MG – The Edge of In Between

Savaryn, Lorelei. The Edge of In Between. Viking Books for Young Readers, 2022. ISBN 9780593202098. 304 p. $17.99 Grades 4-8.

Lottie enjoys an idyllic life with her parents in a city where almost everyone she knows has magical abilities. The Living Gray somehow exist without magic, but Lottie is sure that she will never suffer that depressing and magic-less fate. Then Lottie experiences a tremendous tragedy, and her magic slips away, leaving her feeling lost and hopeless. When Lottie’s uncle offers her a chance to live in the In Between and regain her magic and her family, she jumps at the chance, but the magic she is searching for seems permanently out of reach. Eventually, Lottie befriends a family who lives and works on her uncle’s estate and discovers that she can learn to coexist with loss, not as one of the Living Gray, but as a vivid character in a rich and rewarding life of her own.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, this book strikes all the right notes of tragic orphan storytelling and dreamy magical realism. Discussions about life, grief, letting go of lost family, and moving forward with joy are all part of this haunting story. The way Lottie and her new friends intertwine and support each other leaves the reader with a satisfyingly hopeful ending.

Fantasy Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – The Birthday of the World

Remen, Rachel Naomi. The Birthday of the World. Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter. Cameron Kids, 2022. 978-1-951-83634-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades 3-5.

Detailed watercolor illustrations are the star of this picture book which shares Neh-shuma-leh’s grandfather’s stories of the birth of the world. Beginning with beautiful endpages that reveal a large building, gives readers a glimpse into windows where people are doing different things on a dark snowy night. When the world was born out of darkness, “sparks fell into everyone and everything.” Grandfather’s message is that “We were all born because we can each find the spark of light that is hidden,” and we can nurture these sparks and “help [them] grow bigger and shine more brightly.” Clever readers will intuit that light represents each individual’s gifts. The grandfather and granddaughter cue as Jewish, but diverse individuals are shown throughout the book. An author’s note elaborates on how the author’s grandfather told her this story, and now she shares it with readers.

THOUGHTS: Recommended for elementary collections looking to add representation to their collection featuring grandparents, storytelling, or Jewish stories.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Rubin, Sean. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-78850-4 p. 48. $18.99. Grades K-4. 

This is a story about a tree, a survivor tree, to be accurate. But, it is also a story about the resilience of our nation, a tribute to first responders, and the restorative power of humanity. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin is profoundly moving and packs an emotional punch. A Callery pear tree was planted in the 1970’s in New York City between the newly constructed Twin Towers known as the World Trade Center. Over the years, the tree provided shade for tourists, employees of the World Trade Center, and a home for birds. It bloomed beautifully every Spring and stood tall between the two towers for many years. On September 11, 2001, something horrific occurred in New York City. Our Nation was mourning, and the tree’s home was destroyed and buried under rubble. The days that followed were difficult to maneuver, yet a shocking discovery was made after the tragedy–The pear tree had survived and quickly became known as the “Survivor Tree.” The tree was moved to the Bronx to recover, so the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation could nurse it back to health. Finally, almost ten years after the tragedy, the tree returned to its home and was planted in the 9/11 memorial. This Very Tree is told in simple words and illustrated with beautiful pictures that reveal more and more as the reader turns the pages. It shares a story of hope and healing that occurred after an immense tragedy that we experienced as a country. This book is a powerful introduction to this poignant event in our nation’s history. 

THOUGHTS: It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since New York City saw the World Trade Center fall to the ground. Since then, we have seen the literary world write to make sense of that horrific day and the days after that. This particular story, This Very Tree, resonated with me in such a profoundly moving way, and it shares a true story that may not be known to most Americans. Even the dedication will bring tears to the reader’s eyes as well as the hauntingly beautiful words written by author E.B. White in 1949 entitled: Here is New York that is at the beginning of the picture book. As much as this book is indeed emotional and heavy, it can still shine a light on hope and resilience. There is an informational section in the author’s note that explains the events of 9/11 in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Outside, Inside

Pham, LeUyen. Outside, Inside. Roaring Books Press, 2021. 978-1-250-79835-0. 48 p. $18.99. Grades Pre-K-2. 

Capturing community, perseverance, and hope, Outside, Inside by Caldecott Honor winner LeUyen Pham is a moving testimony that depicts the global Covid-19 pandemic. With encouraging words, poetic language, and gorgeous illustrations, this picture book will help young children make sense of the virus that altered their daily lives. The story begins on an unremarkable day just before the season changes. All races and ethnicities are bustling around outside when suddenly everything changes, and everyone goes inside. The outside is quieter, different, even wilder, and the inside holds laughter, tears, and growth. While the world changed outside, the people on the inside become resilient and hopeful. As the story moves forward, the author does not shy away from heartbreaking loss or skip over the unexpected good. Instead, she gently explains that we moved from the outside to the inside to protect the ones we love. Pham never downplays the seriousness of the pandemic and illustrates vivid scenes that represent upended routines, hospital stays, job loss, and even death. Yet, she also lovingly depicts loved ones on the outside protecting those that are inside. Finally, the picture book ends with a season change as hope and love blooms in the air.

THOUGHTS: Outside, Inside’s dedication is to all essential workers, first responders, and communities across the globe. It is true that author LeUyen Pham masterfully captures how all of us felt on the outside and inside as we navigated Covid-19. I believe her author’s note at the end of the picture book is just as important as the story itself. Nearly every face painted in the book is inspired by a REAL person- people who survived or succumbed to the awful virus. She also shares that the most challenging spread to illustrate was the one that explained why we sacrificed what we did because each character shown on the page gave her “both joy and pain.” In her final words, Pham notes that Outside, Inside is “a time capsule of our moment in history when the world came together as one to do the right thing.”

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Share Your Rainbow: 18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future

Various Artists. Share Your Rainbow: 18 Artists Draw Their Hope for the Future. Penguin Random House, 2020. 978-0-593-37521-1. 32 pages. $7.99. Grades K – 3.

As R.J. Palacio states in the forward, “rainbows are messages of love and hope and peace.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, symbols of rainbows have appeared in windows, sidewalks, and anywhere that children needed to share some joy. This unique picture book aims to make a story of looking for hope in the everyday world and looking ahead to a better future. Each page turn brings a new artist to share their rainbow in creative and delightful ways. For example, children use this time to redesign a rainbow rocketship, imagine riding a rainbow roller coaster, playing with a beach ball, and reuniting with family and friends. Students will naturally seek the rainbows on each page, and then want to #sharemyrainbow afterwards.

THOUGHTS: Come for the hopeful message, but stay to enjoy exploring how artistic styles of many illustrators come together. Some of the featured creators are: Vasti Harrison, Adam Rex, Oge Mora, Dan Santat, Bob Shea, and Lane Smith. All proceeds of the book sales go to World Central Kitchen, which could lead to a further discussion of how to share hope with those in need. Recommended read-aloud and lesson for K – 3.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD