Elem. – Sprinkles and Swirls

Schaefer, Lola M. Sprinkles and Swirls. Little Simon, 2022. $17.99 ea. Unpaged. Grades PreK-1. 

A Cool Day at the Pool. 978-1-665-90332-5.
Oh, What a Show! 978-1-665-91795-7.

Adventurous best friends (and cupcakes) Sprinkles and Swirls have returned in two new graphic novels. In A Cool Day at the Pool, the pair enjoy a fun day out at the pool, where they enjoy swimming, floating in inner tubes and going down the water slide. After swimming, they relax on the beach towels in the sun, but their sweetness soon attracts some ants! They take a break and travel to the nearby Spray-Ground to enjoy the water there before returning to the pool to wrap up the day on the diving board. In Oh, What  a Show!, Swirls wants to sign up for the talent show, but Sprinkles protests she has no talent. Sprinkles tries out some of the talent the other participants are planning to do–gymnastics, juggling, and biking, but she is unable to master any of them. The pair decide to help the ants in building the talent show stage, but an accident with a hammer leaves Sprinkles bleeding (and the sight of blood makes Swirls a little woozy). Despite Swirls’ encouragement, Sprinkles just can’t seem to discover her talent, and she gets increasingly upset. Swirls needs some help in practicing for her dance routine, so Sprinkles agrees to help out…and she discovers her talent–dancing! They decide to team up and enter the contest, where they are a big hit!

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable series is a great way to introduce young readers to the concept of graphic novels. In fact, the book starts with a few panels in which Sprinkles and Swirls explain to readers how to read the graphic novel format. The panels and text are large and use simple text, ideal for young readers. Both books emphasize the importance of friendship, being a supportive friend, and working as a team. A worthwhile purchase for schools serving younger elementary students looking to add to their graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – The Not-So-Tiny Tales of Simon Seahorse (Series Fiction)

Reef, Cora. The Not-So-Tiny Tales of Simon Seahorse. Little Simon, 2021. $17.99 ea. 118 p. Grades K-3. 

Simon Says. 978-1-665-90368-4.
I Spy…a Shark! 978-1-665-90371-4.
Don’t Pop the Bubble Ball! 978-1-665-90374-5.

This new chapter book series for elementary readers features ocean dwelling protagonist Simon Seahorse. Simon lives with his family (Dad, Mom, and 11 brothers and sisters) near the ocean town of Coral Grove. When not attending Coral Grove Elementary, he enjoys hanging out with his best friend Olive Octopus, telling stories and going on adventures. In Simon Says, Simon takes one of his treasured possessions, a lucky pearl, with him to school for “sea and tell.” Naturally, being a storyteller, he enjoys embellishing the story of his pearl a bit when it’s his turn. After he arrives home from school, he realizes that the pearl has gone missing! Together with his friend Olive, and some help from Mr. Green, the turtle trolley, he goes on a journey to Shipwreck Station (aka the ocean’s lost and found) in the hopes of locating his pearl. In I Spy…a Shark!, Simon and his friends are afraid of sharks (they’re worried about being eaten). So, when Simon and Olive spy a shark while working on a school project in Coral Jungle, they are understandably frightened. But Zelda the shark doesn’t want to eat them; she is there to pick a bouquet of coral for her mother’s birthday. Simon and Olive help her choose the best coral for her bouquet and in return she invites them to Shark Point to attend her mother’s birthday party. As a result, they have another amazing story to tell their classmates. The text in each volume is accompanied by digital B&W illustrations on each page.

THOUGHTS: This early chapter series is sure to be popular with readers. Though Simon is a seahorse, many of the situations he finds himself in will be relatable to elementary students. After all, who hasn’t panicked when they think they have lost a treasured possession? Or realized that the preconceived ideas they had about someone were incorrect? 

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Farm Crimes! The Moo-sterious Disappearance of Cow

Dumais, Sandra. Farm Crimes! The Moo-sterious Disappearance of Cow. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47442-9. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades 1-3. 

It’s just an average day on the farm until the animals realize that Cow is missing in this delightful graphic novel. Based on limited evidence, the barnyard concludes that she has been kidnapped. There’s only one thing to do–summon neighborhood detective, the goat Inspector Billiam Van Hoof. Upon his arrival at the scene, Inspector Van Hoof begins to question the animals and search for clues. When he discovers flattened crops in the shape of a circle and witnesses who saw Cow in a shiny outfit the day before, Inspector Van Hoof decides that Cow was kidnapped by aliens! The rest of the barnyard is not so convinced–many have other theories of what may have transpired. When Cow eventually reappears, the real truth about her disappearance is revealed (spoiler alert: aliens were not involved). Observant readers will enjoy the comic illustrations, which are filled with various jokes and fun details. While this title is the second book in the Farm Crimes! series, it can be read as a standalone. 

THOUGHTS: Sure, Inspector Van Hoof may not be the the world’s best detective (despite the fact that he advertises himself as the “world’s #1 goat detective”), but the reader won’t care. They’ll be too busy laughing out loud as Van Hoof gets distracted while on his way to the barnyard and then once on the case, jumps to some pretty wild conclusions. This title will be a popular addition to elementary graphic novel collections.

Graphic Novel          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Word Travelers and the Taj Mahal Mystery

Haldar, Raj. Word Travelers and the Taj Mahal Mystery. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-22205-9. 128 p. $5.99. Grades 1-3. 

Best friends Eddie and Molly-Jean (MJ) enjoy spending their Saturdays together playing games, watching movies, and having sleepovers. One day, a discussion about the meaning of the word “pajamas’’ leads the pair to discover an old book on word origins compiled by Eddie’s great-grandfather, a famous etymologist. When they open the book (which they nickname the Awesome Enchanted Book) to the entry on “pajama” they are magically transported to India, the country where the word originated. There they meet Dev, who is searching for an ancient family treasure in order to rebuild the local school, which was destroyed in a recent typhoon. Eddie and MJ team up with Dev to find the treasure. But they have competition–Mr. Raffles, the villain of the story, is also on the hunt for the riches! Working together, they decipher clues (with the help of the Awesome Enchanted Book, of course), race across the city, explore hidden passageways, and try to outsmart Mr. Raffles–but will they locate the treasure? Readers will learn about Indian culture as well as many words originating in the country. Bold words in the text can be found in a words origins glossary. The first volume in a projected series, readers will look forward to Eddie and MJ’s next adventure.

THOUGHTS: While readers may be drawn in by the mystery/adventure elements of the plot, they also will enjoy learning about the field of etymology and the origins and history of many words we use in everyday life. This series would be an ideal suggestion for fans of The Magic Treehouse books. Recommended.

Mystery          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – A Fun Day at the Fun Park

Schaefer, Lola M. A Fun Day at the Fun Park. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-6659-0329-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

A Fun Day at the Fun Park is the first book in the Sprinkles and Swirls graphic novel series designed for early readers. The protagonists of the series, Sprinkles and Swirls, are two adventure loving cupcakes. In this first volume, they escape the bakery to enjoy a day at the amusement park! At the park they enjoy activities such as riding the bumper cars, a flight simulator, a zip line, and go-karts. At the conclusion of their excursion, they touch up their wind-blown hair (aka frosting/toppings) with some spare frosting and sprinkles that Sprinkles carries in her handy fanny pack, and they return to the bakery just prior to closing. They fall asleep with dreams of their next adventure swirling through their heads. 

THOUGHTS: This enjoyable read is a great way to introduce young readers to the concept of graphic novels. In fact, the book starts with a few panels in which Sprinkles and Swirls explain to readers how to read the graphic novel format. The panels and text are large and use simple text, ideal for young readers. A worthwhile purchase for schools serving younger elementary students. 

Graphic Novel            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch

Virjan, Emma J. Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-534-49571-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

When three yellow birds land on a ship, they soon learn that it is a pirate ship captained by a cat in this short story told in rhyming verse. Two of the birds fly into the cabin with the cat. When the third bird looks in through a window, he sees the cat getting ready to cook lunch while the two birds sit and watch. Could his friends be on the menu? Worried, the third bird recruits a whale to help him rescue his friends. An end of story twist reveals that the bird has made some incorrect assumptions and misunderstood the cat’s intentions. Ultimately, a new friendship is formed between all the animals. 

THOUGHTS: This delightful story is an excellent choice for beginning readers and would also be a good selection for shared reading or read alouds. Though the story is short and the text simple, the author is able to incorporate a lesson about friendship that readers (and educators) will appreciate.

Picture Book                 Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King & Kayla and the Case of the Gold Ring. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-68263-208-6. 47 p. $6.99. Grades K-2. 

The King & Kayla mystery/detective series for young readers is back with another enjoyable installment. As the story opens, narrator King (a dog) and Kayla (his human) are playing outside in the snow when they are joined by some friends. Kayla’s friend Asia shows the group the special ring she is wearing that used to belong to her grandmother. After they finish playing, the group goes inside Kayla’s house, where they dry off, eat a snack, and settle down to watch some television. Suddenly Asia realizes her ring is missing! Working together the youngsters (and King) embark on a search for the ring. In order to solve the mystery, they must employ skills including teamwork, gathering facts, and analyzing clues. The text is accompanied by numerous pencil and digital illustrations by Nancy Myers.

THOUGHTS: This delightful early chapter book will hold great appeal for readers. It serves as an excellent gateway to mystery/detective stories and could also be used in lessons about problem solving. The book also incorporates humor through the character of King, who can be somewhat excitable and is always ready to enjoy a snack. Recommended.

Early Chapter Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Hotel Flamingo

Milway, Alex. Hotel Flamingo. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64126-0. 192 p. $5.99. Grades 1-3. 

Anna has her work cut out for her when she inherits the Hotel Flamingo from her great-aunt Mathilde. The once successful hotel is now a former shell of itself, run-down with only a few employees. Anna is determined to bring the hotel back to life and make it the best hotel on Animal Boulevard. Though Anna is a young girl, the rest of the characters populating this charming book are animals! Anna soon has a complete staff helping her to get the hotel up and running including T. Bear the doorman, Madame Le Pig (chef), Stella Giraffe (handywoman) and Squeak the mouse (bellboy), among others. Their goal–to make Hotel Flamingo the sunniest and most welcoming hotel in the area. Soon, a variety of guests arrive, including a family of cockroaches, a tortoise, and even flamingoes. Anna soon realizes that running a successful hotel catering to a menagerie of guests will require staff teamwork, creative thinking and a can-do spirit. Will Hotel Flamingo succeed?

THOUGHTS: This charming story is perfect for beginning chapter book readers who will no doubt appreciate both the heart and humor present throughout the plot. As the hotel staff work to restore Hotel Flamingo, characteristics such as teamwork, cooperation, and ingenuity are woven into the storyline. What really elevates this title is the inclusion of illustrations (drawn by the author) that help to bring the animals and their unique characteristics to life. Hotel Flamingo is the first volume in a four volume series–I can’t wait to read more about these characters!

Fantasy (Animal)            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – How to Be a Girl in the World

Carter, Caela. How to Be a Girl in the World. Harper Collins Childrens, 2020. 294 p. $16.99 978-0-062-67270-4 Grades 5-8.

Lydia has spent the entire summer in pants, long sleeves, and turtlenecks, despite the heat, despite her single mom’s concerned comments, and despite friends’ odd looks. Lydia knows she’s not normal, and she doesn’t want to talk about it. Lydia, her biracial cousin Emma, and Lydia’s mom are proudly moving from an apartment to a dilapidated house of their own. Living in the house will require a huge amount of work (it’s chock full of dusty furniture left behind), but Lydia sees in it a chance to be safe. She would love to escape the nicknames, looks and comments of the boys at her private school. She shivers at men’s glances on the subway, or sitting too close. She feels extremely uncomfortable with her mom’s boyfriend Jeremy, whose hugs are just a little too long or too tight, and who assumes a greater friendliness with Lydia and Emma than Lydia would like. But no one else seems to notice any problem, so Lydia knows it’s her. She’s not normal, and if she can’t fix it, at least she can hide herself. Then maybe she’ll feel protected. In the new house, she finds a room full of herbs in jars and a book of spells. It’s exactly what she needs and even allows her to re-forge a connection with the best friend she’s ignored for the summer. They both try the spells, but the boys’ behavior and Jeremy’s behavior only becomes more troublesome, and an outburst from Lydia results in her being suspended from school. Lydia finally confides in her mother about the boys’ treatment of her, and her mother swiftly comes to her aid. When Lydia next explains Jeremy’s actions, her mother is devastated but resolute that Jeremy will never set foot in their house again. To Lydia, the revelatory message that she alone makes “the rules” concerning her body is freeing, and the new understanding and openness with those around her helps her to learn to own those rules.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful, “ordinary” story that every middle school girl would benefit from reading. It’s for every girl who’s ever been told, “it’s no big deal,” “you’re such a baby,” “that’s part of being a girl,” etc. And it’s for every boy who’s ever been told, “she likes it,” “you’re just being a boy,” or “looking doesn’t hurt.”  Pair with Barbara Dee’s Maybe He Just Likes You.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot

Key, Watt. Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020. 215 p. $16.99 978-0-374-31369-2 Grades 5-8. 

Adam survives the car crash that apparently killed his parents–at least, they have disappeared. When questioned by police, he speaks bewilderedly but honestly of what he saw in the wooded road near the Suwanee River: not a person or a bear, but something bigger than a bear, covered in hair, with a human face and huge black eyes. When the local paper runs a story about the accident including a “Sasquatch-like creature,” Adam regrets saying anything. The questions and the disbelief become overwhelming, especially from his Uncle John, who takes him in while the search for his parents continues. Adam can’t forget the creature, and due to disrupted sleep and nightmares, he begins searching online for information. He learns of a local Sasquatch appearance nearly 30 years ago, and sets out to question the man who reported it. He finds the near-hermit “Stanley” who reluctantly, then completely, tells Adam all he knows about the creatures, with a strong warning that the search for answers destroys your life. Adam decides he needs answers, and sets off on his own with some basic supplies.  What follows is a hard-core survival story wherein Adam becomes so attuned to the forest and animals that he lives as one of them, soon close to starving. Then he sees one of the creatures, then more. The scenes with the creatures shift from past tense to present tense, adding to the sense of unreality. Adam has found what he came for, but can he survive, can he find his parents, and can he get proof of the creatures’ existence?

THOUGHTS: With a likeable narrator, reasonable length (215 pages), and an attractive cover (see the creature in the trees?), Key has written a suspenseful survival story that will attract middle school readers curious about Bigfoot. Key includes helpful explanatory information about Sasquatch sightings.

Fantasy, Paranormal Fiction        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD