Elem. – Becoming Charley

Among a forest full of young caterpillars eating milkweed “just as they’d been taught to do” is Charley who would rather admire the trees, clouds, and stars. Despite his elders scolding him to focus on becoming a big, strong butterfly, Charley wonders if it might be nice to be a spotted fawn or a waterfall. Despite daily lessons – “Think black. Think orange. Think black. Think orange.” and “This. Not that!” Charley is distracted by the sun, the wildflowers, the mountains, and the turquoise sea. When each caterpillar forms its chrysalis, everyone is excited, but Charley feels unsure. Will Charley remember to “Think black. Think orange.” or will the other colors and shapes of nature fill his mind? As millions of butterflies take to the skies in summer, Charley emerges.

THOUGHTS: Charley is determined to be an individual, focusing on the things he loves instead of what others expect of him. Wise’s beautiful illustrations bring to life this story of being true to oneself, even when you’re forging your own path. Young readers will appreciate the detailed digital illustrations and love learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.

Picture Book

Elem. – Love Makes a Garden Grow

Yoo, Taeeun. Love Makes a Garden Grow. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-534-44286-3. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Among a garden full of beautiful blooms and lush greens, a young girl grows. With a watchful, loving eye, her grandfather cares for her and his plentiful plants. The two favor different flowers – she peonies, he orchids – but they care for the garden together, humming to the plants. Surrounded by plants, the little girl feels her grandfather’s love. As she grows and experiences life’s changes – like moving away and eventually having a family of her own – plants make her feel like she is loved and home.

THOUGHTS: This sweet intergenerational story would be perfect to celebrate grandparent’s day. Stunning pencil illustrations are brought to life with digital coloring. Highly recommended.

Picture Book

Elem. – Lovely Day

Withers, Bill. Lovely Day. Illustrated by Olivia Duchess. Scholastic, 2023. 978-1-338-81538-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Based on the song “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough, Olivia Duchess creates an upbeat story about facing the day with optimism. Too bright sunshine, an empty cereal box, and a puddle of milk on the floor melt away when little sister has made big bro breakfast. Getting ready for the day is more fun with a partner. The playground is closed for repairs? No worries! There are other ways to have fun. Rain arrives to ruin the day? Nope! Puddles can be fun too. A diverse cast of characters – in ability and skin tone – are brought to life with Duchess’s illustrations which add to the overall sense of optimism that this book exudes.

THOUGHTS: This title will be hard to resist for Social Emotional Learning or counseling lessons or morning meetings. Even a music teacher would enjoy incorporating the original song into a lesson.

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Elem. – Pocket Full of Sads

Davidson, Brad. Pocket Full of Sads. Illustrated by Rachel Mas Davidson. Rodale Kids, 2023. 978-0-593-56456-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

For no specific reason, Bear’s “heart feels heavy / like [his] pocket’s full of sads.” It is hard to explain. A physical ailment isn’t the cause. It’s more like how one would feel if a brand new toy broke or a friend chose to sit with someone else. Rabbit is determined to fix Bear, but it isn’t as simple as telling a  funny joke or using the internet for an answer. Finally, things become too hard. Will Rabbit fix Bear’s pocket full of sads, so they can go fishing, or will this be one feeling that’s too big to fix?

THOUGHTS: Davidson’s story is perfect for morning meetings or a counseling/Social Emotional Learning lesson.  Told in a simple, gentle manner, young learners will understand how little things can cause big emotions. Rachel Mas Davidson’s colorful illustrations add brightness and hope to a book about facing sadness. Highly recommended.

Picture Book

Elem. – The Artist

Vere, Ed. The Artist. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-525-58087-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2. 

Someone asked artist Ed Vere, “What is an artist?” and he created this book in response. The artist of this book is a multicolored dinosaur who ‘tries to see it all’ in the beautiful world. The outside world combines with the ideas in her imagination, which combine with her crayons, paint and pencils, and she creates more to share with the world. She journeys to the city where she shares her art (on the sides of buildings) and her work comes to be appreciated and anticipated until–she colors outside the lines. Her embarrassment leads her to stop painting (she’s literally blue). A little girl in the crowd approaches to say, “Mistakes are how you learn! Heart is what matters. And your art is full of heart… please paint again!” The artist tries again, again looking to the beauty of the world, “all its messy beauty,” and this time doesn’t stop painting. Vere concludes, “And maybe that is what an artist is…So keep drawing…because maybe you are an artist too!”

THOUGHTS: A colorful, thoughtful way to encourage kids to notice the world, be artists, and persist beyond “mistakes.”

Picture Book

Elem. – Nubby

Richards, Dan. Nubby. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023. Illustrated by Shanda McCloskey. 978-0-593-38109-0 Unpaged. $18.99 Grades K-2. 

Nubby has had it. He’s a favorite blue stuffed bunny who has seen too many puddles, been used as a tissue too often, and felt unloved with constant mistreatment by his boy. Nubby wants appreciation, and he sets out to find it.  With the help of the family dog, Nubby escapes to adventure and acceptance–perhaps with real rabbits? No, they just ignore him. Perhaps as part of a magic act? No, the act is forgotten when the audience fails to care. Perhaps finding treasure digging with the dog? No, he’s left with strewn stuffing, dirtier and alone. Then Nubby thinks back to his boy. “It had been messy and loud and unruly. But it had also been close, and unspoken, and … real.” Fortunately, older brother discovers Nubby, mom sews him up, and his boy loves and adores him once again. Only this time, Nubby and his boy appreciate being together far more.

THOUGHTS: This is a sweet book about appreciating what–and who–you have and might make children re-consider their care of their own favorite toys.

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Elem. – Kitchen Trios (Series NF)

Borgert-Spaniol, Megan. Kitchen Trios. Super Sandcastle, 2023. 32 p. $23.00 ea. $144.00 Set of 6. Grades K-3.

Making Breakfasts with Grains, Fruit & Proteins. 978-1-532-19905-9.
Making Pastas with Noodles, Sauce & Cheese. 978-1-532-19906-6.
Making Pizzas with Crust, Sauce & Toppings. 978-1-532-19907-3.
Making Snacks that are Sweet, Salty & Crunchy. 978-1-532-19908-0.
Making Soups with Broth, Proteins & Veggies. 978-1-532-19909-7.
Making Tacos with Tortillas, Fillings & Toppings. 978-1-532-19910-3.

This title is part of the six-book “Kitchen Trio” series that challenges young chefs and their adult helpers to prepare meals using only three primary ingredients – in this reviewer’s case, noodles, sauce, and cheese. Readers are encouraged to view the kitchen as a kind of makerspace where imagination, inspiration, collaboration, and problem-solving lead to endless delicious possibilities. After learning about different kinds of noodles, exploring several kinds of sauces, and differentiating between hard, medium, and soft cheeses, several simple recipes are introduced. From fresh tomato pasta to white bean pasta, kale pesto pasta, and mac and cheese, there are possibilities for every palate. Each recipe is broken down into simple steps and includes a photograph illustration for each description. Additional kitchen prep vocabulary such as colander, cheese grater, and whisk are introduced, and colorful sidebars address kitchen safety tips, such as washing hands often and asking for an adult’s help with the stove, oven, and knives. Text features such as a Table of Contents make the book easy to navigate, and bold vocabulary words relating to ingredients and preparation instructions are defined in the Glossary. Five additional titles are included in this “Kitchen Trios” series: Making Breakfasts with Grains, Fruit, and Proteins; Making Pizzas with Crust, Sauce, and Toppings; Making Snacks that are Sweet, Salty, and Crunchy; Making Soups with Broth, Proteins, and Veggies; and Making Tacos with Tortillas, Fillings, and Toppings. 

THOUGHTS: Thanks to plenty of colorful photographs and easy-to-read chunks of text, this is an attractive title for browsing or using to prepare a meal. A note on the title page shares that the titles in this series were developed by a team of professional educators and reading specialists with phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, text comprehension, and fluency in mind. This title will also support STEM and makerspace units as well as Common Core standards. 

641.5 Cooking

Elem. – The Bright Side

Otis, Chad. The Bright Side. Rocky Pond Books, 2023. 978-0-593-53062-7. 40 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive, especially when you feel very different from those around you. This story opens with a young boy waving goodbye to his friends and boarding an old school bus with his Mom and Dad. The bus is their home now, and although saying goodbye is difficult, his family encourages him to look on the bright side. From making “pizza toast” with bread and ketchup, to showering with a hose in the “great outdoors” and getting to do school on the bus, the family approaches each new experience with optimism and imagination. When it’s time for the boy to attend his first day at a traditional school, however, he realizes some days can be more challenging than others. Although he initially struggles to understand classroom routines and expectations and to fit in with his peers, remembering to look on the bright side turns out to be a superpower. Vibrant illustrations created from pencil, ink, collected textures, and digital paint depict the wide range of emotions the boy experiences, including sadness, anxiety, confusion, surprise, pride, and confidence.

THOUGHTS: Although this title tackles the weighty subject of houselessness, it does so with sensitivity, and the overall tone remains optimistic. It will serve as a good conversation starter for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and the message about trying to look on the bright side during challenging times will resonate widely.

Picture Book

Elem. – The Together Tree

Saeed, Aisha. The Together Tree. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Salaam Reads, 2023. 978-1-534-46296. $18.99. 40 p. Grades K-3.

On his first day in his new school, Rumi was nervous and sad. He had just moved across the country and was joining his new class midway through the year. Being the new kid is hard, and Rumi had trouble fitting in. At recess he was often seen twirling a stick under a tree at the edge of the playground. Classmates were not kind to Rumi, making fun of his brightly colored shoes. Rumi had colored the shoes with his friends back in San Francisco. Rumi longed to return to his old school and ached with loneliness. One day in music class Asher threw a balled up piece of paper at Rumi as the other students snickered. The next day at recess Asher threw a rock at Rumi, scraping his leg. As blood dripped from his leg, a tear dripped from his eyes. The playground was silent. Han bravely stood up and asked Rumi to play with him. Han discovered that Rumi had not been twirling a stick beneath the tree, but had been drawing a fantastical mural in the dirt. Dragons, castles, mermaids, and ornate birds filled the ground beneath the tree at the edge of the playground. Han joined Rumi under the tree the next day and added to the drawing. Other curious students wandered over and marveled at the pictures in the dirt. One by one the students joined in and collaborated on the work of art. Everyone was enjoying this new activity except Asher, who remained inside playing alone. Rumi gently approached Asher and asked him to join the class under the together tree.

THOUGHTS: This is a very simple but moving picture book with a gentle message. The illustrations by LeUyen Pham are glorious. The author’s note at the end explains this book was created after her son faced bullying in Kindergarten. A wonderful elementary school addition with a powerful message.

Picture Book 

Elem. – The Noise Inside Boys: A Story About Big Feelings

Oswald, Pete. The Noise Inside Boys: A Story About Big Feelings. Random House Studio, 2023. 978-0-593-48322-0. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

A day at the beach starts off well for a father and his three sons. The boys run, splash, and play in the sand. The two older boys begin a game of soccer while the younger brother constructs an intricate sandcastle. When a stray kick sends the soccer ball sailing into the sandcastle, the younger brother isn’t immediately sure how to feel. Many different emotions swirl inside of him, and he takes off running down the beach. Later that evening, Dad encourages him to take some deep breaths and try naming his inside feelings. Together, they cover a wide range of emotions, and Dad assures his son that the feelings are his, and each one is okay. He tells the boy to listen to his emotions so he is able to name them and better-explain how he is feeling. The illustrations were created using watercolor, gouache, acrylic, and digital tools, and the muted, often monochrome palette, lets each emotion take center stage. The book’s last page is titled “Know How You Feel” and features children depicting twenty different emotions including happy, sad, annoyed, hurt, grateful, determined, and calm.

THOUGHTS: Share this title with guidance counselors. It will also be useful to pique discussions about students’ varied feelings during Morning Meetings or Closing Circles.

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