Elem. – The Great Zapfino

Barnett, Mac. The Great Zapfino. Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-534-41154-8. Grades 1-3. $17.99.

In this nearly wordless picture book, Barnett has created a likable character named Zapfino who works as a high diving artist in the circus. As the story begins, the ringmaster announces that Zapfino will dive from a height of ten stories into a trampoline. The performer, wearing a cape monogrammed with a Z, climbs up a very tall ladder, but then seems tentative about jumping and simply disappears. Zapfino is next seen purchasing an airplane ticket to a coastal destination. He finds a job as an elevator operator in an apartment building located on a beach with palm trees. As a perk, he is given a room on the 10 ½ floor. Up and down in the elevator goes Zapfino, who finds himself very tired at the end of the day. While waiting for his toast to pop up, he falls asleep and wakes up to heavy black smoke. Fire engines arrive, and his only way out is to jump from the tenth floor into the fire rescue trampoline. Can he overcome his fear of heights and take the plunge? Marla Frazee’s charming drawings were created with black pencil. The illustrator depicts Zapfino as a small unassuming man, whose smile does not appear until the end of the story. The apartment building is drawn in the Art Moderne style, and the elevator passengers are shown in small multi-panel displays. A drawing on the back cover puts a finishing touch on the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a simple and engaging text about overcoming fears. Children will be fascinated by the tiny panels which reveal the personalities and interests of the residents. The trim size (31 cm. x 18 cm.) is a great vehicle for creating the illusion of height. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Why Not You?

Wilson, Ciara and Russell. Why Not You? Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-37440-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Why Not You? is a picture book that focuses on boosting a child’s confidence and self esteem by encouraging them to go for their dreams, no matter how big they may seem. This book is told through illustrations and words, showing children how they can achieve their dreams because, as the book says, “why not you?” The illustrations show a diverse range of students, as well as showing a wide range of dreams that each student has. The illustrations show the students encouraging each other’s dreams which is a wonderful addition to the story.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this was a lovely picture book with a really great message! This would be a great addition to any elementary classroom, or a great read aloud for guidance lessons. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Library Fish

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. The Library Fish. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-47705-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

The Library Fish by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is about Mr. Hughes, a public librarian who finds a fishbowl outside of his library one day. Mr. Hughes welcomes the fish into the library and puts her in the children’s section. The fish watches as every day Mr. Hughes reads stories, does book checkouts with children and the fish even gets to go on the Bookmobile! One day, there is a snow storm, and the library is closed. The fish takes this opportunity to go exploring in the library to see more of the books that Mr. Hughes reads out loud that she misses. When the night is over, and Library fish has read all of these wonderful books, she climbs back into her bowl and goes to sleep. In the morning when Mr. Hughes gets back, he notices that the fish may have yawned, and the last illustration shows Mr. Hughes looking at the books that are on the floor with a puzzled expression. The illustrations in this book are wonderful, and the reader will want to go back over this book merely to look at the illustrations again.

THOUGHTS: I adored this story!! There is so much diversity found within the book’s illustrations, and I really appreciated that the illustrator made that choice. The story is sweet and charming and would make a wonderful first week of school read aloud with Kindergarten students, or even a great story to share with older students and have them come up with unique pets that can be found in the library. Overall, this is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – My Poet

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.

The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.

THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words. 

Poetry          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Juvenile Fiction

YA – I Must Betray You

Sepetys, Ruta. I Must Betray You. Philomel Books, 2022. 978-1-984-83603-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old high school student, Cristian Florescu, gets blackmailed into informing on the American family his mother cleans for. In exchange for spying on the Van Dorns, he will receive much-needed medicine for his beloved Bunu–grandfather–who has been diagnosed with leukemia and lives with Cristian, his older sister, Cici, and his parents in a cramped, one- bedroom apartment in Bucharest. Tormented by guilt for betraying the trust of his loved ones, Cristian records his feelings in his notebook, an exercise that serves well his aspiration to be a writer. Informers and reporters ooze out of the dank, grey apartment buildings like the cockroaches that live within the dim hallways. Urged or manipulated by the regime instituted by their country’s leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, even these informers are being informed on. Furthermore, Cristian is driven to suspect the integrity of his own family members. He quickly realizes the desperation of his situation, especially after his informer status affects the budding romance with his classmate, Lilianna Pavel, and almost ruins his friendship with the kind, gentle Luca Oprea. He resolves to follow his orders to get close to Dan Van Dorn, the American diplomat’s son, while recording the grim daily existence of living under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. When life turns even more tragic for Cristian, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc becomes a reality, and the citizens of Romania, led by the university students and the young, bravely take their stand. Author Ruta Septys is at her best with this suspenseful recounting of lives lived under extreme oppression: punishment for owning anything from the Western world, endless lines to obtain necessities, limited use of utilities, and constant surveillance of one’s every movement and word. This well-researched and engaging work is an eye opener, not only about an existence under Communism, but the political ploys that supported Ceaușescu’s power.

THOUGHTS: This story is riveting! In the eyes of many heads of state during his thirty-year reign, Nicolae Ceausecu was an improvement over the other Communist leaders. In truth, the Romanian people were suffering great hardships, both physical and mental. Cristian’s compliance in being an informer in exchange for medication forms an ethical dilemma. Moreover, his perspective on our American way of life emphasizes our freedoms that may be taken for granted. Besides the obvious history lesson, I Will Betray You, addresses values, self-identity, and matters of conscience.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way

Esbaum, Jill. Thunder and Cluck: The Brave Friend Leads the Way. Simon & Schuster, 2021. 978-1-534-48655-3. 64 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Meet Thunder and Cluck, two unlikely friends that are prehistoric dinosaurs. The Brave Friend Leads the Way is the second book in the Ready to Read Graphics Thunder and Cluck series written by Jill Esbaum. In this graphic novel, it is a hot miserable day. Thunder and Cluck find a dark and cool cave that could provide relief from the heat. The question is, which friend will be brave enough to lead the way inside the cool, yet mysterious cave? Thunder and Cluck are goofy and lovable and make the perfect friends to adventure together. This beginner graphic novel is vibrant, attractive, and fun to read!

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel series is perfect for early readers. Each book has an introduction message for the readers that teaches and explains how to read a graphic novel. The easy-to-follow panels, the speech bubbles, and the accessible vocabulary is genuinely spot-on with a relatable storyline. Love this collection! I hope there are more in the series in the future! 

Graphic Novel          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Love in the Library

Tokuda-Hall, Maggie. Love in the Library. Candlewick Press, 2022. Unpaged. 978-1-5362-0430-8. Grades 2-4.  $18.99.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which “relocated” Japanese-American citizens to internment camps. Inspired by a true family story, Tokuda-Hall has written a fictionalized account of her grandparents’ experience in such a camp. Tama was in college when she was abruptly placed in Minidoka Camp in Idaho. The conditions were harsh, with very cold winters and very hot summers, and an entire family was forced to live in one room. Tama’s only solace was working in the library. She loved the way books magically took her to other worlds. A camp resident named George became a daily library visitor, checking out several books and returning them the next day. One day, Tama is overwhelmed by the injustice and begins to cry. George comforts her, and Tama realizes why George comes to the library so frequently. The couple marries and has their first child in the camp, demonstrating the power of love and resilience in overcoming prejudice and hate.  The author’s note includes more of Tama and George Tokuda’s story along with a photo. Imamura’s gouache and watercolor drawings help readers understand more about this unjust time in American history. 

THOUGHTS: This text can be used as an introduction to World War II units about the home front.  Like Say’s Music for Alice or Mochizuki’s Baseball Saved Us, Love in the Library promotes discussion about prejudice, racism, and stereotyping. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Historical Fiction

Elem. – Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG/YA – Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield

Jarrow, Gail. Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37814-2. Grades 5-12

Author Gail Jarrow (Blood and Germs, Poison Eaters) is back with another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the assignation of President James Garfield. Garfield was a respected former college president, Civil War general, and Congressman who was elected President in 1880. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot Garfield shortly after he entered a train station. Though medical professionals in Europe had been advancing theories regarding germs and the importance of treating wounds with antiseptics, these ideas found little acceptance in America. Therefore, when Garfield was examined, his doctors probed his wound with dirty fingers and instruments. Garfield lingered for months, slowly wasting away as infection ravaged his body. The country united together, in hopes that Garfield would survive, but he passed away on September 19, 1881. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary documents, including diary entries and other communications to relate Garfield’s story. Numerous photographs, paintings, and illustrations enhance the text. Backmatter includes a glossary, timeline, and list of additional resources. 

THOUGHTS: Since Garfield’s presidency was short, he is little remembered today, which is unfortunate. He had an amazing life story, which Jarrow outlines in the beginning of this engaging title. Even though he was in constant pain following being shot, he remained in good spirits and never complained, even while undergoing painful (and as the reader learns, unsanitary) treatments. Readers will gain an appreciation for Garfield and an appreciation for how far medical knowledge and treatment has advanced. Highly recommended.

973.84 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD