Elem. – In a Jar

Marcero, Deborah. In a Jar. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-525-51459-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PrK-2.

Llewellyn likes to collect things in jars. He collects leaves and feathers and stones to help him remember his experiences.  Then, one night Llewellyn collects the sunset in a jar and meets Evelyn. He give Evelyn a jar of the sunset and soon they become best friends. They collect all kinds of things together to remember their experiences. When Evelyn moves away, Llewellyn feels empty until he realizes that she can mail Evelyn new jars of memories. She then sends Llewellyn jars of her new home and city to share her new experiences with him. As autumn returns, Llewellyn sets out to collect leaves to share with Evelyn and meets a new friend with whom he can share his extra jar. Marcero’s artwork is beautiful. She mixes watercolors, ink, and pencil to explore Llewellyn and Evelyn’s experiences together as friends. Although this picture book highlights the beauty of the natural world, it is also about friendship and the importance of sharing experiences with others even when we experience something without our best friend.

THOUGHTS: I truly enjoyed this picture book. Not only does it have a great appreciation for slowing down and enjoying nature, but it also encourages readers to share their experiences with others. It highlights friendship and loss (a friend moving away) through minimal words and beautiful illustrations. I loved the image of Llewellyn and Evelyn drawing together surrounded by the jars. As an adult, I realize that they were creating their memories to put in the jars, but as a child hearing this story, they can still imagine catching the world around them and keeping it in a jar. This is a fabulous addition to all elementary libraries.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Robobaby

Wiesner, David. Robobaby. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-0-544-98731-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

A new baby boy arrives at the robot family home – some assembly required. Big sister Cathode (a.k.a. Cathy) is delighted, and anxious to help mom and dad assemble little Flange. But, like grownups throughout time, mom Diode shoos Cathy aside, certain this is a job for adults. When little Flange proves more difficult to assemble than predicted, Di calls in her brother, Manifold. In stereotypical male style, Manny eschews the directions and makes a few “improvements.” As family and friends gather with treats (mmm, greased gears!) to celebrate the new baby, Di, ignoring Cathy’s insistence that updates need to be installed, initiates Flange, with disastrous results. But wise Cathy has a scheme. With the assistance of robopet Sprocket, Cathy distracts the adults long enough to rebuild the baby according to the plans, saving the day and the family. But wait! There’s more! What’s this left in the box? In classic, understated Wiesner style, Robobaby pokes fun at adult behavior. Brief speech bubbles contain the minimal text, leaving the creative artwork to captivate the reader’s attention. Young readers will relate to Cathy’s annoyance at being pushed aside, and celebrate her success in getting little Flange operational at last. As always, Wiesner’s illustrations beg for multiple viewings to fully appreciate their detailed cleverness.

THOUGHTS: Children young and old will enjoy the story of big sister Cathy saving the day for the bumbling adults with their all-too-familiar behaviors, as well as soak up the rich, engrossing illustrations. The story only improves with subsequent readings. Another winner from Wiesner. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – Here in the Real World

Pennypacker, Sara. Here in the Real World. HarperCollins, 2020. 978-0-062-69895-7. $17.99. 320 p. Grades 3-6.

“Everything was something else before, and will be something else after.” Ware is an only child, and he’s perfectly happy spending his summer alone with his grandmother, whom he refers to as Big Deal, but when she falls and needs a hip replacement, Ware’s parents sign him up for Summer Rec where they hope he can have “meaningful social interactions” with other kids his age. To Ware, this is the worst case scenario, until he meets a girl named Jolene who is planting a garden in a half torn down, abandoned church right next to the rec center. Ware sees the potential in this church, and instead of going to rec, he spends his days with Jolene pretending the church is a castle and that he is a knight, living by their code of chivalry. For the first time in Ware’s life, he doesn’t feel ashamed about spending time off in his own world, and with the help of Jolene, his uncle, and others he meets throughout the summer, he realizes that it’s okay to be himself, and he doesn’t want to turn into someone else after all. “He had changed this summer. He was spending more time off in his own world. And it turned out, he didn’t feel ashamed about it. Turned out, he really liked it there.”

THOUGHTS:  Here in the Real World is perfect for readers who feel like they just don’t belong. Your heart will break for Ware and Jolene as they try to navigate through the real world in this moving and touching novel. Middle school can be such a hard time, and hopefully readers will realize, like Ware does, that it’s okay to be yourself, even when you feel pressure from parents and classmates to be someone else entirely. This realistic fiction book is about finding not only yourself, but your people, and being able to see them just as they are too.

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

Elem. – Boxitects

Smith, Kim. Boxitects. Clarion Books, 2020. 978-1-328-47720-0. Unpaged. $17.99. K-3.

Meg is a talented “boxitect.” She makes all sorts of things out of boxes, from houses to towers to tunnels. When her mother sends her to Maker School, she is very excited to learn all about boxitecture. However, this all changes when Simone shows up. Simone is also a boxitect, and she puts Meg’s work to shame. When Meg and Simone are forced to work together on a group project, their inability to agree results in disaster. In order to salvage their project, the two must learn to compromise and work together. An encouraging story about the power of creativity and teamwork, this book is sure to delight young artists and makers.

THOUGHTS: I absolutely love the incorporation of STEAM elements into this story, and the fact that the protagonist is a female is an added bonus. I could see this being used in the classroom to introduce a STEAM project or experiment, perhaps even one that involves creating something out of cardboard boxes. The back matter even includes an experiment that demonstrates the durability of cardboard, as well as directions for creating both a tunnel and a castle out of boxes. This book would pair nicely with Antoinette Portis’s Not A Box (2006). It would be an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Paper Kingdom

Rhee, Helena Ku. The Paper Kingdom. Random House, 2020. 978-0-525-64461-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Daniel’s parents work as janitors on night shift. One night, his usual babysitter is unable to come over and stay with him, so he must go to work with his parents. In order to keep Daniel entertained, his parents tell him they work for the Paper King, cleaning up after the messy dragons and other inhabitants of the kingdom. Daniel becomes upset that his parents have to clean up messes that were made by others, but they appease him by telling him that some day, when he becomes king, he can sit in his throne and tell the dragons to be nice and neat. They remind him, however, that he will need to be kind to the dragons, for they work hard, too. An uplifting story about hard work, family, imagination, and kindness, this title makes for a great read aloud.

THOUGHTS: Centering on a brown-skinned, black-haired, working-class family, this book is a beautiful celebration of diversity and manual labor. It is definitely relatable for all working-class families and could spark some meaningful discussions about the power of hard work and the importance of remaining humble and kind. Gorgeous illustrations accompany this moving story.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Bear’s Garden

Colleen, Marcie. The Bear’s Garden. Imprint, 2020. 978-1-250-31481-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK- 2.

Where most people in the city see an empty lot, one little girl sees potential. She imagines what the lot could be–a beautiful place to grow and play. She begins to care for the delicate seedlings that grow in the lot. When the girl has to leave the city, she decides to leave her stuffed bear behind to care for the garden. Amazingly, with a little help from the community, her dreams begin to come to life, and the little lot becomes everything she imagined it could be. An inspirational story about the power of dreams, dedication, and community, this book will inspire readers to find beauty in the most ordinary places.

THOUGHTS: Because this book was inspired by the true story of a community garden in Brooklyn, New York, there are many extension activities that could be done with it. Students could research and/or take a virtual field trip to the Brooklyn Bear’s Pacific Street Community Garden. They could brainstorm projects that might be done in their own community to beautify a particular area. The book could be paired with other gardening books for a unit on gardening, or paired with Sydney Smith’s Small in the City (2019) for a display about life in the city.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – How to Be a Pirate

Fitzgerald, Isaac. How to Be a Pirate. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020. 978-1-681-19778-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

On the first endpages, freckle-faced and pigtailed Cece is told she can’t be a pirate. Muted colors reflect her mood as she visits her grandfather who she suspects might know a thing or two about pirates. As it turns out, Grandpa’s tattoos show Cece characteristics of a good pirate. She must be brave, be quick, have fun, be independent, and have love. With each character trait, Cece and Grandpa go on and adventure, and the story becomes more lively and colorful. With a new awareness of what it takes to be what she wants, Cece returns to the boys and their pirate treehouse – now full of confidence that she has exactly what it takes to be a pirate.

THOUGHTS: This adventurous story shows children that fitting a role is about more than what one may assume. Breaking down gender stereotypes in an age appropriate way, Fitzgerald’s How to Be a Pirate is sure to be a much loved addition to any elementary library.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration and Cake

Singer, Marilyn. Follow the Recipe: Poems about Imagination, Celebration and Cake. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2020. $16.99. 978-0-7352-2790-3. 48 p. Grades 2-5. 

An eclectic anthology of poetic recipes on a wide array of subjects. Rather than listing ingredients for a favorite dish, these recipes feature sage advice ranging in topics from success in cooking, to courage, magic, and substitution. A few of the poems stick to foodie themes. “Recipe for Adventure” is a celebration of less common produce such as kohlrabi and rambutan. Others stray far from food as the topic in favor of other concepts. In the “Recipe for Fairy Tales” well-known components of favorite tales are listed as ingredients: “a handful of magical beans\ a gathering of ramps (whatever that means).” Illustrations composed of vibrantly colored goauche, block print, and collage fill each page. 

THOUGHTS: A unique anthology with a wide range of poetic styles to add to any school library’s poetry collection. 

811 Poetry          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – The Biggest Story

Coyle, Sarah. The Biggest Story. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64045-4. 32 p. $12.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Coyle’s vibrant picture book, illustrated by Dan Taylor, reminds readers that even in a world with the iPad, Nintendo Switch, and YouTube, the best entertainment comes from the imagination of storytellers. Errol is surrounded by every toy and electronic he owns and yet, he is still bored. His mother is a fantastic storyteller, and he begs for one of her stellar stories. Unfortunately, she must complete some errands around the house first. She suggests Errol think up his own tale instead. While worrying that he doesn’t know how to come up with a story, he bumps into some insect and animal friends who give him some fun and unusual ideas for his tale. Errol also meets some time-traveling dinosaurs who want a featured spot in his first literary creation. Together, his newfound furry and scaly friends help him create a story so big, even his mother, storyteller extraordinaire, is impressed with the final result.

THOUGHTS: This book shows students the power of storytelling and how a story can be generated just by looking all around you. Teachers and librarians will especially love that Errol has an activity in the back of the book to help students find their inner storyteller. What I love most about this book, however, is that Errol is a character of color featured in a children’s book that shows him doing normal activities. Every library can benefit from books that show people of color being, well, regular people!

Picture Book         Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

2017 Catch-up PreK-3 – The Too-Scary Story & Series NF – About Habitats

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Murguia, Bethanie Deeney.  The Too-Scary Story.  Arthur A. Levine, 2017. 9780545732420. Unpaged. $16.99.  PreK-2.

 

In this charming picture book, two children request that their dad tell them a bedtime story.  Grace, the older sister, wants a scary story, while her brother seems less sure of this. Their father begins a tale about two young explorers who are walking through a forest with their dog on their way home. In the darkness, Walter, the young brother, is very worried, but cheers when the darkness is relieved by fireflies.  Next they hear a lot of breathing sounds that turn out to be sleeping animals and finally, the “evil shadow” they see is really their father sitting on the bed as he finishes the story. The illustrations are full bleed and done in watercolor, gouache pencil and tissue collage. The “scary” scenes are illustrated with dark colors, while the “non-scary” scenes use a lighter colored palette. The stuffed toys in the children’s bedroom appear in the forest as real animals.  Children will enjoy looking for the owl, which appears on each double page spread. THOUGHTS: Murguia’s text is a wonderful and reassuring bedtime story. It also serves as a great read aloud, especially around Halloween, when a non-holiday story is needed. An additional purchase for libraries that want more not “too-scary” stories for young readers.

 

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District


 

Sill, Cathryn.  Seashores.  Peachtree, 2017. 978-1-56145-968-1.  Unpaged. $16.95. K-3.     

                     

Sill, Cathryn. Deserts. 978-1-56145-641-3
Sill, Cathryn. Forests. 978-1-56145-734-2
Sill, Cathryn. Grasslands. 978-1-56145-559-1
Sill, Cathryn. Mountains. 978-1-56145-469-3
Sill, Cathryn. Oceans. 978-1-56145-618-5
Sill, Cathryn. Polar Regions. 978-1-56145-968-1
Sill, Cathryn. Wetlands. 978-1-56145-432-7

 

Seashores is one book in a series of habitat books by Cathryn and John Sill.  In this text, the reader learns about seashore ecology around the world.  The author discusses the different types of beaches, the landforms surrounding the beach, the effect of tides and various animals that inhabit coastal areas, including some lesser known ones.  The text appears in a large font size on the left hand side of the book and is a single simple sentence. On the right side appear the muted watercolor illustrations, which are called plates. John Sill’s meticulous drawings could be displayed as wall art. More information about each plate is included in the back matter, which also contains a glossary and bibliography of books and active websites.  It might have been better to include the additional plate information in the body of the text itself, because now the reader must flip back and forth, especially if reading the book aloud. THOUGHTS: Despite this concern about book design, this text is a wonderful introductory resource for young children learning about coastal ecology. Teachers could use this as a read aloud or students could read this alone. Librarians needing books on habitats for primary grades may want to consider this series.  (The other books in this series were not available for review).

 

577.699, Seashore Ecology          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District