Dactyl Hill Squad

272p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Sept. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338268812. POP
OrangeReviewStarGr 4–7—This epic, alt-history fantasy, set during the U.S. Civil War in July 1863, opens with a disgruntled Magdalys Roca, angry that the Colored Orphan Asylum matron demands she answer to the name Margaret Rocheford. Her immediate dilemma: Should she continue to resist the woman and miss the all-black cast performing a Shakespearean show, or should she attend with the rest of her friends? This is readers' first glimpse of the brave Afro-Cuban protagonist who lives in a dinosaur-filled world, where living in the North does not assure safety due to a booming international slave trade with the South. Unable to resist the lure of the show, Magdalys rushes to join the group, suddenly discovering a new power: the ability to communicate telepathically with the dinosaur pulling the wagon. This skill, combined with quick thinking, help her save several of the children when the theater and orphanage burn down, and to ensure they escape to the safe haven of Brooklyn. The children immediately become involved with the Vigilance Committee, serving as spies and watching Manhattan Kidnapping Club members who supply the slave trade. This first book in a series takes place within a few action-packed days, ending as the Squad prepares to leave on new mission to locate Magdalys's older brother, a Union soldier wounded in dangerous New Orleans.
VERDICT This high-energy title is perfect for middle graders, with its strong female protagonist, a fresh perspective on history, helpful notes and resources, and an honest portrayal of the complex topics of race and gender.

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