Elem. – Just Harriet

Arnold, Elana. Just Harriet. Walden Pond Press. 978-0-063-09204-4. 196 p. $16.99. Grades 3-5. 

Third grade just ended, but summer is not beginning the way Harriet plans. When her mother is put on bed rest until Harriet’s new baby brother arrives, her parents also decide to send Harriet to live with her grandmother for the summer. Nanu lives on Marble Island where she runs a bed and breakfast. Harriet always enjoys visiting Nanu with her parents, but staying alone with her for the whole summer is an entirely different story. As Harriet struggles with adjusting to her new surroundings, she finds a mysterious key in Nanu’s shed. This discovery leads her on an adventure involving an antique dollhouse, her 100-year-old neighbor, and some items from her father’s childhood on the island. Harriet is a boisterous, stubborn narrator with a penchant for lying, and she does not enjoy changes that are out of her control. But, readers will root for her as she copes in her own way with the many unexpected twists her summer takes. 

THOUGHTS: This summer adventure is perfect for readers who are just transitioning to chapter books. Short chapters include at least one black and white illustration. Readers will relate to Harriet’s conflicting emotions about being sent away for the summer but also her excitement about seeing her grandmother and trying to solve the mystery of what the old key opens. 

Mystery          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – My Life Begins!

MacLachlan, Patricia. My Life Begins! Katherine Tegen Books, 2022. 978-0-063-11601-6. $16.99. 119 p. Grades 3-6.

Jacob is 9 years old. His greatest wish is to have a puppy, perhaps even a whole litter of puppies. Puppies are not in Jacob’s immediate future, however. Jacob’s mother is having triplets. Jacob refers to his newborn siblings as The Trips. The Trips don’t do much at first. The family must dress them each in different colors to keep track of which is which. Jacob watches his exhausted parents as they feed, dress, and rock the triplets to sleep. When a school research project is assigned, Jacob decides to study the changes in the lives of the newborns as they grow and mature. He titles the project “A Litter of Trips – from Birth On” and begins to keep notes on their development. The early journal entries claim The Trips do nothing and are all the same. Then, one night Jacob is awakened by a crying baby. Knowing his parents could use a rest, Jacob realizes he can change and feed her himself. As he comforts Lizzie, he is rewarded with her first smile. Suddenly Jacob realizes that his newborn sisters each have a distinct personality. The Trips all have favorite ways to get attention. Char, the quiet one, will wave her hands excitedly when Jacob passes, Kath, the bold one, will make vocal noises, and Lizzie will smile and take Jacob’s hand. As The Trips grow, so too does Jacob. He begins to realize he no longer thinks of the triplets as The Trips, but he is not sure exactly what to call them. When Mom returns to work, the family hires Mimi, an experienced mother of five, to help out. Mimi, who is adored by the entire family, sees Jacob’s kind, caring nature. Mimi helps Jacob to understand “the girls” and himself. Jacob finishes his school report with an in class visit by the triplets, who he now refers to as his “sisters.” Jacob comes to realize that as we mature our lives begin again and again with new experiences, new people, new skills and interests. Told partly in journal entries, and partly through narrative, this is a delightful look at the first year of life through the eyes of an older brother. Illustrated with great care by Daniel Miyares. 

THOUGHTS: An utterly delightful read that will resonate with children and adults alike. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem./MG – Oh, Sal

Henkes, Kevin. Oh, Sal. Greenwillow Books, 2022. 978-0-063-24492-4. $16.99. 144 p. Grades 3-6.

Kevin Henkes fans will remember the character of Sal, the little sister in  The Year of Billy Miller and Billy Miller Makes a Wish. Sal can be a  pesky little sister, but she is sweet and funny. She has a big imagination and a penchant for collecting items that are precious to her. In this lovely story about the Miller family, a new baby has arrived on Christmas. Sal is four and is very much feeling abandoned by her parents as they fuss over the infant. A holiday visit from Papa’s brother, Uncle Jake, leaves Sal angry and confused. She doesn’t like that Uncle Jake calls her “Salamander” and the new baby is boring and cries all the time. Sal’s parents have been so busy they haven’t even picked a name for the new baby. As if all of this wasn’t enough to handle, Sal’s favorite new pair of underwear, (from a set adorned with a different flower on each pair) goes missing. It was a gift from Santa and cannot be replaced, yet the grown ups are all too busy to help Sal find them. This amusing story takes place over the course of twenty-four hours and is full of big four-year-old emotions, family situations, and gentle humor.

THOUGHTS: This delightful book is absolutely pitch-perfect. The Miller Family Stories are filled with honest familial circumstances that young children relate to, but are never condescending or preachy. This book can stand on its own, but is a wonderful glimpse into the beloved Miller family from a new perspective. This book is scheduled to be released on September 27, 2022.

Realistic Fiction          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD