The focus of this nonfiction series is on pollution. It discusses the cause, the harm, and what humans can do to reduce pollution.The book concludes with a table of contents, fast facts, phonetic glossary, additional resources, source notes, and an index. Other books in the series focus on these topics: plastic pollution, nuclear pollution, manufacturing pollution, household waste pollution, fossil fuel pollution, and agricultural waste pollution.
THOUGHTS: This series is a good addition to enhance upper elementary and middle school library collections seeking to update the environment and STEM section.
Van Otterloo, Ash. The Beautiful Something Else. Scholastic Press, 2023. 978-1-338-84322-4. 288 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.
Sparrow Malone, who’s birth name is Magnolia Grace, realizes they don’t quite tick any one gender box in this middle grade novel about family, identity, and growing up. Sparrow’s mom, Abigail, is very protective and insists Sparrow dons dresses and frills, but Abigail is also dealing with her own addiction to opioids. After a car accident, mom is sent to rehabilitation, and Sparrow is sent to live with her Aunt Mags. Aunt Mags lives on the grounds of Windy Hill, the huge estate where Sparrow’s mother also grew up. However, Aunt Mags has transformed Windy Hill into a rainbow-colored safe haven for gardeners, college students, and professors from a nearby university. While meeting friends, neighbors, and family, Sparrow begins to form a new understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community that Abigail seems to fear. Sparrow soon realizes they aren’t quite fitting the mold that Abigail desires in a daughter. The question is: will Sparrow feel empowered enough to tell their mom how they feel? Or anyone else?
THOUGHTS: The Beautiful Something Else is a great addition to diverse middle grade library collections. The characters in this book are layered and diverse, and the feelings Sparrow experiences are written realistically as they realize their nonbinary identity. A “shadow” (think: Peter Pan) is introduced throughout the book as a fantastical character that causes Sparrow to explore their identity and own their feelings. Otherwise, the book is wholly realistic fiction. While the book would be equally as strong without its “shadow,” this element is a good metaphor for readers to realize there is something itching at Sparrow and following them around. In this case, it’s simply the need for Sparrow to be true to themself. Written with care for middle grade audiences.
Madhuri Iyer and Arjun Mehta have been friends all their lives. They know just about everything there is to know about each other, and now they’re facing their senior year together. Vedic astrological foretelling is Madhuri’s aunt’s strength, and in the first chapter, she foretells Arjun’s and Madhuri’s futures. For Arjun, “your hard work will be rewarded in the fields of education, athletics and love,” and for Madhuri, “expect mediocre grades, misunderstood emotions, and failed relationships.” The negative horoscope and the ‘family curse’ of women marrying the first man with whom they fall in love infuriates Madhuri, who has never met a challenge she hasn’t overcome. She devises a plan to foil kismat (fate) and the curse: dating the one person she’s sure she wouldn’t fall in love with: Arjun. Unknown to her, Arjun has been in love with her since they were 13. He agrees to her scheme, and Auntie Iyer’s predictions begin to come true: Arjun finds success in all he attempts whether scholastically, socially or athletically, while Madhuri faces trials and, worst of all, fails to gain acceptance at Stanford, her dream school. Meanwhile, Arjun faces a chronically absent mother who has placed her career above him since his father’s death, and Madhuri finds it difficult to reconcile her once-loved Indian heritage with the mockery of her American classmates. Madhuri’s being drawn to Arjun, but she’s determined to be the master of her own destiny, and that means ending their relationship. What will become of these two best friends?
THOUGHTS: Devarajan presents a fun romantic story with strong cultural roots and real relational problems for her characters.
Caprara, Rebecca. Spin. Simon & Schuster, 2023. 978-1-665-90619-7. 393 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.
“You must learn to question/ the stories you hear” (84). “The bards and poets/ often get it wrong, especially/ when they speak of/ girls and women” (4). Arachne is unattractive and destined to be nothing and be heard by no one, they say in town. But Arachne grows, learns to weave from her mother, loves her younger brother and friend Celandine fiercely, and questions the wisdom of the gods. Even as her mother shares stories of the gods (including Persephone, Leucothoe, and Aite) and leaves gifts at Athena’s altar, Arachne in her anger dares to question what the gods have done for them in their harsh, illiterate lives. As the years pass and Arachne grows from girl to young woman, she avoids others, distrusts the gods especially in their treatment of women, and learns to weave so skillfully she begins to feel pride in her own abilities as well as earn approval from others, including her father. But tragedy steals her family, and when beautiful Celandine is assaulted by a group of boys, the two flee to the city of Colophon. There, finding work as a weaver, Arachne again becomes known for her increasingly exquisite handiwork, but she will not give credit to the goddess Athena, who Arachne feels never offered her anything. Even as Arachne feels an attraction to Celandine, the two are pulled apart by anger and misunderstanding, and Arachne pours her emotions into her weaving. The resulting showdown between Arachne and Athena is powerfully described as Arachne stands boldly–in words and in weaving–for herself and all women misused, overlooked, and judged harshly.
THOUGHTS: This masterful novel in verse will appeal to young readers, especially those interested in mythology or strong women.
Polacco, Patricia. Palace of Books. A Paula Wiseman Book, 2023. 978-1-5344-5131-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
Palace of Books follows Patricia Polacco’s journey moving from Indiana to Battle Creek, Michigan and how she discovered her local public library. It is also the story of how she discovered John James Audubon and how her love of drawing birds really flourished and grew into a bird club that started at the school she attended and continued for over 60 years. The illustrations are very classic Patricia Polacco and encourage the reader to go back through the book multiple times. There is an author note at the end of the book, which really brings the whole story into perspective and gives the reader more insight.
THOUGHTS: Patricia Polacco books should automatically be added to every elementary collection, and this one is no different. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.
Russell-Brown, Katheryn. Justice Rising: 12 Amazing Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement. Viking, Illustrated by Kim Holt. 2023. 978-0-593-40354-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades 3-5.
This biography compilation tells the story of thirteen women who were the backbone of The Civil Rights Movement. It includes a short introduction to what the movement stood for along with thirteen short biographies of women who were instrumental in the movement. We’ve all heard of Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, but this picture book includes women such as Bernice Jognson Reagon, Gloria Richardson, and Jo Ann Robinson along with other lesser known Civil Rights figures. Includes quotes from many of the women featured as well as sources for each woman.
THOUGHTS: This is a great starting point for students interested in The Civil Rights Movement. The illustrations are clear and bright and the information is provided in a way that makes it accessible for many.
Larson, Kirsten W. The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of. Illustrated by Katherine Roy. Chronicle Books, 2023. 978-1-452-17287-3. $18.99. 48 p. Grades 2-5.
Cecilia Payne was born in Wendover, England in 1900. As a young girl she would spend hours outdoors studying nature. She was endlessly fascinated by insects, plants, and animals. In 1912 her family moved to London so that her brother could receive a proper education. Cecilia was sent to a religious school for girls. There were no science classes, and there was no opportunity to spend time with nature in the busy city. Then Cecilia discovered a science lab meant for older students. She would sneak into this lab to read the textbooks and work with the chemicals to educate herself in chemistry. When a new science teacher was brought to her school, Cecilia was encouraged to study and learn all she could about science. Cecilia earned a scholarship to study botany at Cambridge University. One day she heard a lecture by a famous astrophysicist. Fascinated, Cecilia attempted to change her major, but she wasn’t allowed to. She decided to move to the United States where she was accepted into the astronomy program at Harvard College Observatory. While at Harvard, Cecelia discovered that stars are made of hydrogen and helium. Author’s notes include a timeline, bibliographic references and an explanation of star development that is easy to understand.
THOUGHTS: Cecilia Payne is not well known to most children. Her research laid the groundwork for modern astrophysics. This picture book biography compares Cecilia’s journey to becoming a scientist with the physical creation of a star. The gentle story, combined with pencil and walnut ink illustrations by Katherine Roy, makes an inspiring biography.
The story opens with a sad little boy sitting in his room with his new haircut and suit. We know that his new cut and suit are not for a happy occasion. He grabs his red cape, to help him shut out the memories. He wants to fly his memories to outer space and the depths of the ocean, but they keep bubbling up. He remembers smiles, laughing, fun, and love. His cape, a gift from his relative who passed, will help him remember the good times.
THOUGHTS: This debut picture book from Philadelphia based author Kevin James is a terrific addition to any collection. Covers all of the many emotions felt by students after a loss of a loved one.
Muhammad, Ibtihaj, and Ali, S.K. The Kindest Red: A Story of Hijab and Friendship. Illustrated by Hatem Aly. Hachette Book Group, 2023. 978-0-759-55570-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
On school picture day, Faizah’s teacher challenges the class by asking what kind of world they want. Faizah decides that she wants a kind world and spends her day being kind to her classmates by helping them out in various ways. But when it comes time for a picture with her sister, Faizah is disappointed that they aren’t wearing matching clothes. Her classmates come to the rescue by sharing and being kind to her.
THOUGHTS: This sweet book is a perfect companion to The Proudest Blue. A great story to share to show kindness.