Elem. – Nana, Nenek & Nina

Ferneyhough, Liza. Nana, Nenek & Nina. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-35394-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Nina loves visiting her grandmothers, one who lives in Malaysia and one who lives in England. Nina goes back and forth between each grandmother explaining the different and similar things that she does with them. Each grandmother has a garden, each visits the market, and each one cooks dinner but each one is slightly different based on where they live. Nina has a little dinosaur that she brings with her, so the reader can have fun finding the dinosaur hidden in each illustration. The text can be complicated to follow at times, but the journey of watching Nina visit each grandmother is wonderful to follow along with.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share for a grandparents day event; however, it might not be the best read-aloud with extremely young children as it can be complicated the way the text is set up. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – One Thursday Afternoon

DiLorenzo, Barbara. One Thursday Afternoon. Flyaway Books, 2022. 978-1-974-88837-1. $18.00. 40 p. Grades K-3.

When Granddad picks Ava up after school on Thursday, she just wants to go home. She is having a bad day and would just like to be alone. Granddad suggests the two go for a picnic and to the woods to paint together. He promises not to talk so that the two can be alone together. Granddad drives to a nature trail, where he and Ava have a quick snack and then set up to paint. Granddad encourages Ava to use all of her senses before she uses her paintbrush. Ava takes time to be aware of the smells, sights, and sounds of the woods, and she finds herself suddenly overcome with emotion. She explains to Granddad that she is upset because her school practiced a lockdown drill today. Granddad listens patiently, gently acknowledges Ava’s feelings, and admits that he too was scared of emergency drills when he was in school. As the two continue to paint and talk, Ava begins to feel better. Talking helped, as did being in nature, concentrating on her senses, and creating art. Throughout, Granddad provides an excellent example of how to be a good listener and how to approach discussing difficult and scary topics with young children. 

THOUGHTS: Simple and straightforward, this is a beautiful picture book that will be an excellent addition for school library Social-Emotional Learning collections. DiLorenzo is careful never to detail the specifics of the lockdown drill or the reasons schools have to practice them. Granddad only promises to listen and be present for Ava. A well-crafted story that models active listening and provides an excellent example of how to handle tough conversations with children who are anxious. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Can Sophie Change the World?

Wallace, Nancy Elizabeth. Can Sophie Change the World? Chronicle Books, 2022. 978-1-452-18156-1. $16.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.

When Sophie asks her Grandpop what he would like for his birthday, he replies that he doesn’t need anything but would love it if Sophie would change the world. Grandpop explains the basic concept of mitzvah and asks Sophie to do kind deeds in his name. Sophie is worried she won’t be able to change the world. Throughout the week Sophie performs simple acts of kindness: helping a friend, picking up trash, watering a neighbor’s plants, playing with her baby brother. When Sophie sees Grandpop the following Sunday, she confesses she has not changed the world. Grandpop gently explains how each and every act of kindness does indeed change the world. Together they create a flower shaped birthday card, writing each mitzvah on a petal. Illustrations by Aura Lewis.

THOUGHTS: Though the definition of mitzvah has religious implications, the book does not mention any other religious teaching or tradition. Sophie’s house is decorated with a menorah and a Star of David. This is a sweet story that simply shows the direct results of kindness and introduces the term mitzvah to children. Incorporated in the storyline are the days of the week, as well as encouragement for problem solving, being kind, and taking care of others. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – My Hands Tell a Story

Lyons, Kelly Starling. My Hands Tell a Story. Reycraft Books, 2022. 978-1-478-87061-6. 36 p. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

When Zoe’s grandmother waves her into the kitchen so they can bake bread together, Zoe is mesmerized by the magic and power in her grandmother’s hands. Grandma’s hands knead, push, and pull the dough until it’s just right. Grandma gently guides Zoe’s hands through the motions as well. While they wait for the dough to rise, the pair sit and talk. Readers learn about Grandma’s past and all the things her hands have done: Raised children, planted gardens, typed and filed. Zoe wonders what she might accomplish with her own hands someday, considering possibilities like drawing, building, writing, making music, and baking. When she and Grandma high-five to celebrate the first bites of their freshly-baked treat, Grandma notes that although Zoe’s hands are similar to her own, they will go places Grandma has never been. This inspiring, intergenerational story is rooted in love and celebrates the strong bond between grandmother and granddaughter. Vibrant, oil-painted illustrations beautifully capture heartfelt moments and the closeness these two share. The endpapers include a recipe for the same cinnamon bread Zoe and her grandma bake together in the book. 

THOUGHTS: Many students will make connections to the idea of cooking or baking a favorite food with a grandparent. This will also be a perfect choice for Grandparents’ Day read-alouds. Additionally, this title can be used as a discussion starter about things students hope to accomplish with their own two hands. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Eyes that Speak to the Stars

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Speak to the Stars. Illustrated by Dung Ho. Harper Collins Childrens, 2022.  978-0-063-05775-3. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

By the same author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars follows a young boy whose friends point out that his eyes are different that theirs, and the family members:  Baba, Agong, and Di-Di who help him embrace this difference and realize that his eyes reflect those he loves. The use of a father, grandfather, and younger brother makes the book multi-generational in words and illustrations and both celebrate the roots and loves shared by the book’s family. Dung Ho’s realistic illustrations are highly accessible to the young audience.  

THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this book. Its illustrations are accessible and beautifully rendered, celebrating a contemporary boy and his family roots. The writing presents strong, positive, and loving male characters to the audience with a rhythm that encourages re-reading and opens discussion between readers.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Realistic Fiction, Diversity, Self-Acceptance, APPI, Imigration, Family, Tradition.

Elem. – A Grandma’s Magic

Offsay, Charlotte. A Grandma’s Magic. Illustrated by Asa Gilland. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37600-3. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades K-3.

This large picture book opens with the tender lines, “When a child is born. . .a grandma is born, too.” Bathed in shades of pinks, teals, and apricots, A Grandma’s Magic shows a diverse array of grandmothers and their grandbabies doing what stereotypical grandmas do: baking, gardening, playing, hugging, comforting in both urban and rural settings. Popping in vivid colors from the white background are intergenerational pairs engaging in activities that teach and enchant. With simple strokes, illustrator Asa Gilland conveys the characters’ surprise, delight, sadness, and warmth. These poignant drawings convince the reader of author Charlotte Offsay’s words that grandmothers do indeed conjure magical times that linger long after their visits are over. The book is ideal for a reading aloud on Grandparents’ Day or as a story starter to describe one’s grandmother. However, the story only reflects the families where grandmothers are living independently and can come to visit. Other situations where grandmothers are raising their grandchildren or where grandmothers live with the family are not considered. If reading or shelf-talking this pretty book, know your audience.

THOUGHTS: This feel-good book is so delightful to look at and emanates a real warmth in pictures and words. It lends itself to intergenerational units (perhaps coupled with Mem Fox’s Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge, if you can get your hands on it–it is not out of print), and character description–maybe even people poems. Grandmothers of all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities show up in this book, but the author still focuses on the healthy grandmother whom the child will visit or be visited by. In some communities, that vision of a grandmother may not be the one the young child actually has. A book early with diversity on a similar theme is the late, great Vera B. Williams’s More, More, More Said the Baby.( I guess I am dating myself with the mention of two old –and perhaps better-books.)

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – If You Miss Me

Li Langrano, Jocelyn. If You Miss Me. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-68069-0. 40 p. $18.99. Grades PreK-3.

“If you miss me. Look at the moon. I will do the same.” 

The picture book If You Miss Me by Jocelyn Li Langrano is a breath-taking story about love and loss. Charlie, a young girl who loves to dance, has a strong relationship with her grandmother. Charlie and Grandma dance through life, and even when they are not together, they seem to be connected. Grandma often reminds Charlie that when they are apart, looking at the same moon will help them feel as if they are together. As the season changes, Grandma’s unexpected death brings so much pain to Charlie’s life. Dancing does not feel the same, and indeed, she misses the most important person in her life. Will Charlie be able to heal? Will dancing become a part of her life again? This beautiful picture book explores grief in simple words and sweet illustrations– with love depicted on every page.

THOUGHTS: This lovely picture book will be available in December of 2021. Charlie’s story speaks to the heart and explores the idea that those who have died are truly not lost. This book could validate and explain complicated feelings in a gentle and heartwarming manner for children who have lost a loved one.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Out to Sea

Kellock, Helen. Out to Sea. Thames & Hudson, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-500-65236-7. Grades 1-3.  $17.95.

Kellock has created a beautiful story about grief and loss. Lara’s grandmother has died and she misses her terribly. The young girl thinks about how her grandmother “smelled like strawberries” and how the pair would spend time on the beach. At night, Lara is filled with sadness and begins to cry, as thoughts swirl around in her head, keeping her from sleep. The author ingeniously uses the sea as a metaphor for Lara’s grief for the rest of the story. Tears fill the child’s bedroom and carry her out to sea in a boat. She leaves behind all the things that used to give her joy and continues to drift on the water, forgetting “everything that made her feel happy or safe,” like the smell of strawberries or her grandmother’s warm hands. All she feels is the “cold swirling sea.” Then, in the deep ocean appears a glowing pearl, which gives her comfort. The young girl realizes that there are things in her life that still make her happy, like the memories of her Nana, and she rows the boat home. Through the imagery of the sea, the author has crafted a story that clearly portrays the sentiments of loss, such as feeling “out to sea,” drifting aimlessly and being down in the depths. The progression of Lara’s emotions is creatively shown in the author’s full bleed illustrations. At first, she floats down a narrow stream along her street, but then the boat continues on past the big city, arrives on the beach and heads into the wide open ocean. Initially, the boat moves under its own power, but Lara picks up the oars to steer it home after she finds the pearl. At the end, the author observes that even with the pearl, Lara still has “other sleepless nights and sad goodbyes,” but now understands that she is not alone.

THOUGHTS: This book is a wonderful and fitting story for children experiencing loss.  It is a good one to share with your guidance counselor and is a must-have for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – The True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-32489-1. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

While Neva Beane’s parents are on a summer singing tour abroad, she and her sixteen-year-old brother, Clay, are staying with their grandparents in West Philadelphia. The new girl across the street, Michelle Overton, is only a year older than Neva, but Michelle’s full figure and bikini outfits has Neva feeling inexperienced and babyish. In addition, Clay is preoccupied with the community organizing Michelle’s father is spearheading, and Neva’s best friend Jamila is busy preparing for her family vacation in Ghana. It’s a hot time in the city this summer, though. People are protesting unfair practices in housing and wages.  Against his grandparents’ orders, Clay is surreptitiously leading the youth branch of the protests. Although they were activists when they were younger, Nana and Grandpa now believe their duty is to protect their grandchildren which means keeping them away from the protests. Neva feels left out, but so does her grandmother—especially when her grandson forges her signature on the permission slip for a protest. Twelve-years-old and on the cusp of being a teen, Neva grapples with many conflicting feelings: she’s intimidated by Michelle but admires her, too; she values her friendship with Jamila, but they seem out of step; she’s homesick for her parents but doesn’t want her selfishness to stop their success; she’s wants to support the good cause but is anxious about protesting. Christine Kendall has produced a middle grade novel that recreates a Black American neighborhood against the backdrop of a tumultuous summer. Not only is the appealing character of Neva well-developed and identifiable to other readers her age, but the other characters are equally as genuine. Neva’s fascination with words is an added bonus to the book. This page-turning book will be a favorite and also boost the reader’s vocabulary!

Realistic Fiction    Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: With the mention of familiar street names and places and the extremely relatable main character and timely setting, this book will fly off the shelves at my library. This book is an incentive to learn how to use the dictionary and improve one’s vocabulary and spelling. Food for thought in classroom social/emotional discussions is Neva’s processing of social activism.

MG – Clean Getaway

Stone, Nic. Clean Getaway. Crown Books for Children, 2020. 978-1-984-89297-3. $16.99. 240 p. Grades 6-8.

Nic Stone is typically a popular young adult writer (Dear Martin, Dear Justyce). Her debut in the middle school arena is the realistic, first-person narrative, Clean Getaway. William aka “Scoob” Lamar gets grounded when he shares a computer hack and plans to stay in his entire spring vacation. Until… his G’ma–grandmother–shows up in a RV she purchased with the profit from selling her house and asks him to accompany her on a road trip. Without telling his father, Will becomes G’ma’s wingman on this memorable ride retracing the route G’ma and his deceased grandfather Jimmy took from Georgia through the rest of the South during the segregated sixties. The pair follow the Green Book, a listing of acceptable accommodations for people of color. Will’s grandparents had the added burden of being a mixed race couple, against the law in many states at the time. Will experiences his African-American heritage firsthand, visiting important markers of the struggle for Civil Rights. At first, he is excited for the chance to share this adventure with his beloved grandmother, but then he notices G’ma’s strange behavior: she dines and dashes; switches license plates; steals jewelry. He discovers some things that make him suspect something else is afoot, but can’t quite connect the dots or even reach out to his father because G’ma keeps hiding or ditching their one cell phone. What keeps him going is the revealing conversations he has with his funny and candid G’ma. He realizes how much she loves her long incarcerated husband and suspects that his father may not be fair in his complete rejection of him. The pair’s joy ride comes to a halt when G’ma falls ill, but the experience prompts Will to question the absence of his own mother and the image of his grandfather and rejuvenates his relationship with his sometimes-distant father. Though not a difficult read lexile-wise, Clean Getaway does bring up serious issues of race, inequity, and discrimination. Nic Stone has proven she is a master storyteller for middle school students as well.

THOUGHTS: The intergenerational experience lends itself to history lessons of the Civil Rights era. The discrimination Will’s grandparents encountered in the sixties can be compared with the same displays of implicit bias Will and G’ma feel in their present-day travels. The reason for the grandfather’s imprisonment is also steeped in racial injustice and inequity. Will has little contact with his mother because she abandoned him as a baby–addiction is implied–but Will’s father is reluctant to have her re-enter twelve-year-old Will’s life just like he turned his back on Jimmy, his own father. This situation as well as the racism that necessitated the Green Book lays open talk about forgiving past wrongs, both personal and institutional. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Meet 11 year old William Lamar, aka Scoob. Unable to stay out of trouble at school, spring break is looking pretty boring. Until Scoob’s grandmother shows up and convinces Scoob to come along on an impromptu road trip across the American South in her RV. Scoob soon finds out that this trip is a re-creation of one his grandmother, who is white, and his African American grandfather took years ago. The South is changed since then, but G-ma’s crazy maps, her Traveler’s Greenbook (an African American guide to traveling safely in the 1960s), her changing of the license plate on the RV, and her refusal to take Scoob’s dad’s calls is adding up to some uneasy feelings the longer the trip continues. Add in the discovery that his G-ma may be a jewel thief, and Scoob is wishing he stayed home for that boring break!

THOUGHTS: Nic Stone’s first middle grade novel is an excellent read and one that readers will enjoy. There is enough historical fiction to peak the interest of the middle grade readers while satisfying the adventure reader as well.

Realistic Fiction                    Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy