. Two books, from two different reviewers, both had the same recommendation: everyone should read this book. Yes, they are on this list.

Lastly, thanks to the #CybilsReaddown, I made a small dent in the picture bookshelves! Without that challenge, I probably wouldn’t have had much to offer for younger readers this month.

In every issue: Our goal for the Fourth Fridays Review Round-up is to present the best-of-the-best of what we read and reviewed during the month. Three criteria:

  • Books meet the reader’s “I would buy this book” threshold.
  • We never have more than 10 books in this list.
  • The titles may not be new books by publication date, but they are new to the reader. If a reader discovers a book they love, then it doesn’t matter if it was published “a long time ago.”

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Book covers link to Amazon.
We can earn income via these links. All income goes to our literacy mission.

Weird Animals Christina BanfiWeird and Wonderful Animals
written by Christina Banfi, illustrated by Rossella Trionfetti
White Star Kids, 2019

animals, nature, nonfiction

Picture Book
Listener Ages: 8 to 12 | Ready-to-Read Ages: 10 and Up

Review Tagline: After the “ew, gross” they’ll say “turn the page, let’s read some more.”

There are more than 40 unique creatures featured in this nonfiction picture book. Discover new-to-you species that live in the deepest ocean or call the desert their home. For each featured animal, there is a fact card with the scientific name and basic habitat information, as well as at least one interesting fact about its physical traits.

Review Excerpt: Eye catching illustrations are sure to draw in even the most reluctant reader. Animal, nature, and gross-fact lovers will be especially intrigued!! Many of the featured animals include information about their snouts and beaks, which kids are sure to find interesting and fun.

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

stardines jack prelutskyStardines Swim High Across the Sky: and Other Poems
written by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger
Greenwillow Books, 2013

imagination, poetry & rhyme, humor

Picture Book
Listener Ages: 3 to 10 | Ready-to-Read Ages: 10 and Up

Review Tagline: Fun, Engaging and Imaginative

Sixteen creatures are introduced through rhyming poetry. The creatures are an imaginative yet logical blend of an animal and a character trait. Although you’ve never seen them before, their descriptions (not to mention the illustrations) make them forever memorable.

Review Excerpt: Exquisite rhyme, amazing illustrations, and imaginative creatures will have readers asking for these poems to be read over and over again.

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

grandma gift eric velasquezGrandma’s Gift
written and illustrated by Eric Velasquez
Walker Children’s Books, 2010

autobiography, Christmas, culture and traditions, family

Picture Book
Listener Ages: 3 to 12 | Ready-to-Read Ages: 10 and Up

Review Tagline: A Beautiful Gift on So Many Levels

After Grandma picked him up from school, Eric and his grandmother went to La Marqueta to buy ingredients for pasteles, a traditional Christmas dish in Puerto Rico. As soon as they got home, Grandma set to work making the pasteles, and sharing stories about her life growing up in Puerto Rico. On Christmas Eve, Grandma and Eric went to an art museum. When Grandma spotted a painting of Juan de Pareja, a former slave and artist, Eric was surprised she knew who he was. That night, she answered his question and gave him a gift that set Eric on his way to becoming an artist.

Review Excerpt: This is a book to be treasured! The story and artwork in Grandma’s Gift are amazing and beautiful. Young readers will likely see the “gift” as the sketchpad and colored pencils that Eric talks about at the end. When you read the Author’s Note, though, you realize the real gift is Eric’s relationship with his grandmother and the experiences they share together: cooking together, sharing family and personal history, visiting cultural sites.

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

None this month.

restart gordon kormanRestart
written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic, 2018

accident, change, family, personal growth

Ages 10 and Up

Review tagline: Would you believe a bully who has amnesia?  

Chase Ambrose is an 8th grade star football athlete. He also has a reputation as the biggest bully at Hiawassee Middle School. In school or out, he and his friends are mean to people. Even community service – multiple times! – hasn’t changed him. Then, he fell off the roof and went unconscious. Chase forgot everything. He wakes up with no memory of who he is or what he’s done. When Chase returned to school, people avoided him and aren’t willing to believe his story. They remember who he was and what he did, even if he doesn’t. As Chase figures out ways to pull up his old memories, he finds himself in situations where he needs to decide what’s best for him.

Teen Review Excerpt: Restart is a book about the struggles rebuilding, learning from your actions, and doing the right thing. What makes this book really good is that it is unique. There is a theme of adjusting to change, but in a plot that is different from other books. There is a lot readers can take away from Restart. [Reviewer age: 13]

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

just my luck Jeff andersonJust My Luck
Zack Delacruz, Book 2
written by Jeff Anderson
Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

diverse characters, friendship, growing up, middle school

Ages 9 and Up

Review tagline: What’s Luck Got to Do With It?   

Sixth grader Zack Delacruz hopes his new-found confidence is enough to impress Abhijana (“Abhi”) Bhatt. Or not. First, he rips the seat of his pants getting up from the lunch table. Then, he knocked her to the ground in dodgeball … and ran afoul of Abhi’s older brother. Those events made it easy for Jose Soto (aka El Pollo Loco), who L-O-V-E-D teasing Zack to take monopolize Abhi’s attention. At Janie Bustamonte’s suggestion, Zack, his best friend Marquis, and Janie went to a botanica so Zack could buy some luck. Except it ended up in more embarrassment. So much so that Zack reconsidered going to the Fiesta-val at school. Marquis talked him into going and, just when Zack thought his luck had run out, he had a chance to save the day – and Abhi too!

Review Excerpt: What a fun, wholesome read! Although Zack is our narrator, the cast is an ensemble and we get solid insight into the personalities and feelings of other key players: Janie, José, Marquis, Blythe, Cliché, and Abhi. The story, set in San Antonio, TX, seamlessly weaves in Spanish dialogue and elements of Hispanic culture.

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

Note: We also read, reviewed, and enjoyed Upstaged (Zack Delacruz, Book 3).

turtles all way down john greenTurtles All the Way Down
by John Green
Dutton Children’s Books, 2017

coming of age, friendship, illness/mental health, realism, social issues

Ages 15 and Up

Note: Profanity and sexual references. Some readers may find the descriptions and behaviors associated with OCD and anxiety uncomfortable. For others, they could be emotional triggers.

Review tagline: “Everybody needs to read this book,” says Teen Reviewer. 

Aza (16) suffers from an obsessive-compulsion disorder (OCD) and anxiety disorder. When billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing, Aza’s outspoken and fearless friend, Daisy is determined to find him. Together, they are determined to figure out the mystery and win the $100,000 reward. As they fish for clues, Aza stumbles upon Davis Pickett, her childhood friend and Russell’s son. son of said billionaire. Even as Aza tries to solve the mystery, be a good friend, and maintain her relationship with Davis, she is dealing with OCD, anxiety, and the intrusive thoughts that consume her at every corner of her being.

Teen Review Excerpt: Turtles All the Way Down is one of the most powerful and authentic stories I have read. It makes you feel Aza’s daily hardships, bringing to light how OCD and anxiety take control of one’s life and relationships. Mental illness isn’t pretty nor is it something to romanticize. Buy this book. There are many beautiful lines that are worth revisiting from time to time. I would give it as a gift to teenagers and young adults. The themes of coming of age and the painfulness of mental illness can resonate with many people. [reviewer age: 16]

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.

all bright places jennifer nivenAll the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven
Ember, 2016

Ages 15 and Up

Note: The plot contains profanity, sexual references, and suicide.

Review tagline: Touching, with a message everyone should hear.

Violet Markey and Theodore Finch don’t really know each other until they meet in an unexpected place: the school bell tower. Each has come here, contemplating the idea of jumping off. Violet is coping with the loss of her sister; Finch is battling suicidal ideation. After talking one another out of jumping, they become partners for “Wander the State,” a school project. In exploring different sites around Indiana, they develop romantic feelings for one another. Things seem to be looking up for Violet, but Finch continues a downward spiral and is ultimately expelled from school. He runs away, leaving cryptic notes that send Violet to the remaining places for their project. Then there is a last note: a goodbye message. The note deeply troubles Violet, but she learns too late that she was right in her suspicion about where Finch committed suicide. Violet feels guilty for his death, but with support from her friends and a song that Finch left her, she is able to not blame herself and move on with the next chapter of her life.

Teen Review Excerpt: The story is very touching with important messages everyone should hear. It is so well written that you can imagine yourself in the places with these characters and Violet’s and Finch’s emotions when they are going through a breakdown. The story also sheds light on mental health issues. One’s mental health can’t be fixed just by meeting someone. The story effectively shows the darkness and dangers of depression and bipolar disorder, making it clear that these issues aren’t something that should be romanticized. I appreciate that the last few pages of the book are dedicated to different hotlines and numbers you can call if you are experiencing depression, grief, or anything else. [Reviewer age: 16]

Buy @ Read the review. Buy @ Borrow @ your library.


One response to “Fourth Friday – June 2020

  1. Hey there, these books are really amazing for kids. I like Turtles All the Way Down and it is good for teenagers and young adults too. Thanks for providing a helpful review.

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