Elem. – Best Day Ever!

Singer, Marilyn. Best Day Ever! Illustrated by Leah Nixon. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-1-328-98783-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Told from the point of view of a very energetic little puppy, Best Day Ever! follows two friends through a day that starts out great and ends up with some trouble. From stealing hot dogs (not the bun) to swimming in the lake, this pup has a day full of adventure. When he makes a mess of himself, though, the best day suddenly becomes the worst day. Can sweet this duo find their way back to the best day ever? Digital illustrations bring these characters to life. The pet’s human is a boy in a wheelchair who can do a lot of the same activities that able-bodied children do. Illustrated by a paralyzed artist, this title has disability representation as a subtle message for children.

THOUGHTS: Readers will love brainstorming about their own best days and talking about things pets do. Best Day Ever! lends itself well to a writing prompt about best days or a creative writing piece about the silly things pets might be thinking. Hand this one to any pet lover.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Cat Problems

John, Jory. Cat Problems. Random House Studio, 2021. 978-0-593-30213-2. Unpaged. $17.99. PreK-2.

Told from the cat’s perspective, this hilarious story chronicles a day in the life of a house cat. This particular cat has a lot of complaints about his living situation: another cat is lying in his spot, he doesn’t have any food in his dish, he wants to go outside, and a noisy monster (the vacuum) is chasing him. The list of grievances goes on. Through the window, a squirrel scolds him for being so ungrateful. This doesn’t phase the cat, however, and he continues through his day with his amusing, authentic commentary on his surroundings. Despite his attitude, readers will fall in love with the protagonist, who is so unapologetically himself that it’s comical.

THOUGHTS: Fans of Penguin Problems (2016) and Giraffe Problems (2018) will love this hilarious new addition to the Animal Problems series. Cat lovers will also find this book endearing. Have children compare and contrast the feline protagonist with their own pets at home, or have them write a story from their pet’s perspective.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Too Crowded

Podesta, Lena. Too Crowded. Sourcebooks, 2021. 978-1-728-22238-7. 32 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

Gil, a goldfish, feels crowded in his bowl with a plant, a castle, and 138 pebbles (that he cleans every day all by himself).  When Gil bonks his nose on the side of his bowl, he decides he needs a new house; something bigger and roomier. He finds a bird’s nest which is nice and large, but the birds are too noisy. He finds Cat’s house which is quiet, but dangerous as Cat tries to get Gil. Finally, Gil finds Turtle’s house. Turtle questions why Gil is out in the air because fish “can’t breathe air, silly.” As Gil gulps for breath, Turtle gets help from their human to save him. Now, Gil is back in his small, cramped bowl, but it’s not so cramped anymore because it is now Turtle’s home too.

THOUGHTS: This is a delightful introduction for children to animal homes and understanding feelings of loneliness and friendship. Gil’s home is cramped because he is alone, but once Turtle joins him, their home is just right. Too Crowded may also translate for children expecting a new sibling because Gil finds joy in sharing his home and things with Turtle. The illustrations are bright and colorful. They are limited, as is the text, and utilize lots of white space. Details are especially fun throughout as Gil wears sneakers and has a bandage on his nose from where he hit the side of his bowl. One final note…Gil is not identified as he, she, or they in the text. As the reader, I identified Gil as a him, but others may identify Gil as she or they.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Dear Beast: The Pet Parade

Butler, Dori Hillestad. Dear Beast: The Pet Parade. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44493-9. 80 p. $15.99. Grades 1-3. 

Dear Beast: The Pet Parade is book # 2 in the heartwarming early chapter book series by author Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrator Kevin Atteberry. Cat and Dog lovers will love this series about a jealous cat, a lovable dog, and an owner (a young boy) that has no idea his pets are pen pals. The series is portrayed and written as letters between the two animals, and the books are perfect for young readers transitioning into chapter books. In book # 2, Simon the Cat wants to maintain his pride and avoid wearing a costume for the annual city pet parade. Simon is content to sit this one out and encourages Baxter, the dog, to wear a costume and march with Andy in the city parade. But when Baxter keeps the outfit a mystery- Simon begins to worry that Baxter is up to no good. Can he be trusted? It’s up to Simon to save the day and make sure things go off without a hitch. The adorable storyline celebrates the joy of friendship, the love of pets, and the fun of writing letters.

THOUGHTS: Dear Beast is a charming series for beginner readers. The characters are fun and lovable, and the hilarious dialogue is presented through handwritten letters with spelling mistakes between the two furry characters with fun wordplay. I especially love that the book has a special note in the back that clarifies the characters’ misspelled words. I am eager to read more books in this delightful series and will recommend the series to others!

Early/Beginning Chapter Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Be a Pet Expert (Series NF)

Barder, Gemma. Be a Pet Expert (series of 6). Crabtree, 2021. 32 p. $20.75 each. $124.50 Set of 6. Grades 3-6.

Be a Cat Expert. 978-0-778-78015-1.
Be A Dog Expert. 978-0-778-78016-8.
Be a Hamster & Guinea Pig Expert. 978-0-778-78017-5.
Be a Horse & Pony Expert. 978-0-778-78018-2.
Be a Rabbit Expert. 978-0-778-78019-9.
Be a Reptile Expert. 978-0-778-78020-5.

These books provide helpful information, facts, and pet care tips for a variety of animals. Many photos, text boxes, and checklists help readers to learn more about the animals and consider them as pets. A flowchart guides readers through yes/no questions to determine what type best suits their personalities. Placing hamsters and guinea pigs in the same book will help readers to differentiate the two. Each book surprises readers with some interesting facts even on ‘well-known’ pets. For instance, no two dogs have the same noseprint; cats cannot taste sweet foods; horses and ponies have the largest eyes of any mammals on land; and rabbits can sleep with their eyes open.

THOUGHTS: These helpful books shed a positive yet truthful light on pets, which will appeal to pet-owners and animal lovers alike.

630s Domesticated Animals, Pets        Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – A Soft Place to Land

Marks, Janae. A Soft Place to Land. Harper Collins, 2021. 978-0-062-87587-7. $16.99. 288 p. Grades 4-7.

The Taylor family is going through a rough patch. Twelve-year old Joy’s father was laid off, they had to sell their beloved house and move to a small apartment, cut out all non-essential expenses like Joy’s piano lessons, and change Joy’s middle school. Bad enough her dream to be a film composer has to be put on hold and her old friends are not reaching out to her, but her parents are arguing now, and Joy feels she has to keep her feelings hidden to shield her little sister, Malia. The silver lining is the friendliness and kindness of the residents of her apartment building, from next-door neighbor, elderly Mae Willoughby and her French bulldog, Ziggy, to aspiring film-maker Nora, Joy finds a warm welcome and a ready ear that softens the edge of her disappointment and anxiety over losing her house and fearing her parents will get a divorce. Other perks of apartment living are the secret hideout where Joy and her new-found friends can get away to draw, listen to music, read, or play board games, and the dog walking business Joy starts with Nora to earn money to purchase a piano. When Joy’s parents tell the girls that her father is moving in with Uncle Spencer for a bit, though, a distraught Joy runs away to the Hideout and falls asleep, leading to the breaking of the one Hideout rule: don’t tell the adults. Though the other kids are angry that their Hideout is now off limits, Nora remains a loyal friend until Joy’s curiosity about a poignant poem and messages on the Hideout’s walls leads to a rift between them. When Nora ditches the dog walking session, Joy finds out too late she cannot handle the task solo and loses Ziggy. Despite her loneliness and sense of failure, Joy works to come up with a way to find Ziggy, mend her friendship with Nora, and remedy the loss of the special Hideout. Janae Marks’s new novel abounds with positivity while recognizing life does not go perfectly. Joy and her family are African American; most of the other characters are people of color also.

THOUGHTS: A comforting, relatable middle school read. No high drama here, just an enjoyable story showing people bonding together and helping each other, and middle school students being kind and friendly to newcomers. Although there are some difficult issues at play here, all the adults are experts at problem solving and dealing with hard things respectfully. The children follow suit. Joy and Nora show a lot of responsibility and initiative, and the other characters display other positive traits.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Animal Rescue Friends

Hashimoto, Meika & Gina Loveless. Animal Rescue Friends. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2021. 978-1-5248-6806-2. $9.99. Gr. 2-4.

What do you do when you find a stray dog that is friendly, smart, but has no collar? While keeping the dog may be what you want, is it the best choice to make? Maddie makes this discovery when she finds a lost dog she calls Boyd. While she wants to keep Boyd, her mother has her take Boyd to Animal Rescue Friends, an animal sanctuary. There, Maddie will find a place for Boyd, a new job for her helping animals, and even may make a friend or two!

THOUGHTS: This Epic! Original book follows several kids who all help or rescue animals in some way! This book is for the pet lovers of the world, with relatable situations, all presented in a fun comic-book style format.

Graphic Novel         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2021. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Maggie is feeling left out in her family. Her parents are focused on the new baby they are expecting, her twin brothers are always together and doing their own thing. She thinks a dog would be the perfect companion! But, when her family goes to pick out a dog for Maggie’s birthday, they discover that she is very allergic to anything with fur! Maggie is devastated, but her new friend that moved in next door is helping to ease the disappointment. That is until her friend talks her dad into getting her own dog. Now, Maggie feels betrayed by the one person she thought understood her. Can Maggie survive allergy shots and make things right with her best friend?

THOUGHTS: Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Allergic! A great addition to your graphic novel section.

Graphic Novel          Krista Fitzpatrick, PSLA Member

Elem. – Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever

McNiff, Dawn. Love From Alfie McPoonst, The Best Dog Ever. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64027-0. Unpaged. $14.99. Grades PreK-2.

Written as a series of letters between a deceased dog and its former owner (Izzy), this story details Alfie’s new life in dog heaven. Although Alfie misses Izzy, he describes heaven as a place where he can chase postmen, eat burgers and ice cream, chew on shoes, and more–all without any punishment. A tender and somewhat humorous look at the loss of a pet, this story will encourage readers to creatively express their thoughts and feelings about death.

THOUGHTS: I actually read this story to my five-year-old daughter shortly after we lost our cat, and the first thing she wanted to do after reading it was to write a letter to our cat in heaven. Therefore, I love how this book inspires children to acknowledge their grief and make sense of death through the therapeutic act of letter writing. Pair this with Brian Lies’s The Rough Patch (2018) to spark important discussions with young children who have recently experienced loss.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – An Ordinary Day

Arnold, Elana K. An Ordinary Day. Beach Lane Books, 2020. 978-1-481-47262-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 1-3.

This is a poignant and beautiful tale of the circle of life.  The author begins by explaining that this street appears like any other, with children playing and a woman watering her flowers. Then, two cars drive up to neighboring houses and two people get out and go into adjacent houses. Both the man and the woman are wearing stethoscopes around their necks. The man enters a house where a dog is on a bed, surrounded by a family who is crying. The woman who enters the other house meets a family whose mother is expecting another child. The veterinarian consoles the family, as the dog is put to sleep, while the midwife or obstetrician helps deliver a new child into the world. All of this is told not so much in words, but through the illustrations. The characters in the story are of various ethnicities and the author writes that both families are “surrounded by family and love.” Magnificent the Crow oversees the “extraordinary” activities on this ordinary street on an ordinary day. The Illustrator uses a variety of media, such as charcoal, watercolor, soft pastels, ink and graphite, to create a soft and muted color palette. These drawings add to the contemplative tone of the story.

THOUGHTS: This is a touching story that will appeal to a sensitive reader who may have experienced the loss of an animal.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member