Elem. – Someone Builds the Dream

Wheeler, Lisa. Illustrated by Loren Long. Someone Builds the Dream. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-984-81433-3. $18.99. Grades K-3.  

Have you ever wondered how buildings, bridges, and towers come to be? Of course there is the designer or architect who engineers, plans, and directs, and of course there are the workers who ‘build the dream.’ Different abilities blend together to result in the desired end: the building, the bridge, the wind farm, the amusement park, and even the book. Long weaves beautiful creations and diverse people into the examples of dreams growing and dreams coming true. This works well to celebrate diversity, Labor Day, all types of workers, and community. The text rhymes just enough to guide the cadence, but does not seem overdone or silly.  The art and text work well together to honor the work of those who create at any stage. Repeat readers will enjoy details such as the ironworker on an early page, reading the book to a child on a later page.

THOUGHTS: Long acknowledges using 1930s WPA murals as inspiration for the tone and spirit of the work, and the reader can feel the pride of many jobs well-done. This could be helpful in introducing young people to a variety of careers.  Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Haydu, Corey Ann. One Jar of Magic. Harper Collins, 2021. $16.99 978-0-062-68985-6. Grades 5-8.

Rose Alice Anders isn’t just Rose. She is “Little Luck,” so nicknamed by her father, the luckiest man in Belling Bright, the most magical place in the world. Her father has the most knowledge of magic in this town where magic is revered and frequently used for everything from improving hair quality to crafting a rainbow (though her father cautions Rose and her brother Lyle that interfering with weather is too dangerous). All her life Rose has been striving to live up to her father’s belief that she will be the most magical in their family. Her status–and her father’s–brings ‘honor’ but also trouble into her friendships. So when the new year arrives in her twelfth year, Rose both longs for the day and dreads it for the pressure. Yes, she is magical, yes, her father has answers, but something doesn’t feel right, though she’d never admit it. The town’s New Year’s Day comes, and everyone is out to capture magic in jars of any color or size. Some magic sparkles, some changes colors, some seems to enchant just by being. Rose goes straight to Too Blue Lake, where she’s certain she, of all people, will manage to fill jar after jar after jar. But as the day goes on and her friends gather jars, and her brother tries to help her (should she be grateful or insulted?), Rose is fearful to come to the feast with just one jar of magic. She can feel her father’s anger. To appease his anger, her mother takes Rose and Lyle home, stopping at a store run by “not-meant-for-magic’ people. Though the store is nearby, Rose has never been there and never met these people. Her shame at failing to live up to her name and her heritage mixes with her curiosity in these people, who seem so….free. She wants to see Zelda–the daughter of the family–again, but knows her father (and the town) forbids it. What is going on in her family and in her town?  Where does Rose belong and how can she take a stand when she’s not sure of anything?

THOUGHTS: Haydu crafts a very real town full of questions, possibilities and dangers.  She presents the confusing family dynamics well, as Rose struggles to reconcile her hesitations and doubts with her father’s certainty, her mother’s acquiescence, her brother’s kindness, and the town’s solidarity. Who is she, if she’s not Little Luck?

Magical Realism Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Fatima’s Great Outdoors

Tariq, Ambreen. Fatima’s Great Outdoors. Penguin Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-81695-5. 40 p. $17.99. Grades Pre-K-3. 

Fatima Khazi is having a tough week. Her math quiz was challenging, her peers teased her about her accent, her friends wrinkled their noses at her lunch, and a boy pulled her long braid in the hallway. Her mood, however, is lifted while she eagerly awaits with her sister for her parents after school. She is beyond excited about a weekend camping trip to a state park with her family. Ambreen Tariq’s picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors celebrates an immigrant family’s connection and affection for nature and the outdoors. Fatima, who speaks Urdu and English, slowly builds confidence as she helps her family set up the camping tent, start a campfire, and adventure in a state park. Readers gain insight into Fatima’s family, who has immigrated from India, and will also learn of the family members that still live in India through memories and storytelling. Each memory teaches Fatima a little more about her strength and confidence. At the end of the weekend, Fatima is sad to leave her outdoor space, but her sister reminds her that sharing her experience at school may help keep the memories in her heart until the next adventure.

THOUGHTS: Author Ambreen Tariq is the founder of BrownPeopleCamping, which she launched in August of 2016 to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial. This storytelling initiative, found on Instagram, utilizes personal narratives and digital storytelling to promote diversity in public lands and outdoor communities. Her debut picture book Fatima’s Great Outdoors reads like a love letter to state and national parks that encourage all ethnicities and races to explore and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood

Hillery, Tony, and Jessie Hartland. Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood. Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-40231-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Food deserts are real inner city problems for some, but a food oasis can grow with opportunity and effort. Such is the case in Harlem, where a run down and empty lot across from PS 175 elementary school became something more. With the author, Tony Hillery’s inspiration, volunteers helped clear the land, create a garden space, and grow a community closer together. With some learning and further developing the space, they created a rainbow of vegetables, fruits, and herbs which could be harvested and used by the local families. The story is simple and true, with easy to read aloud text and colorful gouache illustrations to keep youngsters attention. With endnotes and extra resources, this meaningful dream became reality to those who needed to see something good grown in an urban farm.

THOUGHTS: The process and steps from farm to table are quickly taken for granted by many, in both urban and rural areas. Researching where food comes from and travels to reach a market is a valuable citizenship lesson. This book could inspire many other community gardens to grow!

635 Agriculture          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Young Naveah attends school at PS 175 in Harlem, across from an abandoned lot so filled with clutter that she thinks of it as “the haunted garden.” Mr. Tony volunteers at the school and decides to make a change which will impact the lot, the kids, and the community. Mr. Tony invites Naveah along with other students to participate in the building, planting, and tending of a youth garden. Together, they plant four hundred seedlings to represent each of the children who help. Things get off to a good start until Naveah notices her plants wilting. With a growth mindset attitude, Mr. Tony helps the community try again, this time building raised beds. Finally, locally grown produce makes its way to the family dinner table. Gouache illustrations throughout add vibrance to the story, particularly with spreads showing the transformation from a littered gray lot to bustling green space. Both of the main characters are Brown-skinned and wear glasses. While Navaeh styles her hair in braids with a variety of bows and barrettes, Mr. Tony is bald except for his beard. Neighborhood scenes depict a diverse array of community members. Based on the true story of  Harlem Grown, a farm which has provided thousands of pounds of food to youth and families in Harlem without charge. Backmatter includes a letter from the author and Founder Tony Hillery, a step-by-step guide to starting a garden, and a list of additional resources.

THOUGHTS: A nice read aloud introduction to community gardening and overview of Harlem Grown for young learners.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
635 Agriculture         

Elem. – Everybody’s Tree

Joosse, Barbara. Everybody’s Tree. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. 978-1-534-11058-8. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-2.

At the beginning of the story, the life of a spruce tree starts when it is planted outside of a farmhouse. Years pass until the tiny sprig of a plant is a mighty spruce. It is scouted by a group of people in a helicopter who believe it would be the perfect tree for everybody everywhere. The tree travels on a flatbed truck until it reaches its final destination: an unnamed city that could be any urban center in the United States. Workers use cranes to decorate the tree and prepare it for the big night when everyone gathers to see the tree light up and bring holiday joy to all who visit it during the season.

THOUGHTS: Many people can remember visiting the local city center near their home to watch the tree lighting ceremony. There is definitely something magical about an entire community coming together to celebrate the holiday season together. Joosse, along with illustrator Renee Graef, manage to capture that feeling within the pages of this book. The fact that the city this tree adorns could be any town or city in the USA makes it especially relatable. With singsong rhyming text and a glow-in-the-dark cover, this book will delight readers of all ages.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – The Bear’s Garden

Colleen, Marcie. The Bear’s Garden. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31481-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK- 2.

Where most people in the city see an empty lot, one little girl sees potential. She imagines what the lot could be–a beautiful place to grow and play. She begins to care for the delicate seedlings that grow in the lot. When the girl has to leave the city, she decides to leave her stuffed bear behind to care for the garden. Amazingly, with a little help from the community, her dreams begin to come to life, and the little lot becomes everything she imagined it could be. An inspirational story about the power of dreams, dedication, and community, this book will inspire readers to find beauty in the most ordinary places.

THOUGHTS: Because this book was inspired by the true story of a community garden in Brooklyn, New York, there are many extension activities that could be done with it. Students could research and/or take a virtual field trip to the Brooklyn Bear’s Pacific Street Community Garden. They could brainstorm projects that might be done in their own community to beautify a particular area. The book could be paired with other gardening books for a unit on gardening, or paired with Sydney Smith’s Small in the City (2019) for a display about life in the city.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – Show Me a Sign

LeZotte, Ann Clare. Show Me a Sign. Scholastic Press, 2020. 269 p.  978-1-338-25581-2. $ 18.99. Grades 4-7.

Part Historical Fiction and part Thriller, this story is set in 1805 Martha’s Vineyard and follows 11 year old Mary. Mary is one of the many deaf inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard who descended from a small town in England. This genetic abnormality passes over some, yet inflicts others. However, life on the island is normal for the deaf and hearing alike. Most inhabitants speak their own form of island sign language as well as English. Life is normal until a young scientist from Boston comes to the island to study this abnormality. In trying to uncover the cause of deafness, Andrew captures Mary as his specimen and absconds with her to mainland Boston. Tortured by her captor, and realizing that she is different for the first time, Mary must find a way to escape and return to her family. Follow Mary as she escapes with the help of some Vineyard friends and finds her way home to her family and friends. The afterword includes a short history of deafness on Martha’s Vineyard, Sign Language, and the Wampanoag Tribe.

THOUGHTS: Such an interesting and unforgettable story that is rooted in history. LeZotte is deaf herself and does a fantastic job of bringing you into the world of Mary.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

Tags: Deafness, Kidnapping, Sign Language

Elem. – Share Your Rainbow: 18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future

Various Artists. Share Your Rainbow: 18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future. Penguin Random House, 2020. 978-0-593-37521-1. 32 pages. $7.99. Grades K – 3.

As R.J. Palacio states in the forward, “rainbows are messages of love and hope and peace.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, symbols of rainbows have appeared in windows, sidewalks, and anywhere that children needed to share some joy. This unique picture book aims to make a story of looking for hope in the everyday world and looking ahead to a better future. Each page turn brings a new artist to share their rainbow in creative and delightful ways. For example, children use this time to redesign a rainbow rocketship, imagine riding a rainbow roller coaster, playing with a beach ball, and reuniting with family and friends. Students will naturally seek the rainbows on each page, and then want to #sharemyrainbow afterwards.

THOUGHTS: Come for the hopeful message, but stay to enjoy exploring how artistic styles of many illustrators come together. Some of the featured creators are: Vasti Harrison, Adam Rex, Oge Mora, Dan Santat, Bob Shea, and Lane Smith. All proceeds of the book sales go to World Central Kitchen, which could lead to a further discussion of how to share hope with those in need. Recommended read-aloud and lesson for K – 3.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – You Matter

Robinson, Christian. You Matter. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-2169-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K – 2.

Christian Robinson’s newest picture book has a straightforward message, even while delivering it through a roundabout story: You Matter! In fact, we are all matter, connected from the formation of the earth to the smallest living creatures. The flow of the story goes from a girl looking into a microscope and then off to several prehistoric creatures, before taking a galactic turn from a space station parent to a cityscape child. However, the message all along is meant to apply to all of us – despite hardships or worries or feelings of loneliness – you matter! The illustrations and their progression are delightful to connect and discuss, while the text hopefully hits home for those young readers who need those two reassuring words in a time of uncertainty.

THOUGHTS: The natural connection with this book would be for students to list things that matter to them, or ways that they matter to the world, and then share it with others. This would make for a great opportunity for building friendships and class identity at the start of a school year. Recommended for grades K – 2.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Runaway Pumpkins

Bateman, Teresa. Runaway Pumpkins. Charlesbridge, 2020. 978-1-580-89681-8. 32p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

As the leaves begin changing colors, students are ready for their field trip to the pumpkin patch. During the bus ride, they chatter about the kinds of pumpkins they plan on picking. In the field, each student selects one pumpkin to take home, and the pumpkins are loaded into the storage area under the bus. Students daydream about the ways they’ll decorate their pumpkins. But, disaster strikes during the return bus ride! The lower doors are not latched tightly, and all the pumpkins roll out! Confused townsfolk see the smashed pumpkins all over their lawns and porches, and they devise a plan for reuniting the students with their pumpkins. Meanwhile when the students arrive at school, everyone is disappointed to see the empty storage area. The only pumpkin still safely on the bus is the large one strapped to the roof, which the children proceed to decorate together. The next day, at the harvest fair, the townspeople make a surprise appearance, each bringing a different dish made from the children’s runaway pumpkins. From pumpkin cake and pumpkin ice cream to pumpkin soup and pumpkin fries, the children are excited to see the missing pumpkins in their new forms.

THOUGHTS: The upbeat, rhyming text will appeal to primary students, making this a fun fall-themed read-aloud. The story also celebrates the community spirit, as well as the idea of making the best of an unexpected situation. Students and townspeople are racially diverse. Overall, this is a fun autumn story that doesn’t center on Halloween.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD