Elem. – Bright Star

Morales, Yuyi. Bright Star. Holiday House, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-823-44328-4. $18.99. Grades K-1.

Morales weaves English and Spanish text together to create a heartwarming tale of a young fawn and her mother. As narrator, the doe speaks to her child as they explore the Southwestern desert landscape. She tells her cosita (little thing) that she is a bright star and that she loves her. After hearing a loud sound, the fawn becomes frightened and the mother cautions her to be alert and find a safe space. In soothing tones, the deer comforts her anxious daughter and reminds her that she will never be alone and will always be protected. The illustrations are done in a variety of media, including embroidery, and reveal a few causes of her fear-a snake, a leopard, a cloud of dust, and a wall. In the author’s note, Morales explains that she began this book in 2019 after observing migrants being detained after attempting to cross the border and how the environment was being destroyed by the wall’s construction. Morales’ drawings are a showcase of the flora and fauna of the area, such as a hummingbird, a scorpion, and saguaro cacti, which in one spread are cut down into pieces. The author connects the disruption of the lives of the plants and animals to the disrupted lives of migrants and inhabitants of the region. This is shown in the final pages by the images of children wearing shirts with animal designs and surrounded by desert plants.  This story conveys a message of reassurance and hope during anxious times.

THOUGHTS: Morales’ art is beautiful, and the renderings of the animals, especially the fawn, are charming. Young children will enjoy looking at the creatures and will find comfort in this story. It also could be useful in ecology units. A strong purchase for elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Norman Didn’t Do It!

Higgins, Ryan T. Norman Didn’t Do it! DisneyHyperion, 2021. 978-136802623-9 p. 48. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Norman! Adorable, wide-eyed, prickly Norman is a porcupine with a tree as a best friend. Mildred is the best kind of friend that Norman could ever hope for in a tree. They have a shared history, and their friendship is a fun adventure, each day filled with love and companionship. However, Norman’s friendship with Mildred feels threatened when someone new enters their world. Norman experiences an array of big emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, impulsiveness, and fear. These big emotions lead to a reaction that Norman is not proud to admit; however, his unconditional love for his best friend may help to change his perspective about his friendship. Is it possible that Norman will be able to understand his big emotions? Will he be able to find a way to expand his friendship circle and allow more love into his life? Grab this picture book and find out! 

THOUGHTS: Norman Didn’t Do It! is exactly what you would expect from a Ryan T. Higgins picture book: belly laughs and wit. Readers will understand what Norman is experiencing with the relatable storyline and perfect illustrations. Friendships are not easy, especially when there are unexpected influences from others. Remarkably, readers witness Norman make a mistake but take proactive steps to make it right. Norman Didn’t Do It by Ryan T Higgins is a gem! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – The Longest Storm

Yaccarino, Dan. The Longest Storm. Minedition, 2021. 978-1-662-65047-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.

When a storm rolls in, a family must stay at home and figure out how to live together without getting on one another’s nerves. At first, this proves difficult, and the family struggles to get along. However, when the power goes out one particularly scary night, they all apologize to one another and things gradually improve until the storm ultimately passes. 

THOUGHTS: This book clearly was written as a reflection on the recent disruption of familial routines during the COVID-19 pandemic. I love the hopeful message it offers readers: humans are resilient, and the love of family can carry one through any storm, whether it be a pandemic, an illness, the death of a loved one, or any other hardship. Hand this book to any young reader who is going through a rough patch and needs some reassurance.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control

Alber, Diane. A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control. Diane Alber Art LLC, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-951-28764-1. $11.99 (paper) Grades K-2. 

The book opens with Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot introducing themselves to two children, explaining that they can help when a Frustration Spot shows up. Frustration Spot shows up when something happens that we can’t control, and it can be good, because it can show that we are learning or being challenged. But because it can turn into an Angry Spot so quickly, it’s important to know how to help a Frustration Spot. Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot show the two children a token with a special message on each side. One side, labeled “Frustration Flip,” lists some things we can’t control: “what others say, what others do, the weather, the future, and others’ mistakes.’  The other side, labeled “Calm and In Control,” lists some things we can control: my words, my actions, my attitude, my expectations, my choices, and my effort. With a diagram of the body, the two Spots share four warning signs of: Feel hot! Feel like yelling! Upset stomach, or Pounding heart. They explain that if we feel any warning signs, it’s time to do a Frustration Flip. While holding the Frustration Flip in one hand, count to four and repeat a rhyme to give your mind a chance to calm down. The Spots then practice the Frustration Flip in several situations.  The final page has a Frustration Flip that can be cut out, or accessed and printed from the author’s webpage (with lesson plans). 

THOUGHTS: This book gives specific details to identify feeling frustrated, and a specific response to help calm down or think flexibly about a situation. It would be ideal for social-emotional learning in the classroom or individually.  

Note: A colleague with young children told me about this resource and shared with me how helpful it had been in talking with her own children (one teen, a 5-year-old, and a two-year old) because their questions brought out more examples and understanding. Diane Alber writes and illustrates this large series of “Little Spot” books, which began with eight “Little Spot of Emotion” books (Anger; Confidence; Happiness; Peaceful; Sadness; Anxiety; Love; Scribble Spot). The series has expanded to three more sets of eight books (and still growing). “A Little Spot Takes Action” set includes: Respectful; Responsibility; Kindness; Patience; Diversity; Organization; Honesty; and Safety. “A Little Spot of Life Skills” Set includes: Perseverance; Teamwork; Optimism; Courage; Thankful; Giving; Talent; Creativity. “A Little Spot of Feelings” Set includes: Empathy; Frustration; Calm; Belonging; Worry; Boredom; Flexible Thinking; Feelings Detective). Educator’s Guide, Plush Toys–it encourages mindfulness and may be worth sharing with your teachers and counselors.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem./MG – The One Thing You’d Save

Park, Linda Sue. The One Thing You’d Save. Clarion Books. 978-1-328-51513-1. 65 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6. 

In this novel in verse, a teacher challenges her middle school students to think about the one thing they would save if their home was on fire. Their family and pets are already safe, but she wants to know what one thing inside their home is most important to them. It can be any size, any shape. Some students come up with answers immediately, and others ponder the assignment carefully. From cell phones and favorite books to wallets and trading cards, each student explains the reasoning behind his or her choice. Some students share sentimental stories, such as how they would save a hand-knit sweater from their grandmother or a collar from a pet who passed away. The many different voices reflect an inclusive classroom led by a caring teacher who reminds her students to always protect, affect, and respect one another as they are sharing. In her author’s note, Park shares that sijo, an ancient form of Korean poetry, was her inspiration for this book. Classic sijo have three lines of thirteen to seventeen syllables. While the poems in this collection use the sijo structure, many are longer than traditional sijo poems.

THOUGHTS: This novel in verse should spark engaging discussions between middle-grade readers. The question of what to save in a hypothetical emergency is a universal one, and students’ answers will be as varied as the ones presented in the book. This could be a valuable book to use during Morning Meetings to generate conversation and build relationships. It will provide insights into what students value most and will lead to discussions about sentimental value versus practical value. Share this title with guidance counselors as well.

Novel in Verse          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Too Crowded

Podesta, Lena. Too Crowded. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-22238-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Gil, a goldfish, feels crowded in his bowl with a plant, a castle, and 138 pebbles (that he cleans every day all by himself).  When Gil bonks his nose on the side of his bowl, he decides he needs a new house; something bigger and roomier. He finds a bird’s nest which is nice and large, but the birds are too noisy. He finds Cat’s house which is quiet, but dangerous as Cat tries to get Gil. Finally, Gil finds Turtle’s house. Turtle questions why Gil is out in the air because fish “can’t breathe air, silly.” As Gil gulps for breath, Turtle gets help from their human to save him. Now, Gil is back in his small, cramped bowl, but it’s not so cramped anymore because it is now Turtle’s home too.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful introduction for children to animal homes and understanding feelings of loneliness and friendship. Gil’s home is cramped because he is alone, but once Turtle joins him, their home is just right. Too Crowded may also translate for children expecting a new sibling because Gil finds joy in sharing his home and things with Turtle. The illustrations are bright and colorful. They are limited, as is the text, and utilize lots of white space. Details are especially fun throughout as Gil wears sneakers and has a bandage on his nose from where he hit the side of his bowl. One final note…Gil is not identified as he, she, or they in the text. As the reader, I identified Gil as a him, but others may identify Gil as she or they.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Book’s Big Adventure

Lehrhaupt, Adam. Book’s Big Adventure. Ill. Rahele Jomepour Bell. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-42183-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

As a new book in the library, Book goes on many adventures.  He goes on a picnic and in a car; he is read at bedtime and throughout the day. But one day, Book is no longer placed on the new books shelf. He is moved to a lower, darker shelf. His adventures are fewer and fewer; he feels forgotten and wishes for the adventures he once had. After his fall from grace (or the library shelf), he is found and boxed; all hope is lost for Book.  Until one day, when Book finds a new home. He is cherished and loved and taken on many new adventures.

THOUGHTS: Book’s Big Adventure is a fantastic introduction for children to cleaning and donation. Although the book focuses on Book being weeded from the collection and finding a new home through donation, the connection to children getting new toys and forgetting about older ones or growing out of clothing is easily drawn. The illustrations by Bell enhance the story by giving life to Book and the adventures he goes on. They start out bright and colorful, then grow darker as he is forgotten, and finally become bright and airy again when he finds his new home. This is a wonderful picture book to encourage children to clean and donate items. The author also includes a note at the end about where the idea for Book’s Big Adventure came from and where readers can donate used books. As a side note, Book is not identified as he, she, or they in the book. I identified Book as a he because I thought the illustrations lent more to a he than a she. Book’s title looks like a bowtie to me.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Memory Jars

Brosgol, Vera. Memory Jars. Roaring Book Press, 2021. 978-1-250-31487-1 48 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Freda is disappointed when she cannot eat all the blueberries that she picked with her grandmother. Blueberry season is over, and she has to wait an entire year to eat them again! Gran reminds her that she saves blueberries in a jar by turning them into delicious jam. What a delightful idea! Freda begins to wonder- if she can preserve blueberries in jars, why not everything else in her life that are her favorite things? Things such as warm cookies, poppies (her favorite flower), her neighbor’s beautiful singing voice, her best friend that is moving away, or the full moon. Only after she bottles everything up in mason jars does Freda realize that saving everything also means she cannot enjoy those very same things. Memory Jars, a picture book written and illustrated by Caldecott Honoree Vera Brosgol, is the perfect story to remind readers that some things are best saved as beautiful memories.

THOUGHTS: Memory Jars is written as a fable, complete with a satisfying lesson and delicious blueberry jam recipe at the end. The story is clever and charming as Freda learns that enjoying the moment is the best way to make memories. This book would be a perfect way to walk down memory lane to remember fun memories from a summer break, remember a loved one, or remember memories from a fun school year.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Mr. Complain Takes the Train

Bradford, Wade & S. Britt. Mr. Complain Takes the Train. Clarion Books. 2021. 978-0-544-82981-7. $17.99. Grades K-3

Mr. Complain is ready to take the train to his vacation in Dullsville. Unfortunately, the train is late. And loud. The train shows people that are too happy, but also too sad. Mr. Complain’s luggage won’t fit, and his seat is too lumpy. When he receives a new seat, his seat companions are just not up to par. There is nothing perfect on this train… especially when the train spirals downhill, goes in the dark, and even loop-de-loops! Is there something on the train that Mr. Complain will like?

THOUGHTS: Sometimes we need to see the positive things that are in life! We all know a Mr. Complain – this book provides readers with a chance to see the bright side of life, even when things may be a little different or crazy!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – The Dream Weaver

Alegre, Reina Luz. The Dream Weaver. Simon & Schuster Publishers, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-534-46231-1. Grades 5-8.

After drifting around the country following her father’s next big idea her whole life, twelve-year-old Zoey Finolio and her college-bound brother, Jose, land at the Jersey shore living with their maternal Cuban grandfather—one of the most stable homes since their mother’s death. Though Zoey loves her father, she revels in a summer at the beach, doing things most kids her age do and embraces the dream of saving Gonzo’s, her grandfather’s rundown bowling alley, from a developer. When she gets a chance to fill in as a bowler on a local team headed for a championship, Zoey sees it as an opportunity to not only savor friendship but also rejuvenate the boardwalk business. The familial relationships and friendships are nurturing and supportive throughout the book, but this book doesn’t resort to past solutions. Even after the valiant efforts of Zoey and her new friends, Pappy decides to unload the bowling alley and just manage it; Jose still wants to pursue his dream of being an engineer at college; and Zoey’s father continues to try his luck at a different job despite sacrificing his children’s stability. Zoey shows strength of character in expressing her feelings to her father and finds solace in her supportive brother, her new friends, and her new home with her beloved Pappy.

THOUGHTS: The close familial relationships and kind friend relationships are a delight to read. Zoey’s father’s behavior is abysmal and may be a form of bibliotherapy for some readers. In Chapter One, Zoey gets her period for the first time and the narrative explains her distress and how she deals with it, so using the book as a read aloud—at least the first chapter—may be uncomfortable.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia