Elem. – A Friend for Ghost

Kaufman, Suzanne. A Friend for Ghost. Neal Porter Books, 2022. 978-0-823-44852-4. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-2.

Ghost lives in the attic above a family. No one pays much attention to Ghost, until one day a helium balloon drifts by. Convinced this is the friend Ghost has been waiting for, Ghost decorates the red balloon with a face, creating a new friend. Ghost and the balloon are inseparable and share everything. When Ghost lets go of the balloon’s string in a game of hide and seek gone awry, Ghost fears his new friend is lost forever. Devastated, Ghost desperately looks everywhere for the red balloon. Dejected and sad, Ghost sits on a park bench, where he is approached by a bow-tie sporting ghost holding a red balloon. The two ghosts become instant friends and share their red balloon. 

THOUGHTS: This simple text is turned into a beautiful story through Kaufman’s delightful and emotionally engaging pictures. Sketched on top of watercolor backgrounds, the illustrations show the emotional journey of Ghost from longing, to celebrating, to grieving, to hopeful. This book will inspire discussions about friendship and feelings. A wonderful, not-scary, Ghost story.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

MG – Aviva vs. the Dybbuk

Lowe, Mari. Aviva vs. the Dybbuk. Levine Querido, 2022. 978-1-646-14125-8. $17.99. 176 p. Grades 5-8.

Aviva vs. the Dybbuk takes on an unusual theme in a not frequently used setting. Sixth grader Aviva Jacobs is an orthodox Jewish girl plagued by a dybbuk (“a ghost of a deceased person who returns to complete a certain task”). Aviva’s family unit–she and her mother–is not doing well. The reader knows that Abba has died in an unnamed accident five years prior. Since then, Aviva’s life is off kilter. Through the kindness of their close knit community, her mother manages the mikvah (“pool used for religious immersion”) and lives in the apartment above it. The reader also sees that Ema is depressed, but Aviva just views the disappearance of her vibrant, soft-spoken mother into a scared, nervous agoraphob. Aviva, too, has become an outsider from her classmates and estranged from her best friend, Kayla. Instead, her constant companion is the mischievous dybbuk who only she can see. The dybbuk soaps the floor in the mikvah, unplugs the refrigerator, rips up checks, and generally haunts Aviva. Moreover, the mikvah and the shul are under attack: A swastika is on the sidewalk outside the shul. In the midst of this disruption, Aviva and Kayla–both talented players– get into an altercation at the machanayim, “a ball game played in some Jewish schools and camps.” The consequence of their action is having to plan the annual Bas Mitzvah Bash at the arcade. The planning sessions reignite Aviva’s and Kayla’s friendship in the weeks before the event and seem to have a positive effect on Ema as well. The dybbuk, also, is in high gear with wild shenanigans that Aviva attempts to stop. As Kayla and Aviva grow closer, and the caring community rallies around Ema, anti-semitism rears its ugly head, forcing Aviva to recall her father’s death and recognize the effect of that trauma. Lowe’s fluidity with language makes this compact story a smooth read. The emotions displayed in Aviva vs. the Dybbuk coupled with the engaging story give it universal appeal. Includes glossary (excerpted definitions in quotes above).

THOUGHTS: You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Aviva’s situation. Lowe presents the story through Aviva’s eyes which may make it more relatable to students: The distant mother, the struggle to be independent and act like everything is fine, the alienation from classmates. Lead readers who like this book to Lilliam Rivera’s young adult novel, Never Look Back. The dybbuk goading Aviva parallels the mysterious creature named Ato who haunts the main character. This well-written, compelling story offers an opportunity for non-Jewish readers to learn about different aspects of the Jewish religion in a non-polemic way. Any way books can open us up to be more tolerant, understanding people is a good thing. 

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – No Bunnies Here!

Sauer, Tammi. No Bunnies Here! Illustrated by Ross Burach. Doubleday, 2022. Unpaged. 978-0-593-18135-5. Grades K-3. $17.99.

It is time for Bunnyville’s Hoppy Day Parade, and in “the land of a thousand bunnies” our narrator becomes quite nervous when he sees an excited wolf. Bunny immediately springs into action to prove to wolf how wrong he is by assuming there are bunnies in Bunnyville. By donning clever costumes, disguising bunny friends, and renaming Bunnyville, Bunny works hard to show Wolf that there are no bunnies here. Despite Bunny’s best efforts, the enthusiasm for the Bunnyville Hoppy Day Parade cannot be stopped. As Bunny tries one last time to get Wolf out of Bunnyville, he realizes Wolf may not be hungry for a bunny after all. Wolf may have an entirely different reason for coming to Bunnyville. If Bunny can learn to listen to Wolf, he may realize what Wolf’s purpose in coming to Bunnyville is. But can a predator and prey coexist? This sweet friendship story will show young readers not to judge a book – or a wolf – by its cover.

THOUGHTS: Readers will laugh out loud at Bunny’s hilarious antics as he tries to avoid the not so big bad wolf. Bold, colorful illustrations will enchant readers. Recommended for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Hello, Jimmy!

Walker, Anna. Hello, Jimmy! Clarion Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-358-19358-6. $17.99.  Grades K-2.

Jack is a young boy who stays at his father’s house from time to time. Usually his dad tells jokes and they talk, but lately the house seems quiet. Jack worries that his parent feels lonely, just like him. On his next visit, the boy is surprised to learn that his Dad has taken in a parrot that he found on his doorstep. The bright green bird, known as Jimmy,  is very talkative with its favorite phrase being “Hello, Jimmy!” His father enjoys talking to the parrot and telling it jokes, as he used to do with Jack. Now the house is no longer quiet. Neighbors are amazed by the animal and Jack wishes people thought he was amazing and worries that his father likes the bird more than him. One night the young boy dreams that his bedroom is full of birds, and he opens a window to let them out. In the morning, he realizes that Jimmy is gone and goes outside searching for him. When the worried father finds his son, Jack learns that his dad was not looking for the parrot, but for him and realizes that strong bond between them will never be broken. Walker’s charming illustrations are done in gouache and pencil with a lot of white space on the initial pages. As the parent and child grow closer, the pages fill with more color and the bare branches of the trees appear replete with foliage.

THOUGHTS: This is an endearing story of the love between father and son. While children living in two homes can connect to the story, many children can relate to the emotions Jack experiences in their own families. A quiet, comforting story that is appropriate for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

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. – Too Crowded

Podesta, Lena. Too Crowded. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-22238-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Gil, a goldfish, feels crowded in his bowl with a plant, a castle, and 138 pebbles (that he cleans every day all by himself).  When Gil bonks his nose on the side of his bowl, he decides he needs a new house; something bigger and roomier. He finds a bird’s nest which is nice and large, but the birds are too noisy. He finds Cat’s house which is quiet, but dangerous as Cat tries to get Gil. Finally, Gil finds Turtle’s house. Turtle questions why Gil is out in the air because fish “can’t breathe air, silly.” As Gil gulps for breath, Turtle gets help from their human to save him. Now, Gil is back in his small, cramped bowl, but it’s not so cramped anymore because it is now Turtle’s home too.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful introduction for children to animal homes and understanding feelings of loneliness and friendship. Gil’s home is cramped because he is alone, but once Turtle joins him, their home is just right. Too Crowded may also translate for children expecting a new sibling because Gil finds joy in sharing his home and things with Turtle. The illustrations are bright and colorful. They are limited, as is the text, and utilize lots of white space. Details are especially fun throughout as Gil wears sneakers and has a bandage on his nose from where he hit the side of his bowl. One final note…Gil is not identified as he, she, or they in the text. As the reader, I identified Gil as a him, but others may identify Gil as she or they.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

MG – Alone

Freeman, Megan E. Alone. Aladdin, 2021. 978-1-534-46756-9. 404 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

Maddie, a twelve year old girl, plans the perfect sleepover night at her Grandmas. Unfortunately, her friends cancel, and Maddie spends the night alone – only to wake up to everyone gone. Maddie learns that an “imminent threat” has forced mass evacuations and her divorced parents never knew that Maddie was alone. Maddie must now fend for herself and hope that help comes soon. Maddie visits the empty homes and starts to gather items necessary to survive for the next few weeks. But weeks turn into months, and months into years and Maddie’s only company is a rottweiler named George. On her own Maddie faces looters, tornadoes, a devastating fire, and a flash flood while navigating springtime at her mom’s house and winters at her father’s home. Maddie uses her local library to gain knowledge, and find hope that rescue will soon arrive.

THOUGHTS: A wonderful survival story with a strong female character that will leave you rooting for her. The story is well written, and fans of Life as We Knew It and Hatchet will enjoy this adventure. The author provides a variety of challenges for Maddie to face, while showing how to be brave and creative in overcoming obstacles.

Adventure          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh Middle School