Elem. – PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together

Assarasakorn, Michele, and Nathan Fairbairn. PAWS: Gabby Gets It Together. Razorbill, 2022. 978-0-593-35186-4. 176 pp. $12.99. Gr. 3-6.

Fifth grader Gabby and her best friends, sixth graders Mindy and Priya, absolutely love animals, but none of them can have a pet due to parental preferences, landlord policies, and allergies. Longing for some furry friends in their lives, the three girls form PAWS: Pretty Awesome Walkers, and begin walking a small group of neighborhood dogs. They face a series of obstacles in the process of building their after-school business. Some are humorous – who will pick up the dog poop? should they wear matching uniforms? – while others stem from the girls’ different goals for PAWS, varying commitment levels, and lack of communication. Gabby especially feels like she is always out-voted by her slightly older, sometimes bossier friends. All three girls learn from their mistakes and Gabby does, indeed, get it together!

THOUGHTS: PAWS is essentially a Baby-Sitters Club for animal-loving tweens; the next installment, due in November, will focus on Mindy. Sunny artwork, friend and family dynamics, and plenty of adorable pups lend broad appeal to this graphic novel series starter.

Graphic Novel          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Pugs Cause Traffic Jams

McGrath, Jennifer. Pugs Cause Traffic Jams. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-5253-0340-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2

Pugs Cause Traffic Jams is a funny picture book that shows how pugs are not the same as other dogs, as they can cause traffic jams! When the book starts and our main character is looking for her pug Kirby, we are getting a look into all the chaos that Kirby is causing while she is hunting for him. The conversations the main character is having with the other characters in the book are set in a different font, so the reader will easily be able to tell. The illustrations are enjoyable and add to the overall charm of the book.

THOUGHTS: This is a cute book and would make a wonderful addition to any elementary school collection.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – My Poet

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Poet. Illustrated by Jen Hill. Harper Collins, 2022. 978-0-062-97114-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-5.

The recently deceased master of subtle writing, Patricia MacLachlan, bears tribute to the late poet, Mary Oliver in My Poet. Though Oliver remains unnamed throughout the picture book, the comparison to her is undeniable. For most of her adult life, Oliver resided in Cape Cod; MacLachlan, too, was a citizen of Massachusetts and reports that she had a passing acquaintance with the poet. Covering a span of one day, a young girl, Lily, meets the poet she dubs “my poet” at a farmer’s market, and the two explore the woods and seashore and enjoy different animals together. As Lily searches to develop her writing style, the mentor poet guides her to inspirational scenes of nature. Jen Hill’s loosely drawn illustrations evoke the spray of saltwater, the busyness of the farmer’s market, the secrecy of the woods. “My poet” encourages Lily in her pursuit of the “just right” words to compose her poem and Hill’s illustrations are in perfect concert with MacLachlan’s lyrical prose. Used as a mentor text to encourage creative writing or as a calming read aloud, this nuanced book speaks to the sensitive child. Lily’s use of a notebook walking through the woods imitates Mary Oliver’s favorite pastime as a child growing up in Ohio: to escape a tumultuous home life, she would spend as much time as possible outdoors, jotting down poetry in her own notebook, even hiding pencils in tree trunks.

THOUGHTS: I don’t know if I am enraptured by this book because I appreciate the understated prose of Patricia MacLachlan or because I am in awe of the paradoxically gentle yet powerful poetry of Mary Oliver. Either way, the prose offers many openings into discussion of Oliver’s poems (she wrote of fish playing with her toes and a whole volume devoted to her beloved dogs). Even without the mention of Oliver, the book pursues the work of writing for young children or as a mentor text for older ones. The illustrations remind me of Allan Drummond (Green City) are a refreshing fit for the words. 

Poetry          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia
Juvenile Fiction

Elem. – Ciao, Sandro!

Varni, Steven. Ciao, Sandro! Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74390-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Sandro is a small dog who accompanies his owner, Nicola, a Venetian gondolier, on his daily tours around the city. Sandro even dresses like a gondolier himself, with a striped shirt, red kerchief, and straw hat. Instead of joining Nicola on his tours, today Sandro disembarks the gondola and heads into Venice. He visits a series of friends, each of whom greet him by saying “Ciao, Sandro!” None of the individuals seem surprised to see Sandro. In fact, they almost seem to have been expecting him. Francesca the fruit seller shows Sandro some fruit; Avise, a friend of Nicola’s, reassures Sandro he hasn’t forgotten; and Giorgio the glassblower presents Sandro with a goblet and asks for his approval. When Sandro re-joins Nicola and they head home at the end of the day, it turns out that all Sandro’s visits were in preparation for a surprise birthday party for Nicola! Backmatter includes a glossary of the Italian words that are included in the text. 

THOUGHTS: Not only will readers enjoy guessing why Sandro spent the day purposefully visiting his friends, they will also gain an appreciation for the Italian city of Venice. On his journey Sandro passes through many well known landmarks, which are depicted in Luciano Lozano’s watercolor pencil, ink, and digital illustrations. Say “Ciao, Sandro!” and consider adding this title to libraries serving younger elementary readers.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade

Hillenbrand, Will. Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44499-1. 35 p. $18.99. Grades K-1. 

Lulu is beside herself and oh, so worried about the standardized test that is scheduled to happen in her class at school today. Formatted like a graphic novel, this picture book is full of evil villains like the scary test, pencils, books, and watchful eye but Might Reader comes to save the day with ‘partner power.’ Turns out, Lulu was just having a nightmare, but how was she going to be successful at school without Mighty Reader?

THOUGHTS: The graphic novel formatting may be a bit overwhelming for new readers, but this short story could break the ice for nervous students before big test days. Some of the techniques mentioned could even be tried out in class. Talk about a super power!

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Bark Park: Scouting for Clues

Dougherty, Brandi. Bark Park: Scouting for Clues. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2021. 978-1-524-86474-3. $6.99. Grades K-2.

Bark Park: Scouting for Clues is the second book in the Epic! Originals Bark Park series! Scouting for Clues contains new adventures for Scout and his friends in the dog park. First, his blueberries go missing! Scout remembers where he left his blueberries and cannot believe that they are all gone! Scout will have to retrace his steps to figure out where his blueberries have gone. As the book continues, Scout continues to face new adventures, solve new problems, and make new friends along the way!

THOUGHTS: A great story to add to any beginning reader’s/animal lover’s bookshelf! This book contains colorful illustrations with easy to read text that will delight young readers.

Adventure          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred 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. – The Longest Letsgoboy

Wilder, Derick. The Longest Letsgoboy. Chronicle Books. 978-1-452-17716-8. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

This is the story of one old dog’s final walk with the child he refers to as his “foreverfriend.” The dog’s playful first-person narration allows readers to experience the world through his eyes and through his made-up language. On the last day of his life, he and a young girl take a long walk through an autumn woods. The dog smells familiar scents and sees the same animals and trees he’s seen many times before, but on this walk, he moves slowly and feels tired. With his one good ear, he listens carefully to bird calls, telling him they will keep an eye on his “foreverfriend.” Later that evening, as shadows stretch across the yard, the dog circles and settles one final time. Although this is one of the most emotional sections of the book, Catia Chien’s masterful abstract illustrations lighten the tone and communicate what is happening to the dog in an age-appropriate way. The beautiful pages show the dog passing peacefully into a sky filled with bright colors, and it’s clear he feels no pain. Throughout the book, the colors in the mixed media illustrations morph to deftly match the emotions being expressed throughout the seasons of the year and the seasons of life. 

THOUGHTS: While this is clearly a story about loss, it’s also a story about love. The special bond between the girl and her dog is beautifully portrayed, and both the text and the illustrations will strike a chord with any reader who has experienced the loss of a pet. Share this title with guidance counselors to begin conversations with students who may be grieving their own loss. 

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – The Chicken House

In this early reader adventure, The Chicken Squad is back for another adventure. Sugar, Dirt, Sweetie, and Poppy live in the triangle chicken house with their mother. Dirt likes to read by the window, Sweetie likes to draw on the walls, Poppy likes to rest in a big shoe, and mother Moosh likes when everyone is home. Home is a bit crowded though. J.J. lives in a doghouse that has a bathtub; a big, soft bed; and a table for massages. Sugar invites her siblings to the more spacious dog house, and each enjoys having a little elbow room. But Moosh misses her chicks, and J.J. notices his dog house isn’t like it used to be. Will everyone find a way to be comfortable and feel at home? This text has longer sentences with simple chapters and high-interest vocabulary words. 

THOUGHTS: A fun twist on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this chicken adventure will garner laughs of emerging readers.

Early Reader          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat

LaRochelle, David. See the Dog: Three Stories About a Cat. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21629-5. Unpaged. $8.99. Grades K-2.

This companion to 2021 Theodor Geisel Award winner See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog is a must for every elementary school library. Beginning readers will love both titles by David LaRochelle. See the Dog brings back Dog and Cat, two animals unafraid to interact with readers and foil the author’s storylines. The first story opens with “See the dog,” and Cat saying, “Hello! The dog is sick today. He asked me to take his place!” Three stories follow a similar pattern and readers will giggle at every twist and turn.

THOUGHTS: Another excellent beginning reader from the team of LaRochelle and Wohnoutka. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD