Elem. – Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Pura’s Cuentos: How Pura Belpré Reshaped Libraries with Her Stories. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74941-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Born in Puerto Rico, Pura Belpré grew up listening to her aubeula’s stories. When, as an adult, Puera left the island to move to New York City, she carried the stories of her aubeula and her homeland with her. In New York, Puera found a job at the 135th Street Library working with children. Belpré loved leading storytimes at the library, but rules said she could only tell stories from printed books. This meant the wonderful stories of her youth told to her by her abuela could not be shared because they were not written down. When she makes her case to her bosses, they agree that she can share her stories. Soon Puera is conducting outreach to the surrounding community, inviting all children to the library where she regularly leads bilingual storytimes, telling cuentos, some from print books, others not. Eventually Belpré wrote her stories down in book form and they were published, reaching an even wider population. Pimentel’s lyrical retelling of Puera Belpré’s story will introduce this important figure in librarianship to new audiences. The text is primarily in English, but Spanish words and phrases are incorporated at various points throughout the story. Magaly Morales’ vibrant digital illustrations capture Belpre’s energy when storytelling and interacting with children. 

THOUGHTS: This engaging biography shines a spotlight on an important figure in librarianship. Belpre was a trailblazer who strove to make public libraries more inclusive and welcoming to all. This title would pair well with Belpre’s story Pérez y Martina, which is referenced several times in Puera’s Cuentos.

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG/YA – Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield

Jarrow, Gail. Ambushed! The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37814-2. Grades 5-12

Author Gail Jarrow (Blood and Germs, Poison Eaters) is back with another top notch medical-related non-fiction title for secondary students. This time, she has turned her focus to the assignation of President James Garfield. Garfield was a respected former college president, Civil War general, and Congressman who was elected President in 1880. On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office seeker, shot Garfield shortly after he entered a train station. Though medical professionals in Europe had been advancing theories regarding germs and the importance of treating wounds with antiseptics, these ideas found little acceptance in America. Therefore, when Garfield was examined, his doctors probed his wound with dirty fingers and instruments. Garfield lingered for months, slowly wasting away as infection ravaged his body. The country united together, in hopes that Garfield would survive, but he passed away on September 19, 1881. Jarrow makes extensive use of primary documents, including diary entries and other communications to relate Garfield’s story. Numerous photographs, paintings, and illustrations enhance the text. Backmatter includes a glossary, timeline, and list of additional resources. 

THOUGHTS: Since Garfield’s presidency was short, he is little remembered today, which is unfortunate. He had an amazing life story, which Jarrow outlines in the beginning of this engaging title. Even though he was in constant pain following being shot, he remained in good spirits and never complained, even while undergoing painful (and as the reader learns, unsanitary) treatments. Readers will gain an appreciation for Garfield and an appreciation for how far medical knowledge and treatment has advanced. Highly recommended.

973.84 American History        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

Lantos, Jeff. Why Longfellow Lied: The Truth About Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-58089-933-8. 134 p. $18.99. Grades 3-8. 

“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is one of the most famous poems written by an American poet. Memorized by thousands of children (and adults) since its publication in 1860, the poem popularized Paul Revere and the story of the events on April 18 & 19, 1775, when riders traveled the countryside around Boston to warn citizens that British troops were on the move. While the average reader may accept the poem as fact, in actuality Longfellow took some artistic license in his retelling. Author Jeff Lantos examines the poem stanza by stanza, comparing the text of the poem to primary source accounts of the events. Readers will learn reasons Longfellow strayed from the historical record is his retelling, including the need to maintain pacing in the poem, removing details that might detract from the main storyline, and the need to give the poem a sense of drama. Numerous sidebars highlight historical facts and figures, and the text is enhanced by the inclusion of maps, photographs, paintings, and drawings. 

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title is a combination history lesson and literary analysis. The author is a retired teacher and has an engaging conversational tone that is sure to keep readers turning the page. An excellent choice for casual readers or those researching the events surrounding the beginning of the American Revolution, this title deserves a spot on library shelves.

811 Poetry          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem./MG – A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures

Bayly, Sami. A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures. The Experiment, 2021. 978-1-615-19824-5. 125 p. $18.95. Grades 3-8. 

Dangerous…it’s a word that evokes feelings of fear and terror in many individuals. While animals considered or called dangerous can pose some level of threats to humans, they are often misunderstood. Author and illustrator Sami Bayly spotlights some of these creatures and explores how they have adapted to ward off predators with amazing (and yes, dangerous) defense mechanisms. For example, the greater slow loris (a small, tree-dwelling primate native to some countries in Asia), produces toxins in its elbow glands. If you see it licking its armpit/elbow area, watch out! It’s collecting venom that mixes with saliva to create a toxic bite. The geography cone snail lives near coral reefs in the Pacific. From the outside, it looks like a beautiful seashell, but inside lives the world’s most venomous sea snail. One shot of the snail’s venom can kill up to 15 people! These are just two of the 60 creatures profiled in this engaging title. Each entry defines the danger profile for the animal, as well as identifying their habitat, eating habits and conservation status. Particularly noteworthy are Byly’s illustrations. Trained as a natural history illustrator, her detailed watercolor paintings are true works of art and bring the animals to life.
Note: A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures was previously published in Australia under the title The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals.

THOUGHTS: This fantastic title will give readers a new appreciation and respect for the ways animals have adapted to survive. Ideal for casual browsers or researchers, readers will find themselves engrossed by the interesting facts presented about each animal and the detailed illustrations. 

591.6 Animals          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – Full Speed Ahead! America’s First Admiral: David Glasgow Farragut

Borden, Louise. Full Speed Ahead! America’s First Admiral: David Glasgow Farragut. Calkins Creek, 2021. 978-1-684-37905-7. 224 p. $18.99. Grades 5-9.

“Full speed ahead!”…it’s probably a phrase that most of us have heard before. Yet many may not know that this phrase became part of American popular culture after it was spoken in a Civil War naval battle by Union Rear Admiral David Farragut. Author Louise Borden chronicles Farragut’s life and career in her biography in verse Full Speed Ahead! Farragut first joined the navy as a midshipman at age nine. He steadily rose through the ranks and distinguished himself on missions around the world, including in the War of 1812, in the Caribbean, around Cape Horn, and in the Atlantic. When the Civil War broke out, Farragut devoted himself to the Union cause. He led the naval fleets that captured the Confederate strongholds of New Orleans and Mobile Bay. After the war, he was promoted once more and became the first ever Admiral in U.S. Naval history. The text is supplemented by numerous photographs, paintings, drawings, letters, and maps. 

THOUGHTS: A biography told in verse of a 19th century naval hero might not be the first choice of those browsing the library shelves, so some booktalking may be required for this title. But history buffs who take a chance on the title will be rewarded with an engaging life story of an American hero. An additional purchase for libraries with history fans. 

921 Biography          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature

Nordstrom, Kristen. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors Inspired by Nature. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-580-89947-5. 44 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

This book describes eight inventions that were inspired by natural phenomena. From solar cells that absorb sunlight like leaves to trains that move silently and efficiently through the landscape like kingfishers, this book explains how ten scientists incorporated ideas from nature to solve various real-world problems. With end matter that includes brief biographies of each inventor, suggestions for becoming a mimic maker, and a bibliography and additional resources, this intriguing book is a solid addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I was really impressed by the curricular connections between the natural sciences and the applied sciences presented in this book. I also think the book presents a wonderful opportunity to spark creative thinking in students. It would be interesting to have students research a plant or animal of their choice and see if they can identify any unique structures that perform specific functions for the plant or animal. Then, they could brainstorm inventions of their own using this newfound knowledge. The book is definitely thought-provoking and full of potential for classroom applications!

610.28 Biomimicry           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem./MG – The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb

Fleming, Candace. The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb. Scholastic Focus, 2021. 978-1-338-59662-5. 304 p. $18.99. Grades 4-8. 

The discovery of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922 made headlines all over the world. Soon, rumors of a curse on the tomb began to circulate. Author Candace Fleming takes readers on a journey back in time as archeologist Howard Carter and his partner and patron Lord Carnarvon embark on their hunt to find the tomb of Tutankhamun. The discovery of the tomb was the result of years of planning and earlier expeditions. Readers will follow along as Carter, Carnarvon, and their workers embark on their hunt and the thrill and excitement they felt when they made their amazing discovery. The work that went into removing treasures from the tomb, preserving them, and cataloging them is also discussed. Scattered throughout the text are short sections of several pages each that present some of the numerous curse stories surrounding Tutankhamun, his tomb, and it’s discovery. These sections help to add an element of mystery to the story and are sure to catch the attention of readers. At the end of the book, a chapter is devoted to examining the curse stories and separating fact from fiction. The text is enhanced by the inclusion of numerous period photographs of the amazing discoveries made within the tomb. 

THOUGHTS: This narrative non-fiction title is certain to keep readers engaged. Since the title reads somewhat like an adventure or thriller, it sure to be a hit with fans of these genres as well as those interested in history or Ancient Egypt. Highly recommended. 

932.014 Ancient Egypt        Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog

Estellon, Pascale. Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog. Princeton Architectural Press, 2021. 978-1-648-96014-7. Unpaged. $18.95. Gr. PreK-1.

Colors appear throughout nature from fruits and vegetables to birds and sea creatures. Each color is unique and brings about an understanding of the natural world. Combined, the colors enrich everyday items and create associations. Each highlighted color in Orange is an Apricot, Green is a Tree Frog begins with “__________ [the color] looks like”, and then has dots of varying shades of that color along with images of plants, animals, and food that are the highlighted color. Through this setup, children can see the varying degrees of each color while learning the color and a variety of everyday items they may encounter. 

THOUGHTS: Although plain in design, the use of white space helps to highlight each color and those natural things with the color. Words are sparse, but that also is important because they are names of the pictures and colors. This is a great book for teaching students colors and about nature.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – In the Name of Emmett Till: How the Children of the Mississippi Freedom Struggle Showed Us Tomorrow

Mayer, Robert H. In the Name of Emmett Till: How the Children of the Mississippi Freedom Struggle Showed Us Tomorrow. NewSouth Books, 2021. 978-1-588-38437-9. 201 pp. $19.95. Grades 9-12.

Robert H. Mayer opens this collective history of the “Children of the Mississippi Freedom Struggle” with the event that impacted their lives and motivated their activism: The brutal 1955 murder of Emmett Till. Many young people in Mississippi identified with Emmett. They also were Black, close to his age, and knew that a system that allowed such a terrible crime to go unpunished would likely also fail to protect them if they were ever assaulted or imprisoned (whether justly or unjustly). Spurred to action, they rejected the world of Jim Crow laws, organized youth chapters of the NAACP, planned sit-ins and vigils, and spearheaded marches. Profiled members of the “Emmett Till generation” include the Tougaloo Nine, the Freedom Riders, the North Jackson Youth Council, and many more. Brief chapters on the “Elders” of the Mississippi freedom struggle – Medgar Evers, Bob Moses, and Fannie Lou Hamer – appear at intervals, chronicling the contributions of the movement’s architects, especially their impact on younger people. The final chapter poses a question to readers: “Are you encouraged to examine your world and consider ways you and your peers might act to make the world better?” (177). 

THOUGHTS: There’s always room on the shelf for well-written nonfiction with a different perspective on the Civil Rights era, and here Robert H. Mayer focuses on many spirited young activists and the events that shaped their commitment to the struggle. Readers without a strong interest in the topic may find In the Name of Emmett Till slow going, but excerpts would also work well for classroom discussion and research purposes. Note that in a prefatory comment, Mayer discusses his choice to include hateful racial slurs within quotes in order to illustrate “how often people used this word and how comfortable they were saying it” (xii).

323 Civil Rights Movement          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Chunky

Mercado, Yehudi. Chunky. Katherine Tegan Books, 2021. 978-1-713-75878-5. 199 p. $21.99. Grades 3-6. 

When Hudi was younger he had some health issues which caused him to have his one lung removed. As he gets older, his parents are worried about his health and want him to lose weight and stay healthy, so they set him up with a variety of different sports. These end in Hudi getting injured most of the time. Hudi has a great imagination along with an awesome sense of humor, which help him through most of his sports injuries and endear him to his doctors. Hudi has an imaginary friend that he names Chunky who is his cheerleader throughout the book as Hudi goes through all of these activities.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations are bright and colorful, and the addition of the Spanish is a wonderful addition. There is an author’s note that delves more into the book and explains how some of this book is based on the author’s experiences growing up as a Mexican Jewish child. This is a lovely addition to any middle school collection.

Graphic Novel            Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Hudi Mercado doesn’t quite know where he fits in. He is the only Mexican Jewish kid in his neighborhood and, since Hudi suffered a serious medical condition as a child, his parents are always concerned about his health. Or more specifically, his weight. Hudi’s parents push him to try a variety of sports like tennis, soccer, and swimming. Somehow, most of these endeavors end with a trip to the hospital. To help cope, Hudi invents Chunky, an imaginary mascot who is Hudi’s biggest fan. Together, the two of them love drawing and making jokes. With Chunky, Hudi is able to deal with all the demands coming his way from his parents. However, when his dad loses his job and things at home become even more tense, Hudi starts to forget himself and his imaginary cheerleader.

THOUGHTS: Inspired by the author’s childhood, this graphic novel is perfect for middle grade readers who are fans of Jerry Craft. Readers will relate to Hudi’s struggles and laugh alongside him as he finds his place in his world. Expect book 2 two early this summer.

Graphic Novel          Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD