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

Elem. – Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf

Wedelich, Sam. Chicken Little and the Big Bad Wolf. Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-35900-8. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

Chicken Little is known for his exaggerations, so when he meets the Big Bad Wolf and learns that he isn’t so big and bad, just misunderstood, roles change as the other chickens in the coop fear the big, bad wolf.  The chickens argue about defending their coop or flying away and decide the best thing to do is flee, but Chicken Little convinces them to stay and look at the facts.  The chickens learn about the wolf and decide to stay and welcome him to their coop instead of judging him. 

THOUGHTS:  This is an adorable fractured fairytale combination of Chicken Little and The Three Little Pigs (albeit without the pigs). The story focuses on not judging something one does not understand, but instead, learn about it, and then make a decision about what to do. This is a welcome story and lesson for all ages on kindness and misjudgement. The words and illustrations are very cartoonish with lots of white space. Speech balloons are used throughout to add banter and snarkiness from the chickens (and laughter from the reader). This is a great addition to character education lessons and fairytale units.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – A Soft Place to Land

Marks, Janae. A Soft Place to Land. Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-062-87587-7. $16.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

The Taylor family is going through a rough patch. Twelve-year old Joy’s father was laid off, they had to sell their beloved house and move to a small apartment, cut out all non-essential expenses like Joy’s piano lessons, and change Joy’s middle school. Bad enough her dream to be a film composer has to be put on hold and her old friends are not reaching out to her, but her parents are arguing now, and Joy feels she has to keep her feelings hidden to shield her little sister, Malia. The silver lining is the friendliness and kindness of the residents of her apartment building, from next-door neighbor, elderly Mae Willoughby and her French bulldog, Ziggy, to aspiring film-maker Nora, Joy finds a warm welcome and a ready ear that softens the edge of her disappointment and anxiety over losing her house and fearing her parents will get a divorce. Other perks of apartment living are the secret hideout where Joy and her new-found friends can get away to draw, listen to music, read, or play board games, and the dog walking business Joy starts with Nora to earn money to purchase a piano. When Joy’s parents tell the girls that her father is moving in with Uncle Spencer for a bit, though, a distraught Joy runs away to the Hideout and falls asleep, leading to the breaking of the one Hideout rule: don’t tell the adults. Though the other kids are angry that their Hideout is now off limits, Nora remains a loyal friend until Joy’s curiosity about a poignant poem and messages on the Hideout’s walls leads to a rift between them. When Nora ditches the dog walking session, Joy finds out too late she cannot handle the task solo and loses Ziggy. Despite her loneliness and sense of failure, Joy works to come up with a way to find Ziggy, mend her friendship with Nora, and remedy the loss of the special Hideout. Janae Marks’s new novel abounds with positivity while recognizing life does not go perfectly. Joy and her family are African American; most of the other characters are people of color also.

THOUGHTS: A comforting, relatable middle school read. No high drama here, just an enjoyable story showing people bonding together and helping each other, and middle school students being kind and friendly to newcomers. Although there are some difficult issues at play here, all the adults are experts at problem solving and dealing with hard things respectfully. The children follow suit. Joy and Nora show a lot of responsibility and initiative, and the other characters display other positive traits.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – A New Day

Meltzer, Brad, and Dan Santat. A New Day. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-525-55424-0. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

That’s it! She quit! Just like that, Sunday decided the weekly grind was too much and she needed to leave the rotation. While she was feeling unappreciated and ready to learn new things, the rest of the crew is left to fill her void, and that means a hiring process. In Brad Meltzer’s first fiction foray, we find a hilarious mix of personalities for each day of the week (Monday is so uptight, but Saturday is soooo chill!) as they work together to replace Sunday. Dan Santat offers up his unique humor to complement the text with endless visual gags and side jokes. The tryout process brings up suggestions like FunDay, RunDay, a running gag of DogDay versus Caturday, and many zany no-way kinda days! In the end, a little thanks and appreciation and teamwork really go a long way to making someone’s day. The simple fact is that every day can be a new day with a little more kindness.

THOUGHTS: Fans of the movie Inside Out will appreciate the personification of abstract concepts like emotions and days, while those looking for silly extensions like naming your own days have a natural writing prompt here. It is tricky as a read-aloud with the many voices and gags, but worthwhile for some classroom team building.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – A Small Kindness

McAnulty, Stacy. A Small Kindness. Running Press Kids, 2021. 978-0-762-49522-1. $17.99. unpaged. Grades Pre K-2.

“It was like a game of tag.” That is how this sweet little book starts, with students lined up outside of school on their first day. Students start out sepia toned, and when one of their classmates does something kind for them, they become colorful. Saying hello, holding the door, a smile, a laugh, these are all ways these new classmates are kind to each other. Starting the day as strangers and ending the day as friends and classmates illustrates how a small gesture makes a big difference.

THOUGHTS: I LOVE Stacy McAnulty, and this sweet little book is no exception. This would be a great read for the first day of school and shows kids that even the smallest gesture can make someone feel included.

Picture Book          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

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