Elem. – Wonder Walkers

Archer, Micha. Wonder Walkers. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 978-0-593-10964-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When two children head outside for a walk, there’s no shortage of things to wonder about. The more they explore, the more questions they have. “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” “Are branches trees’ arms?” “Are roots the plant’s toes?” The simple text consists mainly of the children’s questions, and the straightforward writing encourages contemplation and discussion. The illustrations are the stars of this book. Stunning double page spreads were created with inks and collage using tissue paper and patterned papers. Archer also uses homemade stamps to create different textures and layers. From green patterned ribbons of grass to swirling underground root networks to patchworks of sunset sky, students will pore over the pages, noting new details with each repeated read.

THOUGHTS: Use this title to encourage students to become more observant and appreciative of the wide world around them. This is the perfect story to share after a nature walk, as students will make connections to things they noticed and things the children in the story encounter. Whether inspired by fields of wildflowers, changing leaves, or a burbling brook, students will have no trouble coming up with “wonders” of their own as they let their imagination soar.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey

Kelly, Erin Entrada. Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey. Greenwillow Books, 2021. 978-0-062-97042-8. $16.99. 160 p. Grades 3-6.

Newbery Award winning author, Erin Entrada Kelly, delivers the first in a new series with character Marisol Rainey. Marisol is a Filipino American living in Louisiana with her family. She and her best friend Jade are enjoying the start to the summer vacation by playing lots of games, using their imagination to create their own fun, and climbing the tree in Marisol’s backyard. Except, Marisol is petrified to climb the tree. Not being brave enough to climb the tree in her backyard is just one of Marisol’s many fears. There are plentiful illustrations throughout the book, drawn by Kelly herself.

THOUGHTS: This engaging book has everything a popular series needs to be a hit with readers. Marisol’s anxieties make her very relatable and the humor laced through Kelly’s writing will entertain even the most reluctant readers.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

Elem. – Never Show a T.Rex a Book

Sirdeshpande, Rashmi. Never Show a T.Rex a Book. 1st American ed., Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64159-8. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-3.

A young girl finds that chaos ensues when she teaches her dinosaur how to read. Written in the same style as Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series, this imaginative book portrays countless if/then scenarios that will delight young readers–and maybe even encourage them to envision some scenarios of their own. A heartwarming tale about the transformative magic of reading, kids will be begging to re-read this book over and over again.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and I love that they portray a multicultural cast of characters. I should note that because this was originally published in England, there are a few pages that may require some clarification for young children; for instance, one page states that the newly educated dinosaur might just become the prime minister. Fans of Laura Numeroff will adore this book, as will dinosaur lovers and avid readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

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