Elem. – In a Garden

McCanna, Tim. In a Garden. Ill. Aimée Sicuro. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-1797-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Through rhyming verses and vivid watercolor illustrations, In a Garden explores how things grow. From seeds being planted to sunlight and rain nurturing the plants, readers see all of the various aspects of natural growth both in a garden and in those who nurture and care for the garden. McCanna identifies a variety of flowers and vegetables that grow in gardens, while also describing the duties of the various insects that help the garden grow. The four seasons establish how things grow unseen, and also establish the life cycle with insects laying eggs and a woman, pregnant in the beginning, holding a baby when spring returns after winter.

THOUGHTS: This is a gorgeous picture book. Sicuro’s watercolors represent each aspect of the natural world beautifully, while McCanna’s words are playful and representative of the life cycle. Many readers will see themselves in this text because the garden is in a city, and the humans are representative of the diversity in a city. This picture book is a great introduction to the life cycle, gardening, and caring for the natural world. It would pair well with growing a school garden or just planting a seed that students can take home and grow.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

Fleming, Candace, and Eric Rohmann. Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. Neal Porter Books, 2020. 978-0-8234-4285-0. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

On a summer morning, a new life begins, a new honeybee emerges from her cell. With characteristically flawless prose, Fleming guides the reader day by day through the short life cycle of the honeybee. The new worker bee immediately begins tasks about the hive, from cleaning, to feeding larva, to tending the queen. At approximately four weeks, the worker transitions to a forager, seeking nectar and communicating its location to other foragers. This job will consume the honeybee for the rest of her days. Fleming’s text is gently poetic, imbuing grace and beauty to the life of the bee and the hive. Caldecott winner Rohmann’s eye-catching artwork adds another layer to the experience and is not for the faint-of-heart.  Illustrations of the bee are enormous, covering entire pages. Some young readers will thrill to the extreme closeups of eyes and antenni, but other, more bug-phobic, children (and adults) may find the pictures terrifying.

THOUGHTS: This is a lovely, lyrical peek inside the hive and the life of the honeybee, but know your audience before using it as a read-aloud.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elementary NF – Cricket in the Thicket; Lighter than Air; My Awesome Summer by P.Mantis; Her Right Foot

Murray, Carol.  Cricket in the Thicket: Poems about Bugs.  Henry Holt and Company, 2017.  9780805098181.  40 Pgs.  $17.99. Gr. 1-5.

In this collection of mostly rhyming poems, Murray has focused on the subject of bugs.   There is one poem per page, each about a different insect. In addition, the poet includes some facts about these insects at the bottom of the page. There is additional information in the back matter.  Melissa Sweet’s watercolor and mixed media illustrations are whimsical and fit well with the humorous tone of the poems.  For instance, in the cockroach poem, she writes “I am not loved at all, I’m not like any other.  But surely someone cares for me.  I think it is my mother.” This work is reminiscent of Joyce Sidman’s Song of the Water Boatman, but Murray’s work seems designed for a younger audience.  This book could be classified in either the poetry or the 595 Dewey section.   THOUGHTS: This book is a good choice for elementary libraries.  It would work well in insect units and provides a different perspective.  Children could be encouraged to write their own poems about insects.

811.54  Poetry      Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Smith, Matthew Clark. Lighter Than Air. Candlewick Press, 2017. 9780763677329. $16.99. 32p. Gr. 1-4.

Lighter Than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot is a picture book about the first woman balloonist. Sophie Blanchard married a famous French balloonist and took a few rides with him. It wasn’t long before she made her first solo flight to the chagrin of some people who thought women were too delicate to fly in a balloon. After a tragedy that took the life of her husband (handled appropriately for the book’s audience), Sophie takes to the skies again and ends up supporting herself by ballooning. She was so famous Napoleon made her Aeronaut of the Official Festivals. THOUGHTS: The publisher rates this book as suitable for 1st through 4th graders. This book’s vocabulary is too difficult for 1st/2nd graders to read and comprehend, but the content would be enjoyed as a read-aloud. I learned quite a bit about ballooning while reading this book, but it does mention the husband having a heart attack and falling from his balloon and then later dying from his injuries. The author’s note details Sophie’s eventual death when a firework she was lighting while in the balloon set the balloon on fire leading to her falling and death. Pretty intense for some 1st graders.

Biography      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Meisel, Paul.  My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis.  Holiday House, 2017.  9780823436712. Unpaged. $16.95.  Gr. K-3.

This is an interesting entry into the world of creative nonfiction.  Meisel takes us on a journey through the life cycle of the praying mantis, told from the point of view of the insect.  The story takes us through three seasons and begins in May with P. Mantis’ birth and ends in October. Throughout the text, the insect tells us how and what he eats (sometimes his brothers and sisters!) and how he protects himself through the use of camouflage and by staying still.  P. Mantis tells his story in a humorous and accessible way for young children.  For instance, he remarks that he is “Praying?…Yeah, I’m praying…praying something tasty comes along that thinks I’m a stick.” At the end of the bug’s life, Meisel gently tells the reader that he is going to sleep. The author’s illustrations show a friendly looking insect drawn on a small scale throughout the story. It appears larger in the author’s note where Meisel labels the body parts. The back matter gives more details on the life cycle of mantises and some additional terminology.  One problem is that the author lists a few websites with just the URLs and no titles.  The glossary contains only two terms.  THOUGHTS:  Despite these concerns, this book is a worthy addition to the insect section in elementary libraries and will make for a great read aloud. There is a good bit of information found here and the creative presentation will engage the reader.  Children will be inspired to learn more about this unique insect.

595.727 Bugs             Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD

 

Eggers, Dave. Her Right Foot. Chronicle Books, 2017. 978-1-4521-6281-2  Unpaged. $19.99.  Gr. K-8.

Much has been written about the Statue of Liberty, but never before has a book focused on the iconic Lady’s right foot. Dave Egger includes all the usual facts about the statue, which has more pages than most picture books, but just a pithy sentence or two per page. The reader learns, for instance, that the statue was put into 214 crates when it was brought from France to the United States, and that it was brown for two years before it oxidized and turned green. However, Eggers goes on to note (“a point the author apologizes for taking so long to get to”) that the Lady’s right foot is in motion. He asks the reader to ponder where she is going, suggesting humorously that it might be “to the West Village to look for vintage Nico records.”  But then he offers a more logical idea, the Lady is in motion because “liberty and freedom are not things you get by standing around like some kind of statue.”  Eggers suggests that the Lady is hurrying to welcome all of the people coming to America from many different places and times. Appropriately, Shawn Harris’s artwork depicts peoples of varying ethnicities, colors, ages, and religions. THOUGHTS: Humorous and quirky, written with a light touch, this book imparts a serious, timely, and important message about the value of immigrants and the long and pivotal role immigration has played in the United States.  It is appropriate for a wide span of ages (even adults will appreciate it), and Harris’s bold, collage-style artwork suits the text perfectly. Highly recommended for elementary and middle schools.

973, United States History          Maggie Bokelman, Cumberland Valley SD

 

Picture Books – Goldfish Ghost; Life; Three Billy Goats; Peterrific

Snicket, Lemony. Goldfish Ghost. Roaring Brook Press, 2017: ISBN 978-1-62672-507-2. 36pp. 17.99. Gr. K-3.

Goldfish Ghost is born in a bowl in a boy’s bedroom, but after floating and staring at the ceiling for a while, he becomes bored and drifts through the air towards the room’s open window in search of some company. He floats over the town’s fishing pier, past some shops, and near the haunted lighthouse. He considers befriending a flock of seagulls, but they are too noisy and are preoccupied with the fishing boats. Everyone he passes in town already has a companion, so he drifts toward the beach. All the beachgoers are busy reading, sunbathing, digging, or swimming, and no one pays him any attention there either. He does spot the ghosts of deceased sea creatures floating over the water, but Goldfish Ghost doesn’t feel quite at home on top of the ocean either. As night falls, Goldfish Ghost hears a voice calling to him from the haunted lighthouse. The ghost of the lighthouse keeper scoops him up, each recognizing that they finally have the sort of company they’ve been searching for. This title’s India ink and watercolor illustrations are filled with fun visuals including families enjoying a day at the beach and people navigating through a seaside town, and students will likely spot new details each time the book is reread. Observant readers will also spot other ghosts, including some old-fashioned beachgoers, in the detailed illustrations.  THOUGHTS:  Although this story’s main character is a ghost, this is not the typical creepy, scary ghost story. Instead, it’s a story about finding friendship and a place to belong. It also presents a fresh perspective about dead pets and will be a winner with readers who enjoy slightly eerie yet comical stories.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Rylant, Cynthia. Life. Beach Lane Books, 2017.  978-1-4814-5162-8. 43pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

This book beautifully pairs Cynthia Rylant’s lyrical text with Caldecott Honor-winner Brendan Wenzel’s stunning paintings of the natural world and its many animals. The result is striking; a concise, yet powerful tribute to life’s many twists, turns, mountains, valleys, and surprises. Each page contains only a line or two of text, letting Wenzel’s vibrant paintings shine. The book begins succinctly, noting that life begins small. Following pages depict a baby elephant and a tiny seedling growing beneath the sun’s rays and the moon’s glow. Several animals express what they love most about life, describing simple things such as sky, grass, sand, and rain. Subsequent pages depict how life might not always be easy or beautiful, showing animals braving dark skies, fierce winds, craggy mountains, and thorny underbrush. But eventually, the wilderness ends, and new roads are visible. In a beautiful spread featuring a deer watching a flock of birds fly across a moonlit sky, Rylant reminds readers that life is always changing, and it’s worth waking up each morning to see what a new day holds.  THOUGHTS: This inspirational book can be shared with guidance counselors who could perhaps use it to reassure students who are having a challenging time or who are facing some obstacle in their life. It will also be a good fit for units exploring animals and their many habitats, and it shines as an example of how to boil writing down to just the most essential words and ideas.

Picture Book      Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Pinkney, Jerry. The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Little, Brown, and Company, 2017. 978-0-316-34157-8. 40pp. $17.99. Gr. K-3.

With beautiful pencil and watercolor illustrations and a freshly-imagined ending, Jerry Pinkney breathes new life into this classic tale. Many original elements remain: three billy goats wish to cross a troll-guarded bridge so they can graze on the opposite river bank’s green grass. The littlest billy goat goes first, and he convinces the troll to spare him, promising a bigger billy goat will be crossing soon. His prediction is correct, and soon, a second goat attempts to cross. The troll threatens to gobble him up, but he urges the troll to wait for Big Billy Goat Gruff. Sure enough, Big Billy Goat Gruff comes crashing across the bridge, and when confronted by the troll, he lowers his head and charges, knocking the troll into the water. In the water, a giant fish demands to know who is splish-splashing in his river, and he threatens to gobble up the troll. The troll escapes and paddles back to the riverbank. He finds himself on the opposite side of the river, however, and he watches as the entire herd of billy goats crosses over the bridge to eat the green grass on the hillside. Careful readers will notice that this is not the end of the story, however. On the last page of the book, the troll begins gathering stones to build himself a new house, and the littlest billy goat races over the bridge to help him. The final endpapers depict goats traveling freely back and forth across the bridge, as well as other goats coming to assist the troll with his building, suggesting that these characters might ultimately work out a peaceful coexistence.  THOUGHTS:  This stunning retelling is destined to become a classic, and readers will pour over the artwork again and again. The reimagined ending offers readers the chance to experience bullying from a fresh point of view, and it opens the door for discussions about big ideas such as confronting adversity, forgiveness, redemption, and tolerance. This will be a valuable addition to all elementary collections.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

 

Kann, Victoria. Peterrific. Harper, 2017.  978-0-06-256357-6. 36pp. $18.89. Gr. K-3.

Pinkalicious is back, but this time, her brother Peter is the star of the story. Peter’s goal is to build a block tower high enough to reach the stars, so while he builds, Pinkalicious borrows wagon-loads of blocks from all the neighbors. Peter’s tower grows and grows, but once he’s high in the sky, he realizes it can be lonely, and a little scary, at the top. When he spies a high-flying bird passing by, Peter brainstorms an idea for leaving his tower, and once he reaches the ground, he’s quick to imagine ideas for how to construct an even better one. There’s lots to look at in this book’s brightly colored mixed media digital illustrations, and readers will enjoy spotting trains, a slinky, crayons, binoculars, and other toys tucked in among the blocks of Peter’s growing tower.  THOUGHTS: This book is perfect for teaching elements of Design Thinking since Peter works through Asking, Imagining, Planning, Creating, and Improving as he builds his tower. He begins by asking himself how he might create a tall, tall tower. Then, he imagines designing a structure tall enough to reach the stars, and he plans by drawing pictures of his ideas. He uses blocks, tape, rope, and glue to create and hold together his tower, and he continuously adds more blocks so he can improve his design. Once he’s at the top of the tower, he also realizes the tower has some problems: there’s no way to get down, and it might be structurally unsafe. Once he’s safely on the ground again, Peter draws a plan for a new and improved tower, underscoring the ideas in the circular Design Thinking process.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD