Elem. – This is a Dog Book!

Henderson, Judith. This is a Dog Book! Julien Chung Ill. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30493-4. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Bunny wants to be in this book, but it is a dog book, and bunny is not a dog. Bunny tries to convince the dogs that he is a dog by providing them with cookies and answering all of their dog questions. Bunny does everything the dogs ask of him except answer the “doo-doos” question which he successfully avoids until the end when he must pass the “sniff test”. But that still isn’t enough for all of the dogs. Finally, the big dog asks Bunny if he is a good friend. If he passes this test, Bunny might just make it into the dog book after all. 

THOUGHTS: This is a sweet story about acceptance and inclusion. The red shirt of Bunny against the black and white illustrations of the dogs highlight that he is indeed not a dog even though he can do all that the dogs do. This text is a great conversation starter for students to discuss inclusion and exclusion and how each makes one feel.  

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – I Will! A Book of Promises

Medina Juana. I Will! A Book of Promises. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-55559-9. Unpaged. $14.99. PreK-1.

In this uplifting, beautifully illustrated book, readers will make promises to make the world a better place through a variety of actions, such as being kind, helping others, and taking care of nature. Bright, bold illustrations feature racially and physically diverse characters, and the short, simple text makes this an incredibly accessible, straightforward guide for young readers who want to build a better world for themselves and others.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share with preschool and Kindergarten students who are just beginning to interact with each other and the world. It would help spark important discussions about how they can show compassion towards themselves and others. It would also make an excellent gift for high school and college graduates, serving as a gentle reminder to be compassionate citizens as they go forward.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – The Chance to Fly

Stroker, Ali, and Davidowitz, Stacy. The Chance to Fly. Amulet Books, 2021. 978-1-419-74393-1. 279 p. $16.99. Grades 3-7.

After moving across the country and leaving her best friend Chloe behind, Natalie Beacon feels a little lost. She finds some solace in belting Broadway showtunes and hanging with her dog, Warbucks. Her father believes that getting her back on a wheelchair racing team will make her feel better, and it might have…until Nat sees a flyer advertising open auditions for a teenage production of Wicked! Without her parents’ permission or knowledge, Nat auditions with the hope of playing Nessarose, the only Broadway character that is in a wheelchair. Yet even if she makes it into the show, Nat knows she will constantly worry about how her wheelchair might get in the way: what if backstage isn’t wheelchair accessible? What if the dance moves are too complicated for her? What if her parents don’t think she is capable of doing something on her own without their help? Determined and eager, Nat sets out to prove to everyone that she is not defined by her wheelchair.

THOUGHTS: Ali Stroker, co-author of this book, knows firsthand about Nat’s predicament. She is the first actress in a wheelchair to appear on a Broadway stage AND win a Tony Award, Broadway’s highest honor. This middle grade novel is packed with show tune lyrics and Broadway references. Readers will be charmed by (and also relate to) Nat and her friends. Her story is proof that no one should give up on their dreams.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

MG – Real

Cuject, Carol, and Peyton Goddard. Real. Shadow Mountain, 2021. 978-1-629-72789-9. 304 p. $16.99. Grades 4-8.

Charity can clap, jump, kick, shrug, and make movements just like everyone else – except she can’t control WHEN her body makes these movements. This also means she can’t talk – while she can solve complicated math problems and memorize passages from literature, Charity cannot communicate. Her diagnosis is autism, which means her brain is wired differently than other neurotypical students her age. Charity goes to a special school for students with different challenges and abilities. However, when her mother realizes just how badly the adults are treating Charity in that school, she fights to get her into a regular public school. The principal, however, is not supportive; he thinks Charity’s uncontrollable movements will disrupt the other students in the school. But the special education teacher and Charity’s mom believe that she can do it. The problem is, Charity isn’t sure she can. She hopes that she can prove to everyone in the school that she is a capable, intelligent young lady – even if she can’t always make her body cooperate.

THOUGHTS: Real gives a picture into the mind of a student who is not neurotypical. Peyton Goddard, one of the authors, writes this book based on personal experiences she had as a teenager in the hopes of showing readers that inclusion and protection of this vulnerable population is a necessity in schools and in society. This book is a must-have for middle grade libraries and would be an excellent book club pick.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD

Elem. – The Perfect Fit

Jones, Naomi. The Perfect Fit. 1st American ed., Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64141-3. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades K-3.

Triangle loved playing with the circles, but sometimes she felt a bit different. She couldn’t roll like the circles and often felt like she was getting in their way. Therefore, she set off in search of friends who were more like her. She played with some squares, but soon realized she couldn’t stack like them. She played with the hexagons, but found that she kept messing up their pattern. Finally, Triangle discovered other triangles who were exactly like her. However, it wasn’t long before Triangle realized that it was a lot more fun for all of the shapes to play together. A cute story with a strong positive message about acceptance and inclusion, this book would be an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I love the many ways in which this book could be used in an elementary setting. It could be used to introduce geometrical shapes and patterns, or it could be used to initiate a discussion about acceptance and inclusion. Pair it with other titles that celebrate diversity and differences, such as Lisa Mantchev’s Strictly No Elephants (2015) and Todd Parr’s It’s Okay to Be Different (2001).

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Party to Remember

Tebow, Tim, with A.J. Gregory. A Party to Remember. Illustrated by Jane Chapman. Waterbrook, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-23204-0. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Bronco is a friendly, loveable puppy who needs glasses to see clearly. He wakes one morning to his friend Squirrel chattering that “the party is tonight! Do you have your puzzle piece?” Every invitee has received a puzzle piece, but though Bronco received an invitation, he figures the party isn’t for someone nearsighted like him. But he really wants to go. He begins to search for his puzzle piece and encounters other friends with puzzle pieces who are excited to attend the party. When he tumbles into Chelsie the rabbit, who has fallen over her extra-long ears, he finds that she, too, feels inadequate to attend the party. Bronco encourages her to go with him, saying, “It’s always better together.” They add to their small group Ethan, the cardinal with a broken wing, and Alexis, the goat who sneezes too loudly and scares everyone away. But as they continue, Alexis’ sneeze reveals the party, Bronco discovers his puzzle piece, and they happily find that they all fit at this party. “Each creature is born unique. Our differences make us special. And someone special, like you, is always able to do great things,” says Colby the panda. The friends joyfully dance and enjoy party food and music. The book closes with a scripture verse, “we are God’s masterpiece” and a reminder, “You are unique. You are special. And you are wonderful.”  This is an often-shared message that kids still need to hear, and it gets expert treatment from illustrator Jane Chapman, who makes these characters feel like friends that the reader would like to join.

THOUGHTS: This is definitely a positive look at differences and feels like an inviting beginning to the series “Bronco and Friends.” This is a definite encouragement for all readers.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Color Collector

Solis, Nicholas. The Color Collector. Sleeping Bear Press, 2021. 978-1-534-11105-9 32 p. $14.99. Grades K-3. 

Violet is quiet and keeps to herself; yet, there is a bit of mystery that surrounds the new girl at school. A young boy notices that the new girl collects colorful pieces of debris and trash and places them in her backpack on her walk home from school. A red candy wrapper, bright blue cookie wrappers, yellow pieces of paper, green bottle caps, and red leaves disappear into her backpack every day. Full of curiosity, the young boy gently asks the new girl what she does with her collection of trash. Violet takes her new friend home and proudly shows him the mural in her bedroom. Each piece of trash and each colorful piece of debris has found a home in her artwork displayed on the wall. The mural shines bright and depicts the home that Violet misses so dearly. A friendship ensues as the children talk and confide in each other about the stories and the people that mean so much to them. Renia Metallinou’s beautiful art tells the story as much as the author’s words. As the friendship between the two children develops throughout the story, the artwork changes from gray tones to vibrant and bright colors. The beautiful illustrations compliment the author’s gentle and endearing text.

THOUGHTS: The Color Collector would make for a great read aloud for any grade level in the elementary school setting and would encourage conversations about friendship, empathy, and kindness. The story of Violet and her new friend is relatable to anyone that may have moved a short distance, immigrated from a far away county, or even simply longed to belong. It may also hold a special place in the hearts of elementary art teachers, as the book pays homage to self expression and identity.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z

Latham, Irene, and Charles Waters. Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z. Carolrhoda Books, 2020. 978-1-541-55775-8. 120 p. $19.99. Grades 2-6.

Words have power, and learning how to use, absorb, and value them is one of the most important skills of adolescence. Indeed, relating words like ACCEPTANCE, GRATITUDE, JUSTICE, and VULNERABLE could help classes and young readers make a better world. Irene and Charles, the poets behind the thoughtful Can I Touch Your Hair? poetry story about race and friendship, have compiled a gorgeous collection of words that are illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. Each page features a poem to match the word, and a description of the form of poetry as well. Accompanying the poem are quotations from writers or famous personalities, then a personal message from the author that children can connect with, and finally an action step to take to demonstrate the valuable word. In all, there are 50 poems from A to Z, and they should be digested and discussed thoughtfully rather than quickly. Discussions of race and friendship and hope for a brighter future should make this book an essential tool for home and classrooms.

THOUGHTS: At a time when teachers and parents are seeking ways to share inclusive, diverse, and equitable literature that leads to discussion and action, we can’t do much better than this wonderful book! Consider this for a One Book, One School selection or for a small group of empowered advocates. Highly recommended for grade 2 – 6 (though potentially useful for younger and older grades as well).

811 Poetry          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Picture Books – Groovy Joe; How to Catch a Monster; Monster’s New Undies; Nothing Rhymes with Orange

Litwin, Eric. Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown. Scholastic, 2017. 9780545883795. $16.99. 40p. Gr. Pre-K-1.

Eric Litwin teams up with illustrator Tom Lichtenheld in this picture book that has some simple math and a lesson to learn (there’s always room for one more friend). Litwin’s fame as the author of Pete the Cat will make this book popular. Groovy Joe is a dog that loves to play music and dance. Joe’s motto is “the more the merrier.” As friends knock at his door, readers can follow along with simple math problems as Joe invites everyone into the party. The end of the story includes an invitation to the reader to come join in the party, too.  THOUGHTS: The illustrations make this book. Lichtenfeld’s colorful, bold illustrations will be a hit with this book’s 3 to 5 year old audience. The theme of not excluding anyone in an important lesson to learn at an early age since that can be a problem at the K-6 school level. This book also includes a website to download the song that Joe sings throughout the book.

Picture book        Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Wallace, Adam and Andy Elkerton. How to Catch a Monster. Sourcebooks, 2017. 978-1-4926-4894-9. Unpaged. $10.99. Gr. K-2.

What do you do when you get the role of a ninja in the school play?  Become one of course!  And not just any ninja; a monster catching ninja!  With the courage to trap the monster hiding in his closet, the ninja-monster-catcher meets his match.  After breaking the first few traps, ninja finally catches his monster and learns that his monster isn’t trying to scare him; he just wants to play.  As ninja and monster play, and learn about one another, a friendship between them blooms.  Wallace uses rhyme throughout (although not all pages rhyme), and Elkerton’s illustrations make the monster-in-the-closet come alive as a cuddly friend.  THOUGHTS:  This is a wonderful book to teach about friendship and how differences can be overcome.  

Picture Book     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Berger, Samantha. Monster’s New Undies. Ill. Tad Carpenter, Orchard Books, 2017. 978-0-545-87973-6. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PreK-2.

Monster loves his undies, but they have fallen apart.  He doesn’t want new undies, but it’s too cold without them, so it is time for Monster to get new ones.  At the store Monster doesn’t like any undies until he finds ones just like his old ones.  These new undies allow Monster to be comfortable again.  THOUGHTS:  Although about underwear (which is just funny to students), Monster’s New Undies can compare to any beloved item a student has and the feelings that occur when that item can no longer be used.  This book is a great read-aloud to writing about something students love that they have lost or had to get rid of because they are growing up.

Picture Book      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Rex, Adam. Nothing Rhymes with Orange. Chronicle Books, 2017. 978-1-4521-5443-5. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. 1-3.

Unlike most fruits, nothing does rhyme with orange, and Orange knows this.  Although Orange tries to find a place in this rhyming poem, it just doesn’t work because nothing rhymes with orange.  Fruits that Orange doesn’t even know have rhyming words, but not orange that is until the other fruits create a word to rhyme with orange in order to make Orange feel apart of the fruit group.  Photographs of fruit with hand drawings to bring the fruit alive add to the fun of this rhyming poem and creative take on friendship and fitting in.  THOUGHTS: This is a very creative way to work with students on rhymes, nonsense words, and the importance of inclusion of everyone no matter their differences (or similarities…even if nothing rhymes with orange).

Picture Book     Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Picture Books – Abraham; Mighty Construction Site; Ladies of Liberty; Blue Sky White Stars

Keating, Frank.  Abraham.  Simon and Schuster Books for Young Children, 2017. 9781442493193. Unpaged.  $17.99.  Gr. 2-5.

This picture book biography about Abraham Lincoln is not so much a book that details all his accomplishments, but instead gives the reader insight into his character, aspirations and beliefs.  Keating begins by listing some of Lincoln’s titles, such as “Honest Abe” and “Great Emancipator.” He takes us from Lincoln’s humble beginnings through his presidency, although his assassination is not mentioned. The author discusses how the president valued education and books and that honesty was a guiding principle in his life.  Lincoln’s own quotations are peppered throughout the text.   Mike Wimmer’s full bleed illustrations accompany each page of text and are done in oil on canvas.  His illustration of Lincoln’s statue is stunning, as it appears to gleam in the sunlight.  The full text of the Gettysburg Address is included at the end.  In the author’s note, Keating states that “Abraham Lincoln was an affirmation of the…call of the Declaration of Independence that all men were created equal.”  The author includes a list of his resources.   THOUGHTS:  Although the book does not contain enough information for reports, this appealing biography works well as read aloud and will interest children who wish to know more about our sixteenth president.  This book is part of the Mount Rushmore Presidential series, which also includes Theodore and George.

Picture Book Biography           Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Rinker, Sherri Duskey. Mighty, Mighty Construction Site. Chronicle Books: 2017. 978-1-4521-5216-5. 32pp. $16.99. Gr K-3.

In this sequel to Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, the heavy equipment trucks are back, and they’re ready to tackle their largest project yet! Crane Truck, Dump Truck, Cement Mixer, Bulldozer, and Excavator see the blueprints for their newest project, and they know they’re going to need some help. Cement Mixer honks his horn, and five new trucks come rolling down the road. With the help of Skid Steer, Backhoe, Flatbed Truck, Front-end Loader, and Pumper Truck, the crew pushes dirt, blasts rocks, digs trenches, lays pipes, lifts beams, delivers materials, hauls rubble, and pours foundations. Teamwork is the name of the game, and each truck has an important role to play in completing the project. Rhyming verse and colorful oil pastel illustrations ensure that this is a story construction-fans will return to again and again.   THOUGHTS:  This title will shine during a construction-themed storytime, and it can also be used to promote the benefits of teamwork.

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Roberts, Cokie. Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation. Harper, 2017: 978-0-06-078005-0. 37pp. $17.99. Gr 3-6.

This title highlights female reformers, writers, activists, explorers, educators, and orators who made their mark during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The collection features double-page spreads highlighting the accomplishments of ten women, including Lucy Terry Prince, Sacagawea, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Elizabeth Bayley Seton, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, and Louisa Catherine Adams. Smaller biographical sketches also outline the contributions of women such as Eliza Hamilton, Lucretia Mott, Hannah Foster, and Margaret Dwight. Many of these women worked tirelessly to ensure the freedoms of all of our nation’s people, including women, orphans, and people of diverse faiths, were protected. Sepia-toned pen and ink illustrations by Caldecott Honor-winner Diane Goode lend a period-touch to the pages. Although the information presented is not detailed enough for in-depth research, this book serves as an easily-accessible introduction to some of America’s earliest feminists who strove to make our country a better place for all of its people.  THOUGHTS: This book can be used to in conjunction with American history units about the Founding Fathers and Westward Expansion. It can also serve as a jumping-off point for biographical projects centering around these diverse women. This is the sort of book that teachers could use to highlight one woman each week, or they could focus solely on one or two women who tie in to their current curricular study.

Nonfiction Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Naberhaus, Sarvinder and Kadir Nelson. Blue Sky White Stars. New York, NY: Dial for Young Readers, 2017. 978-0-8037-3700-6. $17.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-3.

Defining America in broad terms can be a challenge for adults as well as students. One symbol that inevitably brings us together is the stars and stripes of the USA flag. This book is a vision of inclusivity using the pieces of the flag to bring out a greater message of the whole country. Naberhaus uses subtle homophones like “Sew together Won nation” with “So together One nation.” as well as phrases and homographs that carry dual meanings of importance. The ever skilled illustrations of Kadir Nelson bring the sparse words to life with diversity and patriotism. The parallels that this team bring to the work are relevant and rousing to our country’s past, present, and future aspirations. THOUGHTS: The discussions that I look forward to having with students around this book are hopefully around the way text and illustration can partner to carry meaning. The connections that I hope students make are hopefully about diversity, unity, and acceptance in a time when we need to emphasize these traits more than ever. This timely book quickly captured my heart and head.

Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD