Elem. – A Blue Kind of Day

Tomlinson, Rachel. A Blue Kind of Day. Penguin Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-32401-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-2.

Childhood mental health is the focus of this sympathetic story. Coen wakes up feeling blue; he doesn’t want to get out of bed. He can’t be enticed by dad or mom to get up, he has no interest in going out to play, laughing or cuddling with his teddy bear. But his loving family does not get frustrated or give up on Coen. Instead, they support him and wait with him until he is ready to accept their warmth and care and slowly begin to crawl out of the dark cave of blueness. Tomlinson, a registered psychologist, deftly describes the physical feeling of depression in terms a child will recognize: heavy, prickly, angry, while Tori-Jay Mordey’s soft, digital illustrations add emphasis to the story. Coen is shown restlessly trying to deal with his emotions, while his anxious family hovers nearby, attempting to determine the best course of action, which ends up being snuggles and patience. Tomlinson includes an author’s note with additional information on childhood depression. While the book is an important tool dealing with an under-represented topic, many children will recognize the experience of simply  feeling out of sorts, and be reassured that they are not unique. Coen and his family are represented as multiracial. 

THOUGHTS: This book hits a perfect note in approaching the topic of childhood depression and will serve as an excellent conversation starter with young children. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

YA – This Woven Kingdom

Mafi, Tahereh. This Woven Kingdom. HarperCollins, 2022. 978-0-062-97244-6. $19.99. 512 p. Grades 9-12.

In the fantastic world of Ardunia, humans and Jinn are allowed to live among each other, according to the Fire Accords set in place by the current king, as long as they don’t use their powers and lie low. Despite the accords, Alizeh keeps her Jinn identity a secret from everyone around her. Although Alizeh is a powerful Jinn with ice in her veins, she lives a lonely life as a servant, cleaning the home of a duchess and working as a seamstress on the side for extra money. When she accidentally crosses paths with Prince Kamran, both her world and his are turned upside down. Kamran can’t stop thinking about her, even when he discovers her true identity and the prophecy that predicts she’ll be the downfall of his royal family. As their lives continue to intertwine, Alizeh holds onto her secrets while Kamran discovers the ones lurking within his own palace. These two are destined to be enemies, but can they become allies – or something more?

THOUGHTS: This Woven Kingdom is based on Persian mythology; however, it still reminded me of the Cinderella fairy tale. Although Alizeh is working as a servant, she’s actually a princess in disguise. At one point in the story, she’s given an opportunity to attend a ball in honor of Prince Kamran, and Alizeh is dressed and disguised using magic. Alizeh still has a lot of secrets that have yet to be revealed, and I think readers will be waiting impatiently for book two after the cliffhanger ending!

Fantasy          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

MG – The Supernatural Society

Ogle, Rex. The Supernatural Society. Inkyard Press, 2022. 978-1-335-42487-7. 281 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Will moves with his mom and his dog, Fitz, from New York City to a new school in East Emerson because his parents have recently divorced, and he is not pleased. Will deals with quite a bit of culture shock as he acclimates to small-town life and realizes that East Emerson isn’t just a sleepy, boring town; his new home is also overrun with monsters! Eventually, though, he befriends Linus and Ivy, two siblings from his neighborhood who help him deal with the monsters and make him feel as though he has found a “tribe” among all the upheaval and heartbreak in his life.

THOUGHTS: Good for students who want more scary stories, those who are fans of Stranger Things and groups of smart, multicultural kids finding monsters and solving mysteries. Linus is unapologetically smart, Ivy is strong, and Will is the glue that holds the band together. Students will be waiting with excitement for future books as well! This story will also serve as an unusual but interesting way to lead students to Free Lunch, Rex Ogle’s gritty and fascinating memoir.

Mystery Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD
Supernatural Fiction

Elem. – Nina: A Story of Nina Simone

Todd, Traci N. Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. Christian Robinson, illustrator. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-1-524-73728-3 p. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5. 

The world knew her as Nina Simone, but she was born Eunice Katherine Waymon. Born in North Carolina to a family that surrounded themselves with music, Eunice learned to play the piano very early. She was a musical child that would find rhythm in all aspects of her life, playing piano at the church where her Mama preached or playing Jazz music with her Papa at home. Author Traci N. Todd and illustrator Christian Robinson have created a gorgeous picture book biography about the life of Nina Simone. With a supportive family and community and an influential piano teacher, Nina started playing and singing in bars and concert halls. Audiences were enthralled with her sweet and soulful voice. But as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, Nina’s voice took on a powerful tone, almost booming, and her music became a powerful protest against racial inequities. She was known not only as a brilliant musician but an influential activist. Amplifying Nina’s humanity with direct and straightforward text and bold and brilliant artwork, Todd and Robinson created a compelling and masterful piece of art. The ending is powerful, perfect, and hopeful. 

THOUGHTS: This picture book is so attractive, and it pulls the reader into each page with the story and the illustrations. Learning about Nina and her life from childhood to adulthood was a joy! From the dedication at the beginning of the book to the author’s note in the back of the book, there is much to absorb! I was sad to see it end! This book is recognized as a 2022 ALA Notable Children’s Book and has received several other accolades and praises. Nina should not be missed! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Room for Everyone

Khan, Naaz. Room for Everyone. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-43139-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Musa and Dada are off to Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar when, along the way, Dada stops the bus to pick up an old man with a broken bike. Musa argues that there’s no room for the man and his bike, but Dada insists there is plenty of space. They make room, and before long, Dada stops again to pick up a herder with two goats. Again, Musa argues there is no room, and again, they shuffle around and make space. This pattern continues throughout the book until, by the end, it’s Musa insisting that there is room for everyone. Ultimately, they reach the beach, where they all pile out to enjoy a day under the sun. Rhyming text and detailed, colorful, mixed-media illustrations make this a very lively, engaging read.

THOUGHTS: I love everything about this book! Not only does it convey the subtle message that there is always room for new friends and experiences, but it also provides readers with a glimpse of African culture. A glossary in the back explains unfamiliar words like daladala (a shared minibus), baghala (a boat used by people living near the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean), and more. This is a solid purchase for social studies classrooms and/or elementary library collections.

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – Perfectly Imperfect Stories : Meet 28 Inspiring People And Discover Their Mental Health Stories

Potion, Leo. Perfectly Imperfect Stories : Meet 28 Inspiring People And Discover Their Mental Health Stories. Lawrence King Publishing, 2021. 978-1-786-27920-0. $17.99. 58 p. Grades 3-7. 

28 famous people, both historical figures of note and pop culture icons of the last few years, are highlighted in this book as a way to normalize the conversation around mental health issues. Each brief biography covers the background, struggle, and hopeful outcome of a person who has grappled in the past with conditions like eating disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, and depression. Quirky, colorful illustrations decorate almost every page, drawing in the reader and helping to lighten the overall mood of this important book. A brief but heartwarming forward, helpful back matter, and a detailed bibliography offer opportunities for students to explore further information about mental health, suicide prevention, and the stories of famous lives that may look perfect from the outside, but contain untold struggles on the inside.

THOUGHTS: This book delivers the powerful message that no one is too rich, popular, smart, or successful to be immune from mental health struggles, and does it in an appealing package that should draw in elementary and middle school level students. Pop culture figures do come in and out of style, but there are notable people from the past mentioned as well, giving this book more potential longevity. This could be a great leaping-off book for biography studies as well.

616.89 Mental Health Stories          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – My Two Border Towns

Bowles, David and Erik Meza. My Two Border Towns. Illustrated by Erika Meza. Kokila, 2021. 978-0-593-11104-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Life along the U.S. – Mexico border can be more similar than different, especially for a small Hispanic boy who makes weekend trips back and forth with his father. “Vamos a la otra lado.” (Let’s go to the other side.) Once they pass through customs into the Mexican town, they run chores, visit family, and eat at their favorite places. The boy is proud of the gifts and supplies that they are collecting along the way. Erik Maza illustrates the town with friendly people, peaceful streets, and colorful tones. David Bowles brings in Spanish terms and phrases with mostly English narrative to tell their routine journey. The trip ends with an important and realistic stop near the border bridge, where a large group of refugees are camped out and waiting. “The US says there’s no room, and Mexico says it can barely look after it’s own gente.” The boy seeks out his friend who is waiting, and hands over the collected toys, comics, medicine and supplies to the grateful family. The dilemma of crossing the border freely as citizens leaves the boy, and perhaps the readers, wishing for a future of compassion and friendship.

THOUGHTS: Making a complex and never ending issue such as immigration and border control work through the eyes of a child is always a lesson in empathy. In this case, the author chooses to show the connections rather than the divisions between the two countries with a stunning effect. Discussions comparing similarities and differences between students’ towns and the story may continue the conversation. Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Dumplings for Lili

Iwai, Melissa. Dumplings for Lili. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00342-7. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-3.

Lili is excited to help her grandmother make baos, her favorite type of dumplings. When they discover they are out of cabbage, however, Lili goes to see if an upstairs neighbor has any cabbage they can use. The neighbor gives her cabbage, but in return, asks for some potatoes for her pierogies. This leads Lili to another neighbor’s apartment, and so the process continues. Finally, everyone has what they need to make all of their favorite kinds of dumplings. This culminates in a big dumpling party, during which Lili’s parents return with a sweet surprise. A charming celebration of food, family, and multiculturalism, this is an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I just love how all of the grandmothers in this book represent different cultures, as they are all making dumplings from different regions. There are pierogies, tamales, raviolis, fatayers, and more. I could see this book being used in a world cultures class, and it would be especially fun to assign students or groups of students each a different culture from the book to study. Perhaps they could even make the dumplings from their respective cultures, and then the class could try them all. The recipe and instructions for Lili’s grandmother’s baos is already included in the back matter. There definitely are plenty of opportunities for extension activities with this book!

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – A Glasshouse of Stars

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-48883-0. 246 p.  $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Meixing has just arrived in a New Land to live in a New House with her parents. She and her mother and father have traveled from the Old Land to live with First Uncle, but he passed away only weeks before their arrival and now they are adrift in a strange place, not quite speaking the right language and not quite understanding the right customs. When tragedy strikes Meixing’s family, she retreats into the backyard of her new home and discovers a magical world hidden away in a broken down greenhouse where the ghost of First Uncle helps her discover her inner strength. Meixing displays incredible courage in the face of xenophobia in her new school as she tries to learn her place in this New Land, but new friends and an understanding new teacher also help her overcome her family’s difficulties as they begin to build a life in the New Land.

THOUGHTS: This story offers a unique glimpse into the struggles of immigrant children who deal with poverty, discrimination, and cultural miscommunication. The magical realism in this book provides Meixing with a symbolic escape from her troubles and a way to process her feelings with the help of her family, and adds a beautiful, lyrical layer to the storytelling. This story would be an excellent addition to studies about the immigrant experience, and should be added to collections with a focus on immigrant experiences and diverse voices.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Watercress

Wang, Andrea. Watercress. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-446247 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Watercress is a quiet yet profoundly moving picture book by the award-winning duo, Andrea Wang and Jason Chin. A young girl, traveling with her immigrant parents in rural America, is confused when her parents stop abruptly to collect wild watercress growing on the side of the road. Then a pair of rusty scissors and a brown paper bag are found in the depth of their old Pontiac trunk. The young Chinese girl and her brother have no choice but to roll up their jeans and follow their parents into the mud to gather the watercress. Later that evening, the dinner table holds a dish of watercress soaked in garlicky oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds, peppered with unanswered questions and confusion. At first, the little girl is angry and even embarrassed. Why didn’t her family get food from the store? But when her mother shares a story about her family and heritage in China, the girl learns to appreciate the incredible journey her family endured many years before. The beautiful watercolors and poetic text are about the power of memories, even the ones that are so difficult to share.

THOUGHTS: It is common for children to be unaware of their parent’s stories and culture. But it is also imperative to understand how we have arrived at this very moment. Watercress is a beautiful nod towards healthy communication between generations and an exploration into forgiveness and empathy. It is explained in the author’s note that this semi-autobiographical story is both a love letter and an apology letter to her parents- with an emphasis on how essential it is to share our stories.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD