MG – When Winter Robeson Came

Woods, Brenda. When Winter Robeson Came. Scholastic, 2022. 978-1-524-74158-7. $16.99. 176 p. Grades 4-7.

The Coal family from 103rd Street, just west of Figueroa, not too far from Watts, is expecting a special visitor, Winter Robeson from their old hometown, Sunflower, Mississippi. The most excited person is aspiring composer, Eden Louise Coal, who hasn’t seen her country cousin since the move to the great metropolis of Los Angeles two years ago. An affable Winter has come with an agenda and a plan: on his list is visiting the happiest place on earth, Disneyland; but his priority is finding his long-lost father, J.T. who has been gone for ten years. Eden joins him in his search, and together they spend two weeks of the summer of 1965 getting closer together and closer to the truth of Winter’s father’s disappearance. As they try to trace J.T.’s whereabouts, they dance to the vinyl records with the neighborhood kids; win the hearts of the gracious friend, Winona; and meet Miss Betty West, owner of a Steinway baby grand piano. Told in verse and narrated by Eden, When Winter Robeson Came is an uplifting story of a family reunited and a close knit community surviving on the edges of the violent Watts riots and police brutality. Eden and Winter bond in genuine friendship and concern to make each others’ lives a bit brighter. That magnanimity extends to their neighbors and even virtual strangers when the need arises. The pair offer aid to the elderly, respect their parents, and kindly tolerate even friends with irritating habits. This brief, positive book offers a comforting tale against the backdrop of a tragic historical event.

THOUGHTS: This easy to read book fits lower middle grades best with its emphasis on family and its optimistic outcomes, despite the setting of the Watts riots. Perceptive students will pick up on the discrimination and racism toward people in neighborhoods in and around Watts. However, the children in this novel are nurtured and joyful. They make connections with older people and keep focused on an important task even if it puts them in danger. Pair this book with Karen English’s It All Comes Down to This to compare and contrast the same historical event.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem./MG – Your Pal Fred

Rex, Michael. Your Pal Fred. Viking Press, 2022. 978-0-593-20633-2 255p. $12.99. Grades 3-8.

Fred is activated in a post-apocalyptic world after two brothers accidentally discover him in a pile of trash. Fred embarks on a journey over a land that has been destroyed by war, aliens, a comet, and cats. It is now ruled by two opposing characters: Papa Mayhem and Lord Bonkers. Fred is on a quest to bring peace to all. Along the way he makes friends with disgruntled characters who join him to bring kindness to all. Will he be able to convince the two top dogs that peace is the answer and not war? 

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel is full of silliness and fun, and how one individual can create a positive chain reaction through one act of kindness at a time.  

Graphic Novel          Victoria Dziewulski, Plum Borough SD

Elem. – Brave Every Day

Ludwig, Trudy. Brave Every Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-30637-6. $24.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.

Camila worries all the time. When she worries, she likes to hide. Her world is filled with what ifs and can’t. Classmates make fun of Camila. Her teacher doesn’t seem to understand or notice how anxious she is. When a field trip to an aquarium overwhelms Camila, she tries to hide behind a potted plant. She isn’t alone. Kai, who loves everything about the ocean and its inhabitants, is also overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise, and the opportunity to touch a real live stingray. Kai begs Camila to go with him to the Sea Friends Meet & Greet exhibit. Camila is nervous, but realizes helping her friend makes her want to try to overcome her own fear. Camila steps out of her comfort zone and enters the exhibit with Kai. Here she learns about a sea creature who hides to protect itself: the octopus. Camilla returns to school eager to share what she has learned, and encouraged to try to be brave when she has the urge to hide. End notes include questions for discussion, and a recommended reading list.

THOUGHTS: Many children bravely face challenges big and small at school every day. This social-emotional book can provide comfort for children with anxiety, with simple language to use when feeling worried or overwhelmed. The book can also help to educate peers on the difficulties their classmates encounter and the bravery they show every day in many small ways. Beautifully illustrated in cool, layered, aquarium tones by Patrice Barton.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Can Sophie Change the World?

Wallace, Nancy Elizabeth. Can Sophie Change the World? Chronicle Books, 2022. 978-1-452-18156-1. $16.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.

When Sophie asks her Grandpop what he would like for his birthday, he replies that he doesn’t need anything but would love it if Sophie would change the world. Grandpop explains the basic concept of mitzvah and asks Sophie to do kind deeds in his name. Sophie is worried she won’t be able to change the world. Throughout the week Sophie performs simple acts of kindness: helping a friend, picking up trash, watering a neighbor’s plants, playing with her baby brother. When Sophie sees Grandpop the following Sunday, she confesses she has not changed the world. Grandpop gently explains how each and every act of kindness does indeed change the world. Together they create a flower shaped birthday card, writing each mitzvah on a petal. Illustrations by Aura Lewis.

THOUGHTS: Though the definition of mitzvah has religious implications, the book does not mention any other religious teaching or tradition. Sophie’s house is decorated with a menorah and a Star of David. This is a sweet story that simply shows the direct results of kindness and introduces the term mitzvah to children. Incorporated in the storyline are the days of the week, as well as encouragement for problem solving, being kind, and taking care of others. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – The Ogress and the Orphans

Barnhill, Kelly. The Ogress and the Orphans. Algonquin Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-64375-074-3. $19.99. 392 pages. Grades 4-8.

Once there was an Ogress. In her long life she had many adventures, and lived in many places, always searching for a community in which to belong. The Ogress hears of a town called Stone-in-the-Glen that used to be quite lovely and that has fallen on hard times. The Ogress has experienced grief and disconnection and believes she can help the people of the town. She creates a home for herself on the outskirts of Stone-in-the-Glen, and anonymously sets out to perform random acts of kindness for the people of the town. Stone-in-the Glen was once regarded as a friendly and kind place where people took good care of each other. The citizens adored their dragon-slaying Mayor who was charming and protective. When the town library burns to the ground, the town itself begins to unravel. More community institutions are destroyed, crops fail, and slowly the people of Stone-in-the-Glen stop taking care of their neighbors. In fact, hard times make the citizens distrustful of each other. An orphanage on the edge of Stone-in-the-Glen houses 15 orphans, cared for by an elderly couple. The 15 young children are plucky and smart, and love each other dearly. They enjoy helping and learning, but most of all they care for each other and consider each other family. When one of the children goes missing, the Mayor gleefully prods the citizens of Stone-in-the-Glen to turn on the Ogress. It is up to the orphans to save each other, their home, the Ogress, and ultimately their community.

THOUGHTS: A stunning allegory with many themes to explore. What is a neighbor? What makes a community a community? How do we live with people and ideas that are different from our own experiences and beliefs? Kindness ultimately wins the day. Strong themes of the power of libraries and reading throughout this beautiful and well-told story.

Fantasy          Anne McKernan, Council Rock 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

Elem. – Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair

Ohora, Zachariah. Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75190-5 p. 40. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Fuzzy Haskins is the best kind of friend. He has a huge heart and spreads cheer and goodwill everywhere he goes in his neighborhood. His community counts on him, and he is loved and adored by his neighbors. Fuzzy is active and fast-thinking, but his one challenge is his unruly hair! It takes two blow dryers to dry completely, and the humidity is most definitely his enemy! Author Zachariah Ohora depicts Fuzzy as the excellent character he is, both inside and out, in his picture book Fuzzy, Inside & Out. When Fuzzy gets into a dilemma of his own, it’s up to the community that relies on him to come through and help him out of his own predicament. As they say, “it takes a village,” and Fuzzy’s village is full of heart and resilience too. 

THOUGHTS: It is always a gem when a story oozes love and big-hearted acts of kindness, but it is even more delicious when the characters exude coolness and confidence. Fuzzy may have excessive hair that gets in the way, but it works for him, as does his everyday acts of generosity towards his friends and community. This adorable picture book is enjoyable to read!  Readers will want a friend like Fuzzy or be inspired to BE a friend like Fuzzy! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Lala’s Words

Zhang, Gracey. Lala’s Words. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-64823-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Lala is a little girl who loves to be outside especially when she can’t contain her energy. She loves skipping down the block of her neighborhood, an urban street of homes and shops. When Lala leaves her house, she runs to “a patch of dirt and concrete [with] short green weeds and leaves. A place of Lala’s own.” There she whispers sweet words to each of the plants in her garden, and she brings them water on hot days. Fed up with Lala being covered in dirt and not still and quiet, Lala’s mother refuses to let her “jibber-jabber in the dirt and grass” on the hottest day of summer. Sadly, Lala watches as all the people of her neighborhood pass by her window as she whispers to her garden’s plant friends. Overnight, something amazing happens, and Lala’s mother realizes just how special Lala is. Beautiful black and white ink and gouache illustrations with bursts of yellow and green perfectly capture Lala’s joy, kindness, and love.

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy this heartfelt story of kindness. Perfect for a morning meeting or a counseling lesson on using kind words, this title is sure to be a hit. 

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

Elem. – Perdu

Jones, Richard. Perdu. Peachtree Atlanta. 978-1-682-63248-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Perdu, a small black and brown dog with a red scarf, is all alone in the world. He trudges through grassy fields, feeling the howling wind in his fur. He eventually comes to a city and he begins exploring, his claws making tiny clicking sounds on the pavement. But everyone in the city seems to have somewhere to go or someone to meet, and Perdu feels more alone than ever. He spends the day searching for his place, but over and over again, he comes up empty. Careful readers will notice a small girl in a red knit hat. She spots Perdu wandering the city streets throughout the day. After a mishap at a cafe, she is the only one to show Perdu compassion, returning the red scarf he loses in the commotion and confusion. Painted illustrations effectively capture Perdu’s loneliness as well as the hustle and bustle of his surroundings. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will be empathetic to Perdu’s feelings of being overwhelmed, scared, and lonely as he searches for his place in the world. They will also enjoy watching the young girl as she follows Perdu from a distance, always keeping an eye on what he’s doing. This title can spark conversations about friendship, kindness, and finding one’s place in the world. 

Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD