Elem. – Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

Khan, Hena. Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun. Salaam Reads, 2022.  978-1-534-49759-7. 127 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Zara and her brother Zayd are anxiously watching activity at the house across the street, curious to see who is moving into the vacant home. Will the people have children their ages? Zara, the confident leader of the neighborhood kids, is delighted when new neighbors move in and she meets Naomi, who is exactly her age. However, Zara’s enthusiasm vanishes rapidly when Naomi unintentionally changes the dynamic of Zara’s friend group with her charisma and fresh ideas. Zara suddenly feels like an outsider. Determined to reclaim her role as Queen of the Neighborhood, she decides breaking a Guinness World Record will be sufficiently attention-getting. But Zara quickly discovers that record-breaking is tough work. Worse, Naomi decides she wants to break a record, too. Zara is frustrated, but Naomi’s sympathetic overtures help Zara understand why her old friends are annoyed with her. Eventually she hits on the perfect plan to bring the neighborhood back together. Zara is an exuberant almost 11-year-old who takes for granted her role as leader, and views herself as keeping her friends’ games and activities fair. When the status quo is disturbed, feelings are hurt. But she observes how Naomi interacts with everyone, and realizes her prior behavior may have been a bit overbearing. Young readers familiar with friendship turmoils will relate to Zara’s situation of suddenly feeling like an outsider. Zara and Zayd are Pakistani; Naomi’s family is Jewish; and other friends are Black, white, and Asian. 

THOUGHTS: An entertaining story that addresses jealousy and friendship issues in an easily relatable way. The book is noted as the first in a series, so look for more adventures with Zara. 

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Marley and the Family Band

Marley, Cedella, with Tracey Baptiste. Marley and the Family Band. Illustrated by Tiffany Rose. Random House Kids, 2022. Unpaged. $17.99  978-0-593-30111-1. Grades PK-2.

Marley and her family are newcomers from Jamaica to their Delaware town. To feel more at home and get to know neighbors, Marley plans a concert (in the park) by her family band. However, the day of the concert dawns wet and stormy. The concert is canceled, most would say, but Marley keeps looking for a way to outshine the rain. She knows rain and how it intrudes on people’s lives–and she also knows that “rain never lasts.” Marley and her siblings think of covering the concert area with umbrellas, which they’ll get from helping their neighbors with rain problems. They retrieve a cat from a roof, bail water from a basement and help with indoor gardening. At the last house, Marley uses all her umbrellas given from grateful neighbors (and intended for the concert) to cover a neighbor’s upset animals who are getting wet. At home, Marley finds her family preparing for the concert, because, “your friends helped.” The final pages show Marley and her musical family performing indoors at the neighbor’s house, letting the rain add its own rhythmic beats. 

THOUGHTS: Marley has written an upbeat and hopeful tale about coming together to help and celebrate communities. The colorful illustrations fit well with the optimistic and hopeful message.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Moon Pops

Baek, Heena. Moon Pops. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47429-0. Unpaged $19.95. Grades PreK-K. 

In Korean folklore, the full moon is associated with a rabbit pounding items with a mortar and pestle. Author and illustrator Heena Baek puts a unique spin on this folklore in her story Moon Pops (translated from the original Korean by Jieun Kiaer). One hot night, in a city populated by animals, the residents of an apartment building attempt to sleep and escape the heat. When a steady dripping noise is heard, Granny (a wolf) discovers that the moon is melting! She runs outside and catches the moon drops with her bucket. Back in her apartment, she ponders what to do with the moon drops, when the idea of making cool, refreshing moon pops (ice pops made with moon drops). When a power outage hits the building (due to too many folks running their air conditioning), Granny distributes her refreshing moon pops to her neighbors, who are refreshed and cooled by the icy treats. Later, a knock is heard at Granny’s door–it is a pair of rabbits, dejected by the loss of their now melted moon home. Thankfully, Granny has another idea up her sleeve that might just result in the restoration of the moon. The story is illustrated with photographs of mixed media 3D dioramas that give the setting and characters depth and make excellent use of the elements of light and shadow. Of special note are the moon pops themselves, which emanate a glowing light reminiscent of the moon. 

THOUGHTS: This title easily could be incorporated into units on folklore, Korea, or animal stories. After reading the story, students will want to enjoy an icy treat themselves–why not go out and enjoy popsicles as a class or create your own as a class project. Highly recommended. 

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Katie the Catsitter

Venable, Colleen A.F. Katie the Catsitter. Random House, 2021. 978-1-984-89563-9. 229 pg. $20.99. Grades 3-5.

Katie is not looking forward to this summer because all of her friends are going away to summer camps. Katie needs to figure out a way to make some money, so she can go to a summer camp. Katie ends up cat-sitting for her upstairs neighbor, who has 217 (yes, you read that right) cats! However, these are not normal cats, and Katie doesn’t think that her neighbor is normal. Will Katie be able to handle all these cats, figure out how to keep her friends, and perhaps solve the city’s mystery? The answer to all those questions might surprise you.

THOUGHTS: This is an extremely fun graphic novel for readers who love the Warriors series. The plot is super fun and ends up going places the reader does not see coming. Highly recommend this book!

Graphic Novel        Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – The Belonging Tree

Cocca-Leffler, Maryann. The Belonging Tree. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-250-30513-8. $18.99.  Grades PreK-1.

A community of happy squirrels lives on Forest Lane.  The Gray squirrel family, Ma, Pa, and Little Zeke, love their old oak tree home and enjoy eating, working and playing with their squirrel neighbors. Then in summer, some blue jays arrive and their noise disturbs Ma and Pa, but Zeke enjoys their singing. In the fall, a chipmunk family with many babies appears and gets busy gathering acorns. Zeke loves feeding the babies, while his parents are concerned about a nut shortage. All is peaceful through the winter, but in spring some busy beavers move in and start building dams. Ma and Pa fear the beavers will down all the trees, but Zeke is amazed by what they have built. The parents decide to move across the river to get away from these other animals. That night, during a storm, the squirrel family’s new home is destroyed. They are rescued through the efforts of their former animal neighbors and quickly realize that the best neighborhood is one where everyone belongs. The author has created a book that shows the value of community and how it is important to include and accept our neighbors. Lombardi’s colorful drawings were created with watercolor and Adobe Photoshop. The full bleed illustrations are charming and the squirrels are drawn with large expressive eyes. Children will love the illustration of Zeke feeding the young chipmunks with a baby bottle.

THOUGHTS: This story is a wonderful discussion starter about communities and the importance of diversity and tolerance. It is a great read aloud and a worthwhile purchase for all elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member