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. – 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. – Ravi’s Roar

Percival, Tom. Ravi’s Roar. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60300-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Ravi is having a bad day. Nothing is going his way! There are no seats for him on the bus, he’s too short to reach the monkey bars, and he’s too small to go on the big slide. The final straw is when the ice cream vendor runs out of ice cream, and Ravi doesn’t get any. This prompts him to lose his temper; he turns into a tiger and lets out a huge roar. He stomps around the playground roaring at others and doing whatever he wants. He soon finds, however, that his actions are only making matters worse, as no one wants to play with him. Ultimately, he apologizes and makes amends. A very relatable story about losing one’s temper, this book conveys some important messages about working through one’s feelings.

THOUGHTS: This book would make an excellent resource for anyone who teaches young children about feelings, coping mechanisms and emotional health. It is the perfect segue into a discussion about healthy methods of dealing with anger. An author’s note at the end of the book even provides questions to ask when one is mad. As an added bonus, there is a degree of diversity in this book, as the main character and his family are dark-skinned, and the only parent present in the story is the father. This is definitely a solid purchase for any collection serving young children.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The World Needs More Purple People

Bell, Kristen & Hart, Benjamin. The World Needs More Purple People. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-593-12196-2. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

You can hear Kristen Bell’s voice on every page in this adorable story about the importance of being an everyday hero. The moral of the story is to work hard, bring the community together, and use your voice. This book does not offer answers to some of the world’s toughest current issues, but it does offer a primer in recognizing that the world isn’t perfect and it’s hard to be angry if you’re laughing.

THOUGHTS: Although the book isn’t explicitly political, I do wonder if purple comes from combining red and blue (political party colors). A quick, silly read that can keep the attention of the youngest readers.

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Can I Play Too?

Cotterill, Samantha. Can I Play Too? Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-525-55346-5. $14.81. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

Two young boys build a train track, but things start to sour when one friend’s vision of a perfect train setup doesn’t include his pal’s opinions or choices. A scuffle ensues, and both friends are upset and frustrated. A helpful grown-up steps in and uses a train-themed picture book to explain, “Friends have traffic signals too.” Thoughtful discussion and role-playing help the boys learn about flexibility and social cues, and a second try at playing trains goes much smoother. Created by an author/illustrator on the spectrum, “Can I Play Too?” is part of Samantha Cotterill’s “Little Senses” series. The dust jacket says, “…Samantha wanted to make books that would allow kids to recognize themselves in a playful, fun, yet therapeutic way.” Each title in the series explores a topic that might be relatable for kids on the autism spectrum or kids with sensory issues, although “Can I Play Too?” works well on a social-emotional curriculum too.  

THOUGHTS: Pencil and ink illustrations using traffic light colors support the theme of traffic signals used by trains and friends. An excellent series for all young kids.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman

Wish, Katia. Raccoon’s Perfect Snowman. Sleeping Bear Press, 2020. 978-1-534-11067-0. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

Raccoon loves building snowmen, and he takes the job very seriously. He sketches his designs in the snow before building, and all winter long he practices. He uses only the cleanest, whitest snow, the roundest, most symmetrical snowballs, and the finest decorations. Raccoon becomes such an expert snowman builder that he knows his friends will want his help and advice. But, when they start building together, Raccoon’s friends have a challenging time because Raccoon uses all the best supplies himself. When the building is complete, Raccoon admires his most perfect snowman yet. Only after seeing his friends’ creations – a mish-mash of lumpy snowballs formed from pine needle-speckled snow – does he realize that while his snowman is perfect, he feels perfectly awful. Raccoon calls his friends together to build one final snowman. They let loose, working together and having fun while creating a gigantic perfectly imperfect snowman. Wish’s wintery watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the text, expanding this story of simple snowy day fun.

THOUGHTS: When Raccoon lets go of his perfectionistic ideals, he realizes how much fun it can be to work as part of a team. He demonstrates empathy and self-awareness when he realizes how his friends feel about their creations and how he made them feel when he used all the best supplies. This story will work well for wintery Morning Meetings or social-emotional lessons about friendship, feelings, and perfectionism.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – Lila and Hadley

Keplinger, Kody. Lila and Hadley. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-30609-5. 256. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

Hadley has a right to be angry. Her mom is going to jail for stealing money from her boss, so Hadley has to live with the sister she hasn’t seen in three years. To make matters worse, her vision is failing due to retinitis pigmentosa, a condition meaning she will eventually become legally blind. Depressed and angry that her life is spinning out of control, Hadley reluctantly visits the animal rescue where her sister works. Despite not being a “dog-person,” she is surprised when Lila the pitbull takes a liking to her. Since she has no other plans during summer break, Hadley begrudgingly agrees to help foster and train the dog. While Hadley helps Lila, the dog also helps her with mobility training, lessons Hadley takes to learn how to use a cane, and meet a new friend. Together, the pair slowly become comfortable enough for Lila to find her forever home and Hadley to forgive her family for their faults and accept the help and love she needs.

THOUGHTS: A cute but predictable novel that young middle grade students will enjoy, especially animal lovers. The narrator’s casual language and the easy ending may be off putting to some readers, but the book will be a good addition to an upper elementary or middle grade collection needing diverse stories.

Realistic Fiction          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Sunny

Krampien, Celia. Sunny. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-250-31660-8. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Attitude is everything, and your outlook can make even the dreariest of circumstances appear in a different light. When it’s raining outside and everyone else’s spirits are down, Sunny believes it’s the perfect day to use her big yellow umbrella. She splashes happily to school until a gust of wind lifts her up and carries her above her seaside town and out over the ocean. Most people would agree blowing over an ocean during a storm is terrible, but Sunny enjoys watching the tumbling waves. The story progresses in this vein, with Sunny looking on the bright side of every obstacle she encounters, and ultimately relying on the help of some new friends to get her back where she needs to be. Bold illustrations, featuring a palette of primarily teal and yellow, are perfectly in sync with the nautical vibe of the story.

THOUGHTS: This book will be a natural fit for morning meetings focusing on the benefits of a positive outlook, and it will also prompt discussions about what to do and what you can control when a situation is looking bleak.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Tags: Emotions and Feelings. Optimism. Weather fiction.