Elem. – My City Speaks

Lebeuf, Darren. My City Speaks. Illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30414-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

A young girl takes readers through a day of exploring her city the way she experiences it – through sound. Though readers may not notice the narrator’s visual impairments, the intricate illustrations – a combination of cut-paper collage, watercolor, acrylic, and pencil crayon, with some digital assembly – show her using a white cane and yellow tactile paving at a crosswalk. Sounds from the city help highlight things one may not notice with so many beautiful sights – “hasty honks, impatient beeps, distant chimes, reliable rumbles, speedy sirens and urgent clangs.” A fun pre-reading activity would be to ask students to close their eyes and identify sounds they hear then compare what they hear with what they see.

THOUGHTS: This title is an opportunity to discuss diverse abilities and show children how similar people’s experiences may be, regardless of ability. Highly recommended for picture book collections, especially those seeking representation.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton 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

MG – The Genius Under the Table

Yelchin, Eugene. The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21552-6. $16.99. 201 p. Grades 5-8.

Eugene (Yvevgeny) Yelchin lives in the USSR during the height of Cold War communism, and all he wants to do is find his own “artistic talent,” usually of an athletic nature, so that he can live a better life.  In the USSR, most people are poor, but people with artistic talent are more valuable to the country, and they often enjoy more comfortable living conditions and greater opportunities to work and travel. Yelchin’s parents try everything to discover his athletic talent, but they eventually discover that he is a gifted artist. While Yelchin pursues his dream of becoming a talented member of Communist society, he begins to understand a more complicated truth; in the USSR it is not easy to play by the rules of Communism and also live an authentic life.

THOUGHTS: This brief memoir is easy to read, and the illustrations that accompany the text are a delightful addition to the story.  Harder truths about life in Soviet Russia, and the tragic impacts of dictators like Stalin and Lenin, are gently introduced in a way that will encourage students to seek out further information. The book ends on a hopeful note that mirrors the path of the author’s own life. Recommended addition for any middle school biography section!

Memoir          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

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

Elem. – Watercress

Wang, Andrea. Watercress. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-446247 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Watercress is a quiet yet profoundly moving picture book by the award-winning duo, Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. A young girl, traveling with her immigrant parents in rural America, is confused when her parents stop abruptly to collect wild watercress growing on the side of the road. Then a pair of rusty scissors and a brown paper bag are found in the depth of their old Pontiac trunk. The young Chinese girl and her brother have no choice but to roll up their jeans and follow their parents into the mud to gather the watercress. Later that evening, the dinner table holds a dish of watercress soaked in garlicky oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, peppered with unanswered questions and confusion. At first, the little girl is angry and even embarrassed. Why didn’t her family get food from the store? But when her mother shares a story about her family and heritage in China, the girl learns to appreciate the incredible journey her family endured many years before. The beautiful watercolors and poetic text are about the power of memories, even the ones that are so difficult to share.

THOUGHTS: It is common for children to be unaware of their parent’s stories and culture. But it is also imperative to understand how we have arrived at this very moment. Watercress is a beautiful nod towards healthy communication between generations and an exploration into forgiveness and empathy. It is explained in the author’s note that this semi-autobiographical story is both a love letter and an apology letter to her parents- with an emphasis on how essential it is to share our stories.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD