Cuevas, Adrianna. The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez. Farras, Straus and Giroux, 2020. 978-0-374-31360-9. 278.$16.99. Grades 3-7.
After nine “first-days” at nine different schools, Nestor Lopez knows the drill. Only unpack enough to get himself through a few months until his mother decides to move again, all while his father is deployed in Afghanistan. When Nestor moves for the tenth time, it is to his father’s hometown of New Haven, Texas to live with his Abuela. Not long after, Nestor is intrigued by rumors of a beast that roams the woods and has killed neighboring animals. Fortunately, his secret ability to talk to animals helps Nestor find out what, or who, is behind the killings. After the town starts to suspect his Abuela, Nestor longs to talk with his dad who could help him make sense of the strange town that is starting to feel like home. Can Nestor reveal his secret to his new friends in order to save the animals and his Abuela from whatever is lurking in the woods? And will his mom decide to move again, or will Nestor finally be able to put down roots in his father’s hometown?
THOUGHTS: Middle grade readers will enjoy this action packed fantasy novel about a brave, hispanic american boy who uses supernatural powers to save his family. Readers of Rick Riordan Presents books will appreciate the story as well as educators adding stories with diverse characters to their collections.
Fantasy (Mythology) Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD
Young, Brigit. The Prettiest. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-626-72923-0. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.
Eve Hoffman writes poetry, wears her high-school aged brother’s oversized shirts to distract from her curves, and buries her head in a book so as to not be noticed. She is the most surprised of all her eighth grade classmates to find herself in the top slot on the Prettiest List at Ford Middle School in suburban Michigan. As the principal and teachers try to root out the list’s instigator, both girls on the list and off suffer backlash. Prettiest by Brigit Young is told through the perspectives of the main characters: Eve, a well-developed, shy girl from a conservative Jewish family; Nessa Flores-Brady, her best friend, a theater junkie and a large, Latinx girl; and Sophie Kane, a determined blonde-haired girl whose bossiness and make-up mask the shame she feels about her family’s economic situation. When the ringleader of the mean girls, Sophie, gets knocked off her pedestal and relegated to number two on the list, she realizes the pretense of her groupies and reluctantly joins forces with Nessa and Eve to take down the person who they believe compiled the list. Aided by Winston Byrd, a lone renegade from the popular boys, their chief suspect is Brody Dalton, a wealthy, handsome, and entitled young man who has verbally abused or offended many of his classmates with no remorse. The trio enlist other wronged girls calling themselves Shieldmaidens. They bond in genuine friendship and sisterhood as they plot to expose Dalton’s crime in a public way at the finale of the school play. What starts off as a 21st Century equivalent to a simple slam book story becomes a feminist’s rallying cry for girls to be judged on their merits, not their looks, and for all middle school students to resist fitting into a mold to gain acceptance. It also uncovers the nuances of each person’s story. For example, the arrogant Dalton is the sole student whose parent never attends school events. Young’s talent for echoing the authenticity and humor of preadolescent dialogue enables her to tackle important issues with a light touch. This highly readable work reveals the insecurities embedded in a middle school student’s life: not being cool enough, popular enough, and the pain caused by too much attention and not enough.
THOUGHTS: Though there is some show of diversity here (an African-American girl, a girl in a wheelchair), the emphasis is on the pressure middle school students—especially girls—feel to look and behave a certain way. Lots of discussion points in this book: from the insults the girls receive and their collective show of power to the students’ bandwagon attitude and the sympathetic– but mostly ineffectual– response of the teachers and principal. Prettiest may present as a “girl” book because of its feminine cover and title, but it is definitely a book for all genders to read. For more tales of positive girl power: read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu in high school.
Realistic Fiction Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Arnold, Elana K. An Ordinary Day. Beach Lane Books, 2020. 978-1-481-47262-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-3.
This is a poignant and beautiful tale of the circle of life. The author begins by explaining that this street appears like any other, with children playing and a woman watering her flowers. Then, two cars drive up to neighboring houses and two people get out and go into adjacent houses. Both the man and the woman are wearing stethoscopes around their necks. The man enters a house where a dog is on a bed, surrounded by a family who is crying. The woman who enters the other house meets a family whose mother is expecting another child. The veterinarian consoles the family, as the dog is put to sleep, while the midwife or obstetrician helps deliver a new child into the world. All of this is told not so much in words, but through the illustrations. The characters in the story are of various ethnicities and the author writes that both families are “surrounded by family and love.” Magnificent the Crow oversees the “extraordinary” activities on this ordinary street on an ordinary day. The Illustrator uses a variety of media, such as charcoal, watercolor, soft pastels, ink and graphite, to create a soft and muted color palette. These drawings add to the contemplative tone of the story.
THOUGHTS: This is a touching story that will appeal to a sensitive reader who may have experienced the loss of an animal.
Racism can be a tricky topic to discuss, but this title handles the subject well and encourages conversation and reader participation. The text begins by describing how there are millions of people in the world, and they’re all different, coming from different countries, wearing different clothes, speaking different languages, and having different appearances. It goes on to describe how it is important to respect and value all people for who they are and to treat everyone fairly and equally. Racism is defined as a kind of bullying, and can include using hurtful words, intentionally leaving people out of activities, destroying a person’s property, or physically hurting someone. The authors describe how both adults and children can be racist, but racism is always wrong. They also include suggestions for combating racism, including taking time to get to know someone new, inviting people from different cultures into your classroom, and talking to teachers or other trusted adults if someone acts racist towards you. Throughout the text, italicized discussion questions are embedded. They ask things like “What makes you different?,” “How would you like people to treat you?,” “How would you feel if someone called you names?,” and “Who would you tell?” A Note for Caregivers at the end of the book includes strategies for approaching the topic of race with young readers, and a page of Group Activities offers ideas for extending the conversation. This book is part of an 8-title series called “Questions and Feelings About…”. Other titles include Adoption, Autism, Bullying, Having a Disability, When Parents Separate, When Someone Dies, and Worries.
THOUGHTS: This approachable title will work well for morning meeting conversations, particularly in primary classrooms. The built-in questions will generate authentic discussion and will prompt other social-emotional learning connections.
305.8 Ethnic and National Groups Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Helmore, Jim. Paper Planes. Peachtree Publishing Company, 2020. 978-1-682-63161-4. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Best friends Ben and Mia love flying planes together. In the fall, their planes soar with the migrating geese, and in the spring, the friends climb tall hills and watch their planes glide to the bottom. When Ben receives news that his family is moving away, the pair wonder how to keep their friendship alive. In a fit of loneliness and anger, Mia smashes her plane to the ground, splintering it into pieces. Later that night, Mia dreams of flying in a life-size version of the plane as a huge gust of wind lifts her into the air. She soars through the sky with the geese until she spots another plane up ahead. It’s Ben, and together, the friends swoop and soar through the night skies. The next morning, a package from Ben arrives. Inside the box is a plane Ben started building. Over the next few weeks, as Mia adds her own finishing touches to the plane, she realizes that she and Ben can still share their love of planes, even from a distance. Just because he lives far away doesn’t mean their friendship has to end. Colorful painted illustrations capture the love between these two friends and the loneliness they feel when they are apart.
THOUGHTS: This quiet story will work well for morning meetings, and it gently addresses the range of emotions students might feel when a friend moves away. It could also be used for discussions about other people who may be separated from us.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Hughes, Hollie. The Girl and the Dinosaur. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-547-60322-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
In a town by the sea, Marianne spends her days digging for dinosaurs on the sandy beach. Nearby fisherfolk worry that the solitary girl should try to find friends instead of bones. But Marianne’s persistence pays off when bone by bone, she assembles a skeleton she dubs ‘Bony.’ As evening falls, Marianne leaves Bony on the beach, promising to return the next day. Before falling asleep, she wishes for the bones to come to life, and under the bright stars, her wish comes true. A longneck dinosaur flies through the sky, picks up Marianne, and she rides on its back as they begin an evening of adventures. From swimming in the ocean to visiting an enchanted forest filled with fairies, unicorns, and giants, it’s definitely a night to remember. Finally, the pair ascend a tall mountain and rise into the clouds, visiting an island populated by other children and their dinosaur friends. Readers will be enchanted by this world filled with gentle dinosaurs and other magical creatures. Watercolor, pencil, and collage illustrations in muted tones perfectly mirror the imagination and fantasy of the rhyming text.
THOUGHTS: This fanciful story will be popular with dinosaur lovers, particularly girls. Marianne is a confident and imaginative protagonist who is up for any adventure the evening has in store.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Tags: Picture book. Dinosaur fiction. Friendship. Stories in rhyme.
Attitude is everything, and your outlook can make even the dreariest of circumstances appear in a different light. When it’s raining outside and everyone else’s spirits are down, Sunny believes it’s the perfect day to use her big yellow umbrella. She splashes happily to school until a gust of wind lifts her up and carries her above her seaside town and out over the ocean. Most people would agree blowing over an ocean during a storm is terrible, but Sunny enjoys watching the tumbling waves. The story progresses in this vein, with Sunny looking on the bright side of every obstacle she encounters, and ultimately relying on the help of some new friends to get her back where she needs to be. Bold illustrations, featuring a palette of primarily teal and yellow, are perfectly in sync with the nautical vibe of the story.
THOUGHTS: This book will be a natural fit for morning meetings focusing on the benefits of a positive outlook, and it will also prompt discussions about what to do and what you can control when a situation is looking bleak.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Tags: Emotions and Feelings. Optimism. Weather fiction.
Salyer, Hannah. Packs: Strength in Numbers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-1-328-57788-7. 44 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
This nonfiction title celebrates togetherness in the animal kingdom, highlighting many forms of animal cooperation. From packs and herds to huddles and pods, the author shows how animals are better together. Spotlighting animals who are at risk of losing their homes due to climate change, poaching, or habitat loss, each spread includes three descriptive sentences sharing how animals cooperate for the benefit of the group. The spread about bees explains how some of the swarm buzzes from flower to flower, while others stay home tending to the hive and making honey. Together, they work. Additional pages spotlight information about ants, bats, lions, fish, wildebeest, frogs, coral, flamingos, and mongooses. The final page features groups of humans enjoying a variety of outdoor activities, again underlining the idea that people need each other too. The cut paper, gouache, acrylic paint, and colored pencil illustrations were finished digitally and are the true stars of this book. Each full-bleed double-page spread features a single animal as well as a large group of the same animal. Seeing so many of the same creatures together in large groups echos the idea of strength in numbers and solidifies the refrain that together we are better than we are individually. An Author’s Note encourages readers to learn more about the threatened animals featured in this book by reading and researching how every creature plays an important role in our planet’s survival. The final page includes full names and diagrams of each animal included in the book.
THOUGHTS: This first-purchase title will be a beautiful addition to elementary library collections. Students will pour over the illustrations while also gleaning knowledge about cooperation in the animal kingdom.
591.5 Animal Behavior Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Cole, Henry. One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-35997-8. 48 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.
This wordless book takes readers on one paper bag’s journey from the forest, through a lifetime of different uses, and ultimately back to the forest. Opening spreads depict woods full of trees, and readers watch as one tree is chopped down, loaded onto a truck, and delivered to a sawmill. The tree is turned into a paper bag, and it’s journey continues when a small boy and his father use the bag to carry a flashlight home from the store. The bag is used over and over again through the years to carry lunches, sheet music, tools, snacks, an engagement ring, flower petals, toy blocks, and seashells. The bag passes through generations until it is ultimately used to plant a tiny evergreen tree. Even though this story doesn’t include any words, there is plenty to discuss and infer. Illustrations were created with an ink pen, and the only spot color is the brown paper bag and the red hearts that accumulate on the bag throughout the story. Thoughtful readers will pore over the illustrations, noting details such as woodland creatures, newspaper headlines, and family portraits. An Author’s Note at the end of the book shares this story’s inspiration and offers perspective about the importance of reusing and recycling.
Thoughts: This is sure to become an Earth Day classic, prompting discussions about what other seemingly disposable items people may creatively use more than once.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Rodrigues, Andre with Larissa Ribeiro, Paula Desgualdo, and Pedro Markun. The President of the Jungle. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 978-1-984-81474-6. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Lion has always been king of the jungle, but when he abuses his power by rerouting a river to create his own private swimming pool, the other animals decide it’s time for a change. Owl suggests becoming a democracy and holding an election where each animal has the chance to become a candidate and campaign with new leadership ideas. All jungle animals have the opportunity to vote and elect a president. Everyone agrees to the idea, and Monkey, Sloth, Snake, and Lion kick off their campaigns. They make posters, speak on tv, distribute pamphlets, debate issues, and hold rallies. On election day, each animal casts a secret ballot, and the first president is elected. This accessible title introduces young readers to the democratic process using straightforward language and easily understood descriptions. A glossary of election terms on the final page includes boldfaced words from the text such as campaign, debate, democracy, government, rally, and vote. Originally published in 2018 and translated from Portuguese, the book’s vibrant illustrations were created by mixing hundreds of paper cutouts with pencil and charcoal drawings and coloring everything digitally.
THOUGHTS: This lively jungle title spotlights the basic elements of democratic elections and will be a perfect fit for elementary classrooms looking for tie-ins to the 2020 presidential election. The text is geared towards the youngest readers, and the glossary includes child-friendly political definitions.
Picture Book Anne Bozievich, Friendship Elementary School, Southern York County SD