Elem. – A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control

Alber, Diane. A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control. Diane Alber Art LLC, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-951-28764-1. $11.99 (paper) Grades K-2. 

The book opens with Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot introducing themselves to two children, explaining that they can help when a Frustration Spot shows up. Frustration Spot shows up when something happens that we can’t control, and it can be good, because it can show that we are learning or being challenged. But because it can turn into an Angry Spot so quickly, it’s important to know how to help a Frustration Spot. Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot show the two children a token with a special message on each side. One side, labeled “Frustration Flip,” lists some things we can’t control: “what others say, what others do, the weather, the future, and others’ mistakes.’  The other side, labeled “Calm and In Control,” lists some things we can control: my words, my actions, my attitude, my expectations, my choices, and my effort. With a diagram of the body, the two Spots share four warning signs of: Feel hot! Feel like yelling! Upset stomach, or Pounding heart. They explain that if we feel any warning signs, it’s time to do a Frustration Flip. While holding the Frustration Flip in one hand, count to four and repeat a rhyme to give your mind a chance to calm down. The Spots then practice the Frustration Flip in several situations.  The final page has a Frustration Flip that can be cut out, or accessed and printed from the author’s webpage (with lesson plans). 

THOUGHTS: This book gives specific details to identify feeling frustrated, and a specific response to help calm down or think flexibly about a situation. It would be ideal for social-emotional learning in the classroom or individually.  

Note: A colleague with young children told me about this resource and shared with me how helpful it had been in talking with her own children (one teen, a 5-year-old, and a two-year old) because their questions brought out more examples and understanding. Diane Alber writes and illustrates this large series of “Little Spot” books, which began with eight “Little Spot of Emotion” books (Anger; Confidence; Happiness; Peaceful; Sadness; Anxiety; Love; Scribble Spot). The series has expanded to three more sets of eight books (and still growing). “A Little Spot Takes Action” set includes: Respectful; Responsibility; Kindness; Patience; Diversity; Organization; Honesty; and Safety. “A Little Spot of Life Skills” Set includes: Perseverance; Teamwork; Optimism; Courage; Thankful; Giving; Talent; Creativity. “A Little Spot of Feelings” Set includes: Empathy; Frustration; Calm; Belonging; Worry; Boredom; Flexible Thinking; Feelings Detective). Educator’s Guide, Plush Toys–it encourages mindfulness and may be worth sharing with your teachers and counselors.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat

Rockliff, Mara. Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat. Illustrated by Giselle Potter. Beach Lane Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-534-46007-2. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In 1956, Frieda Caplan went to work at the Seventh Street Produce Market in Los Angeles. The market was full of potatoes, tomatoes, apples, and bananas. Frieda’s interest in new fruits and vegetables led her to sell mushrooms; her promotion led to her being called ‘The Mushroom Queen.” In 1962 she opened her own business and continued to search for, sell, and promote (with tastings, nutrition facts, and recipes) new fruits and vegetables. Anything new was taken to Frieda: crispy jimaca, juicy blood oranges, sweet Asian pears, crunchy sugar snap peas, seedless watermelon, fuzzy kiwifruit, and so many more. Not everything was a success (durian, for example), but Frieda was always willing to give it a try. Puns and alliteration help the text: “mounds of mangosteen,” “quantities of quince,” “cooks peppered her with questions,” and “everybody was all ears (especially about the baby corn!).” Frieda’s two adult daughters joined her, then two granddaughters. Frieda changed the way produce is sold and changed the way we eat. The endnotes explain that when she began, the market had about 65 fruits and vegetables; now, we have seven to eight hundred, many thanks to Frieda.

THOUGHTS: This is a positive and interesting look at a businesswoman who made a lasting difference. Readers will want to know more about the foods new to them, and may even be willing to ‘try it!’ like Frieda, especially with a class fruit and vegetable day. Highly recommended.

338.7 Business & Marketing          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Wingmaker

Cameron, Dave. Wingmaker. Illustrated by David Huyck. Kids Can Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-525-30237-4 $17.99 Grades K-2.  

Leaf and Leo are two ants who have daily work in their anthill home, but they find time to visit caterpillar “Gramma Tinker,” so named for her clever inventions made to help her friends. On this visit, they find her building a pillow-like contraption she calls the Wingmaker 77 (77 for the number of days she’s been alive). “Why do you need it?” they ask. “All I know for sure is that I’m preparing for a new adventure.” Gramma Tinker knows that when it’s finished, she will rest inside it for two weeks, and wake up changed. Leaf and Leo return the next day to find Gramma asking questions of various flying creatures, noting such important ideas as weight, wingspan, wing speed, direction, taking off, landing, and gliding. Then she says goodbye to Leaf and Leo and tells them to return in two weeks. The two friends wait, working in the anthill and wondering what will happen next. In two weeks, they return and find that Gramma Tinker the caterpillar has changed into a moth! A final page in the book explains the metamorphosis of eastern tent caterpillars into (nocturnal) lappet moths, and urges readers to keep a light on at night to attract and observe these moths.

THOUGHTS: This is a creative way to interest readers in this enormous creature change. Some readers may guess what is coming. This would make a good addition to instruction about metamorphosis.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words

Johannes, Shelli R. Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words. Illustrated by Mike Moran. Philomel Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-20551-8 $17.99 Grades K-2.

Theo and his parents are migrating, and his parents are excited, but Theo is worried about joining a new class where no one knows him. He and his parents are a special species of dinosaurs called Thesauruses–self-described ‘logo maniacs’ or word-lovers. Sure enough, Theo’s big words create a barrier between him and his new classmates. He tries to be friendly.  “Salutations!” he greets them; ‘Could you lead me to the athenaeum (library)?” in class; “Care for a crudite (raw snack)?” at lunch; “want to play conceal and search (hide and seek)?” at recess. Everything leads to misconceptions and confusion.  He keeps trying, even inviting them: “I request your attendance to celebrate the anniversary of my hatching.” When the birthday party arrives, but no friends do, Theo tries several words to describe his emotions but discovers he is speechless.  Then the doorbell rings and his classmates arrive, shouting, “Salutations!” Theo and his parents are equally excited to party with his new friends.

THOUGHTS: This is a cute concept, but the words used require explaining to K-2 readers for them to fully understand the humor. Also, Theo’s parents want to be helpful (but seem to miss the mark), while it is unclear what changes the minds of Theo’s classmates. A glossary of Theo’s “thesaurus” style words is included. Supplemental purchase.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep

Gustavson, Adam. The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-580-89524-8. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Like so many children, the frogs in this book do NOT want to go to sleep. It starts simple: they want to hop.  Then it becomes more complex: they want to practice their accordions and ride their unicycles. Eventually it’s downright absurd: they want to sing opera while firing themselves out of cannons…and the adventure leads to outer space and extraterrestrials. But slowly they fall, slowly, slowly, into bed, asleep. The long-legged frogs have wonderful abilities and imaginations, and their eyes convey their enthusiasm for their outrageous adventures. The illustrations will bring laughs, and readers could easily add imagined ideas of their own!

THOUGHTS: A funny bedtime book for children and adults.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Girls and Boys Come Out to Play

Mother Goose. Girls and Boys Come out to Play. Illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44713-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-1.

Illustrator Tracey Campbell Pearson brings to life the lesser known Mother Goose poem “Come Out to Play” in her newest picture book. Beginning with a child reading a book of Mother Goose poems, Mother Goose herself arrives to call for “Girls and boys come out to play.” They go, “Up the ladder and down the wall” as various characters from Mother Goose’s rhymes appear like Humpty Dumpty, The Cat, The Baker, and Jack and Jill. The children then act out the end of the poem, making pudding, before returning to their homes for “Sweet dreams” as Mother Goose flies away. The mix of ink and watercolor illustrations are the key to bringing this poem to life. Pearson represents a variety of children in her illustrations and weaves eight classic Mother Goose characters onto the pages. The expressions of the characters enhance the text and help young children see the dilemma the children face with Mother Goose. Additionally, the cover pages feature the eight rhymes represented through the illustrations and can be read in conjunction with the picture book or separately.

THOUGHTS: This text is a great way to teach rhyming poetry and introduce children to nursery rhymes and Mother Goose. The illustrations are gorgeous and would make lovely prints.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Hello Earth! Poems to Our Planet

Sidman, Joyce. Hello Earth! Poems to Our Planet. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-8028-5528-2. 62 p. $18.99. Grades 3-6.

This collection of free verse poetry about Earth was first published in Spain in 2016. An example of creative nonfiction, this volume contains verses in which a narrator, representing “some of your children-the human ones,” talks to the planet about its wonders. Sidman begins with a poem (“Floating”) about Earth’s place in the solar system and in the next two, brings us back to its surface. Following this, the narrator chats with Earth about its age, formation, and history, asking “What was your favorite part?” Other poems focus on volcanoes, earthquakes, continents, day and night, ecosystems, water and plants, giving us a good look at our world. The oversized volume ends by reminding us to enjoy the amazing marvels of our planet and to take care of it.  The back matter provides more information, organized by topic and its related poem(s). Sidman’s works are best known for stunning illustrations and creative layouts. By contrast, the watercolor and acrylic drawings by Miren Asiain Lora may not seem as engaging. People are drawn on a small scale and the font is subdued and orderly. Perhaps this is done to focus our full attention on Mother Earth. A class of Earth Science students and their National Geographic certified teacher helped Sidman with understanding “how Earth works.”

THOUGHTS: This book of verse is perfect for Earth Day storytimes and works as an introduction to Earth Science Units. This imaginative work is a great addition to elementary collections, especially where poetry is popular.

811 Poetry          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Poem in My Pocket

Tougas, Chris. Poem in My Pocket. Kids Can Press. 978-1-525-30145-2. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

A young writer stows a poem in her pocket but her pocket has a hole, and the words tumble out, bouncing down steps and swirling in the breeze. She tries desperately to gather the words and recreate her poem, but instead, the words mix with street signs and storefronts and advertisements. Her words combine with others to create new puns, funny sayings, and inspirational messages. Thunder clouds roll in, and the rain pushes her words into the muddy ground. She fears they are lost forever, but her words become seeds of thought that grow into a poetree. The girl realizes these new words might be even better than her original ones, proving that a little revision can sometimes be a good thing. Vibrant digital illustrations, sprinkled with runaway words from the girl’s poem, depict a bustling city filled with multicultural inhabitants. Backmatter includes information about National Poetry Month in April. Each April, one day is also designated as Poem in Your Pocket Day, and people participate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others. The book’s final page also includes a list of websites students can visit for more information about Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket Day. Tougas also challenges students to look back through the story and locate as many rhyming words as possible, and a list of all the pairs is included on the book’s final page as well.

THOUGHTS: Although this title is especially appropriate for sharing during April, students will enjoy the lighthearted wordplay and illustrations any time of year. This book might also serve as a stepping stone, encouraging students to try their hand at creating their own poems and to have fun with words.

Poetry          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem./MG – Tales of Great Goddesses (Series NF)

Greenberg, Imogen, and Isabel Greenberg. Tales of Great Goddesses. Amulet Books, 2021, $14.99 ea. $26. set of 26.78 91 p. Grades 3-6.

Athena: Goddess of War and Wisdom.  978-1-419-74859-2.
Gaia. 978-1-419-74861-5. (July 2022)

From the time Athena emerges from a split in her father’s skull, the goddess is always creating drama on Mount Olympus, whether she tries to or not. Although she is strong and wise, some of the other gods and goddesses on Olympus do not like her, especially her uncle Poseidon. Athena does not much care for him either, especially when he roots against her in a weaving contest against the mortal Arachne and prevents Odysseus, Athena’s favorite hero, from returning home to his wife and child after a long journey at sea. Although he loves his youngest daughter, Zeus becomes frustrated with Athena from time to time. He becomes especially angry when she tries to meddle in mortal business even when they do not ask for her help. Athena must learn to balance helping mortals with the wishes of her father.

THOUGHTS: Although there are countless books on Greek gods and goddesses, this graphic novel about Athena proves even stories that have been told over and over can be fresh again. The Greenberg sisters write and illustrate Athena’s greatest adventures in a way that ties all of her stories together and proves that even goddesses have a lot to learn. Back matter in the book includes a glossary and further reading. While Greek Mythology can sometimes be a bit problematic for younger grades (violence, nudity, etc.), the authors handle the content and illustrations with care. This is a perfect addition to upper elementary and middle grade libraries.

292.2 Mythology           Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD
Graphic Novel

Elem./MG – A Glasshouse of Stars

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-48883-0. 246 p.  $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Meixing has just arrived in a New Land to live in a New House with her parents. She and her mother and father have traveled from the Old Land to live with First Uncle, but he passed away only weeks before their arrival and now they are adrift in a strange place, not quite speaking the right language and not quite understanding the right customs. When tragedy strikes Meixing’s family, she retreats into the backyard of her new home and discovers a magical world hidden away in a broken down greenhouse where the ghost of First Uncle helps her discover her inner strength. Meixing displays incredible courage in the face of xenophobia in her new school as she tries to learn her place in this New Land, but new friends and an understanding new teacher also help her overcome her family’s difficulties as they begin to build a life in the New Land.

THOUGHTS: This story offers a unique glimpse into the struggles of immigrant children who deal with poverty, discrimination, and cultural miscommunication. The magical realism in this book provides Meixing with a symbolic escape from her troubles and a way to process her feelings with the help of her family, and adds a beautiful, lyrical layer to the storytelling. This story would be an excellent addition to studies about the immigrant experience, and should be added to collections with a focus on immigrant experiences and diverse voices.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD