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Juvenile Fiction Selection: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Sophie Brown and her family have just inherited a farm from her great-uncle Jim.  Her father has recently lost his job, her mother is a busy full-time writer, and they have all just moved from the city and have no experience with farming.  Sophie finds a funny little chicken while exploring the farm and begins correspondence with a woman named Agnes of the Redwood Farm Supply company.  Soon Sophie is learning all she can about chickens through trips to the local library and through Agnes's letters.  Something is really different about great-uncle Jim's chickens though and more keep showing up on the farm every day, as well as the mysterious Ms. Griegson who keeps trying to steal them.  It's up to Sophie to keep her new chickens safe and to convince her parents that she is up to the task of being a chicken farmer.  Written entirely in letters to her recently deceased great-uncle Jim and beloved Abuelita, as well as to Agnes of Redwood Farm Supply this is an odd and adorable story about starting over in a new place, making friends, and supernatural chickens!  To accompany this great story are adorable illustrations of all the silly chickens.  (Grades 4-6 School Library Journal)

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail is in need of a master! Dark Sorceress, Evil Wizard, or Wicked Witch, it doesn’t matter. These minions just need someone to follow and to help save their “good” evil castle before it's shut down. Molly is in need of a place she can express her magic and be a witch – especially a wicked one! When this unlikely group meet, things take unexpected twists and turns. Will they accept Molly – who seems just a little too nice to be truly wicked – to be their master? Can Molly save Castle Hangnail? And what happens when the real dark Sorceress shows up to claim her castle? Find out by following Molly and her minions in this darkly adorable story. (Grades 4th – 6th)

Picture book selection: Nobody

This straightforward picture book tackles the issue of bullying.  Kyle, the bully in this story, keeps putting Thomas down and making him feel bad about himself. The situations described are realistic and will provide opportunities for discussion among students.  Kyle is portrayed not just as a bully, but as someone who needs help with his feelings.  The story ends on a hopeful note with Thomas deciding to stand up for himself and Kyle realizing that his behavior is alienating himself from the other kids.  Included in the back pages is information for adults on how to start a conversation on bullying.  (Gr K-2)

Sentinel: A Spycatcher Novel

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Written by an ex-MI6 field agent, Matthew Dunn, this spy thriller exudes authenticity.  Trained to be the ultimate spy, Will Cochran is sent to Russia on a fool’s errand:  to find a deep cover agent who has betrayed the U. S. and wants to start a war.  Not only does Cochran face geographic and physical odds in Russia, political and economic tensions at home, he is up against the clock, and it is ticking!

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, by Ben MacIntyre

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Kim Philby was a cricket fan, journalist, friend, spy—and traitor. In A Spy Among Friends, Ben MacIntyre examines the life and career of one of the most successful Soviet double agents through his friendships with Nicholas Elliott, a fellow British spy, and James Jesus Angleton, the chief of the CIA’s counterintelligence department. MacIntyre’s telling exposes the strange, almost incestuously intimate world of spying in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s: a society of hard-drinking school friends-turned-agents made vulnerable by the peculiarly British belief that only a small circle can be trusted, but that within that circle, trust is absolute—even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Philby exploited this weakness to its fullest, “picking clean” agents from every major intelligence organization in Europe, America, and the Middle East; untold hundreds of British and British-allied agents died as a result.  

Absorbing, well-organized, and marbled with delightful oddities like Elliott’s bodyguard/nanny (who had “enormous feet” and drank gin from a bottle marked “Holy Water”), A Spy Among Friends is a must-read for espionage fans and Cold War buffs.

The Martian : a novel by Andy Weir

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Engineer-botanist Mark Watney is presumed dead and left by his crew mates on Mars as a dust storm forces them to abort their mission. Logbook style narratives describe Watney's efforts to extend his life until the next scheduled mission arrives in 4 years.  Watney exemplifies the “never say die” attitude we associate with heroes but he is facing tough odds while trying to stay alive on Mars.  Part astronaut primer and deep space survival guide, The Martian is an interesting sci-fi yarn!

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

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Was the British luxury ocean liner Lusitania, sunk in British waters during World War I, an inevitable casualty of war? Was there anything that could have been done to save her or her civilian passengers, which included a record number of infants and children? Had wartime rules of engagement changed?

Erik Larson’s considerable research illuminates the remarkable series of coincidences and decisions that converged to consign the Lusitania and most of her passengers and crew to a watery grave. Larson skillfully brings individual passengers, captain, crew, and military leaders to life while detailing the behind-the-scenes machinations that played such a significant role in the Lusitania’s sinking.

Whether you enjoy historical nonfiction or have shied away from reading it because of concern about dry text or an avalanche of dates, names, and places, this riveting read is for you.

Echoes from the Dead

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What happened, Jens?” is a question Julia continues to ask her son. The problem is her son is missing and Julia has been living with that unanswerable question for years. Julia has not recovered from receiving that devastating phone call from her father that Jens had vanished. On a foggy October night, Jens' grandfather, Gerlof, fell asleep in his chair while babysitting Jens, who must have left their beach house and disappeared into the ocean. Or did he?  Twenty years after that fateful day, Gerlof receives one sandal in the mail. He calls his daughter, Julia, to inform her of this mysterious package. Could this be Jens' sandal?  Father and daughter patch their strained relationship to pursue clues in search of an answer. This award-winning mystery is an excellent read. 

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