Picture Books – Little Wolf’s First Howling; Tricky; Say Zoop!; Papillion

Kvasnosky, Laura McGee. Little Wolf’s First Howling. Candlewick Press, 2017. Unpaged. 9780763689711. $15.99. Gr. K-2.

This is a delightful tale of a young wolf who sets out with his father to make his first howling at the top of the hill.  His father shows him the proper technique, but Little Wolf cannot help adding his own unique touch at the end. First he howls, “I’m hooooowling,” but then gets more creative with the addition of “dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo…”.  Despite his father’s admonishment to use the correct form, Little Wolf includes even more interesting phrasing.  Big Wolf then realizes that he likes his son’s originality and father and son howl in unison in an unwolflike style.  McGee’s full bleed illustrations are done in gouache resist and then colored with Photoshop.  The illustrator has created a mountainous landscape set from dusk to evening with its full moon and starry sky. Kvasnosky’s simple message is that we need to be true to ourselves.  THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy this tale of the two wolves, who are very appealing and almost cuddly.  This book makes for a great read aloud and will work in character units. A worthy addition to elementary collections.

Easy Picture Book       Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Rust, Kari. Tricky. Owlkids Books, 2017. 978-1-77147-252-4. $16.95. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Tricky is a dog that is often up to no good, mostly because of his dubious owner named The Duke. Whether tripping or tricking or stealing or just causing mischief, The Duke and Tricky are a team that has few scruples and revels in their misdeeds. All that begins to turn when Tricky meets a new baker in town who offers him some kindness and a treat. Filled with warmth and a growing conscience, “Tricky realized that what they were doing was WRONG.” But, is it too late for this old dog to learn a new trick? And, how will he get The Duke to see the error of their ways? Kari Rust’s debut picture book is full of engaging, humorous characters and well designed drawings that allow the reader to empathize and emote as the story unfolds. The text, and the moral lesson, are simple yet effective, and hopefully Tricky and The Duke will both mend their ways. THOUGHTS: The hand drawn, computer colored illustrations would pair well with The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat. Plus, the details in the pictures jump out more and more with repeated viewing. This short text would also be great for a lesson on point of view or caricature or inferencing.

Picture Book        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Tullet, Herve. Say Zoop!. Chronicle Books, 2017. 978-1-4521-6473-1. $15.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Following the fun success of interactive books such as Press Here and Mix It Up! comes the newest picture book by Herve Tullet. This time we follow simple blue and red dots and build some ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah’ sounds to match them. The patterns and sequences on each page are nicely mixed with imagination and variety to keep the reader guessing and practicing. When the yellow ‘Waahoo!’ joins the mix, we are all in for the creative musical mess that follows! As the book ends, “Doesn’t that make you want to try mixing it up into some completely new sounds?” Tullet has another hit on his hands, and young readers have another vocal colorful adventure to explore!  THOUGHTS: This series has also worked well for me with some autistic readers who crave tactile stories, especially with built-in sound effects! A music teacher could also easily incorporate this book into a lesson about volume, pitch, patterns, or more.

Picture Book        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Kang, A.N. Papillon Goes to the Vet. Hyperion, 2017. 978-148472881-9. $16.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.
Papillon is back! Previously seen in A.N. Kang’s debut, Papillon, The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon is a cat so fluffy that he can fly. As the second book opens, Papillon is enjoying life and playing catch with his bird friend. As they are playing with a small stuffed mouse, Papillon accidentally swallows the stuffed toy. This causes Papillon to feel sick and to develop constant hiccups. Worst of all, he is no longer able to float in the air! Miss Tilly, his owner takes him to see the vet. Admitted to the vet clinic for an overnight stay, Papillion is feeling sick, lonely and scared, when his hiccups cause him to burp up the swallowed toy. Able to float once more, Papillon takes to the air to show off his dancing and singing ability, which wows the fellow cats at the vet clinic. The next day, he returns home, looking forward to playing once more (but this time, with his mouth closed). THOUGHTS: This engaging book would be a good choice for a read-aloud story. Readers will be able to relate to Papillon’s stress and uncertainty when he is sick. Kang’s watercolor, color pencil, ink and Photoshop illustrations bring Papillon’s exuberance and joyful spirit to life. Not just for cat lovers, Papillon Goes to the Vet is a story that all readers can enjoy.
Picture Book      Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg School District

Elem. NF – Dangerous Jane; Our Story Begins; American Gothic; The Girl Who Ran

Slade, Suzanne. Dangerous Jane. Peachtree, 2017. 9781561459131. Unpaged. $17.95. Gr. 2-5.
Slade’s work is a simple introduction to the life of Jane Addams, American social worker and peace activist, who founded Hull House, a settlement house for immigrants in Chicago.  Beginning with her early life, the author tells us that Jane became aware of poverty when visiting a poor part of town and vowed to help people in need when she grew up.  On a trip in Europe as a college graduate, she saw poverty in London and visited a settlement house that helped poor people acquire job and literacy skills.  This inspired Jane to return to Chicago and found Hull House.   Later we read that Jane Addams was involved in the peace movement to bring an end to World War l.   Initially, she was scorned for these efforts and was called “Dangerous Jane” by the FBI.  However, by 1931, public opinion became favorable and she earned the Nobel Peace Prize. This picture book biography does not give a lot of details about her other contributions, such as the founding of the NAACP. More information is contained in the author’s note and timeline, where some of the gaps are filled in. The illustrations by Alice Ratterree are done in soft muted watercolors.  However, Jane stands out in every drawing, because she is always pictured wearing bright green, even as a child.  There are two black and white photographs in the back matter.  THOUGHTS: This text serves as a good introduction to the life of this important figure in American history and will make for a great read aloud.  Students wishing to learn more will need to seek additional resources, which the author provides in the bibliography.  This book is a worthy addition to elementary collections.
Picture Book; Biography     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District


Weissman, Elissa Brent Ed. OUR STORY BEGINS: Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun. Atheneum Children’s Books, 2018. 978-1-4814-7208-1. $17.99. 192 pp. Gr. 3-6.

“Everyone’s story begins somewhere.” Authors are inherently able to reminisce about that moment when they felt the power of story start to change their lives. Sometimes it was through the received recognition or struggle or heartache that the seeds to their future careers began. Join Elissa Brent Weissman as she collects individual memories and samples from 26 authors and illustrators and revel in their variety, inspiration, and child-like gifts of bringing stories to life. Kwame Alexander shares a poem he wrote for his mom; several authors (R.J. Palacio and Kathi Appelt among them) share their love of horses and unicorns; Alex Gino shares a sci-fi short story, and Brian Selznick shares some early drawing tips. The selections show diversity of age, geography, and heritage, which provides both windows and mirrors for young readers. Plus, children will have that inspiring and relatable notion that indeed, authors were once kids too!  THOUGHTS: The insights that budding writers’ will gain from this collection cannot be measured. Seeing the editing process and imperfect samples from famous folks allows for many writing mini-lessons. Showing the variety of writing works and styles also gives classes a chance to compare and discuss. Plus, the artwork will inspire doodlers and illustrators alike to grab a pencil or paintbrush and get creating!

800; Literature     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District


Wood, Susan and Ross MacDonald. American Gothic: The Life of Grant Wood. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2533-3. $18.95. Unpaged. Gr. 1-4.

Even as a young Iowa farm boy, Grant Wood loved to draw. As he aged, his drawings progressed, and he explored the art culture beyond his midwestern landscape, but in the end, Grant came back to create a vision of the region that he loved. Readers will enjoy learning how Grant came to paint the classic American Gothic and represent common people during the Great Depression. The details of his life are sparse in the story, but the author’s note and timeline at the end help anyone looking to know more. Ross MacDonald provides color-coated images of Wood and his work in an inviting and stylized manner. The farm couple at the center of Grant’s masterpiece would be proud to share their story once more.  THOUGHTS: Although brief, the pages where Grant Wood contemplates his artistic style provide a primer through art history and the approaches that artists take. Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract, and Gothic styles are all depicted. It would be beneficial for budding artists to explore more images of Grant Wood’s art and compare them to the book.

Biography       Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District


Yee, Christina, and Frances Poletti. The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon. Compendium Inc., 2017. 9781943200474. 48 pp. $16.95. Gr. 1-5.

This biography in picture book form is accessible to all ages of readers. Bobbi Gibb could never sit still and loved to run. Even when she was discouraged from all sides–her parents and the admissions people to the Boston Marathon–she did not give up. She trained by running across the country. Ultimately Bobbi ended up sneaking onto the starting line disguised as a boy in a hoodie, her brother’s shorts, and men’s running shoes (they didn’t make women’s at the time, even though it was 1966) and joined the race! THOUGHTS: The watercolor pictures flow perfectly with the poetry verses that express Bobbi’s joy of running. This is a great book to use as a starter for women in sports and discuss which sports still haven’t admitted women yet.

Biography; Picture Book     Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School


Picture Books – The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes; Snowflake in my Pocket; Miguel & the Grand Harmony

Compestine, Ying Chang, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2542-5. 32pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This variation on the traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes features nine-year-old boy emperor Ming Da. Ming Da’s corrupt advisors think he is too young to rule, so they take advantage of him, stealing silks, rice, jewels, and gold. When he looks outside the palace windows, Ming Da sees poor, hungry children begging in the streets. He longs to help them, but it isn’t until his tailors come with his new robes for the Chinese New Year parade that Ming Da hatches his plan. Instead of wearing the ornate robes they initially present, Ming Da enlists the tailors’ help in sewing together old rice sacks decorated with vegetable juices. When he appears in front of his advisors wearing these sacks, he explains that they are magical and that only honest people will be able to see their true splendor. Wanting to mask their corruption, the advisors gush about the rice sacks and agree to have the tailors design magical robes for them as well. One by one, the advisors try on their new robes, and they each want to look more splendid than the others. They bring back the silks, rice, jewels, and gold to finance the creation of the supposedly elaborate robes. Ming Da uses the rice, silks, and gold to feed and dress the poor, and on the morning of the New Year’s Day parade, the advisors march behind the young emperor wearing their own rice sack robes. Amongst themselves, they keep up the charade of complementing each other on the clothing’s splendor, but a young boy in the crowd points and laughs at their rice sacks, and the embarrassed advisors flee the country. Ming Da replaces them with honest ministers and rules wisely and fairly for many years. David Roberts’s vibrant pen and ink and watercolor illustrations feature intricate details such as Chinese scrolls and latticework, and the ornate details pop against plain white backgrounds. Careful readers will also enjoy searching for the emperor’s pet cricket and mouse who appear in almost every spread. A note on the final pages describes the author’s personal history with this fairytale and her childhood in China that inspired this retelling.  THOUGHTS:  This retelling will fit nicely with fairytale units and activities where students compare an original fairytale and a variation. Also use it for Chinese New Year celebrations and storytimes.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Bright, Rachel. Snowflake in My Pocket. Kane Miller, A Division of EDC Publishing: 2017. 978-1-61067-551-2. 32pp. $12.99. Gr K-2.

This is the gentle story of a wise old bear who has seen many seasons and a young squirrel who has seen only three. Together, the pair explore every corner of their forest home, and one night, Bear declares that the snow is on its way. Squirrel has never seen snow before, and he is overjoyed when he sees a wintery wonderland outside his tree the next morning. He can’t wait to play outside with Bear, but Bear has come down with a cold and must rest in bed. Squirrel promises to have fun for both of them and heads outside for a day of rolling, making snow angels, and building snow bears. Even though Squirrel has fun, he still misses his friend and decides to catch a snowflake to take home to Bear. He finds the perfect one, puts it in his pocket, and heads home. But, when he tries to show Bear the snowflake, there is nothing in his pocket. Bear tenderly explains that snow comes and goes, but other things, like their love for one another, last forever. Snowy scenes pop in Yu Rong’s papercut art, and her detailed illustrations ensure children will notice subtle details with each repeated reading. THOUGHTS: This title is perfect for snowy storytimes, and it could also be used to jumpstart discussions of students’ favorite snowy day activities. Pair this with Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


De la Pena, Matt.  Miguel and the Grand Harmony.  Disney Press, 2017. 978148478149. Unpaged. $17.99.  Gr. K-4.

This beautifully crafted book tells the story of a boy called Miguel who lives in a Mexican village and yearns to play music.  Inspired by the Disney Pixar film Coco, it is told in first person by the muse of music called La Música, who is depicted as a fairy by illustrator Ana Ramírez, an artist at the Pixar studios. De la Pena begins this story by telling the reader how music shapes and is a part of people’s lives in a wedding, quinceañera or a funeral and keeps “gray at bay.”  Músicos play in the village, where we meet the boy watching the musicians, but who are shooed away by his abuelita who states that their music will upset “Madame Coco,” an old woman in a wheelchair.  Unknown to his family, the boy has an attic room where he “plays” a broomstick guitar to recorded music.  Músicos again perform in the village and the boy is enraptured with the sound. Once again his abuelita chases them away.  The boy finds a guitar and begins to teach himself how to play.  The music he creates appears to bring happiness to Madame Coco as she smiles with delight at the boy’s music.  Ramirez’s drawings depict a Mexican village and are done in bright colors with lots of details.  On several pages, she has placed vibrantly colored flowers and music notes, which are small in the beginning of the story, but are huge by the end when the boy plays the guitar.  This lavishly illustrated book is a delight to the eyes. De la Pena has created a book that shows us the importance of music in our world and how it colors and brings harmony to our lives.  This book stands alone for the most part, but there are some questions left unanswered that might be answered in the film. Why is the boy’s abuelita concerned about the music upsetting Madame Coco?  Who is Madame Coco?  Who is the man that played music to “his little girl”? THOUGHTS: This book will be popular with readers who have seen the film.  It will also be useful for music teachers as a read aloud and will inspire young musicians.  The art in this book may make it a Caldecott contender.  De la Pena’s book is a worthwhile purchase and will add diversity to elementary collections.

Picture Book     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District