Snider, Grant. One Boy Watching. Chronicle Books, 2022. 978-1-797-21088-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.
The simple, familiar experience of a school bus ride is turned into an excursion of discovery in Grant Snider’s picture book. Gorgeously enhanced with his own illustrations, the story follows one boy, one day, one ride to school. While the text is sparse, the words capture the small delights the boy observes on his long ride from his rural home to his school in town. Each page incorporates a counting theme, with concepts both simple (three pecking chickens) and more abstruse (no trains, infinite sky, countless flowers), sure to attract the attention of the keen listener or reader. Sinder’s color pencil and marker illustrations are lush and eye-catching, tying in to the school theme of the story. Bus riders are compared to crayons in a box, which echoes the feel of the artwork. As the long school day draws to a close, the boy begins to wonder what he may spy on the ride home. The story is a visual and thematic delight. Besides being fun to read, youngsters will enjoy counting, pondering the boy’s lengthy ride to school and long school day. How do they compare to their own school experience? The main character is white, while a variety of ethnicities are represented among the children on the bus.
THOUGHTS: This book would make a wonderful read aloud early in the school year, and will inspire many rereads. A worthy addition to libraries serving young patrons, especially school libraries.
Picture Book Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Buitrago, Jairo. Drawing Outdoors. Greystone Kids. 2022. 978-1-771-64847-9. $18.95. Grades K-3.
In many places, schools may have a gym, library, computers, and a playground. Deep in the mountains, however, is an extraordinary school that is a little bit different. It does not have the items a typical school would have. It does have an amazing teacher who leads the class outside on a drawing adventure. What will they draw? Why dinosaurs of course!
THOUGHTS: A unique book about a drawing adventure! What student would not want to go outdoors to draw dinosaurs? A fun story that young dinosaur lovers will enjoy.
Picture Book Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD
Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54553-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.
Stuck inside on a rainy day, an African American brother and sister follow their grandmother’s advice to let their imaginations take them away to another place. Soon, they are able to use their minds to fly away from all of the challenges life throws at them. When they’re mad, they fly away from the anger. When they move away and their new neighbors look at them funny, they fly away from the judgment and skepticism. Their grandmother tells them this ability to free their beautiful, brilliant minds and rise above adversity comes from their ancestors who, many years ago, overcame the challenges of slavery in a similar manner.
THOUGHTS: This is a remarkable story about strength, resiliency, and the power of one’s imagination. An author’s note honors the ancestors who suffered through the horrors of enslavement and acknowledges the influence of Virginia Hamilton in this story (and other stories). This would make an excellent introduction to a unit on slavery, or it could be paired with Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). It can also be given to children who lack confidence to encourage them to believe in the power of their dreams. An uplifting and inspiring story, this book belongs in every elementary library.
Picture Book Julie Ritter, PSLA Member
Sicuro, Aimée. If You Find a Leaf. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-30659-8. $17.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.
This is a delightful, rhyming tribute to the pleasures of autumn. A single leaf sends a young child on a day spent imagining scenes that could be created using colorful fall leaves. Leaves are turned into boats, hammocks, a dog bed, hot air balloons, and so much more. Beautifully illustrated in ink, charcoal, watercolor, photographs, and collage. Detailed instructions on how to preserve leaves to create art based on the illustrations are included. A picture book celebration of autumn and creativity.
THOUGHTS: A wonderful, gentle read aloud that would be a lovely companion to Ehlert’s Leaf Man.
Picture Book Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD
Calendar, Kacen. Moonflower. Scholastic Press, 2022. 978-1-338-63659-8. 272 p. $17.99. Grades 3-7.
The dreamy scenes and atmospheric tone of this novel contrast sharply with the depression and anxiety that plague the main character, a child named Moon. Moon has trouble sleeping, speaking, and attending school with other kids, and instead they choose to get lost in a world of magical realism where they feel more “real” than they do in real life. Their mother is clearly distraught and although she tries to help, Moon’s mental health is not something she can cope with well on her own. Eventually, Moon’s therapist and a cast of metaphorical guides they find on their journeys to the spirit realm help them realize that all people are worthy of love, and that life is full of pain, but also of great beauty and joy.
THOUGHTS: Moon’s struggles throughout this book are highlighted by vivid descriptions of depression and suicidal thoughts that might be triggering for some people. Despite the pain that Moon endures, and the sometimes didactic internal dialogue we hear from them during their various encounters with antagonists, teachers and friends, the story ends on a tremendously hopeful note that centers around the idea that everyone deserves love.
Fantasy Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Fleming, Meg. Wondering Around. Illustrated by Richard Jones. Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99 978-1-534-44935-0. Grades PK-2.
“Out for a hike, or a climb, or a ride–what do you wonder when you wander outside?” This whimsically illustrated book asks readers to answer this question everywhere they go. In the rain, near forest animals, underwater, under rocks… what do you see there, and what can you imagine there? After wandering through many places, the book shows several students drawing their own pictures, one student gazing thoughtfully (wondering) at his own. He incorporates some of the images from his classmates’ work–on his paper or in his mind. “Think and blink on everything. On wing. On foot. On fin. Wander on the outside…and wander on the in.”
THOUGHTS: This book successfully breathes life into places using imagination, encouraging readers to stop and consider, re-think, explore, and imagine. The illustrations work well to open up the pages using dazzling colors and light as a variety of children wander and wonder. This book is well-placed to inspire artists, writers, and wanderers to see their environment and see beyond, making the most of the possibilities of imagination.
Picture Book Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Anderson, Beth. Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine. Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30325-8. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.
“Imagine. Discover. Create.” Throughout his childhood, these whispers call to Franz Gsellmann. The words run through his mind even as his parents rely on him to do the more practical work of helping out on the family farm. As Franz busies himself milking cows, gathering eggs, and picking apples, the whispers continue calling to him. One night, many years later, he wakes from a dream with an idea for a fantastical, magical, phantasmagorical machine. Unsure about how to make his dream machine a reality, he draws inspiration from the World’s Fair in Belgium. For the next 23 years, he visits flea markets and junkyards, filling bags and carts with odds and ends of all kinds. He hauls everything back to his workshop where he tinkers in secrecy. When he finally reveals his creation to his family and neighbors, he’s crushed when they don’t understand his vision. They want to know what the machine does, but they miss the point that sometimes, a creation doesn’t need a practical purpose. Some things can be appreciated simply for their artistic beauty, ingenuity, and creativity. Backmatter pages include a brief biography of Franz Gsellmann as well as black and white photos of him with his machine.
THOUGHTS: This title will be a thought-provoking addition to STEAM lessons as it highlights the ideas of perseverance, experimentation, creativity, and optimism. It also draws connections between science and art and shows the value of thinking outside the box. Share this with art teachers too to kickstart units about recycled art or self-taught artists.
621 Applied Physics Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Capucilli, Alyssa Satin. The Library Fish. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-534-47705-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.
The Library Fish by Alyssa Satin Capucilli is about Mr. Hughes, a public librarian who finds a fishbowl outside of his library one day. Mr. Hughes welcomes the fish into the library and puts her in the children’s section. The fish watches as every day Mr. Hughes reads stories, does book checkouts with children and the fish even gets to go on the Bookmobile! One day, there is a snow storm, and the library is closed. The fish takes this opportunity to go exploring in the library to see more of the books that Mr. Hughes reads out loud that she misses. When the night is over, and Library fish has read all of these wonderful books, she climbs back into her bowl and goes to sleep. In the morning when Mr. Hughes gets back, he notices that the fish may have yawned, and the last illustration shows Mr. Hughes looking at the books that are on the floor with a puzzled expression. The illustrations in this book are wonderful, and the reader will want to go back over this book merely to look at the illustrations again.
THOUGHTS: I adored this story!! There is so much diversity found within the book’s illustrations, and I really appreciated that the illustrator made that choice. The story is sweet and charming and would make a wonderful first week of school read aloud with Kindergarten students, or even a great story to share with older students and have them come up with unique pets that can be found in the library. Overall, this is a wonderful addition to any elementary school library collection.
Picture Book Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy
Peter, Gareth. Adventures with My Daddies. Illustrated by Garry Parsons. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63281-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-3.
An unnamed child shares why her daddies are amazing in this sweet picture book. When they read stories together “exciting journeys start” – battling dragons, hunting dinosaurs, and exploring the moon and secret islands are just some of their fun adventures. But their favorite story is their adoption story which brought them together. The narrator talks about different types of families: “Some children have two mommies, and some a mom and a dad.” before explaining why she’s “SO glad” her “SUPER daddies” chose her. Even if they’re “not the best at everything” she knows “they’re always there.” A diverse cast of characters are featured by beautiful acrylic and pencil illustrations in this sweet, rhyming picture book.
THOUGHTS: This beautiful story will show children that all families have unique characteristics. Highly recommended for elementary schools looking to add family stories and LGBTQ representation to their picture book collections.
Picture Book Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD
Wenzel, Brendan. Inside Cat. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-17319-1. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.
Inside Cat spends its days peering through many different kinds of windows in its house. Each window is a different size or shape and presents a different view of the city. Inside Cat takes in scenes of everything from flowers to birds, towers to balloons. It sees big machines, small mice, bright traffic lights, and dark nighttime skies. The cat also uses its wild imagination to fill in gaps about what it’s seeing and to help make sense of the world. Since it spends so much time looking through windows, Inside Cat assumes it’s an expert about the world. But, when an outside door is left open, Inside Cat forms entirely new ideas. Brief, rhyming text winds its way across each double-page spread as Inside Cat moves from window to window, constantly seeing the world from different perspectives. The illustrations, composed from a variety of media including cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer, are the true stars of the story. Careful readers will notice new details each time the story is shared. In particular, they will enjoy searching for the mice and watching what antics they are up to on each spread.
THOUGHTS: Use this text during creative writing activities to spark ideas about seeing the world from different perspectives and using your imagination.
Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Pet stories. Perspective fiction. Stories in rhyme.