Elem. – Stella, Star Explorer

Miller, Kelly Leigh. Stella, Star Explorer. Simon & Schuster, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99. 978-1-534-49767-2. Grades PK-2.

Stella is fascinated with space and sick of Earth. She builds a rocket and takes her dog Luna on a voyage of discovery. They meet two aliens who need help finding the planet just right for them. Stella the expert steps right in, acting as a real estate agent of space. She shows the two aliens each planet (skipping Earth), noting a special feature of each (Neptune is more than five times colder than the North Pole; Jupiter has seventy-nine moons; Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system; although Mercury is closest to the sun). When the only planet left is Earth, Stella grudgingly introduces them. The aliens ask Stella to show them everything about Earth, and in doing so, she realizes that if every planet is special, why wouldn’t Earth be? Seeing her planet through the aliens’ eyes gives Stella a new appreciation for Earth, so that it becomes her favorite planet.

THOUGHTS: This is a clever way to learn about the planets and, like Stella, learn to appreciate Earth. This could be a great opener for learning about the planets and for caring for the Earth.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area 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. – Wondering Around

Fleming, Meg. Wondering Around. Illustrated by Richard Jones.  Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99 978-1-534-44935-0. Grades PK-2.

“Out for a hike, or a climb, or a ride–what do you wonder when you wander outside?” This whimsically illustrated book asks readers to answer this question everywhere they go. In the rain, near forest animals, underwater, under rocks… what do you see there, and what can you imagine there? After wandering through many places, the book shows several students drawing their own pictures, one student gazing thoughtfully (wondering) at his own. He incorporates some of the images from his classmates’ work–on his paper or in his mind. “Think and blink on everything. On wing. On foot. On fin. Wander on the outside…and wander on the in.”

THOUGHTS: This book successfully breathes life into places using imagination, encouraging readers to stop and consider, re-think, explore, and imagine. The illustrations work well to open up the pages using dazzling colors and light as a variety of children wander and wonder. This book is well-placed to inspire artists, writers, and wanderers to see their environment and see beyond, making the most of the possibilities of imagination.   

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Not Enough Lollipops

Maynor, Megan. Not Enough Lollipops. Illustrated by Micah Player. Random House Kids, 2022. Unpaged. $17.99 978-0-593-37256-2. Grades PK-2. 

Alice wins the school raffle: a huge basket of lollipops! Suddenly, she is the center of attention, receiving many requests from wide-eyed schoolmates of varying ages. Then worry strikes: what if there are not enough lollipops? Now Alice hears much advice, like “I always saved you a seat!” “Don’t count the new kid, he’s not a real classmate,” “I scraped my knee” (with accompanying tears).  Alice is under pressure to part with her pops, and the desperation shows on the kids’ faces. When she’s had enough of the talk, she decides, “What if I don’t choose? What if I say everyone can handle a lollipop?  Everyone deserves one. Everyone counts.” Still people worry there may not be enough, but Alice counters, “what if there are?” A line forms and lollipops are distributed, one apiece. Typical personalities come through, from “I can’t wait!” to “There won’t be enough. You’ll see.” And some say thanks while others are upset to receive just one. Alice gives out numerous colors and flavors, and they all discover that there were enough lollipops! This begins some apologizing, like “I used to be the new kid…” All seem content, until a first-grader asks about the extras, and Alice faces the same problem.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a fun read-aloud, and could generate some important talk about fairness and decision-making, expectations and exceptions. Coloring lollipops and identifying flavors–and charting favorite flavors, totaling how many for all schoolmates–allows this book to touch on important skills.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Somewhere in the Bayou

Pumphrey, Jarrett, and Jerome Pumphrey. Somewhere in the Bayou. Norton Young Readers. 978-1-324-01593-2. 48 p. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

One day, an opossum, a squirrel, a rabbit, and a mouse are out for a walk in the bayou. They’re looking for a place to cross the river when they spot a tail poking up out of the water near a floating log. Rabbit notes that it’s a scary tail, but opossum isn’t deterred. He tiptoes across the log, but the tail sweeps him into the river. Then, the animals note it’s a scary tail. Squirrel tries to show his bravery and cross, but he too is swept into the current. Rabbit decides it is a mean tail and pokes it with a stick before he is knocked in the water too. Only Mouse is left, and he tries a different approach. He asks whose tail it is, and these polite words, combined with a kind deed, lead to an unexpected outcome. The entire story is depicted in animals’ speech bubbles and bold, graphic block print illustrations. 

THOUGHTS: This laugh-out-loud title bursts with creativity, but the underlying message about not jumping to conclusions or making snap judgements will be an important conversation starter. In their author biography, the brothers and co-authors note that the idea for this story began with a conversation about assumptions and implicit bias, so these may be topics to touch on as well, perhaps if this title is shared during a classroom Morning Meeting. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – My Hands Tell a Story

Lyons, Kelly Starling. My Hands Tell a Story. Reycraft Books, 2022. 978-1-478-87061-6. 36 p. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

When Zoe’s grandmother waves her into the kitchen so they can bake bread together, Zoe is mesmerized by the magic and power in her grandmother’s hands. Grandma’s hands knead, push, and pull the dough until it’s just right. Grandma gently guides Zoe’s hands through the motions as well. While they wait for the dough to rise, the pair sit and talk. Readers learn about Grandma’s past and all the things her hands have done: Raised children, planted gardens, typed and filed. Zoe wonders what she might accomplish with her own hands someday, considering possibilities like drawing, building, writing, making music, and baking. When she and Grandma high-five to celebrate the first bites of their freshly-baked treat, Grandma notes that although Zoe’s hands are similar to her own, they will go places Grandma has never been. This inspiring, intergenerational story is rooted in love and celebrates the strong bond between grandmother and granddaughter. Vibrant, oil-painted illustrations beautifully capture heartfelt moments and the closeness these two share. The endpapers include a recipe for the same cinnamon bread Zoe and her grandma bake together in the book. 

THOUGHTS: Many students will make connections to the idea of cooking or baking a favorite food with a grandparent. This will also be a perfect choice for Grandparents’ Day read-alouds. Additionally, this title can be used as a discussion starter about things students hope to accomplish with their own two hands. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Two Dogs

Falconer, Ian. Two Dogs. Michael DiCapua Books, 2022. 978-0-062-95447-3. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-1.

Ian Falconer of Olivia fame returns with another silly bit of fun, this time featuring dogs not pigs. Percy and Augie are two dachshunds who have been with their family since puppyhood. The family played with them a lot as puppies, but once the children were old enough to go to school and the parents went to work, the pair found themselves alone and bored. Of course, they would follow the usual indoor routines of most dogs, like chasing each other, playing with a ball and barking at squirrels. Even some unusual behaviors are not enough to amuse them, and the pooches decide they have to go outside. After figuring out how to open the lock, the dachshunds proceed to have a grand old time in the yard. They swim in the pool, play on the swings, roll in some unpleasant raccoon droppings and “water” the flowers. Then they spot a tiny hole in the lawn and cannot resist enlarging it. Suddenly the pair hear the approach of the family car, and Augie and Percy “hightail” it back inside. Will the canine duo come up with a clever way to avoid being blamed for the giant hole? Falconer has created humorous artwork that shows the animals with all their doggy characteristics, but with a slight human touch, as he did with Olivia.

THOUGHTS: This laugh out loud picture book is sure to be a hit with young readers who will ask for it to be read again and again. Highly recommended for all elementary collections.

Picture Book           Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Friendship Surprise

Volpe, Giorgio. The Friendship Surprise. Red Comet Press, 2022. 978-1-636-55028-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

As spring draws near, Little Red the fox can’t wait for his friend Hazel the dormouse to wake up from hibernation. He’s missed her over the long winter, but Little Red also has a secret. While Hazel has been hibernating, he’s become close friends with a badger named Brock. Little Red isn’t sure how to tell Hazel about his new friendship with Brock, so he keeps it secret. Hazel eventually notices that Little Red is acting differently, and she secretly follows him into the woods one day. She confronts Little Red about his friendship with Brock and reassures him that she’s not mad that he has a new friend; rather, she believes that all three of them can have fun together. Beautiful, nature-centered illustrations ground this story that explores the complexity of friendships in a child-friendly way. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be valuable for discussing the ideas that having more than one friend is okay and that friendships come in all shapes and sizes. It will also be useful for reinforcing the idea that just because someone makes a new friend, that doesn’t mean old friendships must end. Share this one with guidance counselors to assist with SEL lessons. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Eyes that Speak to the Stars

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Speak to the Stars. Illustrated by Dung Ho. Harper Collins Childrens, 2022.  978-0-063-05775-3. Unpaged. $18.99.  Grades K-3.

By the same author of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, Eyes that Speak to the Stars follows a young boy whose friends point out that his eyes are different that theirs, and the family members:  Baba, Agong, and Di-Di who help him embrace this difference and realize that his eyes reflect those he loves. The use of a father, grandfather, and younger brother makes the book multi-generational in words and illustrations and both celebrate the roots and loves shared by the book’s family. Dung Ho’s realistic illustrations are highly accessible to the young audience.  

THOUGHTS: I highly recommend this book. Its illustrations are accessible and beautifully rendered, celebrating a contemporary boy and his family roots. The writing presents strong, positive, and loving male characters to the audience with a rhythm that encourages re-reading and opens discussion between readers.  

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

Realistic Fiction, Diversity, Self-Acceptance, APPI, Imigration, Family, Tradition.

Elem – If You Were a Garbage Truck or Other Big-Wheeled Worker!

Ohanesian, Diane C. If You Were a Garbage Truck or Other Big-Wheeled Worker! Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-37515-0. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Young readers get to imagine life from the perspective of ten different big-wheeled workers in this colorful rhyming story. The upbeat text puts a positive spin on the tough jobs these vehicles do each day, subtly encouraging readers to look on the sunny side too. Rather than focusing on the troubling parts of their jobs – trains traveling the same tracks day in and day out, fire trucks constantly being on-call, garbage trucks filling with smelly trash – this title’s rhyming verses put a positive spin on the important work each of these big-wheeled workers do each day. Trains are reliable transportation for many people, fire trucks always do the best work they can in emergency situations, and garbage trucks keep our towns and our planet clean. Every double-page spread features full-bleed, large-scale illustrations that capture each vehicle’s impressive size and the important work they’re built to do. In one scene, a tough-looking snow plow clears the pavement on a wintry afternoon. Another scene highlights a mail truck delivering all kinds of letters to a neighborhood. Bright colors, anthropomorphized vehicles, and a diverse cast of human characters help this title feel fresh and inclusive. 

THOUGHTS: Share this title with big truck enthusiasts and with teachers who focus on community helpers. It might also be useful for guidance counselors since it highlights themes of resilience, teamwork, and having a positive outlook. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD