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

Elem. – Perfect Pigeons

Battersby, Katherine. Perfect Pigeons. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-45781-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Look up! A flock of brightly colored pigeons is in the sky! According to members of the flock, they are perfect pigeons, because they are all “perfectly the same.” While the pigeons might certainly all look the same, it is quickly apparent to readers that one pigeon is different from the rest. He sports round red glasses and doesn’t like to participate in the same activities as the rest of the flock. For example, when the flock sleeps on a lamppost, he sleeps in a hammock. While the flock eats birdseed, he can be found enjoying popcorn. The flock soon grows frustrated with their fellow pigeon, challenging his go against the grain attitude and habits. But rather than give into peer pressure, the pigeon encourages the flock to pursue their own individual interests and hobbies (which they do). By the end of the story, the flock still feels that they are perfect pigeons, but they now feel that way because they are “are all perfectly unique!”

THOUGHTS: This charming story celebrates the importance of valuing the uniqueness of others. Readers will enjoy the humorous illustrations featuring large, colorful pigeons created in pencil, watercolor and digital media by author-illustrator Katherine Battersby. A worthwhile addition to libraries serving primary age readers.

Picture Book                Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – On Account of the Gum

Rex, Adam. On Account of the Gum. Chronicle Books, 2020. 978-1-452-18154-7. 56 p. $17.99. Grades K-2.

It all starts when the young boy in this story wakes up and realizes he has gum in his hair. At the breakfast table, various family members try different tricks and techniques to loosen the gum’s grip on his dark locks. Some of the remedies include smearing butter on the gum, putting grass in his hair, and using noodles and bacon to get it out. And of course, because of the grass and the food in his hair, the boy’s new hairstyle attracts some animals as well, like a rabbit and a cat. And – don’t ask how – his aunt gets stuck in there, too! On top of that, it’s picture day at school. Eventually, the boy figures out exactly what it takes to get the gum out of his hair.

THOUGHTS: This book is hilarious – both the words and the illustrations are sure to make children laugh out loud. The text is written in rhyme which makes it fun to read. Because of all the objects stuck in the boy’s hair, this book could be used to discuss sequential order. And it also teaches a good lesson – never go to sleep with gum in your mouth! On Account of the Gum would be a perfectly fun read aloud for any elementary teacher or librarian.

Picture Book        Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – Class Picture

Carlain, Noe, and Herve Le Goff. Class Picture. Kane Miller EDC Publishing, 2020. 978-1-684-64112-3. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-2.

The full classroom photo may be a thing of the past, especially in this day and age, but the concept of gathering students to try and pose for a picture will always be a memorable moment. So, replace squirmy Kindergarten kids with beavers, bears, monkeys, snakes, elephants, and more for a real laugh of a book! With some repetitive wording and hilarious visual gags, each class of animals arrives for their moment with the brave and mostly patient photographer. Whether the hippos are bending the bench or the beavers are eating it, there are group and individual personalities that shine, along with some cameos from other animals to keep things interesting. Young readers will enjoy saying cheese to this colorful fun read along!

THOUGHTS: With a dozen animal sets captured in this book, several research or creative writing extensions are naturally available. From adding captions or speech bubbles to the class characters to looking up habitats and group names for each page, learners will find fun ways to keep coming back to this book. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

MG – The Willoughbys Return

Lowry, Lois. The Willoughbys Return. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020. 978-0-358-42389-8. 182 p. $17.99. Grades 4-6.

The Willoughby family is back in this entertaining sequel. After being frozen in the snowy Swiss Alps for thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have thawed, apparently none the worse for wear, except for being behind the times. The couple, who were not the most caring parents, decide to return home and reunite with their children, who are now technically older than them. During the time of their absence, all four children were adopted by Commander Melanoff, who married their nanny. The eldest son, Tim, succeeded the Commander as CEO of a successful candy company. At least, it was successful until the government banned all candy as unhealthy. Next door to the mansion lives the Poore family, who like their name, is in very reduced circumstances. They open a bed and breakfast and the first guests are Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, whose stay is cut short after eating a salad of poisonous leaves prepared by the unwitting Mrs. Poore. Eventually, the Willoughbys are reunited and the parents thaw out their relations with their children, as they adjust to the new world of Google, FaceTime and Skype. Even the hapless Mr. Poore, an unsuccessful traveling encyclopedia salesman, returns home penniless, but with some glittery rocks, which will change his family’s life forever. The author speaks to the reader in occasional footnotes, which provide additional plot details or explain a reference.

THOUGHTS: This satirical “rags to riches” and “riches to rags” story is sure to delight fans of Lemony Snicket’s books and those who can appreciate a parody of those classic orphan stories.

 Humorous Fiction          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

MG – The Deep End

Kinney, Jeff. The Deep End (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-74868-4. $14.99. 217 p. Grades 4-8.

I have to admit–I thought the last few “Wimpy Kid” books left something to be desired…but Jeff Kinney and Greg are back, and Greg is in rare form. After the Heffley home disaster in “Wrecking Ball,” the family decides to escape from their temporary digs in Gramma’s basement and take a family vacation in Uncle Gary’s RV. Sounds great! What could possibly go wrong? Accidental trespassing on farms and baseball fields, water tubing mishaps, and an epic few days at Campers’ Eden Luxury Campground all make The Deep End one of the best Wimpy Kid books in the past few years. Kinney’s signature illustrations are as funny as ever.

THOUGHTS: Your readers will love Greg’s new adventures.

Realistic/Humorous          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – The World Needs More Purple People

Bell, Kristen & Hart, Benjamin. The World Needs More Purple People. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-593-12196-2. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

You can hear Kristen Bell’s voice on every page in this adorable story about the importance of being an everyday hero. The moral of the story is to work hard, bring the community together, and use your voice. This book does not offer answers to some of the world’s toughest current issues, but it does offer a primer in recognizing that the world isn’t perfect and it’s hard to be angry if you’re laughing.

THOUGHTS: Although the book isn’t explicitly political, I do wonder if purple comes from combining red and blue (political party colors). A quick, silly read that can keep the attention of the youngest readers.

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

YA – Charming as a Verb

Philippe, Ben. Charming as a Verb. Balzar + Bray, 2020. 978-0-062-82414-1. 336 p. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Ben Philippe has yet to write something that I don’t fall in love with almost immediately. Henri Haltiwanger in Charming as a Verb is no exception to the rule. Henri attends a prestigious private school in New York City, on scholarship, and is surrounded by classmates who have more money and connections than he does. Henri’s positive attitude, charm, and hustle drive him to be a star debater, friendly with just about all the students, and manages and works his own dog walking empire. When it’s time to apply for colleges, his dream school, Columbia, seems just out of reach, despite being blocks away. Along the way Henri makes a friendship he didn’t think he would, and a decision or two that seem out of character, but Philippe maintains a realistic pulse on teenage life.

THOUGHTS: High school libraries looking to enhance their realistic collection with a story told through the lens of someone who fits in from an observer’s perspective but really doesn’t feel a sense of belonging should add this book to their collection. A relatively light read with a happy ending can go a long way after a year like 2020.

Realistic Fiction          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Forget Me Nat

Scrivan, Maria. Forget Me Nat.  Graphix, an Imprint of Scholastic, 2020.  978-1-338-53825-0. 234 p. $21.69. Grades 3-6.

Natalie is in love with Derek, and she is sure he is in love with her. He wrote her a cute note right before winter break, and he asked her if she wanted to read his comic book. Soon, they were spending a lot of time together, but Natalie spending time with Derek means she’s not spending time with Zoe and Flo, and it also means she’s doing things she doesn’t really like to do, like eating pineapple pizza and joining math club. Natalie’s obsession with Derek could mean the end of her best friendships, and when her feelings aren’t reciprocated, it sends Natalie into a spiral of unhappiness and self-doubt. Natalie will have to learn that self-confidence does not come from a relationship–it comes from within.

THOUGHTS:  Maria Scrivan picks up where she left off with Nat Enough. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Chmakova will enjoy this series.

Graphic Novel          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

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