Elem. – A Person Can Be…

Kokias, Kerri. A Person Can Be... Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30487-3. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.

Human beings are complicated. It is entirely possible to be more than one thing – in fact, it is possible for one person to embody opposite attributes. The opening pages of this sweet picture book show a neighborhood street. Simply drawn houses and yards are full of children and adults. As we look closer and peek into each home or backyard, we see that each person depicted is full of contradictions. A mother might think that feeding the family dog under the table is naught, but the dog thinks this act is kind. A young girl feeding a pet cat is careful while filling the bowl, but clumsy when she knocks over the entire bag of cat food. A boy with a huge bunch of balloons is lucky, and yet unlucky when one balloon escapes. It is possible to be loved and yet feel lonely; trying something new is exciting, yet can make you feel nervous. Delightful illustrations by Carey Sookocheff clearly focus on facial expressions to indicate each character’s feelings, despite what the bigger picture portrays.

THOUGHTS: A Person Can Be… cleverly shows young readers that no one is solely one thing or another. We all are complex and even contradictory at times. Young children often grapple with understanding this concept. This book provides concrete examples of how simple, everyday activities, behaviors, and emotions can be at times contradictory. A great read aloud with plenty to discuss.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Love Birds

Yolen, Jane. Love Birds. Cameron Kids, 2022. 978-1-951-83640-5. $17.99. 32 p. Grades K-3.

Jane Yolen’s newest picture book tells the story of a shy and quiet boy named Jon. Jon and his mother recently have moved to a new town. While his mother makes friends easily and eagerly chats with new neighbors, Jon is quiet. As he walks through his new neighborhood, Jon hears the sounds of children at play, and adults doing yard work. Jon listens to everything, but he loves listening to birds. He can identify dozens of different birds by their calls. Jon especially loves owls. On an evening walk through the woods Jon hears the call of a barred owl. Jon eagerly calls back, moving closer and closer to the owl’s song. When Jon discovers the beautiful bird call is made by a girl named Janet, he suddenly isn’t shy, and he is no longer quiet. Janet is a kindred spirit, a bird lover, and a listener. Janet and Jon become the best of friends, birding together as their friendship spans over years and turns to love.

THOUGHTS: A gentle affirmation for quiet children with unique interests. Sometimes the best friends are the best listeners. Yolen’s end-notes indicate Love Birds is meant to be a companion to her Caldecott Award winning book Owl Moon. Gorgeous illustrations by Anna Wilson depict each bird in great detail. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – A Friend for Ghost

Kaufman, Suzanne. A Friend for Ghost. Neal Porter Books, 2022. 978-0-823-44852-4. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.

Ghost lives in the attic above a family. No one pays much attention to Ghost, until one day a helium balloon drifts by. Convinced this is the friend Ghost has been waiting for, Ghost decorates the red balloon with a face, creating a new friend. Ghost and the balloon are inseparable and share everything. When Ghost lets go of the balloon’s string in a game of hide and seek gone awry, Ghost fears his new friend is lost forever. Devastated, Ghost desperately looks everywhere for the red balloon. Dejected and sad, Ghost sits on a park bench, where he is approached by a bow-tie sporting ghost holding a red balloon. The two ghosts become instant friends and share their red balloon. 

THOUGHTS: This simple text is turned into a beautiful story through Kaufman’s delightful and emotionally engaging pictures. Sketched on top of watercolor backgrounds, the illustrations show the emotional journey of Ghost from longing, to celebrating, to grieving, to hopeful. This book will inspire discussions about friendship and feelings. A wonderful, not-scary, Ghost story.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – When Winter Robeson Came

Woods, Brenda. When Winter Robeson Came. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-524-74158-7. $16.99. 176 p. Grades 4-7.

The Coal family from 103rd Street, just west of Figueroa, not too far from Watts, is expecting a special visitor, Winter Robeson from their old hometown, Sunflower, Mississippi. The most excited person is aspiring composer, Eden Louise Coal, who hasn’t seen her country cousin since the move to the great metropolis of Los Angeles two years ago. An affable Winter has come with an agenda and a plan: on his list is visiting the happiest place on earth, Disneyland; but his priority is finding his long-lost father, J.T. who has been gone for ten years. Eden joins him in his search, and together they spend two weeks of the summer of 1965 getting closer together and closer to the truth of Winter’s father’s disappearance. As they try to trace J.T.’s whereabouts, they dance to the vinyl records with the neighborhood kids; win the hearts of the gracious friend, Winona; and meet Miss Betty West, owner of a Steinway baby grand piano. Told in verse and narrated by Eden, When Winter Robeson Came is an uplifting story of a family reunited and a close knit community surviving on the edges of the violent Watts riots and police brutality. Eden and Winter bond in genuine friendship and concern to make each others’ lives a bit brighter. That magnanimity extends to their neighbors and even virtual strangers when the need arises. The pair offer aid to the elderly, respect their parents, and kindly tolerate even friends with irritating habits. This brief, positive book offers a comforting tale against the backdrop of a tragic historical event.

THOUGHTS: This easy to read book fits lower middle grades best with its emphasis on family and its optimistic outcomes, despite the setting of the Watts riots. Perceptive students will pick up on the discrimination and racism toward people in neighborhoods in and around Watts. However, the children in this novel are nurtured and joyful. They make connections with older people and keep focused on an important task even if it puts them in danger. Pair this book with Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This to compare and contrast the same historical event.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem./MG – Your Pal Fred

Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.

Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war? 

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.  

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem. – That’s Not My Name

Syed, Anoosha. That’s Not My Name. Viking, 2022. 978-0-593-40517-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In That’s Not My Name readers meet Mirha who is extremely excited for her first day of school, but it doesn’t turn out the way that she thought it would. No one can pronounce her name, and she is too shy and unsure to correct anyone. Mirha thinks maybe she should change her name into something that everyone can pronounce, and she goes home and tells her mom that she wants to do just that. Her mother teaches Mirha where her name comes from and tells her that she should be proud of her name, and Mirha decides that she will correct everyone at school the next day. Mirha ends up making a new friend, and learning how to tell people who pronounce her name incorrectly, “that’s not my name,” and learning about her classmates and what their names mean.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful read aloud for the first week of school to teach students about empathy. This would also be a great read aloud before an ice-breaker type activity. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

YA – Some Kind of Hate

Littman, Sarah Darer. Some Kind of Hate. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-74681-5. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Content Warning: “The contents include white nationalist ideas based on antisemitic conspiracy theories, Islamophobia, racism, misogyny, and violence.”

Declan Taylor is at the top of his game – literally. His school baseball team just won the state tournament, and he was their star pitcher. If Declan just could figure out how to talk to his longtime crush, Megan, he would be set. When an attempt to impress Megan during an end of the school year celebration goes horribly wrong, Declan’s summer plans derail. No more baseball means no future for Declan, at least not the future he was envisioning. Drowning in self-pity while the rest of his family is working long hours, Declan spends most of his day gaming. His baseball friends, including his best friend and longtime teammate Jake, are too busy with summer league and don’t understand Declan’s situation or his anger. Plus Jake seems to be spending more time with his friends from synagogue than worrying about how Declan is doing. With their family’s finances crumbling, Declan is forced to get a summer job. Now he’s spending more time away from home and with his co-workers. Finn and Charlie introduce Declan to a better way to escape the lack of acceptance from his family and friends. It’s in the game world that Declan is able to avoid reality and find understanding: The world needs to wake up to the globalists who are tipping the scale in their favor and stealing opportunities from families like Declan’s. Though his twin sister and baseball friends question some of the things Declan has been saying, Declan’s anger surfaces and he writes them all off, opting to join his new friends in fighting back. Will Declan lose himself to his anger, or is there hope that he can crawl back and redeem himself?

THOUGHTS: Told in alternating chapters between Declan and Jake, this novel explores how, given the right conditions, one’s hate can blossom. Haunting and at times difficult to read, this story will stay with readers and belongs in every YA collection. It would pair well as a modern tie-in to Night, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other classics that deal with social issues. Highly recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

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. – Adventures in Fosterland (Series Fiction)

Shaw, Hannah. Adventures in Fosterland. Aladdin, 2022. $17.99 ea. $44.95 set of 3. Grades 1-3.

Super Spinach. 978-665-90125-3.
Emmett and Jez. 978-1-665-90119-2.
Baby Badger. 978-1-665-92555-6. (Expected in February 2023)

Adventures in Fosterland is a new series written by Hannah Shaw, who is involved with kitten rescue. Each volume is inspired by an actual animal rescue story. Emmett and Jez tells the story of a tiny piglet named Emmett who falls off a truck and is wandering on the side of the road when he is rescued and taken to “Fosterland.” Fosterland the home of a nice lady who fosters animals until they are adopted. There, Emmett soon becomes fast friends with Jez, a kitten who is healing after surgery to remove an injured leg. As time passes, Emmett realizes that he and Jez are different in many ways from one another, and this means they might go in separate directions once they leave Fosterland. Will they find their forever homes? In Super Spinach, readers are introduced to Spinach, a kitten at an animal shelter. Spinach needs to have surgery on her ribs and is quite scared. An older cat tells her she will have to have superpowers to recover from the surgery. So when Spinach wakes up wearing a hard chest plate that will protect her while she recovers, she decides she must be a superhero with armor! Sent to Fosterland to recover, Spinach teams up with Chickpea, another kitten in Fosterland, and they soon are gaining confidence and taking on challenges they never would have dreamed of previously. When it’s time for Spinach’s chest plate to come off, she is worried that it means the end of her superpowers. But she soon discovers that you don’t need armor or a costume to be brave. 

THOUGHTS: Hand this series to fans of animal stories, particularly cat lovers (each book in the series thus far features a kitten as one of the protagonists). Readers will enjoy these stories of friendship and will also learn important lessons about kindness and bravery. Each title contains a closing chapter where Shaw shares the real stories of the animals who inspired the series and the back cover features photos of the real Emmett, Jez, Spinach, and Chickpea. Recommended.

Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – The Long Ride Home

Graegin, Stephanie. The Long Ride Home. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-42602-9. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Little Koala is on a car ride home. As her mother drives through town, the locations the car passes by remind Koala of her best friend Little Cheetah and all the fun times they have shared together. The ice cream parlor reminds her of the times they would sit at a table, sharing stories and enjoying their favorite ice cream. The big hill prompts memories of bicycling trips and a mishap resulting in a skinned knee. When the car passes the library, Koala remembers sitting on the floor inside, side by side with Cheetah, reading their favorite book. Every location evokes a memory of Cheetah; in fact, the text is told in first person, as Koala speaks to her friend. In the closing pages of the book, the reader learns why Cheetah is on Koala’s mind so much and why her thoughts seem to have a melancholy and longing tone. Cheetah and her family  have moved away, and the girls are no longer able to spend time together on a regular basis. The story ends on a positive note when it is revealed that the friends now maintain a long-distance friendship and that Cheetah is thinking about Koala at the same time Koala is thinking about her. 

THOUGHTS: This gentle story would be ideal for children dealing with feelings of loss and grief over friends or family members that have moved or passed away. The emotion of the text is enhanced by Graegin’s digitally created illustrations, which are rendered in a more muted-style color palette. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD