Elem. – A Girl Like You

Murphy, Frank. A Girl Like You. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. $16.99. 978-1-534-11096-0. Grades K-3.

A Girl Like You is a celebration of all of the things a girl can be: brave, bold, empathetic, radiant,  proud, and more. The story begins with a girl who stands apart from a sea of adults and then moves through all of the ways that she is unique. Mantra-like text such as “radiant girl, stand tall” is supported by diverse portrait style illustrations showing girls in action demonstrating the qualities discussed. The main character shows bravery when standing up for herself and boldness while leading others to speak out. Girls are encouraged to learn, lead and care for others without forgetting to take care of herself. The main protagonist of this story presents as Asian with a lovely dark golden complexion, rosy cheeks, and long straight dark hair past her shoulders which is often worn in a loose braid. The myriad of girls included throughout the book represent nearly every skin, body, and hair type imaginable including permanent and temporary differing abilities. Multiple images of girls with wheelchairs and prosthetic or missing limbs are included throughout. Girls with Vitiligo, Albinism, and freckles appear along with a rainbow of skin tones. Many girls wear khimar, scarfs, or bandannas. A few are bald or have very short hair including one that is presumably due to medical treatment. Children appear to be elementary age. Some scenes include boys working and playing alongside, but the focus remains on encouraging young girls.

THOUGHTS: As inclusive as a children’s book can possibly be, this book is a good one to have on hand when discussing differences with children or introducing women’s history celebrations to younger readers.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – The Belonging Tree

Cocca-Leffler, Maryann. The Belonging Tree. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-250-30513-8. $18.99.  Grades PreK-1.

A community of happy squirrels lives on Forest Lane.  The Gray squirrel family, Ma, Pa, and Little Zeke, love their old oak tree home and enjoy eating, working and playing with their squirrel neighbors. Then in summer, some blue jays arrive and their noise disturbs Ma and Pa, but Zeke enjoys their singing. In the fall, a chipmunk family with many babies appears and gets busy gathering acorns. Zeke loves feeding the babies, while his parents are concerned about a nut shortage. All is peaceful through the winter, but in spring some busy beavers move in and start building dams. Ma and Pa fear the beavers will down all the trees, but Zeke is amazed by what they have built. The parents decide to move across the river to get away from these other animals. That night, during a storm, the squirrel family’s new home is destroyed. They are rescued through the efforts of their former animal neighbors and quickly realize that the best neighborhood is one where everyone belongs. The author has created a book that shows the value of community and how it is important to include and accept our neighbors. Lombardi’s colorful drawings were created with watercolor and Adobe Photoshop. The full bleed illustrations are charming and the squirrels are drawn with large expressive eyes. Children will love the illustration of Zeke feeding the young chipmunks with a baby bottle.

THOUGHTS: This story is a wonderful discussion starter about communities and the importance of diversity and tolerance. It is a great read aloud and a worthwhile purchase for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – If You Come to Earth

Blackall, Sophie. If You Come to Earth. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-13779-7. Unpaged. $18.99. PreK-2.

A young narrator writes a letter to an alien, detailing what life is like on our planet. He explains our housing, clothing, family life, means of transportation, work, recreation, food, animals, and more. He highlights the fact that everyone is different, but we are all better off when we are kind to one another. Stunning illustrations accompany this delightful portrait of our beautiful Earth.

THOUGHTS: I am absolutely loving this breathtaking celebration of diversity on our planet. The gorgeous illustrations depict people of all sizes and colors, as well as many different kinds of houses, families, food, jobs, and clothing. Students and adults alike could spend hours poring over the illustrations, prompting important discussions about how we are all created different but equal. There is also much to be learned about cultures other than our own, and this could be an excellent starting point for such a research project. This very timely call for unity on our planet is sure to resonate with readers of all ages.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

A daydreaming child named Quinn writes an extensive letter to a “visitor from Outer Space” which includes everything from Earth’s location in the solar system to differences between humans. Blackall’s Chinese ink and watercolor illustrations provide depth and detail to the story as Quinn explains the dizzying array of options for life on Earth. Differences are emphasized. In one spread, a wide variety of dwellings from tall apartment buildings to tree houses are depicted alongside a simple sentence stating “we live in all kinds of homes.” A group of people whose homes have been lost to disaster are also included. Transportation, clothing, and food are similarly treated. One spread explains thoughts cannot be seen but feelings may be worn on faces with an array of portraits demonstrating emotion. Communication, including Braille and Sign Language is mentioned along with music and soundwaves. Opposite concepts such as large and small along with natural vs. artificial are addressed. Injuries and illnesses, war, and aging are also briefly touched upon in age-appropriate context.

THOUGHTS: It’s nearly impossible to list all of the topics covered in this picture book. There are so many details in the illustrations that this is likely to be one that can be enjoyed repeatedly.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – Leaving Lymon

Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Leaving Lymon. Holiday House, 2020. 978-0-823-44442-7. 199 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

In this companion novel to Finding Langston, Cline-Ransome creates a story about ten year old Lymon, an African-American boy who lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi with his grandparents during the 1940s Jim Crow era. Lymon’s mother abandoned him when he was an infant, and his father is in prison. Despite this, he is happy enough with his life, especially when playing the guitar with his grandfather. Life changes for Lymon after his grandfather dies, and he and his grandmother move to Milwaukee. Lymon has difficulty adjusting to life in the North and struggles in school. When his grandmother becomes ill, he is sent to live with his mother in Chicago. Even though this is what he always wanted, he faces challenges in his new life with his abusive stepfather and emotionally distant mother. After a bad decision, Lymon must come to terms with yet another life adjustment, one which has the potential to change his life forever.

THOUGHTS: Told in first person, this novel allows the reader to understand the difficulties and emotions that Lymon experiences. The author has created a likeable character and readers will be rooting for him and hope for a sequel to learn what happens next. This is a strong purchase for all middle grade libraries.

Historical Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Finish the Fight!

Chambers, Veronica and The Staff of the New York Times. Finish the Fight! Versify, 2020. 978-0-358-40830-7. 144 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

Finish the Fight! is not your momma’s suffrage book! Preceding the introduction, eight playing card style portraits feature commonly known suffragists such as Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton neatly arranged into a two page spread. The page turn reveals a single sentence: “We wanted to tell more of the story” surrounded by numerous, overlapping diverse suffragette playing cards featuring previously unsung heroines and disrupting  the notion of suffrage as a stagnant piece of history. The playing cards speak volumes with bright colors, confident poses, and knowing smiles emphasizing each woman as a force to be reckoned with in her own right. Over 117 years of the Women’s Rights movement are covered beginning with the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, beyond ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920, and through the Equal Rights Voting Act of 1965. Brief chapters filled with accessible text for an elementary to middle grade audience introduce young readers to marginalized aspects of the suffrage movement. Readers will learn about the influence of Native American women including leaders of Haudenosaunee, Omaha, and Dakota-Sioux cultures. Another chapter explains how Juno Frankie Pierce encouraged 2,500 Black women to register for the vote allowing suffragists the numbers they needed to secure ratification of the 19th Amendment in Tennessee. One chapter is dedicated to the nearly disastrous effects of bias within the movement while another focuses specifically on queer leaders and their fight for equality. Primary source documents including posters, photographs, historical documents, and memorabilia are digitally enhanced and positioned throughout the pages with captions. Everything about this book is visually stunning. Portraiture credit is given to eleven artists whose unique styles pay homage to each highlighted woman in preface to her chapter, stunningly capturing her style, time period, and personality. Jovita Idar,  Mexican American journalist/activist and League of Mexican woman founder, is surrounded with southwestern flora and the scales of justice. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a sixteen year old Chinese immigrant known for leading one of the biggest suffrage parades in New York history is depicted wearing a sash seated atop a white horse against a backdrop reminiscent of mid-Manhattan’s “Chinatown” neighborhood. Women with a chapter featuring her contribution to the fight include: Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mary Church Terrell, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, Ida Wells-Burnett, Susette La Flesche Tibbles, and Zitkala-Sa. Dozens of others are mentioned throughout the text. The trading cards appear again in the backmatter along with succinct biographies of each featured lady.

THOUGHTS: This book is a celebration of the unsung heroines of the suffrage movement, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Finish the Fight! is quite possibly the most comprehensive, approachable, inclusive look at the radical fight to secure votes for women. Women’s history is inextricably tangled up with equality and human rights on all fronts. Rarely are the stories of those who worked in parallel to obtain rights for BIPOC and LGBTQ folx woven into history books for children. This book is a much needed addition to any elementary or middle grade library collection. Primary source material mixed with modern art and plain text opens the door to use this book in a myriad of ways for research, history, and social studies lessons.

324.6 Voting Rights          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Rather than recap stories about the famous white women who fought for women’s rights, this book tells the stories of the African American, Native American, Asian American, and queer women who have made significant contributions but are not as well known as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The book explores the history of the women’s suffrage movement including the Declaration of Sentiments, the representative democracy practiced by some Native Americans which gave women power to make choices, and how women helped states ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to ensure it became part of the US. Constitution. The activists featured include Dr. Mary Walker who is the only woman in US history to be awarded the Medal of Honor and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin who started the first newspaper by and for black women in the US. Readers will be introduced to Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Burrill, and other women who were part of the LGBTQ community and fought for women’s rights.

THOUGHTS: Readers will be pleasantly surprised by this book, especially those who have preconceived notions about the women’s suffrage movement or those who think it is boring. Give this book as a gift to a history teacher or encourage a history lover to read and learn about the revolutionary acts of women over one hundred years ago. Middle school and high school students will be inspired by many of the women featured in this book and will have a more comprehensive understanding of the women’s suffrage movement.

324.6 Women’s Suffrage     Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies

Oliver, Carmen. Bears Make the Best Writing Buddies. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-684-46081-6. 32 p. $17.95. Grades K-4. 

When Adelaide notices that her friend Theo is struggling during writing time, she decides to pass him a note of encouragement and enlists Bear to help Theo find his unique story. Bear is a comforting figure, full of tips about proper spacing and adding sensory details. Bear also helps Theo learn to “forage for new ideas” or take a break to regroup when writing isn’t easy. Leo learns about drafting and revision with Bear’s motto “rebuild, reimagine, rework.” By the end of the story, Theo is confidently writing with his classmates while Adelaide hints at a sequel. Brightly colored illustrations fill the pages with imaginary scenes of the trio fishing for new ideas, flying in hot air balloons, and hard at working writing. Diversity among characters is represented among the primary and secondary characters. Theo and teacher Mrs. Fitz-Pea are Black; Adelaide is white. Diversity is also depicted among their classmates with a two-page spread that shows children of various gender, ability and race holding up individualized heart artwork beneath the text “There’s nothing you can’t say when it comes from your heart. Because your voice is your voice – no two are the same.” This artwork is also beautifully replicated on the end pages.

THOUGHTS: This book is a thoughtful, positive introduction to the writing process for elementary students. Bear simultaneously empowers students to find, share and hone their individual writers’ voice while also modeling desirable writing buddy behavior. This book will make a fun engaging read aloud with plenty of opportunities to discuss writing with students.

808.02 Writing          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
Picture Book

Elem. – Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Carolrhoda Books, 2020. 978-1-541-55775-8. 120 p. $19.99. Grades 2-6.

Words have power, and learning how to use, absorb, and value them is one of the most important skills of adolescence. Indeed, relating words like ACCEPTANCE, GRATITUDE, JUSTICE, and VULNERABLE could help classes and young readers make a better world. Irene and Charles, the poets behind the thoughtful Can I Touch Your Hair? poetry story about race and friendship, have compiled a gorgeous collection of words that are illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. Each page features a poem to match the word, and a description of the form of poetry as well. Accompanying the poem are quotations from writers or famous personalities, then a personal message from the author that children can connect with, and finally an action step to take to demonstrate the valuable word. In all, there are 50 poems from A to Z, and they should be digested and discussed thoughtfully rather than quickly. Discussions of race and friendship and hope for a brighter future should make this book an essential tool for home and classrooms.

THOUGHTS: At a time when teachers and parents are seeking ways to share inclusive, diverse, and equitable literature that leads to discussion and action, we can’t do much better than this wonderful book! Consider this for a One Book, One School selection or for a small group of empowered advocates. Highly recommended for grade 2 – 6 (though potentially useful for younger and older grades as well).

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

YA – All Boys Aren’t Blue

Johnson, George M. All Boys Aren’t Blue. Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-374-31271-8. 320 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12.

George Matthew Johnson’s first memory is having his teeth kicked out by a white boy, seemingly for no reason other than his race. His first identity crisis happens in elementary school when he learns that his first name was actually George, not Matthew. From that point on, the author struggles with his identity and how he fits into a world that did not accept Black people or queer people and definitely not a young boy who was both. Johnson realizes at a young age that boys are supposed to be masculine, which means being tough, playing football, and conforming to these ideas without question. But he prefers to jump Double Dutch with the girls and wear cowboy boots to Disneyland. For his own mental and physical survival, he learns to code-switch in elementary school – he can impress the boys with his athletic ability when necessary but also gossip with the girls. While Johnson has a fantastic support system in his family, he knows that not all Black queer teens do – and so he wrote this book to serve as guidance. Each chapter is entwined with the lessons Johnson learned along the way in the hopes that Black queer teens will not have to figure them out the hard way.

THOUGHTS: This memoir manifesto is incredibly timely in light of current events. Johnson’s experiences in his life have made him extremely insightful about society, and his insights should (and do) make the reader think about what behaviors are expected of boys practically from birth. This memoir is a critically essential book to have in a high school library as it can provide two things: a window in which to see how those who are different struggle to find acceptance and a mirror for teenagers who are struggling under the weight of the labels society forces upon them.

306.76 Memoir          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Racism

Ganeri, Anita. Racism. Picture Window Books, 2020. 978-1-515-84542-3. 32 p. $20.54. Grades K-3. 

Racism can be a tricky topic to discuss, but this title handles the subject well and encourages conversation and reader participation. The text begins by describing how there are millions of people in the world, and they’re all different, coming from different countries, wearing different clothes, speaking different languages, and having different appearances. It goes on to describe how it is important to respect and value all people for who they are and to treat everyone fairly and equally. Racism is defined as a kind of bullying, and can include using hurtful words, intentionally leaving people out of activities, destroying a person’s property, or physically hurting someone. The authors describe how both adults and children can be racist, but racism is always wrong. They also include suggestions for combating racism, including taking time to get to know someone new, inviting people from different cultures into your classroom, and talking to teachers or other trusted adults if someone acts racist towards you. Throughout the text, italicized discussion questions are embedded. They ask things like “What makes you different?,” “How would you like people to treat you?,” “How would you feel if someone called you names?,” and “Who would you tell?” A Note for Caregivers at the end of the book includes strategies for approaching the topic of race with young readers, and a page of Group Activities offers ideas for extending the conversation. This book is part of an 8-title series called “Questions and Feelings About…”. Other titles include Adoption, Autism, Bullying, Having a Disability, When Parents Separate, When Someone Dies, and Worries.

THOUGHTS: This approachable title will work well for morning meeting conversations, particularly in primary classrooms. The built-in questions will generate authentic discussion and will prompt other social-emotional learning connections.

305.8 Ethnic and National Groups         Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD