Elem. – Little Rosetta and the Talking Guitar: The Musical Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Woman Who Invented Rock and Roll. 

Barlow, Charnelle Pinkney. Little Rosetta and the Talking Guitar: The Musical Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Woman Who Invented Rock and Roll. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2023. 978-0-593-57106-4. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-2.

Born in Arkansas in 1915, Rosetta Tharpe grew up surrounded by music. Her mother, a preacher, sang and played the mandolin and piano at home and at church. Her small rural town held weekly concerts where the young African-American girl enjoyed “clappin’ and twirlin’, dancin’ and singin’ “ to the rhythm of the music. When she was four, her mother gave her an acoustic guitar. Little Rosetta began to practice day and night by mimicking the sounds she heard around  her, such as  the “whirrrr” of a sewing machine, the clank of pots and pans and the “rummmmm” of a vacuum. She carried the guitar everywhere, and soon the efforts of all her hard work began to show. Rosetta was making music and people in town began tapping, humming, and snapping to the rhythm that her fast fingering made on the guitar. Within two years, she was a skilled acoustic guitarist. Sister Tharpe, as she later was known, began traveling around the world playing her unique style of music – a little bit Gospel, a little bit Jazz, and a little bit of Blues. She made the guitar “talk” by her incomparable style of fingerpicking. Her hit called “Rock Me” influenced other musicians like Elvis Presley and Rosetta became known as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” The author’s note gives more details of the guitarist’s life and includes a photo. Barlow has created striking colorful images using painted paper collage and adding pieces of cotton string for the guitar.

THOUGHTS: This gem of a book shines the light on a musical artist who has not always received the recognition she deserves. Her perseverance and passion for music may inspire budding young musicians, who would enjoy watching a portion of her “Didn’t It Rain” live performance from 1964. Pair this picture book with Troy Andrews’s Trombone Shorty for a truly musical storytime. Highly recommended.

Picture Book Biography
787.87166 Guitars, 921

Elem. – Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School!

Finson, Carrie. Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! Illustrated by Erin Krann. Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-30566-9.  Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-3.

Little Tortoise is excited (and a little nervous) for the first day of school. Armed with her racing helmet and intent to be on time, she heads out the door with determination. She starts strong, but soon her classmates start zipping past her… And then she gets lost, (literally) in the middle of the book. Discouraged, Little Tortoise is close to giving up by the time she FINALLY reaches school. Fortunately, her teacher, Mr. Sloth, is late too, and lends a helping hand and some much-needed encouragement.

THOUGHTS: Hurry Up, Little Tortoise, Time for School! will take a welcome spot in my “Welcome Back” display in September. Its strength is the creativity in illustrations when Little Tortoise disappears into the gutter in the center of the book… and then re-emerges a few pages later. I appreciate that one of the first books many readers will gravitate to during back-to-school time has such an unexpected surprise that quickly shows readers to expect the unexpected. Not lost on the reader (especially adults reading to children) will be gentle messages about differences, perseverance, first-day jitters, and the encouragement adults can and do give children every day.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Elem. – Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion

Stocker, Shannon. Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion. Illustrated by Devon Holzwarth. Dial Books for Young Readers. 978-0-593-10969-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-4.

“This is a story of music…of obstacles…of hard work…[just] listen.” As a young child growing up in Scotland in the 1960s,  Evelyn Glennie loved listening to her father play the accordion and her mother the organ. By the time she was eight, she had developed a strong love of music and could even play the piano without sheet music. The girl’s life changed by age twelve when she lost her hearing. Glennie did not want to go to a school for the deaf, but instead dreamed of going to school to learn music. At her secondary school, the young musician discovered the wonders of percussion instruments.  Her music teacher encouraged her to “feel the music…resonate” throughout her entire body. Evelyn learned to listen in a different way by noting where the vibrations were felt in her body. She could feel in her legs the rumble of cars on the road and could even tune percussion by where she felt the vibrations. The percussionist was initially rejected  by the Royal Academy of Music, but insisted on a second audition and was admitted. All music schools then agreed to offer applicants with disabilities the opportunity to audition. As a student, Glennie performed her first solo and won competitions. Her career blossomed, as she recorded albums and performed on television. As the first full-time solo percussionist, Evelyn received two Grammy Awards and many other honors, including an O.B.E from Queen Elizabeth. Still performing today, often barefoot, this Scottish musician did not see her deafness as a limitation, but instead says that it  “made me a better listener.” Stocker describes her connection to Glennie in the author’s note.  Holzwarth’s vibrant drawings are done in watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil and help bring the music alive. The illustrator depicts the kinetic energy of the sounds, which appear like waves emanating from the drums and mallets and enveloping the audience.

THOUGHTS: This wonderful picture book is a tribute to this amazing musician who overcame adversity to achieve her dream. It is a good choice for character trait units and for music teachers to inspire student musicians. A first purchase for elementary collections.

Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
92,921, 786.8092 Percussion

Tags: Picture Book, Biography, Musicians,  Percussionists, Perseverance, Deafness, Evelyn Glennie

Elem. – Knitting for Dogs

Molk, Laurel. Knitting for Dogs. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-43458-1. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Izzy is a talented maker. She has made birdhouses, bee houses, a wooden swing, and more. One day, she decides to take up knitting. She has no problem knitting scarves and hats, but when she tries to knit a sweater, it doesn’t turn out as planned. She reassures her dog, Max, that “failure is part of the creative process.” Again and again, Izzy tries to knit sweaters, but each one turns out even more disastrous than the one before. Finally, just as she is about to give up, inspiration strikes. Izzy figures out a way to repurpose her sweaters, and this idea is even more brilliant than her original plan! Cheerful illustrations, rendered in watercolor, pen-and-ink, and Photoshop, accompany this uplifting tale of persistence. End matter includes instructions for knitting a scarf, but they are very vague; children certainly would need additional guidance to complete this project.

THOUGHTS: I absolutely love the message this story sends about making mistakes during the creative process. It is important for students to realize that mistakes can always be fixed, and sometimes, they can even lead to fabulous new outcomes. This would be the perfect story to share with students before beginning a new art project. 

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – When You Take a Step

Murguia, Bethanie Deeney. When You Take a Step. Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99 978-1-534-47367-6. Grades K-2.

This book opens with a question, “What happens when you take a step?” then offers a variety of answers, each illustrated appropriately with various children stepping in different ways.  The words give a sense of optimism and openness to the steps one might take. “You share a path. You share a rhythm. You gather courage and try again.”  The black and white illustrations are a clever backdrop for the bright red shoes of the characters. There are links to the past and to the future, “and you make the world better/ when you take a step” and on the last page spread, the color pink infuses the black and white parade scene. 

THOUGHTS: A quiet book to encourage readers that the next step is worth taking, and good things will come as you keep trying.    

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Ballou Mealey, Cathy. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-5253-0238-1 p. 32. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Teamwork. Perseverance. Flexibility. Problem Solving. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle, a children’s book written by Cathy Ballou Mealey, shines a spotlight on all the qualities mentioned and models a growth mindset with character development. Sloth and Squirrel are loyal friends who work together to achieve a common goal; purchase a new shiny bike that they can enjoy together. However, they find a job in a pickle factory to buy the bike to earn some money. Although loyal within their friendship to each other, Sloth and Squirrel find themselves in a pickle at work when they realize they have different strengths and weaknesses, different styles of learning, and different abilities. Will they be able to work together, complete the job, and earn their wages? Or will everything fall apart, even their friendship? In this heartwarming story, two friends stumble together and remain kind to each other as they learn a few lessons along the way. Who would have thought that a squirrel and a sloth could be such a resourceful team! 

THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a great addition to character education. There are hilarious moments, darling illustrations by Kelly Collier, and many opportunities within the story for educators or parents to discuss growth mindset. Perfect for a read-aloud within a classroom or school library (or even a snuggle at bedtime), young readers will love the silly duo- Sloth and Squirrel! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight

Muirhead, Margaret. Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight. Charlesbridge. 978-1-580-89880-5. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Toss, glide, catch, repeat! Frisbees are some of the top-selling toys of all time, and this title explores their history. In the 1920s, east-coast college kids began flinging empty pie plates from the Frisbie bakery. The fad soon spread from campus to campus. Around the same time, in California, a high school football player named Fred Morrison began tossing a flat, tin popcorn lid with his girlfriend. They were amazed how the lid hovered, dipped, and glided through the air. When the tin lid became too dented to fly straight, the pair experimented with pie plates and cake pans. When someone offered to buy the cake pan from Fred after seeing him tossing it around on the beach, Fred was hooked with the idea of introducing the fun to others. Over the next several years, Fred tweaked the materials for the flying discs and capitalized on America’s obsession with aliens and flying saucers. Eventually, he sold his design to the Wham-O toy company who helped give the toy national recognition. Full-page retro-style gouache illustrations capture the excitement of a game of frisbee from all angles, making readers feel like they are ready to fling the flying disc themselves. An Author’s Note includes details about other colleges that claim to have invented the game of frisbee as well as additional information about Fred’s persistence and creative energy. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be an asset to units about inventions, and it also highlights STEM concepts, particularly ideas about creating prototypes and perfecting designs. It also can be integrated into social-emotional discussions, particularly those centering on resilience and perseverance. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
796.2 Activities and Games

Elem. – SumoKitty

Biedrzycki, David. SumoKitty. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-580-89683-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Once a thin, stray cat, SumoKitty only earns that name after much hard work and good food. He loves spending time at the heya (training center) where he earns his keep chasing mice away. Kuma, one of the rikishi (wrestlers) is afraid of mice and the stray cat keeps the heya pest-free; he’s rewarded with many bowls of chankonabe (stew). One day, he realizes that he has grown quite large from so much chankonabe, and the mice have quickly reclaimed their territory. The cat is kicked out of the heya by it’s manager and works to regain his place inside by studying Kuma’s training and techniques. Kuma is training especially hard for an upcoming match against the yokozuna (champion). He witnesses the cat using it’s best sumo moves to dominate the mice and gives SumoKitty his name and place inside the heya. In Kuma’s own match, he achieves success by remembering SumoKitty’s perseverance when battling the mice. David Biedrzycki uses a subtle panel-on-picture style to tell the story; his illustrations, done in pencil, watercolor, and digital kitchen sink, pair nicely with the story.

THOUGHTS: Funny and heartwarming, SumoKitty and his friends at the heya show readers the importance of hard work. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words

Johannes, Shelli R. Theo Thesaurus: The Dinosaur Who Loved Big Words. Illustrated by Mike Moran. Philomel Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-0-593-20551-8 $17.99 Grades K-2.

Theo and his parents are migrating, and his parents are excited, but Theo is worried about joining a new class where no one knows him. He and his parents are a special species of dinosaurs called Thesauruses–self-described ‘logo maniacs’ or word-lovers. Sure enough, Theo’s big words create a barrier between him and his new classmates. He tries to be friendly.  “Salutations!” he greets them; ‘Could you lead me to the athenaeum (library)?” in class; “Care for a crudite (raw snack)?” at lunch; “want to play conceal and search (hide and seek)?” at recess. Everything leads to misconceptions and confusion.  He keeps trying, even inviting them: “I request your attendance to celebrate the anniversary of my hatching.” When the birthday party arrives, but no friends do, Theo tries several words to describe his emotions but discovers he is speechless.  Then the doorbell rings and his classmates arrive, shouting, “Salutations!” Theo and his parents are equally excited to party with his new friends.

THOUGHTS: This is a cute concept, but the words used require explaining to K-2 readers for them to fully understand the humor. Also, Theo’s parents want to be helpful (but seem to miss the mark), while it is unclear what changes the minds of Theo’s classmates. A glossary of Theo’s “thesaurus” style words is included. Supplemental purchase.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – The Little Butterfly That Could

Burach, Ross. The Little Butterfly That Could. Scholastic, Press, 2021. 978-1-338-61500-5 p. 40. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In Ross Burach’s The Very Impatient Caterpillar, we met a very dramatic yet adorable caterpillar-turned-butterfly. The little critter learns the importance of patience in a STEM-friendly picture book that integrates facts on metamorphosis. Fabulous news! Our favorite impatient butterfly is back in Ross Burach’s companion tale titled: The Little Butterfly That Could. In this comical picture book, our adorable butterfly is distressed and anxious as ever as the realization sets in that he must migrate 200 miles away. Lucky for him, he meets a gentle and encouraging whale that helps the butterfly build confidence to start his migration journey. Armed with new tools, the butterfly learns a lesson in perseverance and resilience.

THOUGHTS: Ross Burach’s second tale of this silly caterpillar-turned-butterfly will elicit giggles and laughs with every age reader! Written through dialogue from each character, the story will appeal to Mo Willlem fans while teaching STEM-related themes in science. A great companion to any school or classroom library!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD