Elem. – It’s Okay to Smell Good

Tharp, Jason. It’s Okay to Smell Good. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-31133-7. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Panda Cat (a skunk) lives in Smellsville, one of the stinkiest places imaginable. He begins each day by making himself as smelly as possible thanks to his garlic and onion toothpaste and rotten egg hair gel. He also smears moldy mayonnaise into his armpits, guzzles spoiled milk with his breakfast, and eats toast with toejam and rotten apples. When he arrives at school, his friends share the news that celebrity stink-scientist Smellbert Einstink will be judging their science fair. Later that afternoon, Panda Cat practices his experiment: making the stinkiest soap ever. But, something goes terribly wrong. Even though he adds the smelliest ingredients he can find, the soap somehow comes out bright pink, smelling like cotton candy and sugar cookies. And, to Panda Cat’s horror, he finds that he actually kind of loves the smell. He wonders if he secretly likes smell-good stuff, but he’s too worried about being different from everyone else and sadly flushes the soap down the toilet. The next day at the science fair, Panda Cat repeats his experiment, and this time, his concoction smells even better: like caramel apples, sugar cookies, cotton candy, and strawberries! Panda Cat is worried about looking like a failure in front of everyone, but Smellbert Einstink confides one of his biggest regrets is that his work has created a world where stinky smells replaced nice scents. He asks Panda Cat to consider how we can ever truly appreciate really stinky things without nice smells to compare them to. He also reassures Panda Cat that it’s okay to like whatever you like, even if it makes you feel different than everyone else.

THOUGHTS: This title celebrates the idea that it’s okay to have your own preferences and like what you like, even if those tastes make you stand out from the crowd. It will be a good conversation-starter during morning meetings and will also be a crowd pleaser thanks to multiple references to farts, ear-wax, and other gross-out humor.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Daisy

Bagley, Jessixa. Daisy. Neal Porter Books/Holiday House, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-823-44650-6. $18.99. Grades K-1.

Daisy is a young warthog named after her mother’s favorite flower. Her mother often comments that “They seem plain, but when you look closer you see their beauty.” At school, the other animals laugh at her name, saying she looks more like a thistle. This teasing makes her sad and she finds herself often looking down at her feet. One day, the young warthog realizes that there are marvelous objects to be found when looking at the ground and begins to collect them. Among her treasures are a chipped teacup, buttons, old glasses, and other discarded and overlooked items, which she keeps in a secret place. While her classmates see her collection as junk, Daisy finds beauty in every object. Then, new pieces suddenly appear in her path and on returning to her special place, Daisy finds the most important gift of all- friendship. The full bleed illustrations by the author are done in watercolor and pencil. The endpapers reflect the theme, picturing unopened daisies in the front, but in full bloom in the back. It may be a little puzzling to the reader why Daisy is called “Thistle” when a porcupine is also in the class. This and a retrospective examination of the animals’ facial expressions would be good discussion starters. Readers will enjoy the clever way that the author reveals the animals’ names.

THOUGHTS: This story works as a great read aloud for anti-bullying and character lessons and to help students understand that all individuals are special in their own way.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – All Because You Matter

Charles, Tami. All Because You Matter. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-57485-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Charles and illustrator Bryan Collier create a loving ode to children of color, gently reassuring them that they matter. Collier’s rich, exuberant pages give life and emphasis to Charles’ text, showing young parents dreaming of their child to come. Their hopes and expectations spiral through a dreamy, quilt-inspired landscape. While the story espouses hopes and confidences applicable for all children, the intent is clearly to address current events, to bolster young black and brown children against a world that may be unwelcoming. Charles’ writing is gentle and powerful, but Collier and his stunning visuals should have been on the Caldecott shortlist.

THOUGHTS: A necessary purchase for all libraries serving young patrons.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Julián at the Wedding

Love, Jessica. Julián at the Wedding. Candlewick Press, 2020. 978-1-536-21238-9. 40 p. $16.99. Grades PreK-2.

Julián returns! This time he isn’t donning a mermaid costume but is attending a wedding! Abuela and Julián arrive at the wedding, but Julián quickly finds a new friend. Julián and his new friend, Marisol, find their own adventures during the celebration, but Marisol’s flower girl dress gets ruined in all the fun. Julián and Marisol work together to fashion a new fairy-like dress as they reunite with the party. Similar to Julián’s first story, themes of identity and who people are on the outside and who they are on the inside can be more easily understood through this work. A story filled with love, beautiful colors, and culture is another one for bookshelves of blooming readers.

THOUGHTS: Love seamlessly incorporates a same sex wedding into a typical story of children being children. She provides the anchor for the opportunity for social emotional in safe ways for young readers. This book should be added to elementary libraries everywhere!

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Playing Possum

Black Reinhardt, Jennifer. Playing Possum. Clarion Books. 2020. 978-1-328-78270-0. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Alfred is a possum. When possums become nervous, they tend to freeze and play dead. Unfortunately, Alfred is an extremely nervous possum, which means he often is freezing up. This can make life very difficult for him, as he does not do well in school, sports, or even making friends because of his freezing up. Sofia is an armadillo. Armadillos will often curl into a ball when nervous. Together, Alfred and Sofia slowly learn to trust each other and become friends, understanding that everyone has moments. Together they learn all of the animals cope differently, and it is okay. Friendship and trust can take time, but it is worth it!

THOUGHTS: A cute book about different animals, nerves, and anxiety! The back of the book contains information on how different animals react in different situations. A fun read that can be helpful for readers who may need help with nerves or anxiety.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Sticks and Stones

Polacco, Patricia. Sticks and Stones. Simon & Schuster, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-42622-1. $18.99. Grades 2-4.

In another story based on her childhood, Polacco has created a heartwarming tale about the school year she spent with her father in Michigan. Trisha is eager to start middle school with her summer friends, but they desert her at the front door. She is on her own until a skinny boy with glasses called Thom helps her find her first class. The pair sits with a quiet girl named Ravanne, who is artistic and another outsider. A bully named Billy calls Trisha “Cootie” because of a nervous rash on her face and gives Thom and Ravanne the cruel nicknames “Sissy Boy” and “Her Ugliness.” The trio become fast friends as they deal with taunts from Billy and his gang. The three friends go kite flying with hand painted silk kites made by Ravanne and have a great time on Halloween, until Billy steals their candy. Trisha learns that she and Thom share a love of ballet and that he takes ballet lessons.  His secret is revealed to the other students when Thom easily clears the high jump bar, which Billy just failed to do. Thom shouts out, “See what ballet can do for you!” which is overheard by Billy and the coach. The bully is furious that the coach wants Thom to try out for the team and confronts him on his way home, breaking his glasses. Sick of the bullying, Thom announces that he is going to perform a dance in the talent show. Because he cannot see well with the broken glasses, Ravanne and Trisha help their friend with stage blocking. At the talent show, Thom dances the part of Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake and his classmates are amazed at his “high and powerful” leaps and other athletic moves. Thom’s brave performance earns him respect from his classmates. Polanco’s signature illustrations are done with pencil and acetone markers. The kite flying drawings contain so much movement that the reader can almost feel the wind. In the author’s note, the reader learns what her Michigan friends are doing today.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of bullying and resilience. Although the text is wordy, it will still hold interest as a read aloud, because of the dialogue and pictures. It is a good choice for guidance counselors or classroom teachers for character lessons.  A worthwhile purchase and one of Polacco’s better works.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

YA – Ready to Fall; Thunderhead

Pixley, Marcella. Ready to Fall.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2017. 9780374303587. $17.99. 360 p. Gr. 8 and up.

After the death of his beloved mother, 16-year-old Max Friedman struggles with his spiraling depression and an unhealthy obsession with an imaginary brain tumor.  Withdrawing from his grieving father and completely unable to cope at his public school, he is given the opportunity to switch to a progressive private high school.  The school matches new students with a student fellow and a faculty mentor, and so Max meets Felicia, the pink-haired free spirit who goes by the name Fish and the demanding professor Gates. The change is a lifeline for Max.  With the help of his new circle of creative friends, some inspiring teachers and his supportive father and grandmother, Max hopes to lift the heavy veil of his depression and make a fresh start. Many of the characters in the book are intriguing;  well-developed and flawed or struggling in some way and Max’s relationships with all of them ring true. The writing is emotionally charged and Max’s grief is palpable. Pixley peppers the pages with scenes from Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, writings that mirror Max’s pain and depression, but also help him come to terms with his own struggles. THOUGHTS: Could be used as a contemporary companion piece for classes studying either of these classic works.

Realistic Fiction       Nancy Summers, Abington School District

 

Shusterman, Neal. Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe Book 2).  Simon and Schuster, 2017. $18.99. 504 p. 9781442472457. Gr. 7 and up.

Thunderhead, the second novel in the Arc of a Scythe trilogy, is a compelling sequel to the boldly original Scythe. The series is set in a dystopian future in which the Thunderhead, an omniscient, advanced AI system, has solved most of humanity’s problems including war and mortality.  The Scythdom was created to maintain a sustainable population and scythes are the individuals selected and trained to be the benevolent guardians of death, gleaning people as necessary to prevent overpopulation.  But now within the Scythdom, the Old Guard and the New Order factions are at war with each other. Cintra, as Scythe Anastasia, is revered as an inspiring Junior Scythe, respected for her adherence to the Old Guard principles.  Rowan, who has been denied his initiation, has assumed the mantle of Scythe Lucifer, a vigilante out to bring justice to the New Order scythes who relish their power and the perks of their positions. The Thunderhead itself features as a narrator and provides us with glimpses into its consciousness, objectives, and motivations as the defacto government head and deity. As the two sides of the Scythedom fight for control,  the Thunderhead is forbidden from intervening in their struggle and is unable to resolve the battle between the noblest and basest instincts of individual human beings. THOUGHTS: Yet another winning series from Shusterman, the master storyteller; readers will be eagerly awaiting the final book in this trilogy. A recommended purchase for all YA collections.

Science Fiction, Dystopian     Nancy Summers, Abington School District

Picture Books – The Road Home; Smoot; T. Veg; Windows

Cotton, Katie.   The Road Home.  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781419723742. Unpaged. $15.95. Gr. K-2.

In this poetic and comforting tale, animals prepare for winter.  Each pair of animals has a goal in mind. The mouse builds a nest underground, and the bird and her chick fly off to a warmer climate.   On their journey, the rabbit and her kit find themselves in an alarming situation. They are being pursued by a wolf and cub who feel hunger or that “burning thing that settles like a stone.”  The author describes the rabbits’ fear as they try to outrun their predator. The reader is reassured to see that the pair have escaped the hungry wolves and have found safety in their leafy home as night falls. As spring arrives, all the animals return to the meadow, having survived the harsh winter. The illustrator Sarah Jacoby has chosen watercolors in a soft and muted color palette, which helps set the mood of the story.  Her engaging drawings take us through the seasons, as the tale begins in late summer and ends in spring. Most of the illustrations are full bleed and are done over a two-page spread. In the drawing of the fall leaves being blown about, one can almost feel and hear the wind. The winter landscape looks bleak and cold, with a blanket of snow topped by thorny bushes. The message here is that whenever parent and child are together, that place is home, no matter how difficult the road was to get there.  THOUGHTS: This lyrical story works well in winter-themed storytimes and would make a wonderful bedtime story.  Children will enjoy looking at the sweet drawings of the animals. A worthy selection for elementary collections.

Picture Book            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Cuevas, Michelle and Sydney Smith. Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow. Dial Books. 2017. 978-0-525-42969-2. $17.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

A shadow’s job is typically to obediently follow you around, but “if life is a book, then Smoot the Shadow has been reading the same yawn-colored page for the last seven and a half years.” One day, Smoot has the chance to live out his dreams and wishes when he comes unstuck from his boy. As Smoot continues his journey, other shadows find courage and try their own fantasies. Smoot worries that this could get out of hand, so the rebellious shadow takes matters into his own shadowy hand, all within the curious eye of his boy. Will they find a connection? Sydney Smith’s gentle wwatercolorswith inky shadows make for an interesting contrast, and Michelle Cuevas keeps her text lyrical and well paced. The shadow of Smoot may just encourage more dreaming and action for other children who are stuck in a rut.  THOUGHTS: Smoot would make for a fun twist for science lessons or the old groundhog stories that primary teachers use every year.

Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

 

Prasadam-Halls, Smriti. T. Veg. Abrams Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2494-7.  $16.95. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Poor Reginald the T. Rex just doesn’t fit in with his jungle friends. He is great at roaring and stomping, but come dinner time, he opts for carrot cake over steak. He attempts to convince his family and friends to try grapes, greens, avocado pie and smoothies, but they insist that a T. Rex should just eat meat, meat, meat. Eventually, the poor little dino, tired of being teased and tormented, packs his bag and runs away, looking to hang out with like-minded herbivores instead. But that proves to be challenging for a variety of reasons, leaving Reg frustrated and alone. However, his friends and family are missing him, too, and when Reg saves the clan from disaster, they finally appreciate the benefits of eating their fruits and veggies. The story is related in rollicking rhyme, and the palate of the  bold illustrations bring to mind carrots, peas and eggplant. THOUGHTS: A cute book to underscore the freedom to be different, or to encourage healthy eating.   

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

 

Denos, Julia. Windows. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-9035-9. $15.99. Unpaged. PreK – 1.

Evening begins to fall and a young boy heads out into his neighborhood, taking his small dog for a walk. As the pair amble past homes and businesses, the boy notices the variety of activities taking place in the windows, eventually returning home to a familiar, welcoming warmth. The detailed illustrations will invite children to closely examine each page and each window to see what is happening.  THOUGHTS: Beautifully illustrated, this is a lovely book for one-on-one reading.  

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District