Elem. – John’s Turn

Barnett, Mac. John’s Turn. Candlewick Press, 2022. 978-1-536-20395-0. $17.99. 32 p. Grades PreK-3.

Every Friday John’s school has a morning assembly with announcements, activities, and guest speakers. If the students are well-behaved during the assembly, then one student may perform. This performance is called “Sharing Gifts.” Many students do not like the name, but all of the students enjoy seeing each other perform. Today it is John’s turn, and he plans to dance. Students wait attentively for John to prepare for his performance. John is nervous and unsure at first. Kids snicker at the classical music as his performance begins. John is tentative at first, but then begins to relax and enjoy performing. There is stunned silence as he finishes his dance. For a brief second the reader will worry that this will not end well for John; that perhaps he will be shamed for performing ballet in his “Sharing Gifts” performance. And then the students rise to their feet to cheer and applaud.

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect in its simplicity. This is a very straightforward story that beautifully invites discussion about talents, interests, acceptance, and diversity. Kate Berube’s illustrations are gorgeous. The three full-page wordless spreads show John’s transformation from a nervous performer to joy-filled dancer are absolutely splendid.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

This is a simple but powerful story of a child sharing their gifts with their community. John’s elementary school has an assembly every Friday, and one component of that assembly, to be earned if students behave well, is a segment called “Sharing Gifts,” in which students share their talents with the school. The story focuses on John’s turn to share. He is nervous and excited to share his ballet with his classmates, and their initial reaction of laughter and comments is to be expected… but then John danced, and the clapping began.

THOUGHTS:  This is a wonderful story about being oneself and the courage that it can take. Kate Berube’s illustrations present a diverse audience of John and captures movement, joy, and growing confidence in his dancing. A strong selection that can be enjoyed by all as well as one used to create classroom community for show and tell and talent shows.

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

YA – Instructions for Dancing

Yoon, Nicola. Instructions for Dancing. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-593-43494-9. 285 p. $19.99. Grades 9-12.

Ever since her parents split up, Yvette (“Evie”) hasn’t found romance novels quite as magical anymore. She sees through the happily ever after to the true equation of every love story: “Heartbreak = love + time.” While donating a stack of previously beloved books to a Little Free Library near her L.A. apartment building, Evie finds a book called Instructions for Dancing. Returning home with the book, she sees her younger sister Danica and her boyfriend kissing on the stoop and has a vision of the couple’s love story, including how it began and how it will end. Later that night, Evie realizes that her premonition of Danica’s break-up came true, and it’s the first of many such visions. Pinning her new ability to the secondhand book in her backpack, Evie follows its instructions to return it to a dancing school in La Brea. There, she meets (charming, attractive, talented, and tall) Xavier, or X, whose grandparents own the studio. With a little nudge, in hopes of boosting business, the pair enter the L.A. Danceball competition, Amateur Under 21 category. Genuine feelings develop as Evie and X master elements of ballroom including footwork, artistry, showmanship, and chemistry. But can Evie truly open her heart to love when she knows that it will inevitably end?

THOUGHTS: Nicola Yoon’s latest promises (and skillfully delivers) romance, ballroom dancing, a hint of magic, and one girl’s quest to answer that age-old question: is love worth the risk?

Romance          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – LLama Glamarama

Green, Simon James. LLama Glamarama. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-73618-2. 32 p. $14.99. Grades PreK-1.

Larry the llama has a secret… he loves to dance! He doesn’t tell his llama friends because he doesn’t want them to judge him. However, one night they find a pair of dancing shoes in his room and he decides to take off and find some place where he can dance without being judged (all while being home in time for tea). While Larry finds the Llama Glamarama that accepts him and his love of dancing, he does go back to his friends and admits that he loves to dance. This leads to a great conversation with his friends who admit all of the things they love, with one of them admitting he isn’t even a llama!! The illustrations are wonderfully done! The way the text flows throughout the book causes the reader to engage more with the illustrations as the text sizing changes.

THOUGHTS: WONDERFUL! This book is such a great testament to being true to yourself, and even though this book is geared towards a younger audience, older students will love this book. This would be a great read aloud for any elementary class for teaching understanding and acceptance. The author has a Llama Glamarama party kit on his website, which I would also recommend checking out.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy