Elem. – Singing with Elephants

Engle, Margarita.  Singing with Elephants. Viking, 2022.  978-0-593-20669-0. 217 p. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

This Newbery Honor and Pura Belpre Award winning author’s latest offering is a historical novel in free verse set in 1947 California. A young girl called Oriol is finding life in Santa Barbara challenging. Her veterinarian parents, her abuelita, and her older sister came to the United States from Cuba. After the death of her beloved grandmother, Oriol has found it harder to cope with her classmates who call her a smelly “zoo beast” and mock her accent and appearance. One day she meets her neighbor Gabriela Mistral, the celebrated Latin poet (la poeta) and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gabriela becomes a mentor to Oriol and encourages her to deal with her feelings by writing poetry.  The young girl learns about a pregnant elephant under her parents’ care at a movie star’s ranch. Her encounters with the elephant inspire her writing, and the family is thrilled when the elephant delivers twins, Song and Dance. When one of the baby elephants goes missing, suspicion falls on the actor, who believes he can teach the animal to do tricks and even talk. Oriol is determined to reunite Dance with her mother and brother and needs to enlist the help of the community to save her and other animals from abuse. In helping the animals, Oriol comes to realize her own strength. This uplifting lyrical text is peppered throughout with Spanish words. The author’s note discusses the life of Gabriela Mistral, who was also a peace activist and teacher. One of her poems is included.

THOUGHTS: A gem of a book, which will surely delight readers. Highly recommended for elementary collections.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
Novel in Verse

Elem. – Home is Where the Birds Sing

Rylant, Cynthia. Home is Where the Birds Sing. Beach Lane Books. 2022. 978-1-534-44957-2. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Home means many things to many different people. Home is where the birds are singing, or where you take a nap. Home can be the place where you are called “Sweetie” or “dear” or where there are stories to listen to and stories to tell. The sweet part of home is when you are gone, home is the place you return to and finally feel… at home.

THOUGHTS: A sweet book about the deep feeling of being home. In the diverse world we live in, home can be a lot of different things for different people. Home, no matter what it may look like or sound like, is the place where you simply feel at home.

Picture Book            Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Martha Maps it Out

Hodgkinson, Leigh. Martha Maps it Out. Kane Miller, 2022. 978-1-684-64412-4. $14.99. 40 p. Grades PK-3.

Martha greets the day and the universe with a bright hello as she explains her place within the universe. Martha creates a series of maps showing our solar system, Earth, Martha’s city, street, apartment building, apartment, and room. Martha then creates a mind-map of her thoughts, dreams, aspirations, and questions, again expanding her viewpoint to the entire universe. As Martha bids the universe good-night, it is clear Martha has a world of opportunities and adventures to explore as she grows up. Bright and colorful illustrations with nonfiction text features (maps, keys, labels, captions, etc.)  creatively are woven throughout.  

THOUGHTS: A spunky and fun look at the world through the eyes of a young child. The weaving of Martha’s fictional story with nonfiction text features is perfect for teaching about these devices. The mind-mapping sequence is particularly intriguing, and is an element not often included in typical books about maps and nonfiction illustrations. A great STEAM resource.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Eyes that Speak to the Stars

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Speak to the Stars. Illustrated by Dung Ho. Harper Collins Childrens, 2022.  978-0-063-05775-3. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

By the same author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars follows a young boy whose friends point out that his eyes are different that theirs, and the family members:  Baba, Agong, and Di-Di who help him embrace this difference and realize that his eyes reflect those he loves. The use of a father, grandfather, and younger brother makes the book multi-generational in words and illustrations and both celebrate the roots and loves shared by the book’s family. Dung Ho’s realistic illustrations are highly accessible to the young audience.  

THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this book. Its illustrations are accessible and beautifully rendered, celebrating a contemporary boy and his family roots. The writing presents strong, positive, and loving male characters to the audience with a rhythm that encourages re-reading and opens discussion between readers.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Realistic Fiction, Diversity, Self-Acceptance, APPI, Imigration, Family, Tradition.

Elem. – Friendship Goals (Series Fiction)

Reid, C.L. Friendship Goals (Emma Every Day). Picture Window Books, 2022. 978-1-515-87181-8. $16.99. 27 p. Grades K-2.

Emma is an 8 year old in third grade. She lives with her parents, has a brother named Jaden, and a best friend named Izzie. Emma is Deaf. She uses a Cochlear Implant and American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Friendship Goals is the latest story in this 12 book Early Reader Chapter Book series. In this story Emma helps her friend Izzie practice soccer and ASL. Emma is good at soccer and is happy to help her friend work on her skills and build her confidence on the field. Each book includes a finger-spelling chart. Select words are spelled out in ASL letters (rebus style) throughout the books, and each book in the series includes a glossary of ASL signs pertaining to the story. Illustrated by Elena Aiello. 

THOUGHTS: This series of books is adorable. Emma encounters everyday childhood experiences and  situations. Sometimes Emma is able to participate alongside her peers without any assistance or accommodations. In some experiences Emma (along with her family, friends, and teachers), needs to problem solve in order to participate. A wonderfully diverse introduction to Deafness, Cochlear Implants, and American Sign Language for hearing students – and an everyday life mirror for students who are Deaf. 

Early Reader Chapter Book – Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem./MG – That’s Betty! The Story of Betty White

Bonsignore, Gregory. That’s Betty! The Story of Betty White. Henry Holt and Company, 2022. 978-1-250-79660-8. $18.99. 48 p. Grades PreK-3.

When Miss Cruz assigns a presentation on a “trailblazing woman” one student decides he will pick Betty White as his topic. Though his classmates do not know who Betty White is, and his teacher and two dads each try to persuade him to pick a more traditional topic, the unnamed male student sticks to his idea. He adores Betty White and wants to learn more about her life. When our young researcher enlists the assistance of a librarian, he begins to find plenty of material on his unconventional topic choice. As he pours through resources at the library, a smartly dressed woman in a large hat and sunglasses appears from behind the stacks. She knows an awful lot about Betty White and engages the student in discussions about the many trailblazing accomplishments of the pioneering television star. When the student fears his topic may be too different from his peers’ presentations, the woman in the hat encourages him to follow Betty’s example of making unconventional choices and believing in himself. The presentation is a huge success, and the lady from the library even makes a surprise appearance to cheer on the student. It isn’t until she drives away from the school that the teacher, class, and student realize the mystery woman was Betty White herself. Includes timeline and bibliography.

THOUGHTS: Very cute story that does a nice job of highlighting the many accomplishments of Betty White, while subtly championing the causes she held dear – inclusion, diversity, charitable work, and being an LGBTQIA+ ally. Wonderfully detailed illustrations by Jennifer M. Potter. Listed as K-3 this would be a wonderful read aloud for students through 8th grade.

Picture Book Biography          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

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

Elem. – Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – I Will! A Book of Promises

Medina Juana. I Will! A Book of Promises. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-55559-9. Unpaged. $14.99. PreK-1.

In this uplifting, beautifully illustrated book, readers will make promises to make the world a better place through a variety of actions, such as being kind, helping others, and taking care of nature. Bright, bold illustrations feature racially and physically diverse characters, and the short, simple text makes this an incredibly accessible, straightforward guide for young readers who want to build a better world for themselves and others.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share with preschool and Kindergarten students who are just beginning to interact with each other and the world. It would help spark important discussions about how they can show compassion towards themselves and others. It would also make an excellent gift for high school and college graduates, serving as a gentle reminder to be compassionate citizens as they go forward.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Three Lines in a Circle: The Exciting Life of the Peace Symbol

Long, Michael G. Three Lines in a Circle: The Exciting Life of the Peace Symbol. Flyaway Books. 2021. $18.00. Grades K-4.

It was only three lines in a circle. One line straight down, one line to the left, one to the right, with a circle around it. This is the picture Gerry drew as he sat at his drawing table. This was the symbol of his dream: His dream of a world without bombs. Although mocked, his symbol eventually caught on, drawing people together around the world. Between the ‘March from London to Aldermason’, to ‘Making Peace Not Hate,’ this symbol became famous for representing peace for all people.

THOUGHTS: A simple story that shares the movement of the peace sign and what it stands for. The back of this book contains detailed information on the peace sign, its creator, and influence throughout the years.

303.48 Social Change           Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD