Elem. – Dumplings for Lili

Iwai, Melissa. Dumplings for Lili. Norton Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-324-00342-7. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-3.

Lili is excited to help her grandmother make baos, her favorite type of dumplings. When they discover they are out of cabbage, however, Lili goes to see if an upstairs neighbor has any cabbage they can use. The neighbor gives her cabbage, but in return, asks for some potatoes for her pierogies. This leads Lili to another neighbor’s apartment, and so the process continues. Finally, everyone has what they need to make all of their favorite kinds of dumplings. This culminates in a big dumpling party, during which Lili’s parents return with a sweet surprise. A charming celebration of food, family, and multiculturalism, this is an excellent addition to any elementary collection.

THOUGHTS: I just love how all of the grandmothers in this book represent different cultures, as they are all making dumplings from different regions. There are pierogies, tamales, raviolis, fatayers, and more. I could see this book being used in a world cultures class, and it would be especially fun to assign students or groups of students each a different culture from the book to study. Perhaps they could even make the dumplings from their respective cultures, and then the class could try them all. The recipe and instructions for Lili’s grandmother’s baos is already included in the back matter. There definitely are plenty of opportunities for extension activities with this book!

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Grow

Macken, JoAnn Early. Grow. Boyds Mill Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-635-92308-7. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

This charming picture book is all about the wonders of growing up. The story is told in a series of “If you were a…” statements, comparing a child’s development to the life cycles of animals and plants. As a mother and child watch falling acorns, the narrator relates an oak tree growing from a tiny acorn to a small child spreading her roots in the world. Later, a grandfather and his grandsons spot a deer with her fawns running through the woods. Just as a fawn’s first shaky steps develop into a sprint, the wobbly gait of a toddler becomes a confident stride. The delightful illustrations by Coleman are rendered digitally and are the winning elements of the book. For each animal or plant comparison, the child’s clothes take on that appearance. A girl is pictured wearing a green jumper with an orange shirt, mimicking the green shell and orange spots of a turtle, and the acorn watching child wears a beanie that resembles the nut’s cap. On the title page, there is an oak sapling, and on the last page, it has grown into a large tree.

THOUGHTS: While the comparisons in the text are a bit weak at times, the book’s drawings bring them to life. Children will enjoy listening to the story and poring over the details in the pictures. A supplemental purchase.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Dreams for a Daughter

Weatherford, Carole Boston. Dreams for a Daughter. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021.  Unpaged. 978-1-5344-5198-8. $17.99.  Grades PreK-2.

In this lovely picture book, a Black mother voices her hopes and dreams for her newborn daughter. Speaking in first person, the unnamed narrator thinks about her child’s future and tells her how she will care for her in every stage of her life. As a parent, she will not only support her with physical challenges, like taking her first steps or riding a bicycle, but will also provide guidance on dealing with adversity, speaking up for herself, and choosing her own future. On the final pages, the mother reminds her daughter that she will always watch out for her, even from afar when she grows into an adult, “trusting God to keep Her eyes on you.” Weatherford has created a very moving tale of a mother’s love for her child. Brian Pinkney’s expressionist illustrations help convey the emotions this woman feels as she embraces her infant, anticipating her future and promising to “show her all that she can.” Pinkney draws a swirl around the pair on each bold and colorful drawing, which perfectly depicts the mother’s all-encompassing love.

THOUGHTS: This touching story is perfect for mothers with young daughters and would be a wonderful gift for a new mother. It could also be read aloud to a group of young children to encourage them to face challenges and go forward confidently into their futures.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control

Alber, Diane. A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control. Diane Alber Art LLC, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-951-28764-1. $11.99 (paper) Grades K-2. 

The book opens with Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot introducing themselves to two children, explaining that they can help when a Frustration Spot shows up. Frustration Spot shows up when something happens that we can’t control, and it can be good, because it can show that we are learning or being challenged. But because it can turn into an Angry Spot so quickly, it’s important to know how to help a Frustration Spot. Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot show the two children a token with a special message on each side. One side, labeled “Frustration Flip,” lists some things we can’t control: “what others say, what others do, the weather, the future, and others’ mistakes.’  The other side, labeled “Calm and In Control,” lists some things we can control: my words, my actions, my attitude, my expectations, my choices, and my effort. With a diagram of the body, the two Spots share four warning signs of: Feel hot! Feel like yelling! Upset stomach, or Pounding heart. They explain that if we feel any warning signs, it’s time to do a Frustration Flip. While holding the Frustration Flip in one hand, count to four and repeat a rhyme to give your mind a chance to calm down. The Spots then practice the Frustration Flip in several situations.  The final page has a Frustration Flip that can be cut out, or accessed and printed from the author’s webpage (with lesson plans). 

THOUGHTS: This book gives specific details to identify feeling frustrated, and a specific response to help calm down or think flexibly about a situation. It would be ideal for social-emotional learning in the classroom or individually.  

Note: A colleague with young children told me about this resource and shared with me how helpful it had been in talking with her own children (one teen, a 5-year-old, and a two-year old) because their questions brought out more examples and understanding. Diane Alber writes and illustrates this large series of “Little Spot” books, which began with eight “Little Spot of Emotion” books (Anger; Confidence; Happiness; Peaceful; Sadness; Anxiety; Love; Scribble Spot). The series has expanded to three more sets of eight books (and still growing). “A Little Spot Takes Action” set includes: Respectful; Responsibility; Kindness; Patience; Diversity; Organization; Honesty; and Safety. “A Little Spot of Life Skills” Set includes: Perseverance; Teamwork; Optimism; Courage; Thankful; Giving; Talent; Creativity. “A Little Spot of Feelings” Set includes: Empathy; Frustration; Calm; Belonging; Worry; Boredom; Flexible Thinking; Feelings Detective). Educator’s Guide, Plush Toys–it encourages mindfulness and may be worth sharing with your teachers and counselors.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Wingmaker

Cameron, Dave. Wingmaker. Illustrated by David Huyck. Kids Can Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-525-30237-4 $17.99 Grades K-2.  

Leaf and Leo are two ants who have daily work in their anthill home, but they find time to visit caterpillar “Gramma Tinker,” so named for her clever inventions made to help her friends. On this visit, they find her building a pillow-like contraption she calls the Wingmaker 77 (77 for the number of days she’s been alive). “Why do you need it?” they ask. “All I know for sure is that I’m preparing for a new adventure.” Gramma Tinker knows that when it’s finished, she will rest inside it for two weeks, and wake up changed. Leaf and Leo return the next day to find Gramma asking questions of various flying creatures, noting such important ideas as weight, wingspan, wing speed, direction, taking off, landing, and gliding. Then she says goodbye to Leaf and Leo and tells them to return in two weeks. The two friends wait, working in the anthill and wondering what will happen next. In two weeks, they return and find that Gramma Tinker the caterpillar has changed into a moth! A final page in the book explains the metamorphosis of eastern tent caterpillars into (nocturnal) lappet moths, and urges readers to keep a light on at night to attract and observe these moths.

THOUGHTS: This is a creative way to interest readers in this enormous creature change. Some readers may guess what is coming. This would make a good addition to instruction about metamorphosis.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area 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 Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep

Gustavson, Adam. The Froggies Do NOT Want to Sleep. Charlesbridge, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-580-89524-8. $16.99. Grades K-2.

Like so many children, the frogs in this book do NOT want to go to sleep. It starts simple: they want to hop.  Then it becomes more complex: they want to practice their accordions and ride their unicycles. Eventually it’s downright absurd: they want to sing opera while firing themselves out of cannons…and the adventure leads to outer space and extraterrestrials. But slowly they fall, slowly, slowly, into bed, asleep. The long-legged frogs have wonderful abilities and imaginations, and their eyes convey their enthusiasm for their outrageous adventures. The illustrations will bring laughs, and readers could easily add imagined ideas of their own!

THOUGHTS: A funny bedtime book for children and adults.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Girls and Boys Come Out to Play

Mother Goose. Girls and Boys Come out to Play. Illustrated by Tracey Campbell Pearson. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44713-8. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades PreK-1.

Illustrator Tracey Campbell Pearson brings to life the lesser known Mother Goose poem “Come Out to Play” in her newest picture book. Beginning with a child reading a book of Mother Goose poems, Mother Goose herself arrives to call for “Girls and boys come out to play.” They go, “Up the ladder and down the wall” as various characters from Mother Goose’s rhymes appear like Humpty Dumpty, The Cat, The Baker, and Jack and Jill. The children then act out the end of the poem, making pudding, before returning to their homes for “Sweet dreams” as Mother Goose flies away. The mix of ink and watercolor illustrations are the key to bringing this poem to life. Pearson represents a variety of children in her illustrations and weaves eight classic Mother Goose characters onto the pages. The expressions of the characters enhance the text and help young children see the dilemma the children face with Mother Goose. Additionally, the cover pages feature the eight rhymes represented through the illustrations and can be read in conjunction with the picture book or separately.

THOUGHTS: This text is a great way to teach rhyming poetry and introduce children to nursery rhymes and Mother Goose. The illustrations are gorgeous and would make lovely prints.

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Poem in My Pocket

Tougas, Chris. Poem in My Pocket. Kids Can Press. 978-1-525-30145-2. 32 p. $16.99. Grades K-3. 

A young writer stows a poem in her pocket but her pocket has a hole, and the words tumble out, bouncing down steps and swirling in the breeze. She tries desperately to gather the words and recreate her poem, but instead, the words mix with street signs and storefronts and advertisements. Her words combine with others to create new puns, funny sayings, and inspirational messages. Thunder clouds roll in, and the rain pushes her words into the muddy ground. She fears they are lost forever, but her words become seeds of thought that grow into a poetree. The girl realizes these new words might be even better than her original ones, proving that a little revision can sometimes be a good thing. Vibrant digital illustrations, sprinkled with runaway words from the girl’s poem, depict a bustling city filled with multicultural inhabitants. Backmatter includes information about National Poetry Month in April. Each April, one day is also designated as Poem in Your Pocket Day, and people participate by selecting a poem, carrying it with them, and sharing it with others. The book’s final page also includes a list of websites students can visit for more information about Poetry Month and Poem in Your Pocket Day. Tougas also challenges students to look back through the story and locate as many rhyming words as possible, and a list of all the pairs is included on the book’s final page as well.

THOUGHTS: Although this title is especially appropriate for sharing during April, students will enjoy the lighthearted wordplay and illustrations any time of year. This book might also serve as a stepping stone, encouraging students to try their hand at creating their own poems and to have fun with words.

Poetry          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – I’m a Hare, So There!

Rowan-Zoch, Julie. I’m a Hare, So There! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-12506-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Don’t you dare call this hare a rabbit, not even a jackrabbit! He will quickly point out the key differences between species. But he may not notice the others around his desert landscape also could get confused with other related species, such as ground squirrel (not chipmunk) and tortoise (not turtle). When attacked by the approaching coyote (not jackal), the hare reaches his last straw. The story is simple yet educational, and the illustrations have plenty hidden in the Sonoran Desert for repeated viewing pleasure. There is a chart at the end showing other “similar but not the same” animals which could lead into a nice discussion (hopefully without any heated arguments!).

THOUGHTS: This would be a great opening for young students to research similar animals or animals in the desert biome. Also a simple lesson in identity and personality.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD