Elem. – Abdul’s Story

Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Abdul’s Story. Salaam Reads, 2022. 978-1-534-46298-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Abdul, a Black boy, lives in a vibrant neighborhood and has many stories to tell. However, when it is writing time at school, Abdul is frustrated by his inability to make letters and words on the page. His letters don’t look right, spelling challenges like silent letters confound him, and his stories remain locked in his head. When Mr. Mohammad, an author, comes to his classroom, Abdul wants to emulate him. But once again the letters and words trip him up, until he erases a hole through his paper. Mr. Mohammad senses Adbul’s distress and stops to talk with him. Abdul is astonished when Mr. Mohammad pulls out his own writing notebook. It’s a mess! Words run every which way between and around doodles, circles, smudges and erasures. The important part, Mr. Mohammad explains, is getting everything you can down on the paper. You can fix the mess later. Abdul is enchanted, and gives writing another chance. Classmates, all of whom are Black or brown, deride his messy paper when he turns it in, but Abdul shines in the end, when Mr. Mohammad reads his story aloud. This book is obviously designed to encourage children to write, and its simple message will resonate with many youngsters. Illustrations by Tiffany Rose are filled with vibrant colors and exuberant life. Emotions are well presented on the faces of the characters, adding to the empathetic warmth of the story. 

THOUGHTS: The simple, yet important message is well conveyed, and eye catching illustrations will add to the attraction of the book.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – My Poet

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.

The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.

THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words. 

Poetry          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Juvenile Fiction

Elem. – One Time

Creech, Sharon. One Time. HarperCollins Children’s, 2020. 978-0-062-57074-1. 248 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Who are you? Who could you be? When Gina Flomena’s new teacher poses these questions on the board, along with several images and quotes and vocabulary words, her imagination and personality slowly develops. Her classmates also have unique reactions to the ongoing writing assignments connected to these essential questions. Gina’s new neighbor, Antonio, brings another interesting personality to the mix with unexpected results. In all, Sharon Creech has once again found the voice of introspective and creative children by bringing this story to light. The dynamics at home and in school are at turns humorous and heartfelt, but overall capture the art of storytelling, education, and friendship. Readers will be emboldened to write their own One Time stories to tackle their own life questions.

THOUGHTS: The writing prompts and activities in this story are definitely fit for a classroom lesson or two, and the discipline and empathy involved also should carry over. I particularly like and have used the “power of the first line” as a lesson before. The character relationship between Gina and Antonio will leave plenty to discuss for readers, including briefly questioning his real or imaginary existence! Highly Recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Picture Books – Before I Leave; The Squiggly Story; The Christmas Boot


Bagley, Jessixa. Before I Leave. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2016. 978-1-62672-040-4. $17.99 PreK-2nd Grade.

By the author of Boats for Papa comes another gentle book to help children. Little hedgehog’s family is moving away, but she doesn’t want to leave her best friend. Refusing to go doesn’t work, so her friend tries to help her pack. Instead of concentration on their task, these two friends end up doing all their favorite things. When little hedgehog moves into her new house and goes to unpack she discovers pictures and letters from her anteater best friend. THOUGHTS: A heart-warming way to express to children that change does not mean the end of friendships.

Picture Book       Emily Woodward, The Baldwin School



Larsen, Andrew. A Squiggly Story. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2016. 978-1-77138-016-4. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. PreK-2.

A young boy wants to write a story, but he doesn’t know many words.  After receiving some encouragement from his sister, he begins by writing down letters and shapes that he does know, and before long, he has crafted a creative tale in which he and his sister are playing soccer on the beach.  When he shares his story with his class for show-and-tell, they suggest several creative endings for the story, but the protagonist has his own ending in mind.  Graphic novel-like illustrations, complete with speech bubbles and boxes on some pages, add to the book’s accessibility and appeal.  THOUGHTS: This playful tale is a great resource for young students learning about the parts of a story (beginning, middle, and end) and anyone looking for strategies for overcoming writer’s block.  It can also encourage brainstorming and creative thinking, as students can be prompted to come up with endings of their own for the boy’s story.  The varied skin colors of the children in the protagonist’s class give this book a multicultural dimension.

Picture Book     Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area High School



Wheeler, Lisa. The Christmas Boot. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016. 978-0-8037-4134-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

Hannah, an old woman who lives in a cabin in the woods, is gathering firewood when she spots a single boot laying in the snow. When she puts it on to warm her cold foot, it magically becomes a perfect fit for her, and she takes it home where she wishes for its mate. The next morning, she finds a pair of boots next to her bed, and later on she wishes for a pair of warm mittens and a fancy house and feast. She loves the boots and mittens but feels that the house doesn’t quite “fit” the way she’d hoped. Santa comes calling, looking for his missing boot, and Hannah offers it up at once, saying that it doesn’t belong to her anyway. Immediately the other boot, mittens, and house are no more. Santa offers Hannah whatever she truly desires. She replies that she really wants someone to talk to but warm boots and mittens would be fine. Suddenly, Hannah is rewarded with fine new boots and mittens…and a small puppy hiding in one of the boots, ready to be Hannah’s new friend. THOUGHTS: A beautiful story of gratitude and kindness that works well for the holidays and is highlighted by Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations.

Picture book Lindsey Long, Nye & Conewago Elementary Schools