MG – Santiago’s Road Home

Diaz, Alexandra. Santiago’s Road Home. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-44623-6. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 5-8.

Once more author Alexandra Diaz raises our consciousness about the plight of Central American immigrants in our country at this critical time. As she did in The Only Road and Crossroads, Diaz gives a fact-based novel of Santiago Garcia Reyes’s escape from domestic abuse in Mexico through the desert to the detention centers of New Mexico. She does not pull any punches describing the sacrifices and suffering Santiago endures as he makes his way to America with newfound “family” Maria Dolores and her five-year-old daughter, Alegria. After being thrown out once again from a relative’s home where he worked as a free babysitter, Santiago refuses to return to his abusive, neglectful grandmother. Instead, he makes the acquaintance of the kind and generous Maria Dolores and her young daughter and convinces her to take him as they migrate to the United States where Maria Dolores’s sister owns a restaurant. For the first time since his Mami died when he was five-years-old, Santiago feels loved and cared for; and he reciprocates by being the protective big brother. By working in the cheap tavern at the crossroads, he discovers Dominquez, the best coyote to help them cross. Unfortunately, rival coyotes kill Dominquez, leaving the refugees abandoned just shy of the border. Diaz describes the arduous and dangerous journey through the desert, dodging border patrol officers and experiencing dehydration and hunger under a blistering sun. Their efforts end in hospitalization and detention. Again, Diaz intertwines facts and realistic representation about the conditions children suffer in the detention centers, yet maintains both the negative and positive aspects. Some of the detention center guards are kind; some are arrogant brutes. Minor characters like an interested teacher and volunteering lawyers give the story balance. The distress and maltreatment of Santiago as he lingers in detention as well as his brave struggle to belong to a loving family is heart wrenching and sure to instill empathy and compassion toward a timely situation. Includes a glossary of Spanish terms and extensive resources.

THOUGHTS: Diaz’s writing has a way of creating a fully developed character and a well-rounded setting that arouses true sympathy in readers. This book can provide a reference point to discussions of undocumented immigrants, refugees, migration to America as well as current events around asylum seekers and their reasons for immigration.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Rou and the Great Race

Fong, Pam. Rou and the Great Race. Reycraft Books, 2020. $17.95. 978-1-478-86952-8. Unpaged. Grades K-2. 

Rou and her grandma walk the streets of their brown and gray city, surrounded by tall buildings, metal trees, and passersby with robot pets. Grandma remembers a time when the city was alive and flowers beautified the gray surroundings but with growth came Power People who collected all the flowers for themselves. Now, children compete for a single flower in the annual Great Race. Rou is determined to win the flower for her grandma, but when she comes in last all she finds is a sad little stem with petals strewn about. Rou collects the stem, takes it home, and nurtures it into an entire garden which she shares annually at the Great Share. Fong uses colors to show the stark contrast between lively Rou, always clad in red like the flowers she grows, and the depressing brown city. Children will take away a story of kindness, both the lack of it from the Power People and the abundance shown by Rou and Grandma as they give away their flowers. Adult readers will see a more cautionary tale about power, city development, and greed mixed with Rou’s kindness.

THOUGHTS: An unusual but likeable story; readers will root for Rou.

Picture book                    Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

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. – Stanley’s Toolbox & Stanley’s Paint Box

Bee, William. Stanley’s Paint Box. Peachtree Publishing, 2020. 978-1-68263-186-7. Unpaged. $6.99. Grades PreK.

—. Stanley’s Toolbox. Peachtree Publishing, 2020. 978-1-68263-187-4. Unpaged. $6.99. Grades PreK.

Stanley is back in two new board books for children birth-PreK. In Stanley’s Paint Box, Stanley helps Sophie, Benjamin, and Little Woo paint a castle.  Beginning with red, yellow, blue, and white paint, Stanley helps his friends use various items for painting: rollers, sponges, and brushes, while also teaching them how to create different colors from the original four colors. As Stanley mixes colors to create orange, green, purple, and pink, readers are introduced to the combination of primary colors to create secondary colors. Color words, along with the items used for painting, are highlighted throughout the book to help children learn their colors and painting terms.

In Stanley’s Toolbox, Little Woo’s tree house is in need of repair, and Stanley is here to help. Using various tools, Stanley helps Little Woo fix the ladder, roof, and floor of his tree house, and then helps Little Woo decorate it. As with previous Stanley titles, words for specific tools used by Stanley and Little Woo are highlighted to help young children learn terms associated with tools.

THOUGHTS: In addition to teaching young children about painting and building, both titles help young children learn kindness and how to lend a helping hand. As with the previous Stanley titles, these board books include bright, colorful illustrations with plenty of white space to focus young children on the connection between illustrations and words, while also learning about colors and tools.

Board Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – Poisoned

Donnelly, Jennifer. Poisoned. Scholastic Press, 2020. 978-1-338-26849-2. 307 p. $17.99. Grades 7-12.

All of her life Sophie, Princess Charlotta-Sidonia Wilhelmina Sophia, has been told that kindness will be her downfall, her heart is to soft to be a good leader. And Sophie believes every word. Fearing her stepmother’s strict ways, Sophie tucks her kind heart away, trying to hide her true self. She agrees to give her heart to a prince who is better suited to lead her kingdom. Sophie “locks away” her heart as she prepares to become Queen, but she doesn’t have the chance to fulfill this destiny. Her stepmother has other plans in mind. When Sophie awakens, following a violent event, she is greeted by seven brothers and their helpers, who have taken in Sophie and nursed her back to health in seemingly impossible ways. Not feeling completely herself, Sophie tentatively accepts her life in The Hollow. But Sophie feels like there’s more to the story, and she won’t have all of the answers until she embarks on a dangerous journey. Sophie’s character and her kind heart are tested repeatedly, as Sophie learns what it takes to be a true leader. But is her faulty heart up to the challenge, and will she survive all the evil that wishes her dead? Sophie’s story is not a romantic fairytale but instead is about one’s journey towards self discovery.

THOUGHTS: Young adult readers need Sophie in their lives. I loved this reimagined Snow White story and appreciate Donnelly’s incorporation of other themes – like how women are told what they are and are not capable of doing or being. Poisoned deserves a place in every middle or high school collection.

Fantasy          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Thanks a Ton!

Moyle, Sabrina. Thanks a Ton! Abrams Appleseed, 2020. 978-1-419-74334-4. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades K-3.

Brightly colored digital illustrations with neon accents bring this book of gratitude to life. A young elephant donning blue overalls celebrates big and small moments for which he (or she) is thankful. Simple gestures like cheering up someone, making someone smile, giving a hug, and saying please will help children recognize that kindness and good manners can make a big difference in one’s day. Gifts big and small show this elephant’s gratitude, but children will laugh out loud when the little elephant presents a pair of super underwear.

THOUGHTS: Teachers will enjoy reading this silly rhyming text aloud with their students. It will be a great addition to any elementary Social Emotional Learning lesson that celebrates kindness, manners, and gratitude.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Macca the Alpaca

Cosgrove, Matt. Macca the Alpaca. Scholastic Press, 2020. $14.99. Pre-K. 978-1-338-60282-1. 

Loveable Macca is a happy alpaca until he meets a bully llama named Harmer. When the two face-off in a series of challenges to see who is the strongest, Macca uses wit to win each match until even Harmer has to admit that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Macca gives an excellent lesson on how to be a friend with a hug at the end of the story. Brief rhyming text and bold colorful illustrations are perfect for repetitive reading to young listeners.

THOUGHTS: Friendship, bullying, and opposites are themes that run throughout, making this an excellent selection for preschool or kindergarten.

Board Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – The Heart of a Whale

Pignataro, Anna. The Heart of a Whale. Philomel Books, 2020. $17.99. 978-1-984-83627-4. 32 p. Grades K-3. 

Whale has a beautiful song that soothes, cheers and calms all of the animals in the ocean. Even though whale’s song brings joy and love to many he was lonesome, noticing “how there was no song big enough to fill his empty heart.” One day, the whale is so forlorn he lets out a sigh that is carried by the ocean to another whale who travels far and wide to accompany him. United, the whales sing in unison “of happiness and hope, magic and wonder.” Brief text accompanied by soothing watercolor illustrations of marine animals cover each spread. 

THOUGHTS: A good picture book to begin a conversation with students about loneliness, kindness and friendships. Detailed illustrations alongside a musical theme offer STEAM connections to music and marine life units. 

Picture Book         Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama. The Seed of Compassion: Lessons from the Life and Teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Kokila, 2020. Unpaged. $18.99  978-0-525-55514-5. Grades 3-6. 

This tale, directed to children, is a mix of biography and moral lesson on compassion. Known today as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he grew up as Llamo Thondup in a small agrarian village in Tibet. He credits his mother as his first teacher of compassion, sowing the seeds in him to care for others’ needs above his own. She shared with others in need, she nourished plants to grow, she mothered him well (“I was a bit spoiled!”), and demonstrated patience and “warmheartedness” to all people. The book covers his life as he was (at three years old), declared to be the new Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, through the years of his training as a monk, to the core message of this book: compassion sets humans apart from other species, and while material possessions require only the five basic senses, compassion requires the mind and shows strength, not weakness. He offers suggestions: “When someone disagrees with you, rather than think they are mistaken, you must ask, Why might they feel this way?  When someone is scowling or upset or hurt, you could busy yourself with your own concerns, or you could ask, What might I do to help them?….It takes practice.” The tone is positive and encouraging, and the practical questions will help readers to understand compassion and how they can promote it in the world.

THOUGHTS: A helpful social-emotional resource to boost World Kindness Day and more.

294.3 Religious Teachings        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elementary – King & Kayla; Last Firehawk; Mama Lion; Avengers

Butler, Dori Hillestad. King and Kayla and the Case of the Mysterious Mouse. Peachtree, 2017. 978-1-56145-879-0. $14.95. 48 p. Gr. 1-3.

King is a dog, and Kayla is his human. King is the narrator of this entry level mystery series. King loves to play fetch with his ball, but one day King ends up with a ball that looks like his, but definitely is not his ball. Determined to find his ball, King starts investigating. A stray cat tells King Mouse took the ball. King tries to imagine just exactly how a mouse could take his ball. Kayla is also trying to solve the mystery, but King can’t wait for her. He escapes, gets into the yard next door, and follows his nose right through the doggie door, where he meets a large dog named Mouse. Luckily, both dogs agree playing together is great! THOUGHTS:  Each page is liberally illustrated, including may full page illustrations. With spunky King as narrator, this book is sure to delight many a new reader who wants a “chapter book”.   

Mystery      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Charman, Katrina. The Last Firehawk.  Scholastic, 2017. $4.99 ea. 90pp. Gr. 1-3.

The Ember Stone. 978-1-338-12213-8.

The Crystal Caverns. 978-1-338-12251-0.

Small owl Tag yearns to be an Owl of Valor and prove his braveness. While he is too small to face battle, he unexpectedly gets an opportunity to show his mettle. When Tag and his squirrel friend Skyla accidentally stray far from home, they find an unusual egg that hatches into a firehawk, a mystical bird thought to be extinct. With the land under attack from Thorn, an evil vulture, the three friends are sent on a quest to recover the scattered pieces of the magical Ember Stone, which, when reassembled, will hopefully be strong enough to defeat Thorn. THOUGHTS:  These liberally illustrated books have enough text to provide a satisfying plot for young readers not yet ready for Erin Hunter’s Warriors series.  

Fantasy      Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

 

Muth, Jon J. Mama Lion Wins the Race. Scholastic Press, 2017. 978-0-545-85282-1. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-Gr. 2.

It is race day, and Tigey and Mama Lion are vying for the big trophy.  In order to win, they must beat other characters like the Flying Pandinis, the Knitted Monkey crew, and Bun Bun.  However, as they fly through the countryside in their vintage cars, Tigey will soon learn that winning may not be everything.  The beauty of the world, the significance of kindness, and the value of friendship can be appreciated regardless of whether they win or lose.  Gorgeous illustrations, complete with cameos by well-known characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Mo Willems’ Pigeon, complement this sweet story with an important message for young children.  THOUGHTS: Teaching children to be kind and compassionate towards others is a lesson that will never become obsolete.  This book, full of lovable characters, will serve as a great discussion starter for such a lesson. After reading the story, students could brainstorm acts of kindness that would be possible for them to do for others.  This pleasant story would make a great addition for any library that serves young readers.

Picture Book       Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Glass, Calliope. Avengers: Ms. Marvel’s Fists of Fury. Marvel Press, 2017. 9781484781463. $17.95. 128 pp. Gr. 3-5.

Ms. Marvel has to fight bird creatures in this graphic chapter book. Kamala Khan is your average young, female Muslim girl from New Jersey. When she walked through an unusual mist she developed superpowers, like the ability to stretch her legs and super strength, that she now uses to protect the citizens of Jersey City while trying to do well in school. Ms. Marvel has a big biology test she needs to study for so, thankfully, Thor turns up to help her solve the avian crime spree led by the half-bird Super Villain, The Inventor. In the story, Kamala must deal with real-life relationship issues with her good friend, Nakia since she doesn’t know her friend is a superhero. Hijab-wearing, Nakia, doesn’t understand why Kamala blows off her texts and their Biology test study date and Kamala isn’t free to tell her the truth. Thor helps her to accept her faults and to learn to accept her friends’ help.  THOUGHTS: Ms. Marvel’s foray into chapter books for younger readers is a good way to introduce younger readers to the Marvel universe of characters and especially to the young, female, Muslim superhero, Ms. Marvel, who saves the people in Jersey City, NJ. A male Avenger superhero, Thor, shows up in this story to keep certain young male readers interested.

Juvenile Comic/Graphic Novel              Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD