Elem. – There Was A Party For Langston

Reynolds, Jason. There Was A Party For Langston. Illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-534-43944-3. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

There Was A Party For Langston is a celebration of Langston Hughes and his words as well as the people that he inspired. It celebrates his poetry and showcases how he was able to use language and create things that made other people create things. It shows how he inspired Maya Angelou to create her stories. The way the illustrations add to the story will cause the reader to go back through this book several times to find different things that they missed.

THOUGHTS: This is Jason Reynolds’ debut picture book, and he hits it out of the park (which isn’t surprising). This is an excellent introduction to Langston Hughes, as well as other authors. The author’s note in the back of the book will make the reader want to know more about all of the authors that are featured in this book, as well as more about Jason Reynolds himself. Must own for every elementary, and even a middle school collection (even though the book is clearly for younger readers).

Picture Book

Elem. – Rocket Says Speak Up!

Bryan, Nathan. Rocket Says Speak Up! Illustrated by Dapo Adeola. Random House, 2023. 978-0-593-43126-9. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Rocket Says Speak Up! is a book about Rocket who loves to borrow books from her local public library. One day she gets a note from the librarian that the library has to close due to lack of money. Rocket decides that she wants to stage a peaceful protest in order to save the library. Through her hard work and spreading the word, they are able to save the public library and even buy a bookmobile for the library. The moral of this story is one that needs to be shared! The main character sprinkles little facts throughout the book which are fun for the reader as they go through the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a must own and must read aloud for every elementary school library collection. There are other picture books with this same character that would be worth purchasing for elementary school collections.

Picture Book

Elem. – The Story of a Book

McCullough, Joy. The Story of a Book. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-665-90385-1. $18.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.

Sitting high atop the “New Books” display at the library, a book waits to be discovered. Sometimes this book is not the right book for every reader. When the right reader comes along, it is absolutely magical. The book can transport a reader, comfort a reader, and be shared with other readers. There is even greater magic when it is a book that was self-selected. As this library book’s journey continues, some readers are confused by it, while others devour it. Some readers take extra good care of the library book, but others spill on it, crease the pages, or let it fall into the hands of babies or pets. The well-loved library book eventually reaches the end of its usefulness as a circulating library book and is sold at the library book sale to a family that recycles the pages to create something new.

THOUGHTS: This simple story depicts the life of a well-circulated library book. The gentle narrative is a guide to the gorgeous and fantastical illustrations by Devon Holzwarth. Each page is filled with rich details in gorgeously bright colors that depict each step of the book’s journey. An absolutely delightful find, this title could lead to a fabulous discussion about book choice, book care, books as windows and mirrors, and what happens to library books that can no longer be circulated.

Picture Book 

Elem. – Palace of Books

Polacco, Patricia. Palace of Books. A Paula Wiseman Book, 2023. 978-1-5344-5131-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Palace of Books follows Patricia Polacco’s journey moving from Indiana to Battle Creek, Michigan and how she discovered her local public library. It is also the story of how she discovered John James Audubon and how her love of drawing birds really flourished and grew into a bird club that started at the school she attended and continued for over 60 years. The illustrations are very classic Patricia Polacco and encourage the reader to go back through the book multiple times. There is an author note at the end of the book, which really brings the whole story into perspective and gives the reader more insight.

THOUGHTS: Patricia Polacco books should automatically be added to every elementary collection, and this one is no different. I highly recommend adding this book to your collection.

Picture Book

Elem. – Our Incredible Library Book and the Wonderful Journeys it Took

Crowe, Caroline. Our Incredible Library Book and the Wonderful Journeys it Took. Illustrated by John Joseph. Floris Books, 2023. 978-1-782-50741-3. $17.95. 32 p. Grades K-3.

Every book has a story. Every library book has two stories – one depicted on the pages and another that tells the book’s circulation journey. Well loved picture books from the library often have amazing adventures as they are read to pets and babies, in the bathtub, under the covers, and on vacations. Told in rhyming verse this delightful selection chronicles its own journey in the hands of dozens of young readers. Nia was the first patron to ever check the book out. Nia read the book while eating, and got a few smudges and an unfortunate hot chocolate ring on one page. More importantly though, Nia loved the book. In fact, she had a hard time returning it to the library. Luis found the book next and discovered for the very first time that he could read the book on his own… so he read it to his sister who was splashing in the tub. Hanna couldn’t find the book anywhere and discovered her cat had been sitting on it, crumpling the pages. As the story continues we see child after child thoroughly enjoying the book. Crayon marks; marshmallow smudges; and various tears, stains, and other signs of wear appear in the illustrations. Every reader is changed by the book, and the book in turn, is changed by every reader. Adorable illustrations by John Joseph.

THOUGHTS: Book care is often one of the first lessons of the year in elementary school libraries. This book provides a wonderful opportunity to discuss handling library books with young students. A timely and delightful read aloud with text that emphasizes book-joy and illustrations that show the wear and tear a well-loved library book can accumulate. Illustrations depict a multitude of families, races, sizes and abilities. Highly recommended for elementary libraries.

Picture Book

MG – The Lost Library

Stead, Rebecca, and Wendy Mass. The Lost Library. Macmillan, 2023. 978-1-250-83881-0. 224 p. $18.99. Grades 4-7.

This well-narrated audiobook centers on Evan, an inquisitive boy who loves to read, as he approaches fifth-grade graduation. He lives in the sleepy town of Martinville, which lacks a library since the fire that burned down the old one twenty-five years ago. Two authors penned this delightful tale, ideal for any bibliophile to peruse. Multiple narrators flesh out the story: Mortimer the gold striped cat; AL, the assistant librarian who lives with the other library ghosts; and Evan. The town has just started a Little Library, and Evan nabbed some of the books from the box–all of them due the same day as the fire. As he gets deeper into one of his selections, How to Write a Mystery, checked out by M.C. Higgins, he tries to figure out who started the fire back in the 1980’s. He wonders if his father’s reticence and lack of communication has anything to do with the tragedy. With his best friend Rafe at his side, Evan follows the possible clues. In alternating chapters, AL reflects on her past, coming from the orphanage to serve as a fledgling librarian under the firm but kind head librarian, Ms. Skoggins, and conducting the book club for the local school children. The wise and attentive Mortimer, dear cat, provides the feline perspective on what it surveys: both the routine at History House where the ghosts reside and the movements of Evan as he puts together the puzzle pieces that point to his own dad. This book is a cozy homage to books, readers, libraries, and librarians.

THOUGHTS: A great read aloud. I hope this book can work its magic to entice listeners that libraries, books, and librarians are important. These two authors are some of the best, and this book will not disappoint. Pair it with the fine picture book about the beginnings of the Little Library or, if there are no Little Libraries in your neck of the woods, start a project to place them around town. If that isn’t possible, connect this book with a book drive for shelters. I just found out about a church food pantry that offers a book room for families. Or build a list of books where animals are key characters. At the very least, reading this book students will learn what a pseudonym is.

Fantasy (Magical Realism)

Elem. – This Book Is My Best Friend

Robinson, Robin. This Book Is My Best Friend. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-1-665-90681-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2

Sunny and Aarush love to read for different, yet similar reasons. When they both reach for the same book, what ensues is a fun look into why this book is their best friend. Sunny loves this book because it’s about a robot and she wants to be a robot when she grows up. Sunny loves it when her mom feels well enough to read this book to her, and having a best friend can help things seem less lonely. Aarush loves this book because there are mice in it, and that’s their favorite animal. Aarush needs a quiet space to go when their twin siblings are causing chaos in the house. By the end of the book they learn that this book can be both of their best friends, and best friends read together!!

THOUGHTS: I adored this book! There is great commentary on loving the same book as someone, for different reasons. The illustrations are wonderful, and I found myself continuing to go back through the book looking for things that I missed. The scene of Sunny and her mother in the hospital, while her mother gets treatment for something isn’t mentioned in the story but I wanted to note it in case you read this with students whose parents are sick. Highly recommend this book for an elementary collection, and it would make an amazing read aloud for any class, young or old!!

Picture Book

Elem. – Everything in Its Place

David-Sax, Pauline. Everything in Its Place. Illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-0-593-37882-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Nicky is a shy student who is struggling to find a group of friends with whom she feels comfortable. While her classmates run and play at recess, she spends time in the library helping Ms. Gillam shelve books. She feels at home in the library because everything has its place, and Nicky is comforted by the predictability and routine the space offers. When Ms. Gillam shares the news that she will be attending a week-long library conference, Nicky’s heart sinks at the idea of spending the entire next week outside on the playground. She’s still upset when she visits her mother’s cafe after school, but seeing the familiar patrons enjoying their food comforts her a little. She’s especially glad to see Maggie, a short-haired woman who loves poetry and riding her motorcycle. When Nicky asks Maggie if riding her bike is scary, Maggie replies that everything in life is a risk, and Nicky notices how happy and free Maggie looks as she rides away. The next week, emboldened by Maggie’s words, Nicky files out to the playground with her classmates. She pulls a book from her bag to read, and she is surprised when another girl joins her, confiding that she loves reading poetry too. Mixed-media illustrations featuring collage shapes cut from library cards and purple crayon drawings bring this story to life and underscore the idea that the library is a safe space for Nicky. 

THOUGHTS: Finding your “tribe” can be difficult, and this story is an important one to share with students who are struggling to fit in with their peers or find a niche group of friends. It’s also one to share with students who may feel shy, bashful, or who may lack self-confidence. The idea of taking risks and chances, no matter how scary they may seem, may jump-start conversations during Morning Meetings, 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Is This Your Class Pet?

Cummings, Troy. Is This Your Class Pet? Random House. 978-0-593-43217-4. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Arfy the letter-writing dog is back, and in his third adventure, he’s volunteering at Butternut Elementary as a library helper! When he returns home after school, however, Arfy discovers a stowaway tucked into the pocket of his vest. He names the tiny green turtle Hidey and immediately emails a letter to the principal, asking if the turtle might be a class pet. When Arfy receives an out-of-office message, he takes matters into his own paws. He writes letters to each of the places he visited at school, asking if anyone is missing a turtle. He hears back from the lunchroom chefs, the physical education coach, and the art teacher, but no one claims Hidey. It’s only when he holds a video conference call and chats with a classroom of children that he finally figures out where Hidey truly belongs. 

THOUGHTS: This is a fun new epistolary story that models several different ways to compose friendly letters. Bright, bold illustrations feature diverse characters, and readers will relate to the many ways people communicate in the school, including handwritten letters, emails, virtual meetings, and chat sessions. This will be a fun story to share when introducing letter writing, and it will be enjoyed by classrooms who already have a class pet of their own. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

MG – The Summer of June

Sumner, Jamie. The Summer of June.  Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2022. 978-1-53448-602-7. 188 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

June Delancey decides that this summer is going to be a season of change. Her goals include conquering her extreme anxiety and becoming a fierce, independent female along with her single mother.  Now that they are free from her mother’s boyfriend (to June’s relief), the two of them can tackle summer together. June’s anxiety can be overwhelming at times; to cope, she pulls whole chunks of hair from her scalp, leaving bloody, scabby patches. Her first order of business for the summer is shaving her head, and her mother follows suit in support of her daughter. At the public library, where her mother works as a librarian, June finds comfort. She meets a boy named Homer Juarez who also likes to hang out at the library. But June knows that it is only a matter of time before Homer realizes her anxiety makes her unworthy of a friendship and so she keeps her distance. June also finds comfort in starting a community garden on library property. When an event causes her anxiety to completely spin out of control and the cranky head librarian threatens to destroy her beautiful garden, June has to face her anxiety head-on before everything falls apart.

THOUGHTS: This moving story about family, friendship, and mental health is perfect for any middle grade student who worries. A sweet note from the author in the back encourages anxious students to embrace themselves as they are and know that they deserve to be seen. Sumner’s book would be a solid purchase for upper elementary and middle grade libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD