MG – The Ogress and the Orphans

Barnhill, Kelly. The Ogress and the Orphans. Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-64375-074-3. $19.99. 392 pages. Grades 4-8.

Once there was an Ogress. In her long life she had many adventures, and lived in many places, always searching for a community in which to belong. The Ogress hears of a town called Stone-in-the-Glen that used to be quite lovely and that has fallen on hard times. The Ogress has experienced grief and disconnection and believes she can help the people of the town. She creates a home for herself on the outskirts of Stone-in-the-Glen, and anonymously sets out to perform random acts of kindness for the people of the town. Stone-in-the Glen was once regarded as a friendly and kind place where people took good care of each other. The citizens adored their dragon-slaying Mayor who was charming and protective. When the town library burns to the ground, the town itself begins to unravel. More community institutions are destroyed, crops fail, and slowly the people of Stone-in-the-Glen stop taking care of their neighbors. In fact, hard times make the citizens distrustful of each other. An orphanage on the edge of Stone-in-the-Glen houses 15 orphans, cared for by an elderly couple. The 15 young children are plucky and smart, and love each other dearly. They enjoy helping and learning, but most of all they care for each other and consider each other family. When one of the children goes missing, the Mayor gleefully prods the citizens of Stone-in-the-Glen to turn on the Ogress. It is up to the orphans to save each other, their home, the Ogress, and ultimately their community.

THOUGHTS: A stunning allegory with many themes to explore. What is a neighbor? What makes a community a community? How do we live with people and ideas that are different from our own experiences and beliefs? Kindness ultimately wins the day. Strong themes of the power of libraries and reading throughout this beautiful and well-told story.

Fantasy          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – The Lucky Ones

Jackson, Linda Williams. The Lucky Ones. Candlewick Press, 2022. 978-1-536-22255-5. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 5-8.

Sixth grader, Ellis Earl Brown, loves school, learning, and his family–all ten of them. Living in rural Wilsonville, Mississippi, in 1960’s, money is tight, work is scarce, and living quarters are crowded and dilapidated for this African American family. Ellis cherishes his time in Mr. Foster’s class where he is nourished with the knowledge of a world outside of his small town and with the teacher’s shared lunches. A dedicated student, Ellis Earl’s greatest fear is that Mama may be forced to make him quit school and relinquish his dream to become a lawyer or teacher or both. In the spring of 1967, Ellis is reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and compares himself to Willy Wonka whose family is also cramped into a small space and hoping for something lucky to happen. Earnest and thoughtful, Ellis Earl sacrifices for his family; worries about his sick brother, Oscar; and frets over his Mama’s exhaustion. Still, he is a real person. He corrects –mentally–his siblings’ grammar errors, whines when the rains flood the roads making going to school impossible, and is jealous of his class rival, Philip, who appears financially comfortable. Mr. Foster tells Ellis about the influence of civil rights lawyer, Marian Wright, on the presidential hopeful, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy. When Kennedy comes to visit the Delta to witness the devastating poverty himself, Ellis is part of the entourage the teacher brings to the airport in Jackson. The highly-anticipated trip is marred by racism, however, when the group stops to eat at a diner, supposedly integrated by law. The Brown family is also one of the lucky ones who get a visit from Senator Kennedy. In a series of connected events, Ellis’s family has the chance to better their lives through the assistance of Mr. Foster and Ms. Wright. Like Willy, Ellis has been given the “golden ticket,” the opportunity to build a life for him and his family through education and social services. Overall, he learns to appreciate the invaluable gift of having the support and encouragement of loved ones over material objects. In The Lucky Ones, Linda Williams Jackson presents a memorable character in Ellis Earl Brown and a realistic picture of a large family handling well what little life brings them. With not a speck of condescension, Jackson describes the bareness of the Brown’s household furnishings, the lack of food, and the struggle to find work. She conveys the rigor of the school and intelligence of its students, despite the hardships surrounding their education: no electricity, no transportation other than the teacher’s kindness, and no medical benefits. Most importantly, she places the reader in the midst of a big family who holler, goad, tease, and boss each other while also watching out and caring for one another. All the positives that sew up the story’s ending may seem too good to be true, but one thing is certain, the closeness of the Brown family makes them the lucky ones.

THOUGHTS: Linda Williams Jackson writes in a forthright way about a time in history I don’t see covered in children’s literature and fleshes out what it is/was like to grow up poor. In the context of the Brown family, being poor is difficult and unfair but respectable. Jackson emphasizes the important roles of government social welfare organizations and the church in supplying the basic necessities of life to needy people. Ellis Earl’s family are not church goers, not because they are non believers, but because Mama thinks they have no appropriate clothes in which to attend a service. Ellis’s desire to go to church has more to do with the free breakfast than devotion. The portrayal of the teachers at Ellis’s school–particularly Mr. Foster–is one of dedication and humility. He drives the students to school in his lime green station wagon, he brings them drumsticks to eat for lunch, he buys Ellis a suit to wear when he is chosen to give a recitation–and all of this dispatched with the conviction and impression that these children deserve such services and more.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – This Book is Not for You!

Hale, Shannon. This Book is Not for You! Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-984-81685-6. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PreK-3.

Stanley is excited to visit the bookmobile to find a new book. He is disappointed to find that Ms. Christine, the “bookmobile lady,” is on vacation, leaving a substitute librarian (described as a very old man) in charge. Stanley picks a mystery, but when he goes to check the book out, the librarian questions his book choice, claiming Stanley probably doesn’t want to read a book about a girl. Stanley becomes embarrassed and decides to pick a different selection. When his good friend Valeria approaches the bookmobile, she is encouraged to pick a book about a girl. Stanley likes cats, so he attempts to check out a book about cats. The sub librarian refuses to check a book about cats out to a boy, claiming only cats can read books about cats. Luckily a cat is next in line and agrees to take the cat book. Stanley’s request for a book about robots is also discouraged because he is not a robot. Coincidentally a robot happily takes the robot book. Frustrated, Stanley considers leaving without a book and never returning to the bookmobile again, but he notices the cat, robot, and Valeria are all happily reading under a nearby tree. Stanley glumly agrees to check out a book the sub librarian says is perfect for Stanley. Stanley tries to read but finds the story is not holding his interest. Valeria is equally bored with the book she checked out. The two decide to swap books. Stanley becomes immersed in the book Valeria struggled with. He is so mesmerized by the story that he doesn’t notice that the cat and robot have also exchanged books, and Valeria is laughing out loud at her new reading selection. When a confident dinosaur politely but firmly requests a book about ponies, the substitute librarian instantly fulfills the request without question. Bolstered by the dinosaur’s example, Stanley returns to the bookmobile, picks a new selection, and announces his intentions to check out a book he is interested in reading. The substitute librarian looks out at his array of patrons reading about many different subjects and agrees that Stanley should pick a book that fits his own interests. Stanley, Valeria, the cat, robot, and dinosaur all curl up on the grass to read happily. The substitute librarian even joins them. This book is illustrated by Tracy Subisak.

THOUGHTS: A fabulous selection for discussing independent reading selection, this book would make a perfect beginning of the school year read aloud during library class. Even young readers will understand the absurdity of the substitute librarian’s insistence that patrons only read books that mirror their own experience. A delightful and whimsical take on a much larger discussion about book choice, this title also is a good reminder for adults about the potential dangers of book shaming.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

This Book Is Not For You follows a young boy going to the bookmobile to get a book. When he gets there he is told repeatedly that these “books aren’t right for him” which frustrates him. Finally, once he gets a book and he begins to read, he falls in love with the story he is reading. He quietly switches with another reader who got the original book he wanted off the bookmobile, and he finds himself falling into that book as well. The individual who is ‘subbing’ for the bookmobile librarian sees everyone reading books and decides that maybe certain books don’t have to be for certain people.

THOUGHTS: This was a great book to start the conversation that anyone can read anything that they want to, regardless of what the book is about. The illustrations are beautifully done and really add to the story and to the main character’s feeling about not being able to find the book he wants. This book is a must own for any elementary collection.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Library Fish

Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. The Library Fish. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-47705-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

The Library Fish by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is about Mr. Hughes, a public librarian who finds a fishbowl outside of his library one day. Mr. Hughes welcomes the fish into the library and puts her in the children’s section. The fish watches as every day Mr. Hughes reads stories, does book checkouts with children and the fish even gets to go on the Bookmobile! One day, there is a snow storm, and the library is closed. The fish takes this opportunity to go exploring in the library to see more of the books that Mr. Hughes reads out loud that she misses. When the night is over, and Library fish has read all of these wonderful books, she climbs back into her bowl and goes to sleep. In the morning when Mr. Hughes gets back, he notices that the fish may have yawned, and the last illustration shows Mr. Hughes looking at the books that are on the floor with a puzzled expression. The illustrations in this book are wonderful, and the reader will want to go back over this book merely to look at the illustrations again.

THOUGHTS: I adored this story!! There is so much diversity found within the book’s illustrations, and I really appreciated that the illustrator made that choice. The story is sweet and charming and would make a wonderful first week of school read aloud with Kindergarten students, or even a great story to share with older students and have them come up with unique pets that can be found in the library. Overall, this is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Book’s Big Adventure

Lehrhaupt, Adam. Book’s Big Adventure. Ill. Rahele Jomepour Bell. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-42183-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

As a new book in the library, Book goes on many adventures.  He goes on a picnic and in a car; he is read at bedtime and throughout the day. But one day, Book is no longer placed on the new books shelf. He is moved to a lower, darker shelf. His adventures are fewer and fewer; he feels forgotten and wishes for the adventures he once had. After his fall from grace (or the library shelf), he is found and boxed; all hope is lost for Book.  Until one day, when Book finds a new home. He is cherished and loved and taken on many new adventures.

THOUGHTS: Book’s Big Adventure is a fantastic introduction for children to cleaning and donation. Although the book focuses on Book being weeded from the collection and finding a new home through donation, the connection to children getting new toys and forgetting about older ones or growing out of clothing is easily drawn. The illustrations by Bell enhance the story by giving life to Book and the adventures he goes on. They start out bright and colorful, then grow darker as he is forgotten, and finally become bright and airy again when he finds his new home. This is a wonderful picture book to encourage children to clean and donate items. The author also includes a note at the end about where the idea for Book’s Big Adventure came from and where readers can donate used books. As a side note, Book is not identified as he, she, or they in the book. I identified Book as a he because I thought the illustrations lent more to a he than a she. Book’s title looks like a bowtie to me.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World

Mitchell, Malcolm. My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World. Orchard Books. 2021. 978-1-338-22532-7. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

Henley was on a journey to discover his very favorite book in the whole wide world. This was an assignment from his teacher. The problem? Henley didn’t have a favorite book in the whole wide world. Reading was hard. It wasn’t that he didn’t like reading… it was sometimes just too complicated, some books were too big, some were too boring, and sometimes Henley would rather be doing something else. When his teacher made this terrible assignment, Henley buckled down to try and find his favorite book in the whole wide world.

THOUGHTS: This is a book that many reluctant readers will be able to relate to. Sometimes finding what you enjoy reading can be very difficult. With a little perseverance, Henley was able to make his discovery, and so can other young (and old!) readers.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – One Girl

Beatty, Andrea. One Girl. Abrams, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. 978-1-419-71905-9. Grades K-3. 

One dejected looking little girl sits all alone on the steps of a remote porch underneath a starry sky when a glowing book falls to her feet like a comet. Immediately upon opening it, her world changes into a brightly colored  fantasyland where books grow on trees and pencils sprout from the earth. As the young girl travels through this wondrous land, she witnesses diverse women working independently as artists, scientists, and leaders. The next morning she races to school to share her treasure with an eager and diverse group of students. Shortly after, she picks up a pencil and begins writing while astonished classmates watch the magic spill from her hand. Next, boys and girls alike follow her lead and begin to read, write, and share their unique stories while elements of their stories: a tiger, a grand piano, a helicopter, and hot air balloons float overhead. Later, by the light of the moon another girl sits on the front steps and watches as several new glowing books fall from the sky. Lovely, repetitive prose “One girl glowing/shares her song” reinforces the beauty of a young girl finding her voice yet also allows the reader to be fully immersed in the opportunities she has opened with her love of books. The young girl protagonist along with her supportive teacher present as Asian with medium-beige skin and beautiful dark hair. Classmates all wear the same school uniform but represent a variety of ethnicities among skin and hair colors.

THOUGHTS: One Girl is a loving tribute to the power of reading, writing, and storytelling. In addition to being a lovely read aloud, this title would make a great introduction to a writing unit or a classroom conversation about how words and actions can affect others. Short and repetitive text surrounded by stunning art with some graphic elements make this a nice option for sharing with pre-readers or English language learners who may need a little nudge to find their reading groove. This book has a place in any school library collection, classroom libraries, and beyond.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – The Lady with the Books

Stinson, Kathy. The Lady with the Books. Kids Can Press, 2020. $17.99. 32 p.  978-1-525-30154-4. Grades 2-5. 

Annelise and her younger brother Peter wander aimlessly through the streets of post-World War Munich. Feeling hungry and dejected, Annelise wonders why people are attempting to clean up the rubble. Outside of a building they join a queue hoping there will be something to eat. Grey, somber streets give the reader a realistic sense of the destruction Germany was facing after the war, but a lovely green tree just outside the building is a beacon of hope. Once inside, the pair is greeted by a room filled with books. Forgetting their woes for an afternoon, the children become completely absorbed. The illustrations skillfully capture a bustling archive brimming with colorful books from around the world. The children return the next day, just in time to listen as the “lady with the books” reads aloud from The Story of Ferdinand complete with translation from English to German. This story is especially comforting to Peter and Annelise, whose father was killed during the war for “standing up to” orders. Although the children cannot borrow books from the exhibit, they are encouraged to read as many books as possible. Whimsical characters and blooming flowers creep into the pages and eventually follow the children home. Annelise is able to find hope among the destruction and vows to join the rebuilding efforts. Graphite pencil and digitally colored illustrations beautifully enhance Annelise’s mood transformation from hopelessness to regaining a childlike sense of wonder. Annelise, Peter and Mama are white with blonde hair while the story lady has the same complexion with short dark hair. Some diversity in skin and hair types is shown among the book exhibition crowds. Backmatter informs the reader that the children in this story stumbled upon an international collection of books at the Haus der Kunst art museum as curated by Jella Lepman. A Jewish refugee who returned home after the war, Lepman managed to create a traveling collection of books that had been previously banned from Germany, including The Story of Ferdinand which she translated and printed by the thousands to distribute among children. Later, she was able to raise enough money to create the International Youth Library, also known as the “Book Castle” and contributed to the formation of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

THOUGHTS: This picture book provides a nice mix of fantasy and historical fiction for elementary readers to get a glimpse of the impact Jella Lepman and her international book collections made on children recovering from the trauma of war.

813 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD