Elem. – What is Love?

Barnett, Mac. What is Love? Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-17640-6. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

When a young person asks their grandmother, “What is love?” she simply responds that she cannot answer that question. The narrator (the young man) must go out into the world to find the answer. The young man encounters a fisherman, an actor, a cat, a carpenter, a farmer, and a soldier just to name a few, and asks the very same question to each of them. They all answer individually, but their responses do not quite satisfy the young man. In the end, the narrator is frustrated and exhausted and heads home from his journey where he finds his grandmother. It is only then that he discovers the answer to his hard asked question. Written as a fable but reads like meditation, What is Love? by Mac Barnett is a gentle and rhythmic tale that is clever and insightful. Made for a read-aloud experience, the beautifully illustrated picture book (by Carson Ellis) will raise questions and spark conversations. The tale becomes personal, and the lesson could be interpreted in multiple ways. 

THOUGHTS: Written as a fable, this picture book is a great story filled with figurative language and metaphors. Definitely a book for upper elementary or even middle school readers, understanding the text is a journey and would most likely spark many interpretations and heavy conversations. Or maybe, the lesson in this tale is quite simple. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Adventures with My Daddies

Peter, Gareth. Adventures with My Daddies. Illustrated by Garry Parsons. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63281-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-3.

An unnamed child shares why her daddies are amazing in this sweet picture book. When they read stories together “exciting journeys start” – battling dragons, hunting dinosaurs, and exploring the moon and secret islands are just some of their fun adventures. But their favorite story is their adoption story which brought them together. The narrator talks about different types of families: “Some children have two mommies, and some a mom and a dad.” before explaining why she’s “SO glad” her “SUPER daddies” chose her. Even if they’re “not the best at everything” she knows “they’re always there.” A diverse cast of characters are featured by beautiful acrylic and pencil illustrations in this sweet, rhyming picture book.

THOUGHTS: This beautiful story will show children that all families have unique characteristics. Highly recommended for elementary schools looking to add family stories and LGBTQ representation to their picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library

Yolen, Jane. The Leather Apron Club: Benjamin Franklin, His Son Billy and America’s First Circulating Library. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged.  978-1-580-89719-8. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

This latest offering by Jane Yolen is a picture book biography of Ben Franklin’s oldest child, William. Told in first person by Billy, the story explores his days as an eight year old apprentice, helping his father in their print shop. Although he enjoys the work, Billy would rather be outside playing with his cousin James. Ben has enough of his son’s wild ways and hires a tutor to provide instruction to both boys. At first, they find their schooling boring, until the day the teacher begins reading Homer’s The Odyssey.  Unlike James, William is captivated by the tale and wants to hear more. Soon he begins reading the epic on his own. His father tells his son that there are many other wonderful books like this at the Leather Apron Club. The pair visit the circulating library, the first of its kind, and Billy is amazed at the number of books and their brightly colored covers. Soon he meets other members of the club and participates in discussions with them about politics, history, finance, among other topics. The young Master Franklin observes that “…Books…opened up Worlds once closed to me…” and he vows to “Do More.” to do good in the world. The text is written according to the capitalization rules of the 18th century, meaning that even most common names begin with a capital.  Sprinkled throughout the story are fitting quotations from Poor Richard’s Almanac. Wendell Minor’s watercolor illustrations are done on a large scale and bring the story to life. The back matter contains an author’s note with more information about William’s adult life, the Leather Apron Club, and Franklin’s almanac. Yolen states that she got the idea for this book after hearing a speaker discuss the Leather Apron Club and its lending library at the White House. 

THOUGHTS: Children will enjoy listening to this story of a famous American’s son, although they may be surprised to learn which side he supported during the American Revolution. It works in social studies units as an introduction to Colonial America and will be appreciated by history buffs. Yolen’s picture book is a tribute to the power of libraries and books and is a worthwhile purchase for all elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
973.30922  Personal Narratives–American Revolution

Elem./MG – Across the Pond

McCullough, Joy.  Across the Pond. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021.  978-5344-7121-4. 276 p. Grades 4-6. $17.99.

Twelve year old Calliope is excited to move from sunny San Diego to not so sunny Scotland. Her parents inherited a castle from Lady Whittington-Spence, who knew her parents as students. Callie sees this move as an opportunity to have a fresh start, after dealing with friend issues back home. Sid, a girl her age living on the estate with her grandfather, the caretaker, does not seem interested in becoming friends. Callie’s parents insist that she join a club where she can socialize with others her age. So Callie joins a birdwatching (“twitching”) club, but is kicked out when she disagrees with the adult leader. Sid and Callie become tentative friends and go bird watching together. During a twitching competition on the estate, alarming events help both girls realize how to be a true friend while staying true to themselves. The author uses flashback to tell the parallel story of Lady Whittington-Spence as a young war evacuee. Her letters disclose the same feelings of loneliness and interest in birdwatching as Callie. Another flashback toward the end reveals the peer pressure incident in San Diego that shattered Callie’s self-esteem. The unique setting, based on McCullough’s own experience, takes this narrative of young adolescent struggles to a different level. As the book comes to an end, the author has one more surprise to share.

THOUGHTS: Although the story gets off to a slow start, readers who stick with it will be rewarded. Preteen and young teenagers will be able to relate to the issues of facing peer pressure and developing friendships.  An excellent choice for elementary and middle school collections.

Realistic Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem – The Welcome Chair

Wells, Rosemary. The Welcome Chair. Simon & Schuster, 2021.  Unpaged. 978-1-5344-2977-2. $17.99.  Grades 1-4.

Drawing on her own family history, Wells has created a heartwarming story about immigration to the United States. The first half of the book recounts the experiences of her relatives, beginning with her great-great-grandfather, who emigrated from Germany in 1807. Seeking freedom in his choice of livelihood and religious practice, the young man became a carpenter’s apprentice in New York. He made a wooden rocking chair for the shop owner with whom he lived and carved the German word for welcome on it-“Willkommen.” This chair becomes the vehicle that Wells uses to continue the narrative of other settlers, such as the Irish maid escaping famine, two nuns from the Dominican Republic escaping persecution and Syrian refugees fleeing from war. Over time, as the chair passes to a new owner-immigrant, the word “welcome” is carved on the chair in the family’s native language. In what is likely one of his last works, Jerry Pinkey uses his favorite medium, watercolors, to create soft, Impressionistic drawings. The Caldecott winner describes his art in the back matter and includes a thumbnail sketch from his storyboard. In fact, the endpapers show a number of them, some of which are not found in the final copy. Wells provides additional information about her family complete with her ancestor’s photo. The author’s message is that America should continue its tradition of welcoming immigrants.

THOUGHTS: This is a must-have for elementary collections. It works well as a read aloud and will promote discussion about immigration both in the past and today.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women

Clark-Robinson, Monica. Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women. Illustrated by Laura Freeman. Orchard Press, 2021. 978-1-338-35800-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is an oft used term for referencing those who came before us in a given area. In this nod to female path-makers, Monica Clark-Robinson guides a young black girl and shows her some of the great leaders and trailblazers through history who helped bridge her current opportunities. As she walks through a portrait gallery, she sees some expected women figures such as Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sacajawea, as well as modern heroes like Megan Rapinoe and Serena Williams, and less familiar names including Harriet Chalmers Adams and Nellie Bly. Through the poetic couplets, the young learner hears how important it is to recognize those giants before us in many fields and fighting for equal rights, but also to leave our mark for the next generation. Featuring mostly black and people of color through the illustrations by Laura Freeman, there are a few short notes about each historical figure at the endnotes. The message is clear to walk among the heroines and lead the way for others to stand on your shoulders next.

THOUGHTS: An inspirational, though not always obvious, celebration of female trailblazers. Those readers most familiar with the illustrated people will appreciate the themes for each path, but those wanting to know more about the heroines will need to research further. Nevertheless, the picture book is a beautiful touchpoint introduction or kick-off for Women’s History Month.

Picture Book        Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem./MG – Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna

Dobbs, Alda P. Barefoot Creams of Petra Luna. Sourcebooks Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-728-23465-6. $17.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

Set in 1913 during the time of the Mexican Revolution, twelve-year-old Petra’s father is captured by soldiers. She promises him that she will help take care of her grandmother and two younger siblings. When it is no longer safe for them to stay in their village, they decide to flee north through the Mexican desert to safety, and America. Petra’s dreams of finding a safe haven for her family and learning to read burn within her. Her dreams persist through her abuelita’s negative talk of Petra’s “barefoot dreams” of freedom and education. Petra’s persistence keeps her family going and leads them to safety and realized dreams in America. This is based on a true story and includes a timeline of the Mexican Revolution.

THOUGHTS: I read this story after reading the “grown up” book American Dirt. Even though that story is set in present day, Barefoot Dreams would be an excellent companion read for upper elementary students who are looking for a story about immigration and the reasons behind why people leave their war torn countries.  

Historical Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Nina Soni: Master of the Garden

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni: Master of the Garden.  Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63226-0. $7.99. 179 p. Grades 2-4.

Fourth grader Nina is very excited to finally get a warm and sunny Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day in frigid Wisconsin.  This means she and her sister and friend will get to plant a garden with her Landscape Architect mom! Nina has dreams of starting her own business with all of the extra produce their garden will grow. But gardens take time to grow, and a lot of work as well.  Throughout this illustrated novel, challenging words are defined to help promote unfamiliar vocabulary words.

THOUGHTS: Kids who enjoy outdoor activities and gardening will enjoy this read.

Realistic Fiction           Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja

Do, Anh. Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja!  Scholastic, 2021. 978-1-338-58523-0. $6.99. 192 p. Grades 2-5.

This illustrated novel for younger readers tells the story of Nelson, a nerd from Duck Creek. Nelson wakes up on his tenth birthday and discovers that he’s a ninja! The last ninja on earth! With the help of his grandmother’s inventions, Nelson finds a way to save the day from giant hairy spiders invading his town. He even learns of family secrets about his father’s ninja past and disappearance. This is the first book in a new series.

THOUGHTS: This illustrated novel is action packed and will appeal to reluctant readers. The humor and common theme of not fitting in will resonate.

Early Chapter Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School

Elem. – Our Table

Reynolds, Peter H. Our Table. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-57232-2. $17.99. 48 p. Grades Pre K-3.

This sweet story is about a young girl who notices that her family is spending less time together, being pulled in various directions and being lured away from each other by technology. The dining room table represents the family being pulled apart by slowly shrinking, and eventually disappearing all together. So the little girl uses technology to bring her family together, by building a new table as a family.

THOUGHTS: Peter H. Reynolds never disappoints. This sweet story is a reminder of what is truly important.

Picture Book         Krista Fitzpatrick, Wissahickon Charter School