Reef, Cora. The Not-So-Tiny Tales of Simon Seahorse. Little Simon, 2021. $17.99 ea. 118 p. Grades K-3.
Simon Says. 978-1-665-90368-4. I Spy…a Shark! 978-1-665-90371-4. Don’t Pop the Bubble Ball! 978-1-665-90374-5.
This new chapter book series for elementary readers features ocean dwelling protagonist Simon Seahorse. Simon lives with his family (Dad, Mom, and 11 brothers and sisters) near the ocean town of Coral Grove. When not attending Coral Grove Elementary, he enjoys hanging out with his best friend Olive Octopus, telling stories and going on adventures. In Simon Says, Simon takes one of his treasured possessions, a lucky pearl, with him to school for “sea and tell.” Naturally, being a storyteller, he enjoys embellishing the story of his pearl a bit when it’s his turn. After he arrives home from school, he realizes that the pearl has gone missing! Together with his friend Olive, and some help from Mr. Green, the turtle trolley, he goes on a journey to Shipwreck Station (aka the ocean’s lost and found) in the hopes of locating his pearl. In I Spy…a Shark!, Simon and his friends are afraid of sharks (they’re worried about being eaten). So, when Simon and Olive spy a shark while working on a school project in Coral Jungle, they are understandably frightened. But Zelda the shark doesn’t want to eat them; she is there to pick a bouquet of coral for her mother’s birthday. Simon and Olive help her choose the best coral for her bouquet and in return she invites them to Shark Point to attend her mother’s birthday party. As a result, they have another amazing story to tell their classmates. The text in each volume is accompanied by digital B&W illustrations on each page.
THOUGHTS: This early chapter series is sure to be popular with readers. Though Simon is a seahorse, many of the situations he finds himself in will be relatable to elementary students. After all, who hasn’t panicked when they think they have lost a treasured possession? Or realized that the preconceived ideas they had about someone were incorrect?
Early Chapter BookElizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
In Korean folklore, the full moon is associated with a rabbit pounding items with a mortar and pestle. Author and illustrator Heena Baek puts a unique spin on this folklore in her story Moon Pops (translated from the original Korean by Jieun Kiaer). One hot night, in a city populated by animals, the residents of an apartment building attempt to sleep and escape the heat. When a steady dripping noise is heard, Granny (a wolf) discovers that the moon is melting! She runs outside and catches the moon drops with her bucket. Back in her apartment, she ponders what to do with the moon drops, when the idea of making cool, refreshing moon pops (ice pops made with moon drops). When a power outage hits the building (due to too many folks running their air conditioning), Granny distributes her refreshing moon pops to her neighbors, who are refreshed and cooled by the icy treats. Later, a knock is heard at Granny’s door–it is a pair of rabbits, dejected by the loss of their now melted moon home. Thankfully, Granny has another idea up her sleeve that might just result in the restoration of the moon. The story is illustrated with photographs of mixed media 3D dioramas that give the setting and characters depth and make excellent use of the elements of light and shadow. Of special note are the moon pops themselves, which emanate a glowing light reminiscent of the moon.
THOUGHTS: This title easily could be incorporated into units on folklore, Korea, or animal stories. After reading the story, students will want to enjoy an icy treat themselves–why not go out and enjoy popsicles as a class or create your own as a class project. Highly recommended.
Picture Book Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
Milly and her older sister Becca are members of the Midnight Club. When the clock strikes midnight, they quietly slip downstairs to explore their darkened home. As any good club does, the Midnight Club has rules. The siblings must tiptoe around the criss-crossed shadows of the upstairs window panes. Another rule of this magical time at night is that they can do whatever they want–whether it be sitting in their father’s chair and sampling his jelly beans or trying on their mother’s coat. They are joined in their adventures by a third member of the club–Oliver the cat. When their eyes grow heavy and they begin to yawn, it’s time to bring the club meeting to an end and return to their room before they are discovered. Young Ling Kang’s watercolor, pencil and digital illustrations bathe the darkened house in hues of blue and purple, with yellow street lights shining in through windows. This helps to create the shadows that the girls use to make shapes on the wall during their nighttime escapades.
THOUGHTS: A sibling secret club will be quite relatable to many children, as will the idea of embarking upon home-exploring adventures. Kang’s illustrations lend the story a sense of nighttime stillness and atmosphere perfect for night adventures. Recommended.
Borden, Louise. Full Speed Ahead! America’s First Admiral: David Glasgow Farragut. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37905-7. 224 p. $18.99. Grades 5-9.
“Full speed ahead!”…it’s probably a phrase that most of us have heard before. Yet many may not know that this phrase became part of American popular culture after it was spoken in a Civil War naval battle by Union Rear Admiral David Farragut. Author Louise Borden chronicles Farragut’s life and career in her biography in verse Full Speed Ahead! Farragut first joined the navy as a midshipman at age nine. He steadily rose through the ranks and distinguished himself on missions around the world, including in the War of 1812, in the Caribbean, around Cape Horn, and in the Atlantic. When the Civil War broke out, Farragut devoted himself to the Union cause. He led the naval fleets that captured the Confederate strongholds of New Orleans and Mobile Bay. After the war, he was promoted once more and became the first ever Admiral in U.S. Naval history. The text is supplemented by numerous photographs, paintings, drawings, letters, and maps.
THOUGHTS: A biography told in verse of a 19th century naval hero might not be the first choice of those browsing the library shelves, so some booktalking may be required for this title. But history buffs who take a chance on the title will be rewarded with an engaging life story of an American hero. An additional purchase for libraries with history fans.
Dumais, Sandra. Farm Crimes! The Moo-sterious Disappearance of Cow. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47442-9. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades 1-3.
It’s just an average day on the farm until the animals realize that Cow is missing in this delightful graphic novel. Based on limited evidence, the barnyard concludes that she has been kidnapped. There’s only one thing to do–summon neighborhood detective, the goat Inspector Billiam Van Hoof. Upon his arrival at the scene, Inspector Van Hoof begins to question the animals and search for clues. When he discovers flattened crops in the shape of a circle and witnesses who saw Cow in a shiny outfit the day before, Inspector Van Hoof decides that Cow was kidnapped by aliens! The rest of the barnyard is not so convinced–many have other theories of what may have transpired. When Cow eventually reappears, the real truth about her disappearance is revealed (spoiler alert: aliens were not involved). Observant readers will enjoy the comic illustrations, which are filled with various jokes and fun details. While this title is the second book in the Farm Crimes! series, it can be read as a standalone.
THOUGHTS: Sure, Inspector Van Hoof may not be the the world’s best detective (despite the fact that he advertises himself as the “world’s #1 goat detective”), but the reader won’t care. They’ll be too busy laughing out loud as Van Hoof gets distracted while on his way to the barnyard and then once on the case, jumps to some pretty wild conclusions. This title will be a popular addition to elementary graphic novel collections.
Graphic Novel Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD
Arden, Katherine. Dark Waters. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10915-1. $16.99. 198 p. Grades 4-7.
Best friends Brian, Ollie and Coco are back in this third book of Katherine Arden’s spooky Small Spaces series. This time, the three friends, Ollie’s dad, Coco’s mom, and school acquaintance Phil are on a quest to find Champ, the legendary monster that supposedly lives in Lake Champlain. The group sets sail on the tour boat Cassandra with Phil’s uncle, Dane Dimmonds, so that Coco’s mom can write an article about Champ for the local paper, but the trip quickly turns deadly when a real lake monster sinks the boat, kills a member of the tour group, and strands the survivors on a remote island on Lake Champlain. Brian recognizes similarities in their plight to a story he read about a smuggler’s ship that disappeared over 200 years ago on the same lake, and he also worries that The Smiling Man that tried to trap the friends during previous adventures is involved in this newest disaster as well. Phil, Ollie, Coco, and Brian must work together with their knowledge of the Smiling Man and his evil tricks if they want to get off the island alive!
THOUGHTS: This book would appeal to a wide range of middle school readers; it combines ghost stories, paranormal activities, adventure, and survival into one thrilling story! The dynamics of this friend group are realistic and engaging, and the chilling presence of The Smiling Man provides a consistent thread throughout this series that will keep readers coming back for many future adventures.
Elliott, Laura, and Megan Behm. Walls. Algonquin, 2021. 978-1-643-75024-8. $19.95. 352 p. Grades 7-12.
It is 1960, and Drew MacMahon and his family have recently relocated to West Germany. Drew’s mother is thrilled, since her family emigrated to the United States in 1934, and she is eager to reconnect with the great aunt, sister, and nephew that still live behind the “Iron Curtain” on the East Berlin side of the city. Drew has more reserved feelings about his family’s move; he is nervous about starting a new school and meeting his estranged extended East German family. Although he finds his cousin and aunts difficult to understand at first, he develops a tremendous amount of empathy for them and the harshness of life under Communist rule. Over the course of one tumultuous year, Drew tries to navigate his complicated new family members, the tensions of living so close to the border between East and West Germany, and problems of his new schoolmates. At the end of the story, he and his cousin must make a terrifying decision that will change all their lives forever.
THOUGHTS: The family dynamics between Drew, his parents, his sisters, and his East German family are realistic and poignant in this book. Watching Drew’s character and sense of right and wrong, good and evil, and efforts to understand the motivations of his friends at school and the people on both sides of the Cold War was fascinating. The detailed photographs and captions at the beginning of each chapter help the reader gain much-needed context and a greater understanding of the cultural and political climate in the early 1960’s for this important historical novel.
Historical FictionErin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Ochieng, Patrick. Playing a Dangerous Game. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-01913-8. $17.95 186 p. Grades 5-8.
A coming-of-age young adult novel by a skilled Kenyan author, this book offers a glimpse into the life of Kenyan boys in the 1970s. Lumush and his family are doing quite well after his father gets a promotion at his job, but the teenager is understandably worried about changing schools and still being able to relate to his long-time neighborhood friends. As Lumush and his friends hang around after school each day, talking and playing small pranks and games, they eventually work up the nerve to explore a nearby abandoned house that many people think is haunted. What the group find during their explorations is more than they bargained for, and they are caught in the middle of a dangerous, and perhaps murderous, illegal smuggling operation.
THOUGHTS: Mystery, adventure, friendship and personal growth are all major elements of this unique novel. Lumush’s life, including his family, his friends, and his school troubles, are described in rich detail. This book offers a fascinating peek into the lives of Kenyans during the 1970s; although politics and economics are mostly mentioned in passing by adults in Lumush’s life, students with an interest in Kenyan history could use this novel as a way to contextualize the facts found in traditional history books.
Whamond, Dave. Muddle School. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30486-6. $15.99. 144 p. Grades 5-8.
This semi-autobiographical graphic novel follows Dave, a self-proclaimed nerd, through an eventful year of his “Muddle School” journey. Dave’s school experiences swing from the lowest lows, including getting pushed into mud by bullies on the first day of school, to the highest highs, as he kisses his crush at the end-of-the-year dance. He and his lab partner Chad even design a time machine for the science fair, which Daniel tries to use to go back and redo his disastrous first few months of typical middle school blunders. Throughout the book, Dave learns that being authentic, standing up for others and taking risks are the best ways to survive Muddle School.
THOUGHTS: The illustrations, jokes and silly situations that appear in this book are a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a middle school boy. Dave shows true fondness for his family, hates bullies but feels helpless against them, and uses his love of drawing to help himself process his feelings; everything feels authentic, if a little sanitized, to the school experiences of teen and tween-agers today. In the brief back-matter pages, it is delightful to find out that many of the things the author includes in the story actually happened! Many middle school students will be able to relate to this book and find humor and comfort in the life of another awkward boy just trying to make his way through Muddle School.
Krekelberg, Alyssa. Social and Emotional Learning. The Child’s World, 2021. $228.00 (set of 12), $18.95 (individual titles). Grades K-3.
Doing the Right Thing: Making Responsible Decisions. 978-1-503-84450-6.
Finding Solutions: Problem Solving. 978-1-503-84451-3.
Helping Friends and Family: Taking Care of Others. 978-1-503-84449-0.
Know Your Feelings: Recognizing Emotions. 978-1-503-84452-0.
Let’s Get Along: Resolving Conflict. 978-1-503-84458-2. No One is the Same: Appreciating Differences. 978-1-503-84456-8. Setting Boundaries: Learning about Healthy Relationships. 978-1-503-84457-5. Stop and Think: Learning about Self-Discipline. 978-1-503-84448-3. We Need Each Other: Being a Good Friend. 978-1-503-84447-6. We Work Together: Learning about Teamwork. 978-1-503-84455-1. When Things Get Tough: Overcoming Obstacles. 978-1-503-84454-4. Worrying Too Much: Learning How to Manage Stress. 978-1-503-84453-7.
Social situations can be difficult for children; they do not have the social experiences that allow them to develop understanding of interpersonal communication and relationships. This SEL series helps children develop understanding of situations they may have encountered or will in the future. Each text is divided into chapters that begin with a vignette that explores a realistic situation and the emotions that are involved in it. Throughout the chapter, ideas on how to respond and questions for reflection are presented. The questions help children reflect on their own experiences and consider the feelings of others in the same situation. Each text includes a glossary (words are highlighted throughout the text) and a section to learn more about the topic.
THOUGHTS: This is an excellent series for young children to explore their feelings through very realistic situations. The series includes 12 titles. This reviewer had the opportunity to two review Let’s Get Along: Resolving Conflict and No One is the Same: Appreciating Differences. Each individual chapter can be used for character education and development and could easily be divided into short 15-20 minute lessons. This series is highly recommended for all elementary schools for use in the classroom and library especially in our current environment where students are lacking SEL and interpersonal skills due to more isolation from the pandemic.