Elem. – All Because You Matter

Charles, Tami. All Because You Matter. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57485-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Charles and illustrator Bryan Collier create a loving ode to children of color, gently reassuring them that they matter. Collier’s rich, exuberant pages give life and emphasis to Charles’ text, showing young parents dreaming of their child to come. Their hopes and expectations spiral through a dreamy, quilt-inspired landscape. While the story espouses hopes and confidences applicable for all children, the intent is clearly to address current events, to bolster young black and brown children against a world that may be unwelcoming. Charles’ writing is gentle and powerful, but Collier and his stunning visuals should have been on the Caldecott shortlist.

THOUGHTS: A necessary purchase for all libraries serving young patrons.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Diamond Double Play

Maddox, Jake. Diamond Double Play. Stone Arch, 2020. 978-1-496-58329-1. 64 p. $5.95 (paperback version). Grades 2-3.

Blake Easton is the neighborhood Wiffle ball star, but he has never played organized baseball. When he and his friends spot a poster advertising open tryouts for a local baseball travel team, Blake’s friends encourage him to try out. But Blake is nervous going up against more experienced players, especially when obnoxious Kyle starts taunting Blake as an inexperienced newbie. Luckily, Blake finds a friend in Austin, who shows Blake the ropes. While Blake makes the team, he is disappointed to learn he will be Kyle’s backup at second base. But when Kyle injures himself making a selfish play, Blake finds himself in the starting line up, and serious jitters set in. Is he really good enough to be on the team? This short, beginner chapter book combines authentic sports action with lessons on sportsmanship and confidence. The young characters (ages 11-12) frequently speak with maturity far beyond their ages, but the story will resonate with sports fans and players alike. The characters, as represented by the illustrations, are ethnically diverse; Blake is Black, Kyle is White, with teammates represented variously. A glossary at the end of the book defines baseball terms used in the text.

THOUGHTS:  A solid choice for Easy Fiction collections, where sports books are underrepresented.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster!

Caletti, Deb. A Flicker of Courage: Tales of Triumph and Disaster! Putnam, 2020. 978-1-984-81305-3. 243 p. $13.99, Grades 3-6.

Henry is a nice boy, but quiet and shy with miserable, abusive parents. He longs to have friends, be brave, and be a hero. He gets his chance the morning he hears Apollo, the charming boy next door, shrieking in agony, and discovers Vlad Luxor, the HRM (Horrible Ruler with Magic), has turned Apollo’s younger brother Rocco into a lizard. What, you say, can two young boys do in the face of such terrible evil? Henry has a plan! He is shocked to discover his need to aid Apollo is stronger than his need not to be noticed. The boys, together with the lovely, kind Jo, Pirate Girl and Henry’s dog, Button, look, listen, ponder, and follow their hearts. They learn of their true identities, face down the cruel Vlad Luxor, save the day, and Rocco. This humorous adventure-story spoof, is highly reminiscent of M.T. Anderson’s Pals in Peril series. The third-person omniscient narration rarely allows the characters to show action, resulting in a somewhat stilted style that takes some getting used to. But if you let it grow on you, it’s worth the wait. There is a map! Old photos! Spell-breakers and fights! Fearsome events! And a sequel! This book may require some booktalking and encouragement, as the genre Caletti spoofs belongs to the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew era, but the general silliness and good vs evil plot may draw readers in. Most of the characters are presumed white (and appear so on the book cover), but Jo hints at being Latino.

THOUGHTS: This story, and series, has potential, but it’s hard to tell if this is a book that will appeal more to adults than children. Get it in the hands of the right reader, and it could take off.

Action/Adventure          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – People Did What (Series NF)

Vallepur, Shalini. People Did What. Crabtree Publishing, 2020. $7.51 ea. $30.04 set of 4. 32 p. Grades 3-6. 

People Did What in Ancient Egypt? 978-0-778-77423-5.
People Did What in Ancient Greece? 978-0-778-77424-2.
People Did What in Ancient Rome? 978-0-778-77425-9.
People Did What in the Viking Age? 98-0-778-77433-4.

This series introduces young readers to a variety of historic cultures. The vivid, comic book covers entice browsers to open the book, and brightly colored, highly illustrated pages will captivate their attention. Interior pages are a collage of photographs, illustrations, and clip art, supplemented with brief blocks of text allowing for skipping around the page. While the information is factual, topics seem obviously chosen to titillate youngsters (how Vikings used pee to start fires). The books are organized by topic, contain such text features as table of contents, glossary, and index (the Ancient Egypt index did contain several mistakes), as well as suggested books and websites for additional reading. While these books would not be used for research, they are perfect for sparking interest in casual readers.

THOUGHTS: The books are visually appealing and full of the weird, gruesome facts kids love. They would be a good purchase for elementary libraries looking to expand their nonfiction offerings and a great option for those readers who prefer entertaining nonfiction books.

History 932, 938, 937, 948          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Weatherford, Carole Boston. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Atheneum, 2020. 978-1-534-45228-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, is introduced to a new generation in this vibrant picture book. While this biography is brief, it succeeds in conveying the essence of Franklin’s life. The oil paint illustrations by Frank Morrison draw readers into the story, their richness implying the importance of her family, faith, community and music. The rhyming couplets on each two-page spread succinctly summarize aspects of Franklin’s history, the rhyme scheme unifying the book. Understandably, the abbreviated format does not allow for deeper exploration of her life, and no mention is made of darker events such as her parents’ separation, her mother’s death before Aretha was 10 years old, or the children she bore at age 12 and 14. (The information about her parents is mentioned in the Author’s Note following the story text.) The book accomplishes its intended purpose beautifully, celebrating the life of a revered talent. Hopefully a nearby adult will pair a reading of the book with an introduction to Franklin’s glorious music.

THOUGHTS: A lush, inspiring introduction to a musical icon and activist. With a motion picture biography slated for release in August 2021, this could be a timely purchase.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Girl on a Motorcycle

Novesky, Amy. Girl on a Motorcycle. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11629-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-5.

In 1973, a young woman in Paris dreams of seeing the world. So she gets on her motorcycle and takes off, becoming the first woman to solo circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle. This is the story of Anne-France Dautheville and her remarkable journey. Beginning in Canada, the 28-year-old white woman rides across North America, Japan, India, on to Turkey, back to Europe, and eventually, home. Anne-France’s magnificent style shines through the poetic text and gorgeous, soft-hued, yet bold illustrations. Her path leads her through myriad cultures and experiences. “I want the world to be beautiful, and it is beautiful. I want people to be good, and they are good.” This book will certainly ignite wonder and curiosity about the world and its people in readers, as well as deep admiration for Anne-France.

THOUGHTS: A beautiful book that does justice to a remarkable woman. In addition, it is a much needed reminder that the world is, indeed, beautiful and good. Highly recommended for elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany

Fulton, Kristen. Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-14960-8. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

There are two sides in Germany, the right side and the wrong side. Peter is aware that he was born on the wrong side of Germany, where there are more strict rules and uncomfortable uniforms, and having nice food can be near impossible. While other kids can be watching cartoons on the right side of the wall, Peter is watching news stories and programs. Peter, however, has found the secret his parents have hidden away. With his family, Peter knows that life can be different and will be different for them. Each night, Peter and his family go into the attic to slowly piece together their way to freedom… through a hot air balloon.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning. The back of the book contains real information on the hot air balloon the Wetzel family created to help secure their freedom. Older readers will appreciate the story and the history behind it.

325 International Migration          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – A Pig in the Palace

Bahrampour, Ali. A Pig in the Palace. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-419-74571-3. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Bobo is a little confused. He was just rolling in the mud when a note was slipped under his door. An invitation… to a dinner party… with the Queen! How could this be so? After all, he is only a pig. Bobo attends the dinner party only to do what pigs do best… make a mess out of things! With everything destroyed, the palace a mess, and lots of angry people, how can Bobo face the Queen!?

THOUGHTS: The ending of this book had me rolling with laughter! A delightful story that young readers will enjoy!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls

Whipple, Annette. Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls. Reycraft Books, 2020. 978-1-478-86962-7. 32 p. $17.95. Grades 1-3. 

Children and adults have long been fascinated with owls. Likely many of our students have read a fictional story featuring an owl or heard the hoot of an owl while camping, hiking, or just relaxing in their backyard. In Whooo Knew?, readers have the opportunity to learn more about these amazing creatures. Information about owl characteristics, life cycle, and habitat are introduced by the author posing a question (for example: “Can Owls Spin Their Heads?”, “What Good Are Ear Tufts?”, and “What Do Owl Babies Do?”). Each question is answered in an informational two page spread featuring numerous photographs. The title also includes a section on what readers can do to help owls, and backmatter includes a glossary, instructions on dissecting an owl pellet, and illustrations of owl anatomy.

THOUGHTS: This engaging non-fiction title is sure to be a hit with students, who will find it useful for research as well as casual reading. The structure of the book, with each topic introduced by catchy questions, will catch the attention of readers and the numerous photos of owl species and close-up views of owl characteristics will allow readers to appreciate these amazing animals. Recommended.

*Note: This book is by a Pennsylvania author.

598.97 Owls          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Play Outside!

Moreau, Laurent. Play Outside! Norton Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-324-01547-5. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades K-2. 

It’s a common refrain uttered by parents on a regular basis – “why don’t you go play outside?” Author and illustrator Laurent Moreau puts a creative spin on this refrain in this picture book which was originally published in France in 2018 and appeared on U.S. shelves in a translated edition in 2020. The story features an unnamed brother and sister who are encouraged to play outside by their mother after their horseplay leads to a broken vase. Once outside, the pair travel through a variety of landscapes, including trekking through deserts, climbing mountains, climbing trees in the forest, and sailing on icebergs, among other locales. Each locale features a variety of animals, some common and plentiful, others endangered and facing extinction. At the conclusion of the book, readers can explore an illustrated index showing each animal the children met along their journey and identifying the endangered status of each.

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy the challenge using the index to help them try to locate the 250 animal species hidden in Moreau’s vibrant artwork. This title could easily be incorporated into lessons involving endangered species and the importance of protecting the environment, themes which are also reinforced within the text of the storyline.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD