Elem. – Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse

Stutzman, Jonathan. Llama Unleashes the Alpacalypse. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-22285-5. 40 p. $18.99. Grades K-2.

The follow up to Llama Destroys the World finds Llama doing what he does best – eating, adventuring, and dreaming. One thing Llama does NOT do is clean up messes, so he creates The Replicator 3000, a machine which, as the name suggests, clones whatever – or whomever – is put inside. When Llama’s friend Alpaca comes over for lunch, Llama decides to clone her; after all, Alpaca loves cleaning and two alpacas can clean even faster than one. However, by dinnertime, there are millions of alpaca clones roaming the earth. They swarm playgrounds, schools, restaurants, and streets, cleaning everything in their path. The horde of alpacas causes chaos and unrest among the other animals who declare this the end of the world! Llama, however, is not concerned; after all, he is busy eating a cheese pizza with extra cheese, the smell of which lures all the alpacas back to his house. Now Llama pays attention  – there is no way he is going to give up his pizza! Llama is stuck making a difficult decision. He will either have to give up his pizza to the endless parade of alpacas or find a way to reverse the cloning and save his pizza (and the world, of course).

THOUGHTS: Married author/illustrator duo Jonathan Stutzman and Heather Fox have once again created a silly story that is sure to delight young readers. Every child can relate to Stutzman’s Llama (after all, most children prefer eating pizza over cleaning) and Fox’s illustrations are bright and enticing, showcasing the animals’ silly expressions. Another bonus for librarians including this in their collection is that they will be supporting a local author and illustrator: Stutzman and Fox live and work in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Rescuing Mrs. Birdley

Reynolds, Aaron. Rescuing Mrs. Birdley. Simon and Schuster. 978-1-534-42704-4. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Young Miranda Montgomery is an animal expert. She’s learned everything she knows from the Nature Joe Animal Show on television. Nature Joe is a whizz at rescuing animals and returning them to their natural habitats. So, when Miranda spots her teacher at the grocery store – out of the natural habitat of her classroom – she springs into action. Capturing Mrs. Birdley proves to be more challenging than Miranda initially anticipates. The teacher evades a leaf-covered pit and a blueberry yogurt-baited trap before Miranda ultimately captures her and returns her to the classroom where she belongs. After locking Mrs. Birdley in for the weekend, Miranda is feeling pretty proud of herself….until she spots her principal eyeing up lawn mowers at the home improvement store the next day. Vibrant digital artwork, featuring lots of jungle green, brings this story to life while also celebrating Miranda’s vivid imagination. 

THOUGHTS: This book will hook students during read-aloud time. Pair it with Peter Brown’s My Teacher is a Monster for a story time featuring titles about teachers who do not belong outside their classrooms. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

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

Elem. – We Will Rock Our Classmates

THOUGHTS: This followup to We Don’t Eat Our Classmates is sure to be loved by fans of Higgins’ work, and children will delight with the humorous story. A must have for elementary collections, social emotional learning lessons, or read alouds. You’ll have difficulty reading this one without giggling yourself!

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

 

MG – Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Kim, Jessica. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Kokila, 2020. 978-0-525-55497-4. 306 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

A sleek pixie cut is just the change Yumi Chung needs to start seventh grade. What she gets, instead, is the perm her mother wants. Such is the life of Yumi Chung–overruled by the adults in her life at every turn. So when she hears her family can no longer afford to send her to her private school, Yumi is elated. But her thoughts of freedom are short lived as her mother informs her that she will have to ace the Secondary School Admission Test in two weeks in order to get a scholarship. Instead of the summer Yumi had planned–watching Youtube videos of her favorite comedian, Jasmine Jasper, and writing jokes in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook–she will now have to attend tutoring sessions in order to pass the test. One afternoon as she is leaving tutoring, she stumbles upon a new comedy club in her neighborhood, and it is offering a comedy camp for teens taught by none other than Jasmine Jasper. A case of mistaken identity finds Yumi attending the camp and having the time of her life. But when she is found out, how will Yumi explain to her parents, her fellow comedy campers, and Jasmine Jasper? Will shy Yumi Chung finally find her voice and stand up for herself?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade students will sympathize with Yumi. She is picked on at school, she has an older sister who is an actual genius who she is always being compared to, and her parents refuse to listen to what Yumi wants. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is an Own Voices novel about family and friends that stands out in the crowd.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Yumi Chung’s goal in life is to become a stand-up comedian. That vision does not fit with her traditional Korean-American family who value hard work (see their struggles to maintain their Korean barbeque restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood) and education (see their older, more perfect daughter who excelled at school and now is on track to becoming a doctor). Yumi sees her family’s financial difficulties as a way out of attending the posh private school where she has no friends and finally being able to reinvent herself. No such luck! Mrs. Chung persuades the principal of Winston Preparatory Academy to give Yumi a chance at winning a scholarship. She only has to cram for it at a Korean prep class with Mrs. Pak. Turns out the hogwon is right near a comedy class for young people hosted by Yumi’s Youtube  idol, Jasmine Jasper. Yumi inserts herself into the class through a case of mistaken identity. Author Jessica Kim blends just the right amount of pathos and humor to make Stand Up, Yumi Chung! a entertaining read. Drawn by her desire to make people laugh and perform, Yumi gets sucked into a web of lies that are difficult to unravel. While she is busy making a mess and cleaning up after herself, she forms a stronger bond with the sister she used to envy and a clearer understanding and appreciation of her parents’ sacrifices and efforts. She also is able to make her dreams come true by boosting the business at her parents’ failing restaurant with a series of schemes to promote it, including a comedy night. Lots of lessons threaded throughout this story make it endearing to a wide audience: self-identity, problem solving, appreciation of family, and the importance of trying after failing.

THOUGHTS: The hunt for a solid story that infuses humor­­­­­­­ is hard to find (Front Desk by Kelly Yang and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel! by Firoozeh Dumas comes to mind). Stand Up, Yumi Chung! can be in that category. A reader doesn’t need to be Korean-American to appreciate the pressure to fulfill a parent’s dreams, but the Asian references will resonate with Asian-American students and educate non Asian-American ones. The rabbit hole Yumi falls down is relatable to any middle school student floundering with being impulsive and making decisions.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

MG – Bad Best Friend

Vail, Rachel. Bad Best Friend. Viking, 2020. 978-0-451-47945-7. 301 p. $15.67. Grades 5-8.

“Everybody stand next to your best friend!” Piece of cake for Niki. She’s already standing next to her best friend, Ava. But then Ava chooses Britney, and from that moment on, eighth grade is not at all how Niki expected it to be. If Ava is now part of “The Squad,” where does that leave Niki? Told in the first person from Niki’s perspective, the reader follows along as Niki tries to understand what she did to lose her best friend, discovers her own personality without Ava, finds new friends, and navigates a difficult situation at home with her brother, Danny. When Niki deals with an unwanted kiss at a party, this book goes in a direction that is unexpected but not out of place. Vail honestly tackles sexual harassment from multiple perspectives. 

THOUGHTS: Middle school students, especially girls, will understand the drama that occurs when one person decides to end a friendship. Niki’s situation is universal, and many readers will sympathize with her and cheer her on as she finds her own way.  

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball?

Bell, Cece. Chick and Brain: Egg or Eyeball? Candlewick Press, 2020. 978-1-536-20439-1. 70 p. $12.99. Grades K-3. 

When Brain makes an amazing discovery, he can’t wait to show his friend, Chick. But, upon seeing the object, the friends cannot agree about what it is. It’s small, white, and oval. Brain says it’s an eyeball. Chick says it’s an egg. Each friend loudly pleads his case, capturing the attention of their nearby friend Spot the dog and a sleeping cat. It’s only when they awaken another creature that the group discovers the object’s true identity once and for all. This second offering in the Chick and Brain series will have beginning readers laughing out loud at the friends’ silliness. Loose cartoon drawings in large graphic novel panels keep the story’s four action-packed chapters moving along quickly.

THOUGHTS: Recommend this to Elephant and Piggie fans. This book is made for read-alouds and will be perfect for storytime.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Jack at Bat; Jack Goes West

Barnett, Mac, and Greg Pizzoli. Jack at Bat. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11382-0. Unpaged. $9.99. Grades K-2.
—. Jack Goes West. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11388-2. Unpaged. $9.99. Grades K-2.

Jack is a bunny with mixed behavior! Sometimes he is bad and selfish, and sometimes he is the hero. One thing is for sure: A Jack Book will be an unpredictable and fun beginning reader story! With clever words by Mac Barnett and emotive illustrations from Greg Pizzoli, readers will delight to visit and revisit this new series. In Jack Goes West, he and “The Lady” ride a train to a dude ranch… next to a bank. Some bandits, lassos, and mistaken identities ensue! Meanwhile, in Jack at Bat, The Ladies take on The Brats in a ballgame that sees Jack get yelled at, nap away the game, and chase down a snack. But can he hit the ball? With a readable layout, short sentences, and surprising plot twists, young readers are bound to become fans of Jack.

THOUGHTS: These are longer than some beginning readers, which provides a nice extended read aloud opportunity or encouragement for budding readers. Introducing this series will naturally draw students to discover the other fun and fascinating work of Barnett and Pizzoli. Recommended for K-2.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Talkin’ Sports (Series Nonfiction)

Talkin’ Sports. The Child’s World, 2020. $20.00 ea. $160 set of 8. 24 p. Grades 3-6. 

Buckley, James. Talkin’ Baseball. 978-150383-571-9.
—. Talkin’ Basketball. 978-150383-574-0.
—. Talkin’ Lacrosse. 978-150383-576-4.
—. Talkin’ Motor Sports. 978-150383-577-1.
—. Talkin’ Soccer. 978-150383-573-3.
Gigliotti, Jim. Talkin’ Football. 978-150383-572-6.
—. Talkin’ Golf & Tennis. 978-150383-578-8.
—. Talkin’ Hockey. 978-150383-575-7.

“Play sports? Watch sports? Talk sports!” That’s the tagline for this series highlighting special sports terms, insider phrases, comical or descriptive terms, and player nicknames. Fans of these sports will want to check up on their lingo–historical and modern-day–and add some understanding to their use of it as they go. They may even think of plenty more to add to the mix. For example, “The slugger ripped a frozen rope into the gap and pulled up with a two-bagger.” Baseball translation: “A powerful hitter smashed a line drive (further defined) between two outfielders (further defined) & ran to second base.” These books will cause laughter, and comments such as, “that’s right” or “I didn’t know that was why…” as fans feel a bit more at home watching, playing, and talking sports. For the uninitiated, these books can solidify the lingo.

THOUGHTS: A fun series suitable for upper elementary and middle school. ( Titles reviewed: Talkin’ Baseball and Talkin’ Football.)

796 Sports          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Three Little Kittens

McClintock, Barbara. Three Little Kittens. Scholastic, 2020. Unpaged. $18.99 978-1-338-12587-7. Grades PreK-2. 

Do we need another version of The Three Little Kittens?  Yes, we do, if it’s this engagingly drawn beauty from Barbara McClintock. The rhyme is the one we know so well, and the anthropomorphized cats (and one mouse) are unique and distinguishable as they dirty, then wash, their mittens. Their emotions are visible: joy at play, elation at eating pie, sadness at dirty mittens and disappointed mother, and pride at having solved the problem. The ending brings a welcome addition: when they “hush… smell a mouse close by,” they offer pie to the mouse as well. Mother cat talks on a cell phone, and many speech bubbles reveal both the rhyme and the sibling-like thoughts of the kittens. Readers will be drawn to this rhyming story establishing good kitten–er, child behavior, and ask for re-reading.

THOUGHTS: A must-purchase for pre-K-Kindergarten set; be sure to share with early childhood and early elementary students and their teachers.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD