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

MG – Maya and the Rising Dark

Barron, Rena. Maya and the Rising Dark. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-10622-7. 291 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

When Maya notices the colors around her fading away, it seems like something out of the stories her father tells her, stories of ancient gods, magic and scary creatures. When she and her friend Frankie encounter terrifying werehyenas, only to be saved by Frankie suddenly throwing bolts of lightning, Maya learns that her father’s job as a structural engineer is a bit more complex than he ever let on. He is an Orisha, a god, whose job it is to maintain the veil between this world and the Dark. Maya, along with Frankie and her other friend, Eli, are all godlings, or half-Orisha. When Maya’s father disappears during a trip to fix the veil, Maya is convinced that she must find a portal to the Dark and rescue her father. Her loyal friends accompany her on a journey undertaken with love, but maybe not a lot of thought and planning. Maya and Eli have not yet discovered if they possess powers, leaving the three vulnerable to attack by the darkbringers, as well as the Lord of Shadows, a sinister creature haunting Maya’s dreams. This captivating story offers a new entry in the demi-god genre, showcasing the less known mythology of the Yoruba religion, originating in western Africa. Unique among the genre, Maya, her family and friends live in an Orisha enclave; many of her neighbors are also Orisha, and she is surrounded by other godlings. The vibrancy of the community in which Maya resides adds a warmth to the narrative, as Maya never has to search out for other individuals like herself; she has a built-in support network. The tale is suspenseful, replete with deliciously creepy characters, and filled with love – family, friends and neighbors.

THOUGHTS: A noteworthy addition to the mythology based adventure collection. Hand to fans of Percy Jackson, Sal and Gabi (Carlos Hernandez) or Aru Shah (Roshani Chokshi).

Fantasy – Mythology          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Walters, Eric. Don’t Stand So Close to Me. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. 978-1-459-82787-5. 128 p. $10.95. Grades 6-8.

Eighth Grader Quinn and her friends are surprised when their school principal holds an emergency assembly two days before spring break, announcing that their vacation is extended due to COVID-19. Although she has heard her dad, an emergency room doctor, talk about the virus, she didn’t think it would actually disrupt school. At first Quinn and her friends, Isaac and Reese, look forward to watching Netflix and playing video games all day, but the free time and social distancing gets old quickly, school is closed indefinitely, and the virus gets closer to home. Isaac’s police officer mother is working all day leaving him home alone for hours, Reese’s grandmother is in isolation at the local nursing home, and Quinn’s Dad is living in the basement when not working endless hours treating record amounts of patients. Quinn, Isaac, and Reese realize that although the virus has changed everything about their lives, from the way they go to school to how they hang out with friends, they can still feel connected by supporting themselves and their community.

THOUGHTS: A timely story that many readers will relate to, although it does not depict how the pandemic affected low-income families and those with difficult family conditions. Perhaps a companion novel or sequel can show how the pandemic has affected those in different socioeconomic situations and what life will be like after a vaccine is created.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Shortest Day; Shine; Saturday; Sofia Valdez, Future Prez; Just Like My Brother; I Am Not a Fish; Little Tigers; The Little Green Girl; Home in the Woods; No Place Like Home; Spencer’s New Pet; The Cook and the King; Motor Mouse; Max and Marla Are Flying Together; Pokko and the Drum; All in a Drop; You Loves Ewe

Cooper, Susan. The Shortest Day. Candlewick Press, 2019. 978-0-763-68698-7.  Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

“So the shortest day came…and everywhere down the centuries came people…to drive the dark away.” In simple lyrical text, Cooper explains the significance of the winter solstice to humans from prehistoric through modern times. As the winter darkness descended over the land, those living in the earlier times feared it would remain and attempted to drive it away by lighting torches, putting candles in trees and hanging evergreens in their homes. They also gathered together to dance and sing to dispel the blackness. Today, this tradition continues during the Yule season, as people continue to decorate Christmas trees with lights and to assemble with friends and family to sing carols and celebrate. In the back matter, Cooper explains why not only the seasons, but especially the equinoxes and solstices, were so meaningful to early man. The author also puts all the text on one page in the back, so that the reader can read or perform it in its true poetic form. The illustrations by Ellis are done in gouache and have a folk art appearance. The sun is pictured as a giant with the sun for a head and is seen walking until he disappears behind the mountain to bring on the darkness. These drawings, which capture the winter bleakness in Northern Europe, help show how these traditions carry on today with three illustrations depicting the same scene in both past and modern times. For instance, five children who appear to be from medieval or early modern times are seen dancing and holding torches and evergreens as they exit a house. A few pages later, there is a similar image of children in modern dress posed the same way.

THOUGHTS: This title is a great addition to elementary collections. Although there are other books on the winter solstice, this one is exemplary in that it conveys the human aspect of this event, rather than just an astronomical one. A good choice for a winter themed storytime.

Easy          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD


Grabenstein, J.J., and Chris Grabenstein. Shine! Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-524-71769-8. 210 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

Piper Milly is a seventh grader who believes she was meant to blend in rather than to shine. When her father lands a new teaching job at the local prep school, complete with full tuition for Piper, she leaves public school mid-year and enters a world where every student is trying to excel. When the school announces the creation of a new award that will be given to the student who most exhibits overall excellence, Piper thinks she has no shot of winning. Ultimately, she discovers there are many different ways of shining, including being kind, demonstrating empathy, and valuing friendship. 

THOUGHTS: Piper is a well-rounded character, and students will relate to her struggles with leaving her old school and friends and starting over at a new school. She also finds herself in relatable situations, such as being the target of the class “mean girl,” and doubting her own abilities. The idea that kindness and empathy outweigh material things like awards and money will prompt discussions about ways students can focus on these traits in their own lives. 

Realistic Fiction          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Mora, Oge. Saturday. Little, Brown and Company, 2019. 978-0-316-43127-9. 36 p. $18.99. Gr K-3. 

Ava and her mother look forward to Saturdays because they get to spend the whole day together. But, this Saturday, nothing goes as planned. They arrive at the library only to learn that storytime is cancelled. They get their hair done but step out of the salon just as a car splashes a huge puddle of water at them. And, they arrive at the park only to find a large crowd of like minded people also trying to take in the sunny afternoon. After each disappointment, the pair repeat their mantra: “Don’t worry. Today will be special. Today will be splendid. Today is Saturday!” But, when they arrive at their final destination – a one-night only puppet show – only to discover that mom left the tickets at home, their patience is truly tested. Mom crumples with guilt, apologizing for ruining Saturday. But it is Ava who demonstrates resilience, reflecting that the day was still special and splendid because they spent it together. 

THOUGHTS: This story about going with the flow and taking life in stride, even when plans change, will be a good fit for morning meeting discussions. It will also be a good conversation starter for students to share what routines or traditions they have with their own families on weekends. The beautiful collage illustrations will draw students back for multiple readings.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Beaty, Andrea. Sofia Valdez, Future Prez. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-4141-973704-6. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

Sofia Valdez is a spunky girl who always has helped others through the influence of her abuelo. The phrase, “Most people like good, but Sofia liked better” captures the essence and farseeing vision of Sofia. When she and abuelo come across a dangerous landfill, they hope to make a community park. Like the Little Red Hen story, everyone agrees with Sofia, but no one steps up to help. Sofia is on her own. She is nervous and goes to City Hall where she is shuttled from department to department.  Finally a friendly clerk takes her side and helps. Sofia gets an audience with the mayor and pleads her case. She starts a petition. The neighbors finally rally around her. Citizens’ Park is created! What a feat for a second grader! She has a bright future. Andrea Beaty’s snappy verse, and David Roberts lively pictures have a brilliant, encouraging message.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and empowering book shows young readers the importance of their community, working together, and most importantly believing in yourself. Sofia displays a great deal of courage and determination when she approaches “City Hall”  for the benefit of her community.

Picture Book       Jeannie Bellavance, Retired


Marino, Gianna. Just Like My Brother. Viking, 2019. 978-0-425-29060-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Beautiful, bright watercolor illustrations take readers on a journey to the African plains where they meet a cast of animals. Little giraffe is searching for her older brother during a game of hide and seek. Describing various features of her older brother, little giraffe asks each animal if they’ve seen him. Sometimes the other animal’s perspective shows what little giraffe cannot recognize, like when turtle says, “You’re tall.” Observant readers will notice that big brother isn’t the only animal hiding, as anticipation and excitement build throughout the story.

THOUGHTS: Young readers will delight in this picture book which can be a simple read aloud or an introduction to characteristics of animals and types of animals around the world. This book can also be used as an introduction to the concept of compare and contrast.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 


Raymundo, Peter. I Am Not a Fish! Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-525-55459-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Edgar is frustrated with being called a fish. Being a jellyfish Edgar doesn’t feel like the word fish belongs in his name (and has even been accused of “overthinking things”). After meeting a group of starfish who empathize with his frustration, Edgar is able to talk through his feelings. By identifying many other sea creatures and looking at their names, Edgar realizes he likes being himself, even if fish is in his name. This delightful, colorful underwater adventure is perfect for STEM lessons involving the ocean or ocean creatures. At one point, Edgar says, “I look more like a plastic bag than a fish” which is an opportunity to discuss the topic of ocean pollution.

THOUGHTS: There are many great lesson ideas for this fun, light-hearted text, and it would make a humorous read aloud, especially if the reader gets into Edgar’s character. From ocean connections to serving as a mentor text for starfish or sea horse parodies, this book will encourage students to think about names and identity in an age appropriate manner.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD


Weaver, Jo. Little Tigers. Peachtree, 2019. 978-1-682-63110-2. 32 p. $17.95. Grades K-4. 

For tiger cubs Puli and Sera, searching for a new home is an adventure but Mother Tiger is restless after hearing men and their dogs in the jungle. The little tigers provide plenty of comic relief with their kitten-like antics and tender moments.  Diversity among rainforest habitats is highlighted as the small family travels through thick old forest, waterfalls, river crossings, and caves to find just the right spot. Just before nightfall, Mother Tiger leads her little tigers into ruins for shelter. Unique charcoal and digitally colored illustrations accent the shadows of the jungle while also providing stunning two page spreads. A brief note after the story discusses the endangered status of Bengal tigers along with suggested links to wildlife organizations.

THOUGHTS: The artwork in this picture book illustrates the tiger’s coloring as camouflage in their natural environment. The playfulness of the cubs paired with captivating illustrations and familiar searching-for-home tale make this a good read aloud option. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Anchin, Lisa. The Little Green Girl. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-0-735-23073-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-4. 

Unexpectedly floating into Mr. Aster’s garden on the wind one day, the little green girl quickly takes root and thrives under his care. Her fierce curiosity about the world is fueled by tales from her garden friends. After a visit from the birds, she decides it is time to begin her own adventures. Despite urging from her caretaker to stay put in the beautiful, safe garden where she is planted, the little green girl is determined to explore beyond the gate. Her persistence finally persuades the kind gardener to venture out into the “wide world” where they discover that home can be found in even exotic new places. The illustrations are bright and hopeful, filling the page with both the cozy home garden and travel vignettes. Notes from a gardener’s journal add interest to the end paper. The Little Green Girl is a  heartwarming tale about blooming where you are planted while also encouraging a love of adventure. 

THOUGHTS: A great title to add to the school library, this book will make a great read aloud and also has potential curriculum connections to introduce lessons about plants and gardening in various habitats. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Wheeler, Eliza. Home in the Woods. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2019. 978-0-399-16290-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-5. 

A young widow packs up her large family and carries their meager possessions to live in a ramshackle house in the woods during the Great Depression. Arriving in the summer, the family gets right to work making repairs and planning for their survival in the year to come. At first it doesn’t seem like much, but as the family settles they begin to find happiness in the abundance of the forest. As fall comes around, it’s all hands on deck to preserve enough food to make it through the winter. Even with all of their hard work, the family still struggles to make ends meet. Still, they spend their days making the best of the situation and bonding with each other even in the depths of winter. When spring finally arrives, readers will rejoice in the light airy feeling of accomplishment and hope. The watercolor illustrations stunningly convey the mood of each season. An author’s note at the end explains in further detail the historical significance of this story. 

THOUGHTS: A good book to introduce a unit on the Great Depression to upper elementary students. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Gosh, Ronojoy. No Place Like Home. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 978-0-8028-5522-0. 32 p. $17.00. Grades K-2. 

George the polar bear cannot find joy living in the city. Ice cream and butterflies don’t bring a smile to his furry face. His house is way too small, and he can’t stand being in a crowd. So, George decides to take action, traveling far and wide to find where he belongs. It turns out that the city isn’t the only place a polar bear doesn’t belong. George is also dissatisfied with life in the jungle, dessert, and in the mountains before finally finding his way to the arctic. The text is sparse but meaningful with only a sentence or two per page. The whimsical illustrations add depth and feeling to this beautiful and captivating story about finding home and happiness – perfect for younger readers.

THOUGHTS: This short and sweet story will make a great versatile addition to the school library. Not only is this book a great stand alone read-aloud for a wintry story time, it also offers opportunities for curriculum connection. George’s tale of finding just the right place to call home is a great way to introduce a unit on habitats. Discussions about mindfulness and perseverance can also be supported by this book. It’s noteworthy that while George clearly feels isolated, he is rarely alone in the illustrations, opening the door to discuss sadness, depression, and mental health to young audiences. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Sima, Jessie. Spencer’s New Pet. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-534-41877-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When your best friend is a balloon, danger seems to be lurking around every corner. A routine visit to the vet could risk a run-in with a hedgehog. A day at the park seems like a good idea at first, but the myriad of pointy obstacles is overwhelming – and hilarious! Spencer and his pet spend their afternoon dodging teeth, talons, and tropical fruit (Not to mention other dangers!). Things get really interesting when the pair stumbles upon a birthday party and gets separated. When disaster finally strikes, a hilarious plot twist is revealed. Clever black and white illustrations with a touch of red effectively evoke the feeling of early cinema with excellent attention to detail, including a countdown, chapter headings, and credits. This book is sure to be loved by all, especially those who have loved (and lost) a prized balloon animal.

THOUGHTS: Everything about this book is fun. Students will never see the twist coming. Even older elementary audiences might enjoy the slapstick humor, especially as an intro to early cinema. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Donaldson, Julia. The Cook and the King. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019. 978-1-419-73757-2. 32 p. $16.99.Grades K-3.

When the King searches for a new cook, he finally settles on Wobbly Bob who sees danger in the most mundane situations and constantly worries about ruining his attire. Eventually, the hungry king must take matters into his own hands, completing all of the tasks required to catch and prepare his own fish and chips. Turns out that Wobbly Bob isn’t too timid to join in the feast. Comical illustrations add to the humor in this tale that feels like a classic fairytale with a modern twist. 

THOUGHTS: Rhyming text, repeating verse, and many tall hats will make this book a read aloud hit. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 

 


Rylant, Cynthia. Motor Mouse. Beach Lane Books, 2019. 978-1-4814-9126-6. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Motor Mouse is a trio of short endearing tales about a speedy little mouse and his friends finding the bright side in a variety of situations. When there is no cake for Cake Friday, Motor Mouse and his best friend Telly bravely decide to try pie. Tired of driving others around town, Motor Mouse decides to hire a car on his day off. He takes a trip down memory lane but finds that making new friends is just as much fun as remembering old ones. Motor Mouse and brother Valentino learn a valuable lesson about compromise with a trip to the movies, featuring the biggest bucket of popcorn. Bright, cartoony watercolor illustrations add to the tales. 

THOUGHTS: Another great title from familiar, prolific author/illustrator pair Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard. Students will love this title just as much. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 


Boiger, Alexandra. Max and Marla Are Flying Together. Philomel Books, 2019. 978-0-525-51566-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Max and his best friend Marla, a young snowy owl, have a ton of fun together. But Max knows that Marla is born to fly, and he is determined to help her realize her own potential. Marla, on the other wing, is perfectly happy to have both of her feet on the ground. When Marla gets swept up in the wind on a blustery fall day, Max’s gentle coaching helps her realize that she really was made to fly. The next day, Marla is leading the charge to continue her flying lessons. A lovely, gentle tale about love and friendship. The warm watercolor illustrations bring the autumnal setting to life. 

THOUGHTS: A great book to share with students about being patient with oneself and waiting for a time to shine. A nice title for fall themed story time. Would be fun to pair with a wind unit or kite flying activities. 

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

 


Forsythe, Matthew. Pokko and the Drum. Simon and SchusterBooks for Young Readers. 978-1-481-48039-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Pokko’s quiet, toadstool dwelling parents meant well when they gave her a drum, but they immediately discovered that it was a big mistake. Even bigger than the other mistakes they made before (including gifting Pokko a llama and a slingshot). Pokko immediately takes to the drum, playing day and night. To appease her parents she heads out to the forest to play quietly. But quiet doesn’t suit Pokko, and it isn’t long before her talent draws others from the woods to join in. It is clear that Pokko is a natural leader. Even the fox is put in his place by her stern (but fair) leadership. 

THOUGHTS: Every library needs a copy of this book. Spunky Pokko is such a relatable and strong female character that she is sure to become an instant favorite character with boys and girls alike. There are so many opportunities to expand on in this text including integrity, leadership, art, and marching to the beat of your own drum.  

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD


Alexander, Lori. All in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 978-1-328-88420-6. 93 p. $17.99. Grades 3-5.

This fascinating chapter book biography discusses the life and accomplishments of the man known as the “Father of Microbiology.” Alexander begins with van Leeuwenhoek’s early life in Delft, Netherlands and how his occupation as a clothing vendor got him interested in lenses. Always a curious person, Antony developed superior magnifying glasses and used them to examine objects other than clothing. Alexander includes a list of all the objects that van Leeuwenhoek was “first to see” under the microscopic lens. While studying samples of water and dental plaque with his lenses, he saw small animals that were invisible to the human eye, which he called diertgens. Even though he was never trained in the sciences, this draper’s findings were published in the journal of the Royal Society in London. The author uses a narrative style to make the story more interesting and accessible. She also creates sections within the text that go into detail about certain topics, like the bubonic plague and the quality and types of lenses. The back matter contains a timeline, glossary, source notes, and recommended readings. Mildenberger’s whimsical illustrations, present on nearly every two page spread, are done in colored pencil, watercolor, and pastel. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings for interesting details, including the Delft tiles on the endpapers.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for all collections. There are not many books written about this man who was the first to see microscopic life, and this is arguably the most attractive and engaging for elementary school readers.                                                        

579.092 Natural history of microorganisms, fungi, algae          Denise Medwick, Retired, West Allegheny SD
92, 921 Biography


Bell, Cece. You Loves Ewe. Clarion, 2019. 978-1-328-52611-3. Unpaged.  $17.99. PreK-3.

Cece Bell makes learning grammar fun. If you loved her book, I Yam a Donkey (Clarion, 2015), You Loves Ewe is sure to tickle your funny bone. Like the first book, this has elements of Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” skit. This time Yam introduces Donkey to Ewe. Donkey mistakenly thinks Yam is talking about him being cute and fluffy. Back and forth they discuss ewe and you and other homonyms. Or are they talking about “hummanums?’ So much hilarious confusion! As a read aloud it will be hysterical. Children may be confused at first, but Bell’s pictures make it all crystal clear. Children will laugh heartily once they realize that there are homonyms involved. This should lead to a lively discussion.

THOUGHTS: Older children will enjoy this wordplay as well. It is a bit reminiscent of Fred Gwynne’s books such as The King Who Rained, A Little Pigeon Toad, and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner. All of these books are a great way to introduce homonyms and homophones. Students probably will want to share more as they come across them. Perhaps they will be inspired to write a book of their own.

Picture Book          Jeannie Bellavance, Retired

MG – Be Prepared, Breakout, Hurricane Child

Brosgol, Vera. Be Prepared. First Second, 2018. 978-1-626-72444-0. 244 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

Vera, whose family moved from Russia to the United States when she was five, has never quite fit in with her American friends. When she learns of a Russian summer camp in Connecticut, she begs her single mom to let her and her younger brother attend. But camp isn’t quite what Vera expects: the older girls are really mean, there’s no running water but plenty of bugs, and worst of all she has “to poop in a hole!” Despite her pleas to return home, two weeks turn into four after Vera’s mother lands a promising job interview overseas. Will Vera find her place at summer camp — and maybe even make a friend — or will the misery continue? Vera Brosgol, author of the well-received Anya’s Ghost (2011), writes in her Author’s Note that she consolidated her two summers at camp into one more eventful story. Her artwork is marvelously expressive, with illustrations in white, black, and olive green that perfectly match the natural surroundings. Behind her oversized round glasses, Vera’s eyes are a window into her roiling preteen emotions.

THOUGHTS: This graphic mostly-memoir is a great read for anyone who has had (or covets) the true summer camp experience: often uncomfortable, sometimes transformative, always memorable.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Readers who have grown to love the heart found in graphic novels from Holm and Tegelmeir are sure to adore Brosgol’s true experiences from summer camp. At home she yearns to fit in, but none of the students relate to her Russian culture. She wishes that she could have opulent parties like students from school. When she learns about the camp at church, she begs her mom to let her attend. The artwork is accented by a green ink color.

THOUGHTS: Be Prepared to have plenty of students borrow this book. Readers can compare experiences in from their summer to the memories shared by the author for a great extension project.

Graphic Novel          Beth McGuire, Hempfield Area SD

Growing up in a somewhat strict Russian family, Vera has always felt like an outsider. Her classmates are sent to the nicest summer camps, but it’s not something her single mother can afford. Then Vera discovers a Russian summer camp and is determined to go. But camping is not the perfect experience Vera imagined. She has to deal with catty bunkmates, terrifying outhouses, and nonstop Russian history lessons. Brosgol’s artwork jumps off the page and will have middle grade readers giggling through Vera’s camping misadventure.

THOUGHTS: Graphic novels rule in my library, and Anya’s Ghost is one of the most popular. Be Prepared is proving the same. Students seem to gravitate to Brosgol’s words and artwork and are excited for the next tale which is teased at the end of this book.

Graphic Novel          Victoria Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School


Messner, Kate. Breakout.  Bloomsbury, 2018.  978-1-681-19536-0.  420 p.  $16.99  Gr. 5-8.

Messner’s ripped-from-the-headlines story of a sleepy New York town that suddenly becomes the epicenter of a manhunt when two felons escape from prison is told entirely through documents.  Letters, photographs, poems, text messages, comics, news stories, and even recipes, are all collected and assembled by Nora, a local middle schooler, for the town’s time capsule. Nora, who is White, has always considered her town friendly and welcoming, but when she meets Elidee, a Black girl who has recently moved to the area, she begins to see things from a different perspective. Moreover, for the first time, Nora, whose own father works at the prison, starts to wonder why most of the prison inmates are Black, while nearly all of the prison workers and town residents are White. Elidee, whose brother is one of the inmates, writes poetry to help make sense and meaning of her world, using well-known poets of color as her models and inspiration. Meanwhile, the entire town is constantly under a cloud of fear and worry.  There are police blockades everywhere, the news media has descended on the town like a wolf pack, and alarms–sometimes false, sometimes real–are constantly being sounded.

THOUGHTS: Breakout is part mystery/adventure story, and part social justice discourse. Kids will be drawn in by the unusual format and the exciting plot, but will come away with much more. A must-buy for middle schools.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Summer vacation plans for best friends Lizzie and Nora get derailed when two inmates break out from the local prison, a source of employment for many in the town. The town initially assumes the inmates, one white, one African American, will be caught quickly, but when days go by with no success, the mood of the largely white town subtly (and not no subtly) changes. Lizzie and Nora become more attuned to the racial overtones to the prison break when they attempt to befriend Elidee Jones, an African American classmate who recently moved to town with her mother to be closer to her brother, incarcerated in the prison. The story is told through the alternating voices of the three girls as they write letters to be included in a time capsule. Elidee’s letters, often to her brother, provide a counterpoint to Lizzie’s and Nora’s experiences. Prickly and defensive, Elidee refuses to go along with the culture of the town. As the three girls develop an alliance, working towards a friendship, Lizzie and Nora begin to see their casually racist town through Elidee’s eyes and experiences. In turn, Elidee lets down her defenses a bit to enjoy the friendship Lizzie and Nora offer. The voices of the three girls are clear and true as they chronicle the tense two week period through letters, news articles, texts and recorded conversations. Elidee in particular makes the book shine, as she begins to  experiment with poetry (while reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming) and even throws in some Hamilton inspired raps.

THOUGHTS: A must-purchase. Inspired by real events, this story is a masterpiece at gently pointing out how even well-intentioned people can be casually and thoughtlessly racist,  and how fear can bring out the worst in everyone.

Mystery/Realistic          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Callender, Kheryn. Hurricane Child.  Scholastic, 2018.  978-1-338-12930-4.  214 p.  $17.99  Gr. 4-7.

12-year-old Caroline, who lives in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has every reason to believe that being born during a hurricane is, in fact, unlucky.  Everyone at her school hates her, and her beloved mother left without saying goodbye . . . or why. Prone to fits of anger, and gifted–or cursed–with visions, Caroline is not interested in making friends anyway (or so she tells herself). But when she meets Kalinda, everything changes. Everyone loves Kalinda, and Caroline doesn’t think she has a chance with her, but somehow, they become best friends.  As their friendship deepens, Caroline desperately wants to tell Kalinda how much she loves her, but she is afraid she will destroy their friendship if she does. Additionally, Caroline is determined to find her mother, even if it means abandoning her father . . . and Kalinda.

THOUGHTS:  This beautifully written, moving story of a child unintentionally hurt by a mother with mental illness is realistic fiction with a hint of magical realism woven in.  Would be highly recommended in any case, but the age-appropriate LGBTQ content moves this into the must-buy category.

Realistic Fiction          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

Picture Books – Goldfish Ghost; Life; Three Billy Goats; Peterrific

Snicket, Lemony. Goldfish Ghost. Roaring Brook Press, 2017: ISBN 978-1-62672-507-2. 36pp. 17.99. Gr. K-3.

Goldfish Ghost is born in a bowl in a boy’s bedroom, but after floating and staring at the ceiling for a while, he becomes bored and drifts through the air towards the room’s open window in search of some company. He floats over the town’s fishing pier, past some shops, and near the haunted lighthouse. He considers befriending a flock of seagulls, but they are too noisy and are preoccupied with the fishing boats. Everyone he passes in town already has a companion, so he drifts toward the beach. All the beachgoers are busy reading, sunbathing, digging, or swimming, and no one pays him any attention there either. He does spot the ghosts of deceased sea creatures floating over the water, but Goldfish Ghost doesn’t feel quite at home on top of the ocean either. As night falls, Goldfish Ghost hears a voice calling to him from the haunted lighthouse. The ghost of the lighthouse keeper scoops him up, each recognizing that they finally have the sort of company they’ve been searching for. This title’s India ink and watercolor illustrations are filled with fun visuals including families enjoying a day at the beach and people navigating through a seaside town, and students will likely spot new details each time the book is reread. Observant readers will also spot other ghosts, including some old-fashioned beachgoers, in the detailed illustrations.  THOUGHTS:  Although this story’s main character is a ghost, this is not the typical creepy, scary ghost story. Instead, it’s a story about finding friendship and a place to belong. It also presents a fresh perspective about dead pets and will be a winner with readers who enjoy slightly eerie yet comical stories.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Rylant, Cynthia. Life. Beach Lane Books, 2017.  978-1-4814-5162-8. 43pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

This book beautifully pairs Cynthia Rylant’s lyrical text with Caldecott Honor-winner Brendan Wenzel’s stunning paintings of the natural world and its many animals. The result is striking; a concise, yet powerful tribute to life’s many twists, turns, mountains, valleys, and surprises. Each page contains only a line or two of text, letting Wenzel’s vibrant paintings shine. The book begins succinctly, noting that life begins small. Following pages depict a baby elephant and a tiny seedling growing beneath the sun’s rays and the moon’s glow. Several animals express what they love most about life, describing simple things such as sky, grass, sand, and rain. Subsequent pages depict how life might not always be easy or beautiful, showing animals braving dark skies, fierce winds, craggy mountains, and thorny underbrush. But eventually, the wilderness ends, and new roads are visible. In a beautiful spread featuring a deer watching a flock of birds fly across a moonlit sky, Rylant reminds readers that life is always changing, and it’s worth waking up each morning to see what a new day holds.  THOUGHTS: This inspirational book can be shared with guidance counselors who could perhaps use it to reassure students who are having a challenging time or who are facing some obstacle in their life. It will also be a good fit for units exploring animals and their many habitats, and it shines as an example of how to boil writing down to just the most essential words and ideas.

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Pinkney, Jerry. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Little, Brown, and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34157-8. 40pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

With beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations and a freshly-imagined ending, Jerry Pinkney breathes new life into this classic tale. Many original elements remain: three billy goats wish to cross a troll-guarded bridge so they can graze on the opposite river bank’s green grass. The littlest billy goat goes first, and he convinces the troll to spare him, promising a bigger billy goat will be crossing soon. His prediction is correct, and soon, a second goat attempts to cross. The troll threatens to gobble him up, but he urges the troll to wait for Big Billy Goat Gruff. Sure enough, Big Billy Goat Gruff comes crashing across the bridge, and when confronted by the troll, he lowers his head and charges, knocking the troll into the water. In the water, a giant fish demands to know who is splish-splashing in his river, and he threatens to gobble up the troll. The troll escapes and paddles back to the riverbank. He finds himself on the opposite side of the river, however, and he watches as the entire herd of billy goats crosses over the bridge to eat the green grass on the hillside. Careful readers will notice that this is not the end of the story, however. On the last page of the book, the troll begins gathering stones to build himself a new house, and the littlest billy goat races over the bridge to help him. The final endpapers depict goats traveling freely back and forth across the bridge, as well as other goats coming to assist the troll with his building, suggesting that these characters might ultimately work out a peaceful coexistence.  THOUGHTS:  This stunning retelling is destined to become a classic, and readers will pour over the artwork again and again. The reimagined ending offers readers the chance to experience bullying from a fresh point of view, and it opens the door for discussions about big ideas such as confronting adversity, forgiveness, redemption, and tolerance. This will be a valuable addition to all elementary collections.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Kann, Victoria. Peterrific. Harper, 2017.  978-0-06-256357-6. 36pp. $18.89. Gr. K-3.

Pinkalicious is back, but this time, her brother Peter is the star of the story. Peter’s goal is to build a block tower high enough to reach the stars, so while he builds, Pinkalicious borrows wagon-loads of blocks from all the neighbors. Peter’s tower grows and grows, but once he’s high in the sky, he realizes it can be lonely, and a little scary, at the top. When he spies a high-flying bird passing by, Peter brainstorms an idea for leaving his tower, and once he reaches the ground, he’s quick to imagine ideas for how to construct an even better one. There’s lots to look at in this book’s brightly colored mixed media digital illustrations, and readers will enjoy spotting trains, a slinky, crayons, binoculars, and other toys tucked in among the blocks of Peter’s growing tower.  THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for teaching elements of Design Thinking since Peter works through Asking, Imagining, Planning, Creating, and Improving as he builds his tower. He begins by asking himself how he might create a tall, tall tower. Then, he imagines designing a structure tall enough to reach the stars, and he plans by drawing pictures of his ideas. He uses blocks, tape, rope, and glue to create and hold together his tower, and he continuously adds more blocks so he can improve his design. Once he’s at the top of the tower, he also realizes the tower has some problems: there’s no way to get down, and it might be structurally unsafe. Once he’s safely on the ground again, Peter draws a plan for a new and improved tower, underscoring the ideas in the circular Design Thinking process.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD