Elem. – My City Speaks

Lebeuf, Darren. My City Speaks. Illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30414-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

A young girl takes readers through a day of exploring her city the way she experiences it – through sound. Though readers may not notice the narrator’s visual impairments, the intricate illustrations – a combination of cut-paper collage, watercolor, acrylic, and pencil crayon, with some digital assembly – show her using a white cane and yellow tactile paving at a crosswalk. Sounds from the city help highlight things one may not notice with so many beautiful sights – “hasty honks, impatient beeps, distant chimes, reliable rumbles, speedy sirens and urgent clangs.” A fun pre-reading activity would be to ask students to close their eyes and identify sounds they hear then compare what they hear with what they see.

THOUGHTS: This title is an opportunity to discuss diverse abilities and show children how similar people’s experiences may be, regardless of ability. Highly recommended for picture book collections, especially those seeking representation.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Best Day Ever!

Singer, Marilyn. Best Day Ever! Illustrated by Leah Nixon. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-1-328-98783-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Told from the point of view of a very energetic little puppy, Best Day Ever! follows two friends through a day that starts out great and ends up with some trouble. From stealing hot dogs (not the bun) to swimming in the lake, this pup has a day full of adventure. When he makes a mess of himself, though, the best day suddenly becomes the worst day. Can sweet this duo find their way back to the best day ever? Digital illustrations bring these characters to life. The pet’s human is a boy in a wheelchair who can do a lot of the same activities that able-bodied children do. Illustrated by a paralyzed artist, this title has disability representation as a subtle message for children.

THOUGHTS: Readers will love brainstorming about their own best days and talking about things pets do. Best Day Ever! lends itself well to a writing prompt about best days or a creative writing piece about the silly things pets might be thinking. Hand this one to any pet lover.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem./MG – Out of My Heart

Draper, Sharon M. Out of My Heart. Atheneum Book for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-665-90216-8. 352 p. $18.99. Grades 5 and up. 

Melody Brooks has cerebral palsy, but that has never stopped her in the past, and it won’t stop her now from achieving her plan of attending camp this summer. After researching camps for kids like her, she convinces her parents to complete the application for Camp Green Glades. At first, Melody’s dream is dashed when she learns the camp does not have any openings this summer, but then, after a cancellation, Melody’s dream comes true. At Camp Green Glades, Melody experiences swimming, ziplining, hiking, horseback riding, and even dancing; all things she never dreamed she could do. Throughout all of her adventures, she finds true friendship and a personal determination and will to do anything.

THOUGHTS: This is a MUST read for all ages. Sharon Draper once again brings to life the voice of those often left silent. This highly anticipated follow up to Out of My Mind (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010) shows readers the potential in not only people with specific needs, but all of us. Melody goes on adventures that I’ve never tried, but definitely want to after reading how Melody felt. Out of My Heart gives hope to all and is another prize for middle-grade (and all) readers. Draper’s ability to bring Melody’s voice to life is amazing; Melody is eloquent and strong and still a soon-to-be-teenager going through all of those “tween” things. Another superb novel from Sharon Draper. 

Realistic Fiction          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Sidenote – I have a nephew with CP. Both of Melody’s stories give me so much hope for him and what he can become. My heart is filled with hope because of Melody. 

Sidenote 2 – I do not recommend the audio of this book. I love audiobooks, but this reader used a very high-pitched voice for Melody that I found to be too childish. It wasn’t Melody’s voice. I switched to just reading the print about a quarter of the way through the book. 

Elem./MG – Set Me Free

LaZotte, Ann Clare. Set Me Free.  Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-74249-7  $18.99. 288 p. Grades 4-6.

Mary Lambert, a deaf girl living on Martha’s Vineyard in the late 1700’s, went through an unimaginable and traumatic ordeal when she was kidnapped years ago to be studied to determine the reason for her deafness. Settled back into her life on the Vineyard, Mary is longing for a more meaningful life. When a friend from years ago sends Mary a letter asking for her assistance helping a young deaf girl to learn to communicate, Mary is hesitant but excited for this new opportunity. However, when Mary arrives on the mainland to teach the girl, she finds that her new charge is imprisoned in the attic and treated horribly! Mary must muster up the courage and support to help free this girl from her circumstances. 

THOUGHTS: For those that loved Show Me a Sign, this is a must purchase. I did not love this installment as much as the first, but the history behind this time period is fascinating. Mary is truly a feminist and has no problem sharing her beliefs. She is a wonderful female literary icon.

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Abington SD

Mary Lambert, the deaf heroine from the fascinating early 1800’s island community of Martha’s Vineyard in Show Me A Sign, returns in this historical fiction book that is also rich with mystery and intrigue. Mary is eager to find her way in life and become a teacher, following in the footsteps of her own beloved teacher Mrs. Pye, but she is restless in her home community and feels as though she might have a calling in the wider world. Then, she receives a letter from Nora, a friend who helped her escape captors in her previous adventure, and decides to travel to Boston and help a young deaf girl who needs help learning to communicate through sign language. When she arrives, she finds the girl living in terribly cruel conditions and vows to help her not only learn to communicate, but also to return to her rightful family. With the help of friends both old and new, Mary bravely stands up for the rights of her young charge and demonstrates her conviction that people of all abilities deserve respect, dignity and opportunity in life.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful testament to people with diverse abilities overcoming obstacles, especially those who deal with discrimination based on race, disability, gender, or for any other reason. Fans of Helen Keller’s story will also love this tale of a relationship that develops between a brave teacher and her bright but misunderstood student.

Historical Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Can I Play Too?

Cotterill, Samantha. Can I Play Too? Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-525-55346-5. $14.81. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

Two young boys build a train track, but things start to sour when one friend’s vision of a perfect train setup doesn’t include his pal’s opinions or choices. A scuffle ensues, and both friends are upset and frustrated. A helpful grown-up steps in and uses a train-themed picture book to explain, “Friends have traffic signals too.” Thoughtful discussion and role-playing help the boys learn about flexibility and social cues, and a second try at playing trains goes much smoother. Created by an author/illustrator on the spectrum, “Can I Play Too?” is part of Samantha Cotterill’s “Little Senses” series. The dust jacket says, “…Samantha wanted to make books that would allow kids to recognize themselves in a playful, fun, yet therapeutic way.” Each title in the series explores a topic that might be relatable for kids on the autism spectrum or kids with sensory issues, although “Can I Play Too?” works well on a social-emotional curriculum too.  

THOUGHTS: Pencil and ink illustrations using traffic light colors support the theme of traffic signals used by trains and friends. An excellent series for all young kids.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD