Elem. – I Cannot Draw a Horse

Harper, Charise Mericle. I Cannot Draw a Horse. Union Square Kids, 2022. 978-1-454-94594-9. 48 p. $17.99. Grades PK-3.

In Charise Mericle Harper’s I Cannot Draw a Horse, a simple shape is turned into a cat, who DESPERATELY wants the author to draw it a horse. But the author cannot draw a horse, so she instead draws a variety of other creatures from the same shape, who then send the cat on a romp through the pages of the book. Fear not!  Charise Mericle Harper is nearby with her pencil to draw helpful features like hills and skateboards, all which develop the story. At the end, cat is delighted when the author realizes she CAN draw it the horse of its dreams.

THOUGHTS: In addition to being a fun read-aloud that will make readers laugh through its pages, the illustrations in I Cannot Draw a Horse will encourage readers to try their hand at creating characters as well. The message is straightforward: Anyone can draw…if they only try! This book will provide young artists the inspiration and confidence they need simply to TRY (and succeed!). Recommended for anyone looking to add humor and art themes to their collection.

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

MG – Cress Watercress

Maguire, Gregory. Cress Watercress. Candlewick Press, 2022. 978-1-536-21100-9. $19.99. 227 p. Grades 3-8.

Cressida Watercress and her rabbit family live in a spacious and well kept burrow. Young Cress has never known a moment’s want or worry until the day Papa fails to return from foraging. Unable to care for her young children alone, Mama makes the difficult decision to move her  family to a cramped basement apartment in an animal tenement known as the Broken Arms. Cressida’s brother Kip is often sickly, and Mama must work harder than ever to feed, shelter, and support Cress and Kip. The Broken Arms is filled with animal characters of all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Mr. Owl, the landlord, is an enigmatic figure who will often comment on the comings and goings and behavior of his tenants from high above though he is never seen by those same tenants. Manny, the building superintendent, is helpful but demanding. The pressure to make timely rent payments is difficult for Mama, especially when Kip is not well. Cress must learn to accept and understand her new neighbors, and must step-up to help Mama. Growing up is not easy, especially when dealing with childhood grief. As Cress matures, her relationship with her mother becomes strained at times, and she grapples with friendships just as many tween human children do. Eventually the Watercress family finds great comfort and companionship in the community at Broken Arms, and Cress finds herself in a position to save the day when her newly adopted community is threatened.

THOUGHTS: Beautiful illustrations by David Litchfield set the tone for this coming of age novel. The struggles Cress encounters in her relationship with her mother and her friends will be easily recognized by middle grade readers and adults alike. The depiction of childhood grief is especially well characterized in this warm and gentle story.

Animal Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Realistic Fiction

Elem. – Mole in a Black & White Hole

Sediva, Tereza. Mole in a Black & White Hole. Thames & Hudson, 2021. 978-0-500-65205-3. Unpaged. $16.95. PreK-1.

Mole lives alone in a dark, damp, underground hole. His only friend is a bright pink chandelier that hangs from the ceiling (which readers can see is actually a root vegetable). Chandelier tries to persuade Mole to come to the surface, where there is sunshine and lots of color and life to be found, but Mole isn’t so sure. One day, Mole awakens to a warm sunbeam on his cheek and realizes that Chandelier is gone! Mole is very upset, but remembers what Chandelier told him about the world above. He finally finds the courage to climb up through the hole and explore, and what he finds changes his whole outlook on life. Unique illustrations consist of horizontal two-page spreads that show a distinct division between the black and white underground and the colorful aboveground. This uplifting story about finding the beauty in things is sure to stir something in all readers.

THOUGHTS: I love the subtle message conveyed by this story about optimism, determination, and intentionality. In the words of Chandelier, “There is so much color and so much life to be found. But to find it, you must search for it.”

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Bright Star

Morales, Yuyi. Bright Star. Holiday House, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-823-44328-4. $18.99. Grades K-1.

Morales weaves English and Spanish text together to create a heartwarming tale of a young fawn and her mother. As narrator, the doe speaks to her child as they explore the Southwestern desert landscape. She tells her cosita (little thing) that she is a bright star and that she loves her. After hearing a loud sound, the fawn becomes frightened and the mother cautions her to be alert and find a safe space. In soothing tones, the deer comforts her anxious daughter and reminds her that she will never be alone and will always be protected. The illustrations are done in a variety of media, including embroidery, and reveal a few causes of her fear-a snake, a leopard, a cloud of dust, and a wall. In the author’s note, Morales explains that she began this book in 2019 after observing migrants being detained after attempting to cross the border and how the environment was being destroyed by the wall’s construction. Morales’ drawings are a showcase of the flora and fauna of the area, such as a hummingbird, a scorpion, and saguaro cacti, which in one spread are cut down into pieces. The author connects the disruption of the lives of the plants and animals to the disrupted lives of migrants and inhabitants of the region. This is shown in the final pages by the images of children wearing shirts with animal designs and surrounded by desert plants.  This story conveys a message of reassurance and hope during anxious times.

THOUGHTS: Morales’ art is beautiful, and the renderings of the animals, especially the fawn, are charming. Young children will enjoy looking at the creatures and will find comfort in this story. It also could be useful in ecology units. A strong purchase for elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader

Murrrow, Vita. Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader (True Stories of Animal Heroes). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $15.99. Grades K-2. 

Onyx, a wolf pup that lived in Yellowstone National Park, was the smallest and scruffiest wolf in his litter. The runt in the wolf pack was often bullied by his siblings and had to learn skills to survive. However, Onyx grew older and learned leadership skills that served him well in the wild. One day, Onyx came across a wolf family with a lone mother wolf and young pups who had lost their male “alpha” wolf. With time, Onyx became a father figure to the pack and was attentive to a tiny wolf pup named Bravo. Bravo struggled to listen, would sometimes bite and snarl, and often pushed back in stressful situations. Onyx, now grown and showing signs as a leader, had a similar background and took a liking to the young pup. Onyx became a father figure to young Bravo and showed the young wolf how to interact in their world in different ways. This heartwarming story has a fact section at the back of the book that teaches the reader about the real-life reintroduction of wolves that occurred in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park. With time, this movement helped to restore and balance the failing ecosystem. 

THOUGHTS: Onyx, written by Vita Murrow, is part of the True Stories of Animal Heroes series. In 1995, it was indeed true that wolves were brought from Canada to the United States to help increase the movement and population of many animals in Yellowstone National Park. The facts in this story, particularly the story with two wolves now known as Onyx and Bravo, were observed by wildlife observers and biologists.

This picture book was engaging yet not lengthy (considering how much information was contained in the pages). If all the books in this series are as heartwarming and informative as this story, this series would be a great addition to any classroom, school library, or personal library collection. 

Picture Book. Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Turtle in a Tree

Hudson, Neesha. Turtle in a Tree. Dial Books for Young Readers. 978-0-593-32331-1. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

A dog walking through a grassy meadow hears a rustling in a tree. Another dog comes along and asks what he sees. The first dog replies that he’s sure he sees a turtle in a tree. The second dog asserts that there can’t be a turtle in a tree – that just doesn’t add up. It must be a squirrel. The dogs banter back and forth, but eventually, they get caught up in a shouting match, each sure that he is correct. When what’s in the tree is ultimately revealed, both dogs realize that there is more than one side to every story. Delicate watercolor and colored pencil illustrations stand out against white backgrounds, and the sparse text leaves plenty of room for readers to add their own ideas to the book.

THOUGHTS: The overarching message of the book is about perspective and the idea that just because you don’t see eye-to-eye with someone doesn’t mean one of you is wrong. This book can be used during morning meetings to spark conversations about different perspectives and why it can be valuable to consider others’ points of view. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Except Antarctica!

Sturgell, Todd. Except Antarctica! Sourcebooks. 978-1-728-23326-0. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When an unseen animal fact writer shares that turtles are found on every continent except Antarctica, one bold turtle sets off to prove him wrong. Along the way, he befriends an owl and a dung beetle who also live everywhere except Antarctica. They too join the turtle on his quest to reach the frozen continent. Soon, a snake, a mouse, a bee, and a frog join in, determined to prove the fact writer wrong and show that they are indeed found in Antarctica. The band of unlikely friends ultimately reach their destination, only to discover that the bitter temperatures, howling wind, and frozen conditions are not their ideal habitats. While in Antarctica, the fact writer mentions how penguins are only found here, and the final pages show one indigent penguin diving off an iceberg in hot pursuit of the turtle and his friends. Several pages of backmatter round out the title and provide additional facts about each featured animal. A section titled “Animals of Antarctica” highlights the continent’s native species, and a section called “The Frozen Continent” details the region’s extreme weather conditions. Also included is Information about how Antarctica is designated as a scientific preserve and a map of each country’s scientific research stations. The book’s final pages discuss climate change and share ideas about how readers can help make the world a better place, including ideas for recycling and planting trees. 

THOUGHTS: Imaginative illustrations, witty dialogue, and a conversational writing style will hook students from page one. They will laugh at the animals’ silly interactions and the fact writer’s frustrations as he tries to keep the book on track. This will be an engaging introduction to units about animals’ habitats and the differences in biomes around the world. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Nesting

Cole, Henry. Nesting. Katherine Tegen Books, 2020. 978-0-062-88592-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

From the branches of an apple tree, a male robin calls out to his mate on an early spring morning. After scoping out the perfect spot, the pair gather twigs and grasses, building a nest in the crook of the tree. The mother robin settles in quietly, and soon, four smooth, blue eggs appear. One week later, the eggs hatch, and the parents begin gathering food for their defenseless babies. The young family weathers a spring storm, as well as an unwelcome snake visitor, before the baby birds flap their small wings and leave the nest for the first time. As spring gives way to summer, then autumn, the family fills up on berries to tide them over during the approaching winter. Snow covers the nest, and the world is quiet, waiting for spring to return, along with the robin’s first call. The story unfolds through simple, straightforward text as well as a brief author’s note sharing additional information about robins. The illustrations are the stars of the story. Cole uses Micron pens and acrylic paints to create beautifully detailed crosshatch illustrations that perfectly capture both the depth and the simplicity found in the natural world.  

THOUGHTS: Students who love nature, and especially bird-watching, will gravitate towards this book. It will also be a nice tie-in for primary grade teachers who discuss the changing seasons, since readers can follow the robin family throughout the year. Pair with Mark Teague’s Fly or Denise Fleming’s This is the Nest that Robin Built with a Little Help from Her Friends for a robin-themed story time. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – The Heart of a Whale

Pignataro, Anna. The Heart of a Whale. Philomel Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-984-83627-4. 32 p. Grades K-3. 

Whale has a beautiful song that soothes, cheers and calms all of the animals in the ocean. Even though whale’s song brings joy and love to many he was lonesome, noticing “how there was no song big enough to fill his empty heart.” One day, the whale is so forlorn he lets out a sigh that is carried by the ocean to another whale who travels far and wide to accompany him. United, the whales sing in unison “of happiness and hope, magic and wonder.” Brief text accompanied by soothing watercolor illustrations of marine animals cover each spread. 

THOUGHTS: A good picture book to begin a conversation with students about loneliness, kindness and friendships. Detailed illustrations alongside a musical theme offer STEAM connections to music and marine life units. 

Picture Book         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – Wild About Dads

Murray, Diana. Wild about Dads. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31574-8. 32pp. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Rhyming couplets pair with full-page, vibrant illustrations in this sweet tribute to dads of all kinds. This title’s opening spread features human dads and their children enjoying a day at the park. Subsequent pages feature dads from all over the animal kingdom interacting with their young. From boosting little ones up to grab berries and playing hide-and-seek, to cozying up for an afternoon nap, animal dads share all kinds of one-on-one time. The closing spread features the same human dads and children at the park, reminding readers that “There’s a lot that dads can do, the best of all is loving you!” The back endpapers feature an illustration of each animal highlighted in the story as well as a brief description of where the animal lives and what the father does as a caretaker. 

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for read-alouds, especially ones centered around families or in celebration of Father’s Day. The text and illustrations will prompt discussions and comparisons between things humans dads do and things animal dads do to take care of their families. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD