Elem. – Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers

LaRocca, Rajani, and Chaaya Prabhat. Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers. Charlesbridge, 2021. 978-1-623-54129-3. unpaged. $15.99. Grades K-2.

The sibling holiday of Raksha Bandhan was coming soon, and Bina wanted to make the traditional bracelets for her brothers by herself this year. First she does some investigating to find out each brother’s color preferences. She learns that Vijay likes blue best but green the least; Siddharth loves green but can’t stand orange; and Arjun’s fav is orange but not blue. As readers will guess, once the process of putting together each personalized bracelet begins, Bina needs to do some problem solving. The patterns that come from her process are fun, allowing readers to play the part of Tara, the faithful family dog, to help Bina when she is stuck. Prabhat creates a colorful animated world to enjoy, and LaRocca adds her cultural note and math connections at the end to help make Bina’s story special.

THOUGHTS: The bracelet patterns are not advanced, but serve as a starting point to bigger pattern projects. The holiday of Raksha Bandhan gets a rare spotlight which siblings both familiar and new to the day should appreciate. This is a solid series to celebrate “Math, diversity, and the power of story.” Recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Home is in Between

Perkins, Mitali, and Lavanya Naidu. Home is in Between. Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-374-30367-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Shanti is a sweet girl who says goodbye to her village in Bengal and moves with her parents to America. She keeps a curious and positive attitude through the cultural shifts of home and school and town and activities while trying to help her parents and keep their cultural identities intact. But all of this code switching takes a toll on Shanti, as she finds herself occasionally worn down and exhausted trying to keep up. The resolution of a social gathering to share the space between cultures is perhaps a simplified ending to what is surely an ongoing process for adapting and adopting to a new home, but readers will feel and empathize with Shanti’s dilemma. Mitali Perkins keeps the story relatable and mixed with personal experience and plenty of Hindi words and Indian customs. Lavanya Naidu shines as the illustrator who creates the family dynamics and emotional changes through the story with colorful expressions and emotional details. While the journey to a new home is not easy, this tale will help readers see that the ‘in between’ brings needed value to feeling at home.

THOUGHTS: The idea of code switching for young children from other countries and cultures has rarely been illustrated as well as this book. Perfect for classrooms who are welcoming ELL students or libraries looking for demonstrations of social emotional skills. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

Abery, Julie, and Chris Sasaki, illustrator. Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30031-8. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In the 1930s, children on Maui played in the irrigation ditches lining the Hawaiian island’s sugar cane plantations. Local science teacher Soichi Sakamoto took an interest in training the kids in proper swimming techniques, reinforcing their “pace, rhythm / strength, speed.” After the sugar company built a community pool, Sakamoto and his swimmers formed the Three-Year Swim Club with hopes of competing at the Olympic Games. World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 Summer Olympics, but Coach Sakamoto’s athletes continued to train, and one of them won a gold medal (and set records) at the 1948 Olympics in London! Author Julie Abery tells this true story in short passages of rhyming verse that are packed with meaning. For example, on the page representing the start of WWII with smoke over an empty lap pool, she writes, “Dawn raids shatter / peaceful skies. / Athletes answer / country’s cries.” Chris Sasaki’s illustrations depict smiling young swimmers churning through the water, as well as the beautiful colors and natural wonders of Maui.

THOUGHTS: True stories of athletes overcoming long odds are always popular; this one is also a great example of illustrated nonfiction for young readers.

Picture Book          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Wonder Walkers

Archer, Micha. Wonder Walkers. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 978-0-593-10964-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When two children head outside for a walk, there’s no shortage of things to wonder about. The more they explore, the more questions they have. “Is the sun the world’s light bulb?” “Are branches trees’ arms?” “Are roots the plant’s toes?” The simple text consists mainly of the children’s questions, and the straightforward writing encourages contemplation and discussion. The illustrations are the stars of this book. Stunning double page spreads were created with inks and collage using tissue paper and patterned papers. Archer also uses homemade stamps to create different textures and layers. From green patterned ribbons of grass to swirling underground root networks to patchworks of sunset sky, students will pore over the pages, noting new details with each repeated read.

THOUGHTS: Use this title to encourage students to become more observant and appreciative of the wide world around them. This is the perfect story to share after a nature walk, as students will make connections to things they noticed and things the children in the story encounter. Whether inspired by fields of wildflowers, changing leaves, or a burbling brook, students will have no trouble coming up with “wonders” of their own as they let their imagination soar.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Dear Librarian

Sigwarth, Lydia M. Dear Librarian. Farrar Straus Giroux. 978-0-374-31390-6. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

When Lydia and her large family move from Colorado to Iowa, she misses many things. Most of all, she misses having a home. In Iowa, she doesn’t have a home: just houses. Her family spends some days living at an aunt’s house, some days living at a cousin’s house, and some days living at her grandmother’s house. She doesn’t feel at home anywhere, until her mother takes her to the library. The library has sunny windows, rows of books, baskets of toys, and best of all, a kind librarian. The librarian takes time to listen closely, locate perfect books, read stories, and give warm hugs. In the library, Lydia finally finds her own special home. Even when her family eventually moves into their own house, Lydia continues returning to the library to see her special friend. Her many visits even inspired her current career as a children’s librarian. An introduction by Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life, details how Lydia Sigwarth’s story originally premiered on his radio show. Listeners liked it so much that Lydia decided to write her own version of the story, which is this autobiographical picture book.

THOUGHTS: The book’s final pages include an author’s note explaining that this story is based on what really happened to the author while she and her family were homeless for six months when she was a little girl. The note also details how in 2018, the author reconnected with her childhood librarian with the help of the radio show This American Life “664 The Room of Requirement Act Three: Growing Shelf-Awareness.” This gentle story describes one little girl’s experience with homelessness while also celebrating the power libraries have to create safe, welcoming spaces for all people. This title will serve as a memorable discussion-starter during elementary morning meetings.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist

D’Aquino, Andrea. She Heard the Birds: The Story of Florence Merriam Bailey Pioneering Nature Activist. Princeton, Architectural Press, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-648-96050-5. $18.95. Grades 1-3.

This picture book biography is the story of a woman who made a difference. Florence Merriam Bailey grew up in the late 19th century with her family who loved nature. Her mother was an astronomer and her father took the family on a summer long camping trip where she loved to observe the forest animals. Florence’s favorite creatures were birds and she studied their behavior and songs. She strongly disliked the latest fashion in hats, which were adorned with feathers and even the actual carcasses of birds. Bailey and her classmates at Smith College initiated a successful boycott of these hats. Florence became an avid ornithologist and promoted watching birds in a natural setting with binoculars in contrast to scientists who studied them in laboratories. She was the author of a field guide and other books on birds and their methods of communication. The author’s full bleed illustrations are done using hand-painted collage, oil pastel and pencil. Readers will enjoy examining the many colorful birds that are depicted.

THOUGHTS: This book is a great choice for elementary collections. It could be used during Women’s History Month, Earth Day or in science units. Children will learn about the wonder and beauty of our feathered friends and may be inspired to do some birdwatching on their own.

921 Biography          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member
598.2 Birds     

Elem. – Never Show a T.Rex a Book

Sirdeshpande, Rashmi. Never Show a T.Rex a Book. 1st American ed., Kane Miller, 2021. 978-1-684-64159-8. Unpaged. $12.99. Grades K-3.

A young girl finds that chaos ensues when she teaches her dinosaur how to read. Written in the same style as Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series, this imaginative book portrays countless if/then scenarios that will delight young readers–and maybe even encourage them to envision some scenarios of their own. A heartwarming tale about the transformative magic of reading, kids will be begging to re-read this book over and over again.

THOUGHTS: The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and I love that they portray a multicultural cast of characters. I should note that because this was originally published in England, there are a few pages that may require some clarification for young children; for instance, one page states that the newly educated dinosaur might just become the prime minister. Fans of Laura Numeroff will adore this book, as will dinosaur lovers and avid readers.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It

Finison, Carrie. Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-1-984-8302-2 32 p. $16.99. Grades Pre-K – 2. 

You can hug a pug. You can hug a bug or a slug. But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it. Don’t take it personally – Doug still likes you! He just feels that hugs are too squeezy, too squashy, too squooshy, and too smooshy. Doug has every right to decide if he would like a hug or not. Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It is the perfect picture book by author Carrie Finison and illustrator Daniel Wiseman that starts a great conversation about setting personal boundaries and addressing them in a kind but practical manner. Doug explains to the reader in a cheerful tone that all you have to do is ask: Do you like hugs? And the appropriate response would be to respect the answer.

THOUGHTS: Don’t Hug Doug is effective, yet gentle when discussing consent with the reader. I have not read many children’s books that address bodily autonomy and personal boundaries with appropriate and easy-to-understand strategies. This picture book would appeal to all ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, or early elementary students. I agree with Boston Globes’ review: “Don’t Hug Doug can make kids feel better about their own boundaries and challenge them to understand the comfort of others. But really, it gives grown-ups something to consider, too.”

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks

Tsui, Bonnie, and Sophie Diao, illustrator. Sarah and the Big Wave: The True Story of the First Woman to Surf Mavericks. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-23948-8. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Gerhardt grew up surfing little, medium, and big waves (her favorite!) on Oahu’s North Shore, which is famous for its huge waves, some of which top the height of a five-story building. As one of just a few girl surfers, Sarah struggled to find the right size surfboards and wetsuits; luckily, she found a circle of friends that included a surfboard shaper who made boards that were just right for her. She later moved to California, where her new home was near Mavericks, the famous big-wave surf break. With its monster waves, “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls” was a dangerous place to surf, and no woman had ever done it … until Sarah! Illustrator Sophie Diao captures Sarah’s history-making ride, and its epic scale, in a made-for-storytime flip-up page. Throughout Sarah and the Big Wave, Diao’s digitally rendered artwork beautifully captures the ever-changing colors of the ocean and the power of its biggest waves. A timeline of milestones in the history of women and surfing complete this fantastic picture book biography.

THOUGHTS: This upbeat, inspiring true story is positively swell.

Picture Book Biography          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Gottesfeld, Jeff. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-0148-2 32 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5. 

Sentinel guards keep vigil at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, protecting soldiers that made the ultimate sacrifice. Twenty-One Steps: Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a picture book written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by Matt Tavares, perfectly captures and honors the soldiers that honor the fallen. This moving and inspiring book teaches the reader the history and significance of the memorial and how the “Unknowns” have come to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Gottesfeld and Tavares explain through enriched vocabulary and powerful illustrations that the privilege and most challenging post to earn in the army is to stand, with absolute precision in every type of weather, at every moment of the day, since July 2, 1937, when the tomb became protected by American Soldiers. This moving and informative picture book honors the past, present, and future members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America.

THOUGHTS: This inspirational and beautiful picture book targets grades 2-5, ages 7-10, and would make an excellent mentor text for upper elementary or even middle grades. Not only is Twenty-One Steps a moving tribute but an informative text that would fit well with a WWII or Memorial Day unit. Emotional. Beautiful. Very well done.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD