Elem. – This Book Is Banned

Haldar, Raj. This Book Is Banned. Illustrated by Julia Patton. Sourcebooks Explore, 2023. 978-1-728-27656-4. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.

“If we only read books that we already agreed with, we’d never learn anything new!” It begins with the hippos who don’t like how tall giraffes get all the leaves, so the giraffes are banned. Dinosaurs are more exciting, but some people think they’re make believe so dinosaurs are banned too. And so continue the antics in which avocados, beds, roller skating robots, and so many other things are banned. What then will this book be about? In a humorous manner, Haldar explains book banning to children through ridiculous scenarios. The final lesson “remember, even if a book isn’t for you, it could still be perfect for someone else.” is a perfect reminder that libraries are for all and represent all.

THOUGHTS: Preferences over what we each like is the perfect way to introduce the topic of book banning to children. With giggles guaranteed, this picture book will be a great read aloud, especially to celebrate the freedom to read during Banned Books Week.

Picture Book

Elem. – This is Not My Story

Uytdewilligen, Ryan. This is Not My Story. Illustrated by David Huyck. Kids Can Press, 2023. 978-1-525-30343-2. $19.99. 40 p. Grades K-5.

Once upon a time there was a brave space captain, only he was in the wrong story. So our plucky main character interrupts the narrator and asks to be put in a different type of story. The narrator tries various genres, each with a slightly different illustration style, but none of them are quite the right fit. Eventually our protagonist realizes he belongs in all stories and in all genres; in fact, he belongs in a story about different genres. An amusing meta exploration of various genres with delightful and clever illustrations by David Huyck.

THOUGHTS: A great book to highlight the differences between various genres. A handy guide to genres ends the book, with a clever challenge to find the stories we each love best. Younger readers will find the narration interruptions hysterical. Older students will like this creative take on genres with illustrations that occasionally employ graphic novel style elements.

Picture Book 

MG – The Lion of Lark-Hayes Manor

Hartman, Aubrey. The Lion of Lark-Hayes Manor. Little Brown and Company, 2023. 978-0-316-44822-2. $16.99. 314 p. Grades 3-8.

Poppy Woodlock’s parents make a living by restoring historic properties. Moving frequently is a part of Poppy’s life. At each new school she finds her niche through books. Poppy loves to dress as different characters, loves to read, loves to find friends with similar interests. The latest move brings the Woodlocks to Oregon to fix up the massive Lark-Hayes Manor. Poppy feels the manor is magic, and imagines herself crossing into a fantastical new adventure as she tours the building for the first time. Poppy is excited to find new friends at her middle school. A bit shy and quiet, Poppy has developed a tried-and-true method of figuring out how to fit in. Poppy always appears in her new school clutching a copy of her favorite book: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Someone always notices the title and starts a conversation, and Poppy finds a group of friends. The only problem is the kids at Chatlain Middle School don’t seem all that interested in books. Lonely and neglected by her overwhelmed parents, Poppy longs for a friend. Though forbidden from entering Lark-Hayes Manor by herself, Poppy is eager to find some true magic that will help her to fit in. As she carefully tours the massive home she distinctly hears a voice. Following the sound, Poppy discovers a water nymph lurking in the crumbled ruins of the manor’s pool. The water nymph offers to grant Poppy a magical wish, but explains that magic comes at a price. Poppy decides to wish for a winged-lion like Aaslyn in Narnia. The nymph asks what magic she can trade for the wish. Poppy, a true believer in the magic of books, quickly offers up her copy of Wardrobe for the chance to witness true magic. True to her word, the nymph delivers a winged lion cub to Poppy. Distracted by the daunting task of raising a lion cub, and keeping this magic a secret, Poppy doesn’t realize that the nymph has continued to take books from Poppy’s collection. As each volume disappears, so too does the memory of the book itself. Soon Poppy’s family members are not acting like themselves. Poppy’s mom can’t remember favorite recipes, her history teacher removes all of his ancient Greek classroom decorations, and her rebel brother begins to conform to his classmates in Chatlain High. Poppy realizes it is up to her to stop the nymph from destroying the people she loves, the books she cherishes, and in fact, all of literature for humans. Threatened with losing everything, Poppy finds her voice and becomes a strong leader.

THOUGHTS: This middle grade fantasy novel is sure to be a hit with book lovers. Are any of us truly ourselves without the stories and characters we love? Are we shaped and formed by the books we read? Poppy’s adventure shows us a glimpse of a world without books, stories, and the community they are capable of creating. A tribute to the power of books.


Tags: Fantasy, Family, School


Elem. – Everything in Its Place

David-Sax, Pauline. Everything in Its Place. Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37882-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Nicky is a shy student who is struggling to find a group of friends with whom she feels comfortable. While her classmates run and play at recess, she spends time in the library helping Ms. Gillam shelve books. She feels at home in the library because everything has its place, and Nicky is comforted by the predictability and routine the space offers. When Ms. Gillam shares the news that she will be attending a week-long library conference, Nicky’s heart sinks at the idea of spending the entire next week outside on the playground. She’s still upset when she visits her mother’s cafe after school, but seeing the familiar patrons enjoying their food comforts her a little. She’s especially glad to see Maggie, a short-haired woman who loves poetry and riding her motorcycle. When Nicky asks Maggie if riding her bike is scary, Maggie replies that everything in life is a risk, and Nicky notices how happy and free Maggie looks as she rides away. The next week, emboldened by Maggie’s words, Nicky files out to the playground with her classmates. She pulls a book from her bag to read, and she is surprised when another girl joins her, confiding that she loves reading poetry too. Mixed-media illustrations featuring collage shapes cut from library cards and purple crayon drawings bring this story to life and underscore the idea that the library is a safe space for Nicky. 

THOUGHTS: Finding your “tribe” can be difficult, and this story is an important one to share with students who are struggling to fit in with their peers or find a niche group of friends. It’s also one to share with students who may feel shy, bashful, or who may lack self-confidence. The idea of taking risks and chances, no matter how scary they may seem, may jump-start conversations during Morning Meetings, 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – The Star That Always Stays

Johnson, Anna Rose. The Star That Always Stays. Holiday House, 2022. 978-0-823-45040-4. 274 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

The year is 1914 in Boyne City, Michigan, and 14 year old Norvia has her life turned upside down after her parents divorce and her mother remarries. A divorce is considered scandalous during this time, and Norvia and her siblings are about to discover the stigma that is attached to them when they move into their new home. In addition to the divorce, Norvia is discovering that not everyone is accepting of her Ojibwe heritage. Despite all the challenges facing the five Nelson siblings, they are determined to make the most of their new lives. And along the way they discover the benefits of a strong family unit whether they are connected by  blood or through marriage. 

THOUGHTS: This was a lovely historical fiction book. I enjoyed the setting, the story, and most of all the delightful and vivid characters.

Historical Fiction          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

MG – Attack of the Black Rectangles

King, Amy Sarig. Attack of the Black Rectangles. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-68052-2. 258 p. $17.99. Grades 4-7.

Mac Delaney is excited to start 6th grade even though his teacher Ms. Sett is known around their small town for enforcing rather strict rules, such as a curfew for teenagers and no pizza delivery after a certain time of night. She even got the town to give up trick-or-treating at Halloween! Mac does not let her rules bother him; after all, he has his hands full trying to understand his dad who is struggling with an unnamed mental illness. When his class starts literature circles, Mac and his friends pick Jane Yolen’s The Devil’s Arithmetic. However, he is horrified to find that there are certain words and sentences covered in black rectangles, specifically words in the scene where the main character Hannah enters the shower at the concentration camp she is forced to go to. He buys the book from the local bookstore to compare the copies and finds that those black rectangles were put there by someone else in order to censor parts of the story. After finding out that Ms. Sett did indeed censor the book’s shower scenes because “some boys might giggle,” Mac is furious. Mac’s father does not understand what the big deal is, but Mac knows censorship is wrong. He and his friends decide they need to take action, and in doing so they find more people willing to fight against censorship than he ever thought possible.

THOUGHTS: A.S. King’s book shows the harm that censorship can have on a small community while handling the topic fairly. She clearly thinks highly of young adults as the young characters in this book are whip-smart and fully aware of the social issues that plague the world. This timely novel takes place in a famously small town in Lancaster, PA; local readers will enjoy seeing their favorite establishments pop up in the book as the backdrop to Mac’s story.

Realistic Fiction         Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Return of the Underwear Dragon

Rothman, Scott. Return of the Underwear Dragon. Random House Studio, 2021. 978-0-593-11992-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In this sequel to Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020), Sir Cole has determined that the Underwear Dragon only tried to destroy the kingdom because he was unable to read the signs instructing him not to. Therefore, Sir Cole makes it his mission to teach the Underwear Dragon how to read. It is a difficult process, and both parties get so frustrated they want to give up. However, that’s when Claire comes along with her fire extinguisher, which she uses to put out the dragon’s flames of frustration. Sir Cole selects another book that the Underwear Dragon finds more interesting, and together, the trio continues to work towards its goal. Portraying the value of both literacy and perseverance, this humorous book definitely will resonate with young kids who are just learning to read.

THOUGHTS: Although this was not necessarily my favorite book this year, I did appreciate the humor and subtle messages portrayed by the story. Give this book to fans of Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020) and/or students just learning to read. 

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library

Yolen, Jane. The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged.  978-1-580-89719-8. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

This latest offering by Jane Yolen is a picture book biography of Ben Franklin’s oldest child, William. Told in first person by Billy, the story explores his days as an eight year old apprentice, helping his father in their print shop. Although he enjoys the work, Billy would rather be outside playing with his cousin James. Ben has enough of his son’s wild ways and hires a tutor to provide instruction to both boys. At first, they find their schooling boring, until the day the teacher begins reading Homer’s The Odyssey.  Unlike James, William is captivated by the tale and wants to hear more. Soon he begins reading the epic on his own. His father tells his son that there are many other wonderful books like this at the Leather Apron Club. The pair visit the circulating library, the first of its kind, and Billy is amazed at the number of books and their brightly colored covers. Soon he meets other members of the club and participates in discussions with them about politics, history, finance, among other topics. The young Master Franklin observes that “…Books…opened up Worlds once closed to me…” and he vows to “Do More.” to do good in the world. The text is written according to the capitalization rules of the 18th century, meaning that even most common names begin with a capital.  Sprinkled throughout the story are fitting quotations from Poor Richard’s Almanac. Wendell Minor’s watercolor illustrations are done on a large scale and bring the story to life. The back matter contains an author’s note with more information about William’s adult life, the Leather Apron Club, and Franklin’s almanac. Yolen states that she got the idea for this book after hearing a speaker discuss the Leather Apron Club and its lending library at the White House. 

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy listening to this story of a famous American’s son, although they may be surprised to learn which side he supported during the American Revolution. It works in social studies units as an introduction to Colonial America and will be appreciated by history buffs. Yolen’s picture book is a tribute to the power of libraries and books and is a worthwhile purchase for all elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
973.30922  Personal Narratives–American Revolution

Elem. – Negative Cat

Blackall, Sophie. Negative Cat. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 978-0-399-25719-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

After 427 days of asking, a young boy’s family finally agrees to let him adopt a cat. Part of the deal is that he has to feed it, clean up after it, keep his room neat, write to his grandmother, and read for 20 minutes every day. The boy admits he isn’t such a great reader, but he agrees to the conditions before his parents change their minds. He picks out the perfect cat at the rescue shelter, renaming his new pet Max. He’s excited to show Max his new bed, toys, and treats, but Max seems unimpressed. He also doesn’t show any reaction to being tickled, listening to jokes, or seeing his scratching post. Instead, Max stares at the wall, puts his tail in the butter, and leaves hairballs on the rug. The boy’s sister labels Max a negative cat, and his parents call the shelter to have a conversation. It’s only when the boy begins his dreaded task of reading – sounding out words slowly while reading them aloud – that Max begins to show some affection and form a bond with his new owner. An Author’s Note at the end of the book credits the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania for inspiring the book’s ending. Blackall describes how she read an article about the Rescue League’s Book Buddies program which encourages children to practice their fluency by reading out loud to cats. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy Blackall’s spirited digital artwork, particularly the emotions displayed by Max the cat and the rest of the family members. Share this title with animal lovers and reluctant readers who may just need a little feline inspiration to jump-start their own reading. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Never Show a T.Rex a Book

Sirdeshpande, Rashmi. Never Show a T.Rex a Book. 1st American ed., Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64159-8. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-3.

A young girl finds that chaos ensues when she teaches her dinosaur how to read. Written in the same style as Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series, this imaginative book portrays countless if/then scenarios that will delight young readers–and maybe even encourage them to envision some scenarios of their own. A heartwarming tale about the transformative magic of reading, kids will be begging to re-read this book over and over again.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and I love that they portray a multicultural cast of characters. I should note that because this was originally published in England, there are a few pages that may require some clarification for young children; for instance, one page states that the newly educated dinosaur might just become the prime minister. Fans of Laura Numeroff will adore this book, as will dinosaur lovers and avid readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member