Elem. – Our Pool

Cummins, Lucy Ruth. Our Pool. Atheneum Books for Young Children, 2023. 978-1-534-49923-2. $18.99. 48 p. Grades K-2.

A city community pool is the focus of this refreshingly cool book. The unseen child narrator describes each step in the process of getting ready for a swim – the locker room, putting on sunscreen, playing in the pool, losing sight of Mom for a moment, worrying that a rain cloud will end the fun early, being cuddled in a warm towel, a visit to the ice cream truck, and heading home exhausted and happy. The glory of this book is that every reader can see themselves in it. Each illustration depicts adults and children of all races, ages, body-types, and family configurations without ever revealing which of these categories the narrator identifies with. A stunning tribute to the joy of a community pool on a hot summer day.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully illustrated book that is absolutely pitch perfect. The gouache, colored pencil, and digitally finished artwork is simple yet stunning in its ability to convey inclusivity. The narrative is joyous and full of kid fun. Highly recommended for all children’s library collections.

Picture Book 

Elem. – Everyone Loves Lunchtime but Zia

Liao, Jenny. Everyone Loves Lunchtime but Zia. Alfred A. Knopf, 2023.  978-0-593-42542-8. Unpaged.  $18.99. Grades PreK-1.

In her picture book debut, Liao tells a charming story of a Chinese-American family and Cantonese cuisine, based on her own childhood. Zia is a young girl who likes school, but does not enjoy lunchtime, unlike her classmates. Zia is embarrassed by her homemade lunches, which look, smell, and feel different from the bag lunches of her peers.  They remark on its strange appearance and wonder how she can eat it. Zia loves her parents’ cooking at home, but asks if she can begin taking sandwiches to school. Her parents, realizing the problem, decide to make lunch special by packing dishes that have special meaning. On Tuesday, Zia has cha siu bao, a barbecued pork bun, representing treasure. That day, the librarian hands Zia the book she was waiting for. She gets a gold star for her painting, after eating see yao gai, a soy sauce chicken, bringing her success. After sharing rice noodle rolls with a new friend, the young girl realizes that her family’s ethnic cuisine is something to be proud of. To celebrate Zia’s birthday, her parents serve all her favorite foods to the class. In the back matter, the author explains that there are many different styles of cooking in China depending on the region. There is a recipe and an illustrated glossary of various Chinese dishes, also spelled in Chinese characters. Dream Chen’s colorful illustrations are sure to make the reader hungry from endpaper to endpaper. 

THOUGHTS: This picture book is a good read aloud and promotes discussion about the wonderful variety of gastronomy in the world. 

Picture Book

Elem. – The World Belonged to Us

Woodson, Jacqueline. The World Belonged to Us. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54549-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

In her latest picture book, Jacqueline Woodson has teamed up with Leo Espinosa to create an uplifting story of neighborhood children enjoying the carefree days of summer. The setting is Brooklyn “in the summer not so long ago,” although the illustrations seem to point to the late 1960s or early 1970s. It is the last day of school, and students run out jubilantly and get right to business by turning on the fire hydrant. And so it continues every day as the whole block becomes a playground for these youngsters of diverse backgrounds. Their days are filled with jump rope, basketball, building forts out of boxes, stick ball, tag, and waiting for the ice cream truck, only ending when their mothers call them in at dark. They cannot wait until tomorrow, which holds the promise of another day of freedom. Espinosa’s drawings are rendered digitally and with pencil. The images depict lots of chaotic action, and one almost can hear the shouts of delight from the children. 

THOUGHTS: This picture book is sure to bring smiles and is perfect for end of the school year story times. Pair this with MacLachlan’s Prairie Days to take a journey back to the happy-go-lucky days of summer past, when kids savored life with nary an electronic device in sight. Woodson’s message is “Go Play!”

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Eight Nights, Eight Lights

Barnes, Natalie. Eight Nights, Eight Lights. Illustrated by Andrea Stegmaier. Kane Miller, 2022. 978-1-684-64441-4. Unpaged. $14.99  Grades 1-3.

What do Max, Lara, Ellie and Sam have in common?  They, and other characters celebrate Chanukah and share family traditions in Eight Nights, Eight Lights. On each of the first seven nights of Chanukah, Andrea Stegmaier introduces the reader to a new family and a new tradition. On the eighth night, the community gathers at the synagogue, and Rabbi Rubin tells the story of Chanukah. The story ends where it began, back at Max’s house as he watches fireworks and enjoys the menorahs in his community.

THOUGHTS: Natalie Barnes skillfully moves her readers from one home to the next as she establishes connection between her characters and shares Chanukah traditions. Andrea Segmaier’s illustrations are accessible to readers, detailing modern families celebrating their holiday in a busy city neighborhood and supporting the Rabbi’s telling of the Chanukah story. She successfully weaves a sense of warmth and community into her illustrations, which are unified throughout by shades of blue among other colors. I recommend this book for any library looking for a loving story about modern families celebrating Chanukah… and the meaning of Chanukah within families and communities.

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Elem. – Holi Hai!

Soundar, Chitra. Holi Hai! Illustrated by Darshika Varma. Albert Whitman, 2022.  978-0-807-53357-4.  Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

Holi is around the corner and Guari’s family is preparing by making color, or gulal, for their celebration. Guari wants to make yellow…but ends up disappointed when she randomly chooses red instead. Though her mother reminds her that, “all colors are part of spring,” Guari still doesn’t want to make red or help her family members with their color–until her grandfather tell the legend of Holika and Prahlada and reminds her that love is stronger than the anger in her heart. Back matter includes further information on the festival of Holi, a glossary, and recipes for homemade colors.

THOUGHTS: Holi Hai! shares the festival of Holi with readers in a manner that will appeal to those who celebrate the festival themselves and those who want to know more. The author, Chitra Soundar, does an excellent job blending Guari’s storyi with information that helps all readers celebrate and understand the holiday. Darshika Varma’s vibrant illustrations give life to Guari’s story and the legend of Holika and Prahlada that grandfather tells. The contemporary feel of the illustrations reinforces the relevance of the book in today’s world. Highly recommended for any collections seeking books about Holi with broad appeal.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

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