Elem. – Off the Beaten Track

Kerangal, Maylis de. Off the Beaten Track. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64685-7. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades 3-6.

Ten-year-old Paul goes on a mountain trek with Bruce, an old family friend. Paul is somewhat unsure of himself at the beginning of their journey, lacking the confidence of a seasoned mountain climber. However, when he and Bruce find themselves in a precarious situation, Paul must find courage within himself in order to save their lives. The adventurous narrative is complemented by simple graphics in a limited palette of blues, browns, reds, and whites. The story does leave the reader with unanswered questions (such as what happened to Paul’s parents, as he lives with his aunt and uncle), but the unconventional style of the book still warrants its consideration for purchase.

THOUGHTS: Although the story itself left something to be desired, I found the uniqueness of this book very intriguing. Not only was the style of the illustrations uncommon, but the way the book was actually written was also unusual. The illustrator completed the images first, using only his own imagination, and then the author viewed the illustrations to invent the story. I absolutely could see this being used in a classroom for students or groups of students to invent their own stories in a similar fashion.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever

Ferry, Beth. Stick and Stone Best Friends Forever. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. Ill. Tom Lichtenheld. 978-0-358-47302-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

We’ve always heard, “Sticks and stones may break my bones…”, but when Stick and Stone get together, they don’t break bones. They play on a slide; they read books; they hike and canoe; they are best friends. So, when Stick decides he wants to find his family tree, Stone goes with him on his quest. “They wander [and] explore”, but Stick can’t find his family. When pinecone shows up after a scary experience in the forest, Stick realizes he may never find his family tree, but that’s okay because he’ll always have Stone. 

THOUGHTS: This is a beautifully illustrated story of what it means to be a family. Stick doesn’t know what type of tree he is, but Stone says that’s okay because they have one another, and it doesn’t matter “if you’re oak or you’re pine […] you’ll always be mine.” This story shows children that all friends and families come in different shapes and sizes, and it’s love for one another that makes a family. This is a wonderful story of acceptance, and as always, Tom Lichtenheld’s illustrations are vibrant and beautiful.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Stick and Stone are best friends. When Stick decides he wants to find out where he came from, the duo head out in search of Stick’s family tree. Their journey takes them through forests, across valleys and creeks, and into the mountains. Before long, they become lost and frightened. Eventually, they run into Pinecone, who guides them safely home. Although Stick doesn’t find his family tree, he does learn something about what family means and realizes that he had one all along. The rhyming verse and cheerful illustrations will have children devouring this delightful story about friendship.

THOUGHTS: I could see this book resonating especially with students from unconventional or broken homes. It could help them understand and appreciate the value of “found family.” Fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggy books would also enjoy this amusing tale of friendship.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – Explore! America’s National Parks

Langlois, Krista. Explore! America’s National Parks. Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64193-2. 96 p. $18.99. Grades 3-6. 

It’s time for a trip – a trip to America’s amazing national parks! This title takes readers around the United States to explore 61 parks. Parks are profiled by geographic region, and readers will learn about not to be missed landmarks as well as recommended activities. Selected flora and fauna readers should keep an eye out for plants that are also spotlighted. Recommended camping and hiking spots are identified as well as locations to take the perfect park photo. Environmental issues facing parks are also highlighted, along with suggestions of what readers can do to help protect and care for parks. The text is accompanied by Hannah Bailey’s beautiful illustrations, which are created with stencil, ink, and digitally enhanced/arranged.

THOUGHTS: A great resource for research projects on national parks or the armchair traveler, this title is deserving of a spot on elementary an/or middle school shelves. The author consulted with park rangers and it is clearly evident in the wide variety of suggested park activities and park spots not to be missed.

917 National Parks          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD   

MG – Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

Stewart, Alexandra. Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60159-2. 64 p. $21.99. Grades 4-8.

A book about the first two men in history to reach the top of Mount Everest, this illustrated biography presents the lives of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay from birth to their famous expedition and beyond. It relays stories of failed attempts that came before theirs and details their triumphant climb from start to finish. In addition, it gives credit to other important figures who made the climb a success, such as inventors who developed equipment to protect the climbers and those who went ahead to set out food rations (to name a few). Detailed illustrations and an accessible layout that includes many brief captions and small blocks of text make this an engaging read for young learners.

THOUGHTS: Overall, I found this book captivating and very informative. I did, however, feel it was missing a few elements. First of all, it seemed to cover Edmund Hillary’s life more thoroughly than it did Tenzing Norgay’s life, especially following their successful climb. Secondly, I was a little surprised that there were no additional resources, such as a bibliography or further reading section, added to the end of the book. I feel that the book does a nice job of piquing the reader’s interest, but it fails to provide the reader with any direction if he/she wants to learn more about the men or their expedition. Still, this engaging title definitely deserves consideration for any collection serving young readers.

796.522 Mountain Climbing          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

YA – Late to the Party

Quindlen, Kelly. Late to the Party. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-20913-9. 297 p. $17.99. Grades 9-12. 

Codi is comfortable in her bubble, content to do her own thing with the same friends she’s had since elementary school, Maritza and JaKory. That is until her little brother almost has his first kiss before she does. Realizing that she is already seventeen and about to enter her senior year of high school, Codi fears her chance to be a ‘normal’ teenager is slipping away. Hesitant at first, she begins to break out of her comfort zone little by little, meeting new friends, going new places, and even experiencing her first party. All the while tensions with Maritza and JaKory continue to rise. Can Codi be the friend she once was while still discovering new things? Can she be two people, the quiet artistic girl and the social teenager, at once? Will there be room enough in her life for life?

THOUGHTS: Late to the Party is a satisfying exploration of what it means for interests and relationships to grow as you get older, a reflection of an utterly relatable internal conflict.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Helwig, Dover Area SD

Cori’s summer before her senior year of high school starts just like every other summer for the last several years – a trip to the community pool with her two best friends, Maritza and JaKory, followed by movies in her basement. Cori wonders what it must be like to be one of those normal “wild teenagers” and if she and her socially awkward friends will ever actually act like teenagers before they graduate. She and JaKory haven’t even had their first kiss yet, and not being straight makes navigating dating even more tricky for this trio. When they pick up Cori’s younger brother from what looks like a date at the movie theater, the thought of him getting his first kiss before any of them is too pathetic to handle. To remedy this, Maritza and JaKory decide they should crash a party in their neighborhood. Cori, true to her predictably boring norm, decides not to join them. But when Maritza and JaKory get drunk and text her for a ride home, Cori begrudgingly shows up to rescue them. Little does she know, this sets a summer’s worth of events into action. Walking up to the house, Cori catches Ricky – host of the party and “normal” popular jock teenager – kissing a boy behind some bushes. Cori’s promise to Ricky not to tell anyone forges an unlikely friendship that introduces her to a whole new group of friends, “normal” teenager activities, and maybe, hopefully, her first kiss. Cori finally feels like a “normal” teenager… and Maritza and JaKory have no idea it’s happening because Cori never tells them.

THOUGHTS: This book has it all: family, friendship, and romance. Readers who identify with Cori’s shyness and insecurities will appreciate her honest, revealing, and authentic voice as she grapples with many internal struggles faced by both gay and straight teens. Speaking of authenticity, it would be difficult to explore typical “wild teenager” behavior without instances of alcohol and marijuana use. While this does occur in Late to the Party, the characters are not typically reckless about it. Cori is not out to her parents, but this is not a coming out story. It’s a story of emotional growing pains and self-discovery, but in a very non-cliche way. This is a must-have for the YA readers looking for LGBTQ+ books.

Realistic Fiction          Sarah Strouse, Nazareth Area SD

Elementary – Hello, Spring; Sheep Won’t Sleep; Soldier Song; The Quest for Z

Rotner, Shelley. Hello Spring. Holiday House, 2017. 9780823437528. $16.95. 32p. Gr. K-2.

This book welcomes the arrival of spring with plenty of photographs on every page spread. The story progresses through early spring’s melting snow, to late spring’s arrival of dogwood blossoms, and all the way to the first day of summer and garden vegetables sprouting. Certain words are in a larger type size throughout the book (mostly verbs, but not always) and there is a small glossary on the last page. THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a nice addition to your library. It is similar to other season picture books you probably already have, but the children in the photographs in this book are diverse.

Picture Book                   Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD



Cox, Judy. Sheep Won’t Sleep: Counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s. Holiday House, 2017. 978-0-8234-3701-6. Unpaged. $16.95. Gr. K-3.

No matter what she tries, Clarissa can’t sleep. Why not try the old standby, counting sheep? She counts 10 sheep and before she knows it they are hanging out in her bedroom! “Try pairs of alpacas,” advise the sheep, so Clarissa counts colorful pairs of alpacas in twos. When this still doesn’t work, she tries patterned llamas in fives and groups of yaks in tens who wear “…woolly coats of many colors…like a wardrobe of winter sweaters.” With a cast of characters crowding her room, Clarissa uses basic addition and subtraction skills to “unwind” for a night of sleep (she unravels the animals into a giant ball of colorful, patterned yard). What to do with a giant ball of colorful yarn? Why get out knitting needles of course! The last pages show Clarissa peacefully sleeping under a new brightly patterned quilt. Cox’s story and illustrator Nina Cuneo’s pen and digital ink illustrations create a fun, brightly colored math-themed bedtime read. THOUGHTS: Highly versatile–use in math class, at bedtime, or with any group of animal lovers.

Picture Book       Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District


Levy, Debbie. Soldier Song. Disney Press, 2017. 9781484725986. $18.99. 80p. Gr. 2-5.

The Battle of Fredericksburg involved the largest number of soldiers of any battle during the Civil War. It was also a low point for the Union Army since more than 12,000 young men were wounded or killed with another 5,300 being wounded or killed on the Confederate side. After the battle, the soldiers camped on either side of the Rappahannock River to wait out the winter months neither side wanting to give up land. Due to the geography of the area, sounds carried very well from one side of the river to the other, especially the music that both sides used as both a time telling device (like, Reveille and dinnertime) and for entertainment. The divided armies could hear each other songs and would taunt each other by volleying back and forth between different patriotic songs. One day someone started playing the song, “Home, Sweet Home” and both sides joined in. That song and its message of home so touched the young men that they cheered for over half-an-hour. One soldier said in a letter sent home that if the river didn’t separate the two armies they would have come together after that song and settled the war right then. This story includes primary source Civil War letter snippets and song lyrics, in addition to the further information in the back of the book about The Battle of Fredericksburg and the history of the song, “Home, Sweet Home.” THOUGHTS: I loved this book. Not only did I learn facts about the Battle at Fredericksburg, but I walked away feeling hopeful about people. This book is great not just as a positive message about coming together even though we have differing opinions, but also the power of music to bridge the gaps between us. This is a great addition to any library or music teacher’s classroom library. The book includes web links to listen to the songs mentioned in the book.

Historical Fiction          Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD


Pizzoli, Greg. The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon. Viking, 2017. 978-0-670-01653-2.  

Another nonfiction winner from the author/illustrator who brought us Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Greg Pizzoli amazes readers with the life of Percy Fawcett, daring Amazonian explorer and man of mystery. Fawcett was born into a British family of adventurers and took on his own explorations after a military career and training with the Royal Geographical Society in London. He explored in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru, charting then-unmapped territories and defining borders of r these nations. His South American travels met with many dangers, from aggressive anacondas to equally aggressive native groups, but Fawcett’s quick thinking and bravery usually won out and he completed several missions while making native allies along the way. It was from these people that he first heard of a legendary ancient city in the Amazon; Fawcett referred to the city as “Z” and imagined “…a paradise of grand temples and palaces carved from stone, hidden from modern man deep within the jungle.” In April 1925, Fawcett set off to find Z with only his son Jack, aged 21, Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimell, basic provisions, a few local guides, and the financial support of several newspapers to whom he sold his story which was carried in snippets by local runners. Fawcett and his party were never seen again. Since Fawcett’s fateful trip in 1925, over 100 people have set off on quests to find Fawcett, or perhaps even Z. None have discovered his fate and some have even disappeared themselves. Pizzoli used a variety of sources including newspaper articles from 1925 and several books that have been written about Fawcett. It’s worth noting that one of Pizzoli’s sources, David Grann’s 2005 “New Yorker” article, is fascinating and would make excellent continued reading for mature readers. Pizzoli’s unusual and enjoyable illustrations provide some comic relief throughout the text. Back matter includes an Author’s Note, information on other Fawcett hunters, a glossary, and selected sources. THOUGHTS: So much more than just a biography, this book will be enjoyed by any reader who likes a little adventure.

910.92                  Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin School District

Elementary NF – A New School Year; Thunder Underground

Derby, Sally. A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices. Charlesbridge, 2017. 9781-58089-730-3. $16.99. 48 p. Gr. K-3.

Six children, in grades K-5, anticipate the first day of school. Each child has unique concerns and fears for the coming school year, from insecurity to dealing with a male teacher (“Teachers at my school aren’t called Mr.”) to worrying about hearing aids and feeling racially isolated. Each child voices their fears, concerns, and experiences in bright, evocative poems. The story is divided into four snapshots: “The Night Before”, “In the Morning”, “At School”, and “After School”. Throughout the day, each child’s anxieties are allayed, resulting in positive experiences across the board. Illustrations by Mike Song add to the book. A diverse set of characters, both students and teachers, add to the impact of the volume.  THOUGHTS:  A perfect read-aloud for the beginning of school, or as an introduction to poetry.

Poetry       Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Yolen, Jane. Thunder Underground. Wordsong, 2017. 978-1-59078-936-0. 32pp. $17.95. Gr K-3.

This poetry collection encourages young readers to explore the world beneath their feet. From tunneling insects to speeding subways, there’s a whole hidden world below the ground. The poems broadly feature many different underground activities, such as basement treasure hunting, archaeological digging, and spelunking. Brightly colored spreads also feature burrowing moles, bubbling magma pools, and slowly expanding tree roots. There’s plenty to savor in this title’s rich mixed media illustrations, and the pictures extend many of the poems. Observant readers will enjoy spotting tiny ants, dinosaur bones, and buried treasure, and they will enjoy searching for the tiny mole and rabbit that accompany the main characters on many of their underground adventures.  THOUGHTS: Featuring more than 20 underground-themed poems, this poetry collection will pair well with nonfiction titles spotlighting underground creatures such as worms, prairie dogs, or ants. It can also supplement fiction titles as well, such as Denise Fleming’s Underground.

Poetry      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elementary series NF – Cool Refashioned; Global Community; Explorers


Kuskowski, Alex.  Cool Refashioned.  Mankato, MN: ABDO, 2016. 32p. $19.95 ea. Gr. 3-6.    

Scarves & Ties Fun & Easy Projects. 978-1-62403-703-0.

Sweaters Fun & Easy Fashion Projects. 978-1-62403-704-7.

This series introduces upper elementary through middle school age readers to the world of making.  It includes step by step directions to refashion items with brightly colored photographs, a glossary, index, table of contents and list of recommended tools and materials to make making easy.  THOUGHTS:  With so many libraries adding Makerspaces, this is a welcome addition.  Students are always in need of a book to help them with crafting.  This series is highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

646; Crafts     Anastasia Hanneken, School Lane Charter School



Learning About Our Global Community (series). New York: Crabtree, 2016. 24p. $17.95 ea. Gr K-3.

Barghoorn, Linda. Foods in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2009-6.

McNiven, Lauren & Crystal Sikkens. Birthdays in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2011-9.

McNiven, Lauren. Schools in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2013-3.

Morganelli, Adrianna. Clothing in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2010-2.

Morganelli, Adrianna. Transportation in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2014-0.

O’Brien, Cynthia. Homes in Different Places. 978-0-7787-2012-6.

This is a great basic introduction to communities around the world. Each book begins with a statement that we all share this earth but have similarities and differences in the connection to our daily life. From there, the topics are covered in a manner that is understandable to young readers with logical headings and progression. The text features for nonfiction are all present for instructional purposes. Perhaps the best part is the balance of general statements with specific examples mixed in, giving the needed range of lifestyles while still making it relatable.  THOUGHTS: This is a good series to use as a research tool for 2nd grade level readers. Also great discussions for communities with a large ELL population or those who may need the exposure to other worlds.

Cultures of the World; Series NF      Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District




Travel with the Great Explorers (series). New York: Crabtree, 2016. 32p. $14.99 ea. Gr 3-6.

Dalrymple, Lisa. Explore with Francisco Pizarro. 978-0-7787-1700-3.

Dalrymple, Lisa. Explore with James Cook. 978-0-7787-1701-0.

O’Brien, Cynthia. Explore with James Franklin. 978-0-7787-1703-4.

O’Brien, Cynthia. Explore with John Cabot. 978-0-7787-1702-7.

As the tagline on the back of the books claim, “Pack your bags- we’re going on an incredible trip!” Readers get to see a quick, engaging synapsis of each explorer from the 14 choices available. The outline of each book is the same, with identical chapter headings and format. The text is short and full of graphics, photos, and activities, reminding readers of the DK books mixed with the You Wouldn’t Want to Be series. The downfall of this format is the storyline of the explorer gets jumbled, but a timeline, glossary, and extra resource list at the back get interested researchers to keep on traveling. THOUGHTS: These go well as a set and could be a quick lesson review on text features for older elementary classes. Also a good example for readers of how to make research interesting and engaging for the reader.

History; Exploration    Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District

Picture Books – Ask Me; One Today; Toys Meet Snow; Oskar and the Eight Blessings


Waber, Bernard. Ask Me. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-54773394-4. unpaged. $16.99. Gr Pre-K – 1.

Question-asking is a huge developmental skill for a preschooler, and some kids are clearly more prolific and inquisitive than others! Ask Me is a gorgeous, sly, and sweet book published posthumously by Bernard Waber. On a daddy-daughter walk through the park, the little girl dominates both sides of the conversation, which seems to work fine for the patient and cordial father.  As they move into their bedtime routine, their conversation shows that she is settled, reassured, and loved. The autumnal, spirited color pencil illustrations by Suzy Lee bring the appropriate tone and setting to the story, and hopefully will leave your young reader ready to ask more questions.  THOUGHTS: Sweet addition for a read aloud or preschool, especially geared toward early inquiry, nature exploration, and dialogue. Worthy purchase!

Picture Book; Family     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District


Blanco, Richard. One Today. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 978-0-31637144-5. unpaged. $18.00. Grades K – 3.

Poetry has a gift for reaching an audience and finding commonalities and connections. Such is the gift that Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey have created in this gorgeous picture book edition of One Today, the inaugural poem from President Obama’s ceremony to begin his second term in office. The audience, for its initial delivery, was government leaders, but this version will reach even the youngest future leader with the journey of one family through one today. Pilkey’s acrylic and India ink illustrations blanket every page in vibrant colors, often reflecting the rays of sunlight blending the sky and city together. The two children, plus a cat, walk their mother to work at a market and then go about their day exploring, reading, learning, listening, and seeing what the city has in store. The words and pictures are perfectly complementary in both the obvious and subtle text at work, creating connections both intimate and broad. By the end of One Today, readers can appreciate the differences of our backgrounds, faith and family while understanding the bond and unity that comes with sharing the same sky and ground, sight and sound, color and light, day and night.  THOUGHTS: With it’s starred reviews, and certain awards to come, this book will be a great addition to your library. Classes could build discussion questions around community topics or discover other famous inaugural poems and poets as extensions.

Picture Book; Family      Dustin Brackbill State College Area School District




Jenkins, Emily. Toys Meet Snow. New York: Schwartz and Wade Books, 2015. 978-0-385 37330-2. 36 p. Grades K-3.

The characters from the Toys Go Out series are back in a picture book enhanced by Paul O. Zelinsky’s colored illustrations. The little girl is away, and the toys decide to head outside for their first snowfall. Two-page spreads told in panels voice each character’s thoughts; book-smart Plastic, curious Lumphy and poetic StingRay think out loud about the snowy day. They examine how their world looks different when they make snow angels, and Plastic even finds a sled. Plastic goes from voicing facts to truly appreciating the beauty of StingRay’s words as the day ends.  Thoughts: Fans of the Toys Go Out chapter books will welcome this beautiful colorful story about the three friends. Those new to the characters will appreciate its charm as well. A gorgeous read-aloud for all ages.

Picture Book; Winter      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School




Simon, Richard and Tonya Simon. Oskar and the Eight Blessings. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2015. 978-1-59643-949-8. 32 p. Grades 2-6.

The book begins on Kristallenacht, the Night of Broken Glass, during World War II. Sent alone to America to find an aunt he’s never met, Oskar finds himself in New York City on Christmas Eve, also the seventh night of Hanukkah. The story follows his travels up Broadway as he walks over one hundred blocks to find his aunt’s apartment. Along the way he discovers the kindness of strangers, the blessings his father told him to look for in people: a roll from a woman feeding the birds, a free copy of the Superman comic, and a pair of mittens from a boy in the park. He even encounters Eleanor Roosevelt, who, the author’s note informs us, really was in the city that day. The happy reunion of Oskar and his aunt feels like the biggest blessing among so many smaller but equally significant ones.  Thoughts: There is just enough information and subtlety about World War II to discuss with older students (or gloss over with younger ones to focus on the “miracle” part of the story instead). A good addition to a genre study on historical fiction or an older grade Hanukkah picture book collection With illustrations reminiscent of both Chris Van Allsburg and Brian Selznick, panels giving it a graphic novel feel at times, illustrator Mark Siegel enhances the story with realistic historical details.

Picture Book; Family     Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School