Elem. – War

Letria, Jose Jorge. War. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64726-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 4 -6.

With sparse words and dark pen and ink drawings, Jose Jorge and Andre Letria offer a haunting portrayal of war. The book imparts a strong sense of unease and sorrow with war being depicted as a non-feeling, cold presence delighting in the misery of the citizens it affects. The work delivers a powerful anti-war message, examining the sobering human impact of the ravages of war. A picture book best saved for older grades. 

THOUGHTS: Could be used in conjunction with a unit on the Holocaust. 

Picture Book          Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

Elem. – The Story of You

Scott, Lisa Ann. The Story of You. Boyds Mills, 2021. 978-1-635-92311-7. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

For teachers or parents looking to initiate a discussion of how actions define us, this book fits the bill. With simple rhymes and vibrant artwork, it encourages young readers or listeners to consider how they are “writing the story of you.” Children are shown that their unique interests help define them, as well as their actions – sharing with a friend, being kind, bold, or brave. Choosing to be honest, or angry or struggling, it is all part of their story, and they should make it the best story they can. Children of widely varied ethnicities, abilities, and orientations populate the pages of the book. 

THOUGHTS: A lovely book for a one-on-one read aloud or as a class discussion prompt. The artwork projects caring and the text gently guides young readers to live their best life.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Before We Stood Tall

Kulekjian, Jessica. Before We Stood Tall. Kids Can, 2021. 978-1-525-30324-1. Unpaged. 19.99. Grades K-3.

Youngsters are sure to gravitate to this lovely picture book that presents a new spin on how a tree grows. Rather than show how an acorn becomes a mighty tree, Kulekjian reverses the process. Slowly, her impactful prose, paired with soft watercolor art by Madeline Kloepper, traces the mighty trees in the forest back to seeds in the earth. But the story doesn’t end there. Kulekjian explains mysteries of the earth itself and the root structure of trees and plants. What child won’t be delighted to learn plants are communicating underground? The earth-toned artwork comes alive below ground, with a plethora of creatures, mammal and insect, inhabiting what a child might consider boring dirt. Bones, rocks, and fossils fill the ground, along with roots and plant detritus, inviting images a young reader will need to explore thoroughly. While the text is sparse, each word is obviously chosen with care, conveying scientific concepts in beautiful, child-friendly terms.

THOUGHTS: The book is lovely in both word and images and will be a welcome addition to any picture book collection.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – The Collectors

Feagan, Alice. The Collectors. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30204-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Winslow and Rosie, two young, intrepid naturalists, are seeking the pièce de résistance to their impressive collection. They pledge to locate something they never have found before and set off into the forest. They find a spectacular gem, but it is too heavy; the T-Rex skeleton is too big; a rainbow too far. Each marvel they encounter is problematic, and the girls walk farther and farther. When they come to a cave, Winslow and Rosie are certain this is where they will find something unique and extraordinary, but something finds them first, and the girls flee the cave, running all the way back to their cozy treehouse. At first, they claim the day a failure, but slowly they identify all the new experiences they had. Finally, something new and wonderful appears right under their noses. This gorgeous book celebrates treasures wherever we find them, big or small. Feagan’s cut-paper collage illustrations are warm and delightful, imbuing each girl with character. Winslow is portrayed as white, while Rosie has dark skin.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (without the Twilight Zonetwist) The Collectors will make a perfect read-aloud, tie in with art class, or just plain fun. Perfect for all collections serving a primary clientele.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Oh Look, a Cake!

McKee, J.C. Oh Look, a Cake! Clarion. 978-0-358-38030-6. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Sloth and Lemur find a cake. A big, beautiful cake. Three layers. Pink icing. Sprinkles. A candle on top. This calls for a party! But whom should they invite? Elephant? Tiger? Peacock? Unicorn or the ants? Each possibility is quickly struck down, inevitably leaving only Sloth and Lemur to eat the cake. But what happens when Tiger comes looking for her birthday cake, only to find an empty plate and two slightly nauseous friends? Those familiar with Jon Klassen’s “Hat” books won’t be surprised at Tiger’s solution. Astute readers may clue in early on the mystery of who owns the cake if they notice the black and orange striped candle on the top. The delightfully whimsical illustrations make this perfect for a read aloud, and small listeners will no doubt be squirming with giggly anticipation, as they wait to see what goes wrong when Sloth and Lemur don’t share their bounty. The book could be used as a segue to a discussion on sharing, or for just plain fun.

THOUGHTS: This smile-inducing book is perfect for libraries serving young patrons.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Usha and the Big Digger

Knight, Amitha Jagannath. Usha and the Big Digger. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-623-54202-3. Unpaged. $15.99. Grades K-2.

Usha loves trucks of all shapes and sizes, so when her big sister shows her the Big Dipper constellation in the sky one night, Usha has a different point of view. She sees a Big Digger, a front loader ready to scoop up the sky. This leads to a fight between the girls, who cannot see the other’s vision. Then cousin Gloria sees the constellation as a kite. Who’s right? Well, it literally depends on your point of view – where each girl is laying on the ground. As Usha rotates through the various positions, she sees a dipper and a kite, before finally finding her Big Digger again. Additional activities at the back of the book discuss how cultures in different parts of the world have a variety of names for the same set of stars, while “Exploring the Math” encourages adults and children to further explore rotation, orientation, and perspective. While the literal interpretation of the book deals with perspective in space, it will also work as a discussion starter on individual point of view and how we should work to understand another’s vision. Usha and her family are Black.

THOUGHTS: A cute, visual introduction to the constellations, as well as talking about point-of-view. Usha, as a young girl who loves trucks, delightfully breaks stereotype.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Have You Ever Seen a Flower?

Harris, Shawn.  Have You Ever Seen a Flower?  Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-432-18270-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

Accompanied by a little terrier, a young child leaves a gray, gloomy city filled with skyscrapers. As the car travels along a windy road, the pair stops to investigate a field filled with row after row of pink tulips. With rainbow colored hair and a multicolored shirt, this youngster of undisclosed gender, runs around the meadow, examining the flowers closely using all five senses. The author discusses the similarities between the growth and blossoming of a flower to that of a child. Harris has used pencil and colored pencil to create his drawings. Following a similar technique used in The Wizard of Oz film, the illustrations shift from grayscale to vibrant color with the movement from city to country. Some pictures are unusual, like the image of the child smelling the flower and the daunting queen bee. When the main character pricks a finger with a rose thorn, the preceding double page spread is entirely red, which the author calls “the brilliant color of your life.” The author’s message is that life is all around us and within us.

THOUGHTS: Some children may have difficulty grasping the meaning of this story. The text ends with confusing questions: “Have you ever been a flower…would you remember…try and see,” which may be too philosophical for young readers. A supplemental purchase.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired PSLA Member

Elem. – Little Narwhal, Not Alone

Stone, Tiffany. Little Narwhal, Not Alone. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-77164-620-8. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades K-2. 

Little Narwhal, Not Alone follows a young narwhal as he explores his world, meets new friends, and has all of these new exciting adventures. However, he travels too far and ends up not finding any narwhals to spend time with, but he does find some beluga whales! But the belugas don’t understand him, and he can’t understand them. Over time the narwhal ends up fitting in with the belugas, and they even play together! The narwhal feels that he has found new friends to spend time with! At the end of this book there is a note from a marine biologist, stating how this book is rooted in some truth! That really adds to the book and makes the reader want to start at the beginning of the book all over again.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful picture book!! The illustrations add to the overall underwater feel of the story. The addition from the marine biologist at the end of the book is lovely and will make the reader want to go learn more.

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Negative Cat

Blackall, Sophie. Negative Cat. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 978-0-399-25719-3. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

After 427 days of asking, a young boy’s family finally agrees to let him adopt a cat. Part of the deal is that he has to feed it, clean up after it, keep his room neat, write to his grandmother, and read for 20 minutes every day. The boy admits he isn’t such a great reader, but he agrees to the conditions before his parents change their minds. He picks out the perfect cat at the rescue shelter, renaming his new pet Max. He’s excited to show Max his new bed, toys, and treats, but Max seems unimpressed. He also doesn’t show any reaction to being tickled, listening to jokes, or seeing his scratching post. Instead, Max stares at the wall, puts his tail in the butter, and leaves hairballs on the rug. The boy’s sister labels Max a negative cat, and his parents call the shelter to have a conversation. It’s only when the boy begins his dreaded task of reading – sounding out words slowly while reading them aloud – that Max begins to show some affection and form a bond with his new owner. An Author’s Note at the end of the book credits the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Pennsylvania for inspiring the book’s ending. Blackall describes how she read an article about the Rescue League’s Book Buddies program which encourages children to practice their fluency by reading out loud to cats. 

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy Blackall’s spirited digital artwork, particularly the emotions displayed by Max the cat and the rest of the family members. Share this title with animal lovers and reluctant readers who may just need a little feline inspiration to jump-start their own reading. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – The Stars: A Gazillion Suns

Perdew, Laura. The Stars: A Gazillion Suns (Picture Book Science). Nomad Press, 2021. 29 p. 978-1-619-30992-0. $9.95. Grades K-3.

This nonfiction picture book introduces the reader to the basic principles about the galaxy and the stars. The book goes over information about the sun in our solar system, how stars are created, why they twinkle, as well as how they end. Throughout the book, there are two extraterrestrial commentators who have silly commentary to the reader, and at the end of the book there is an activity for the reader to complete related to the constellations. There is also a glossary in the back of the book; however, there is no table of contents.

THOUGHTS: This is a great introduction to space and the constellations for a young reader. The addition of the two extraterrestrial commentators is a great choice by the author, and the illustrations add to the charm of the whole book. Highly recommended for an elementary collection. 

523.8 Constellations          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy