Elem. – A Spoonful of Frogs

Lyall, Casey, and Vera Brosgol, Illustrator. A Spoonful of Frogs. Greenwillow Books, 2022. 978-0-062-89029-0. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Welcome to Bewitching Kitchen, where today’s featured recipe is Frog Soup. This easy and healthy recipe is every witch’s favorite treat! Ingredients include garlic, carrots, fly extract, and a spoonful of frogs for flavor and a “pop of color.” Unfortunately, the frogs in this witch’s kitchen are less than enthusiastic about jumping onto the spoon and into the pot. They outwit an increasingly frazzled witch before leading her on a chase across the street and right into a nearby pond. Luckily, the witch comes up with an acceptable substitute for frogs that saves both the recipe … and the frogs! Young readers will delight in the exaggerated physical comedy as the witch’s composure dissolves amidst the increasing chaos. They also will root for the adorable, wily frogs.

THOUGHTS: Vera Brosgol’s entertaining digital artwork enlivens Casey Lyall’s minimal, action-oriented text. This is a great selection for Halloween as well as introducing the cookbook section. Laughs are guaranteed! 

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

YA – Chef’s Kiss

Melendez, Jarrett, and Danica Brine, illustrator. Chef’s Kiss. Oni-Lion Forge Publishing Group, 2022. 978-1-620-10904-5. 160 p. $14.99. Grades 10+.

Ben Cook is a recent college graduate who longs for a job connected to his English major. He goes on over a dozen interviews, but lacks the experience needed to land a job that will allow him to gain experience. Luckily, a local restaurant is hiring, with NO experience required (plus a very dreamy sous chef, Liam). Now Ben must excel at Chef Davis’s series of challenges, mastering recipes both classic and original. He also has to please Watson, Le Cochon Doré’s official taste-tester; Watson is a pig, an adorably affectionate one. “Cook the cook” really takes to the restaurant gig, especially the camaraderie that’s forged in the kitchen, but his roommate and longtime bestie, Liz, feels that Ben has given up on writing too easily. This upbeat graphic novel (with abundant character diversity) joyfully depicts the life-changing moments that happen when your life’s prescribed path opens up to a world of possibilities.

THOUGHTS: With incredible culinary sequences, a slow burn romance, and a dash of early-twenties angst, it’s just, yes, chef’s kiss.

Graphic Novel (Crossover)          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Jazz for Lunch!

Dapier, Jarrett. Jazz for Lunch! Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 978-1-534-45408-8. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Built on the foundations of jazz music and creative cooking, this rhyming story vividly depicts the power both music and food have to bring people together. A young boy and his aunt set out to have lunch at a jazz club where his aunt is a regular. In the club, the sounds from the kitchen mix with the sounds from the stage, creating a vibrant, animated atmosphere. But, the club is so crowded that the boy and his aunt can’t get close enough to see the performers or place an order. They leave early, stop by a produce stand, and the next day, they cook up their own jazzy lunch at home. Each dish is inspired by jazz greats, including Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, and Ella Fitzgerald. End papers feature brief biographies of 20 jazz greats mentioned in the story as well one of their album titles. The lively digital illustrations capture the movement and the emotions the food and the music inspire.

THOUGHTS: Share this title with music teachers who can make curricular connections with the featured jazz musicians and the music vocabulary sprinkled in the text. Music and ELA teachers will also appreciate the use of onomatopoeia as the boy and his aunt cook up their feast. This exuberant book captures the joy of coming together to enjoy great food and great music.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Soul Food Sunday

Bingham, Winsome. Soul Food Sunday. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-419-74771-7. 48 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.

It can’t be soul food Sunday without the macaroni and cheese, greens, and chicken, ribs, and sausage! The narrator is a young boy but old enough to join in the fun (and hard work!) in his grandmother’s kitchen. His grandmother guides him through grating cheese, rinsing greens, skinning the chicken, skinning the sausage, and even a special surprise. The hard work that goes into this meal makes the food taste that much more delicious! The beautiful story of mouthwatering family time showcases tradition and culture that goes far beyond the actual recipes–but a recipe for mac and cheese is included! An author’s note includes the importance of soul food to the author and a story of how the illustrator learned to cook from her family members.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to any elementary library to showcase culture that emphasizes the importance of food and family and how they come together.

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love

Reck, Jared. Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love. Alfred A. Knopf, 2021. 978-1-524-71611-0. 306 p. $17.99. Grades 7-10.

Oscar Olsson knows exactly what he wants to do with his life after high school: work on his family’s food truck, Hej Hej!, with his Swedish grandfather and longtime guardian, “Farfar.” In fact, the sooner that future arrives, the better. He views senior year as a series of endless hoops to jump through, though he does enjoy his independent study in the culinary lab. Unfortunately, Oscar gets roped into a cafeteria food waste reduction project spearheaded by Ivy League hopeful Mary Louise Messinger, a.k.a. Lou. Hundreds of rescued apples, batches of cider, and trays of crisp later, laser-focused Lou has worked her way onto the food truck and into Oscar and Farfar’s lives … and maybe into Oscar’s heart? But an overheard comment reminds him that Lou thinks he is beneath her, a loser with no serious plans for his future. Hints dropped throughout the narrative cue readers to an upcoming wrench in Oscar’s plans, possibly a tragic one, and when the moment arrives it is, indeed, devastating. Jared Reck’s pitch-perfect sophomore novel perfectly captures the way that life can be hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next. Main and supporting characters are well-developed and distinctive, especially the unforgettable Farfar and his beloved cat Koopa, as is the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, setting.

THOUGHTS: This winning story about food trucks, family, friendship, and first love is fantastic from start to finish.

Realistic Fiction          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Dumplings for Lili

Iwai, Melissa. Dumplings for Lili. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00342-7. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-3.

Lili is excited to help her grandmother make baos, her favorite type of dumplings. When they discover they are out of cabbage, however, Lili goes to see if an upstairs neighbor has any cabbage they can use. The neighbor gives her cabbage, but in return, asks for some potatoes for her pierogies. This leads Lili to another neighbor’s apartment, and so the process continues. Finally, everyone has what they need to make all of their favorite kinds of dumplings. This culminates in a big dumpling party, during which Lili’s parents return with a sweet surprise. A charming celebration of food, family, and multiculturalism, this is an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I just love how all of the grandmothers in this book represent different cultures, as they are all making dumplings from different regions. There are pierogies, tamales, raviolis, fatayers, and more. I could see this book being used in a world cultures class, and it would be especially fun to assign students or groups of students each a different culture from the book to study. Perhaps they could even make the dumplings from their respective cultures, and then the class could try them all. The recipe and instructions for Lili’s grandmother’s baos is already included in the back matter. There definitely are plenty of opportunities for extension activities with this book!

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – Taking Up Space

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-18602-4. 259 p. $17.99. Grades 5-9.

Sarah has a lot of aspects of her life she really loves: basketball, her best friends Ryan and Emilia, and detective novels. She also has aspects of her life that she wishes would change; for example, she hates that her mother has issues with eating and never has enough food in the house for Sarah to eat. In fact, sometimes her mother forgets to make meals which makes Sarah feel unimportant. How can you matter when the people in your life who are supposed to take care of you forget that you have to eat? Sarah also discovers that as her body is changing in her teen years, so are her basketball skills. She is slower lately, making more mistakes on the court. As a way to take control over her sluggish performances on the court, Sarah starts restricting what she eats, trying to lose excess weight so she can be faster and stronger. This is not a challenge at home, but it does become an issue when Sarah partners up with her crush Benny to compete for a spot on Chef Junior, a televised cooking show holding auditions at Sarah’s school. Eventually, the stress of the competition and diet restrictions catch up to her, and Sarah has to learn for herself how a person becomes physically and mentally healthy.

THOUGHTS: Taking Up Space shines a spotlight on the pressure teenage girls are under to look a certain way. A very unique aspect of this book, however, is that the character’s mother is also struggling with eating, demonstrating to young readers that sometimes adults don’t always have all the answers and have to seek help, too. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and could be a thoughtful option for a book club.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

YA – Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Kemp, Laekan Zea. Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet. Little, Brown and Company, 2021. 978-0-316-46027-9, 343 p. $17.99. Grades 8-12.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet hits all the right notes for a young person’s fantasy romance. In alternating narratives, the reader follows the growing romance between talented Mexican-American chef, Penelope (Pen) Parado, and undocumented restaurant worker, Xander Amaro. Nachos Tacos is Pen’s father’s restaurant in Austin, Texas, and the salvation of the neighborhood, providing a handout or employment to many, despite the glaring threat of a ruthless loan shark, J.P. Martello. The restaurant is dear to Pen’s heart–not only because it is there she can express her culinary skills–but also because of the sense of family it represents. She is devastated when she is banished from the restaurant after confessing to her parents that she has not attended a full semester of nursing school. Traditional Mr. Parado expects his older son, Angel, to carry on the business despite Angel’s disinterest. New employee, Xander, enters the wait staff on Pen’s last day, and though some point out her brash, bossy manner, he is smitten. Eighteen-year old, independent Pen finds a cheap apartment with the help of bff Chloe and a wretched job at a Taco Bell-like establishment. In spite of her take-charge personality, Pen suffers from self esteem issues and the narrative alludes to some self-harming; she does take medication for her low moods. In addition to being undocumented, Xander is actively searching for his father who left the family when Xander was a toddler and has never attempted contact with either Xander or his own father, Xander’s guardian. As the narration asserts, each has their own scars. The chapters develop with Pen dealing positively with her complicated love-hate relationship with her father and Xander’s appreciation of his feelings of belonging to the ragtag Nacho crew. Their days revolve around working in their respective restaurants, hanging out with the other Nacho workers, food, and their romance until the restaurant’s future is in jeopardy from the menacing loan shark. This antagonist brings the needed friction for the story, culminating in a predictable conclusion that leaves the reader with admiration for the resiliency of Pen and Xander and their Latinx neighborhood.

THOUGHTS: There is nothing too deep here or too risky (Pen and Xander have some deep kisses and smoldering feelings, but nothing more; some foul language and drinking). Latinx author Kemp tells an old-fashioned love story with the typical tropes but with more interesting words and the addition of some mental health and immigration issues. Her major and minor characters are likeable and developed. One unexpected relationship is Xander’s friendship with the local police officers, despite his undocumented status. Younger teens wanting a romance or older ones looking for an escape novel will be hooked.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – The Dream Weaver

Alegre, Reina Luz. The Dream Weaver. Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-534-46231-1. Grades 5-8.

After drifting around the country following her father’s next big idea her whole life, twelve-year-old Zoey Finolio and her college-bound brother, Jose, land at the Jersey shore living with their maternal Cuban grandfather—one of the most stable homes since their mother’s death. Though Zoey loves her father, she revels in a summer at the beach, doing things most kids her age do and embraces the dream of saving Gonzo’s, her grandfather’s rundown bowling alley, from a developer. When she gets a chance to fill in as a bowler on a local team headed for a championship, Zoey sees it as an opportunity to not only savor friendship but also rejuvenate the boardwalk business. The familial relationships and friendships are nurturing and supportive throughout the book, but this book doesn’t resort to past solutions. Even after the valiant efforts of Zoey and her new friends, Pappy decides to unload the bowling alley and just manage it; Jose still wants to pursue his dream of being an engineer at college; and Zoey’s father continues to try his luck at a different job despite sacrificing his children’s stability. Zoey shows strength of character in expressing her feelings to her father and finds solace in her supportive brother, her new friends, and her new home with her beloved Pappy.

THOUGHTS: The close familial relationships and kind friend relationships are a delight to read. Zoey’s father’s behavior is abysmal and may be a form of bibliotherapy for some readers. In Chapter One, Zoey gets her period for the first time and the narrative explains her distress and how she deals with it, so using the book as a read aloud—at least the first chapter—may be uncomfortable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration and Cake

Singer, Marilyn. Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration and Cake. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. $16.99. 978-0-7352-2790-3. 48 p. Grades 2-5. 

An eclectic anthology of poetic recipes on a wide array of subjects. Rather than listing ingredients for a favorite dish, these recipes feature sage advice ranging in topics from success in cooking, to courage, magic, and substitution. A few of the poems stick to foodie themes. “Recipe for Adventure” is a celebration of less common produce such as kohlrabi and rambutan. Others stray far from food as the topic in favor of other concepts. In the “Recipe for Fairy Tales” well-known components of favorite tales are listed as ingredients: “a handful of magical beans\ a gathering of ramps (whatever that means).” Illustrations composed of vibrantly colored goauche, block print, and collage fill each page. 

THOUGHTS: A unique anthology with a wide range of poetic styles to add to any school library’s poetry collection. 

811 Poetry          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD