Elem. – Over, Bear! Under, Where?

Hedlund, Julie. Over, Bear! Under, Where? Illustrated by Michael Slack. Philomel Books, 2021. 978-0-593-20355-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Over and Under are friends playing at the park and picnicking with their friend, Dog. When Bear appears, they all run away, but soon Bear overtakes the group. To get away from him, Over, Under, and Dog dig a hole and hide inside. The friends soon realize, though, Bear wasn’t trying to ruin their day; he just wanted to join in the fun. 

THOUGHTS: This is a MUST HAVE picture book for all elementary libraries and classrooms. Not only are Over and Under the characters in the book, but they are also prepositions and parts of compound words. Over, Bear! Under, Where? is the perfect introduction to these elements of English grammar while also providing a solid laugh at the word play throughout. 

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Nina: A Story of Nina Simone

Todd, Traci N. Nina: A Story of Nina Simone. Christian Robinson, illustrator. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-1-524-73728-3 p. 56 p. $18.99. Grades 2-5. 

The world knew her as Nina Simone, but she was born Eunice Katherine Waymon. Born in North Carolina to a family that surrounded themselves with music, Eunice learned to play the piano very early. She was a musical child that would find rhythm in all aspects of her life, playing piano at the church where her Mama preached or playing Jazz music with her Papa at home. Author Traci N. Todd and illustrator Christian Robinson have created a gorgeous picture book biography about the life of Nina Simone. With a supportive family and community and an influential piano teacher, Nina started playing and singing in bars and concert halls. Audiences were enthralled with her sweet and soulful voice. But as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, Nina’s voice took on a powerful tone, almost booming, and her music became a powerful protest against racial inequities. She was known not only as a brilliant musician but an influential activist. Amplifying Nina’s humanity with direct and straightforward text and bold and brilliant artwork, Todd and Robinson created a compelling and masterful piece of art. The ending is powerful, perfect, and hopeful. 

THOUGHTS: This picture book is so attractive, and it pulls the reader into each page with the story and the illustrations. Learning about Nina and her life from childhood to adulthood was a joy! From the dedication at the beginning of the book to the author’s note in the back of the book, there is much to absorb! I was sad to see it end! This book is recognized as a 2022 ALA Notable Children’s Book and has received several other accolades and praises. Nina should not be missed! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Gitty and Kvetch

Pritchard, Caroline Kusin. Gitty and Kvetch. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47826-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Gitty is sure today is “the perfect day to hang the perfect painting in our perfect, purple tree house.” Kvetch, Gitty’s bird friend, isn’t so sure he’s ready after their last adventure. But Gitty isn’t deterred by Kvetch’s pessimism and convinces him to join the fun with a tempting worm sandwich. Along the way, Gitty sees many wonderful sights, while Kvetch identifies the negatives. Even when storm clouds appear Gitty wonders, “Did we hit the jackpot or what?” It’s not until the friends are forced to take refuge in their tree house that Gitty realizes her “perfect painting was wet and wrecked, just like her perfect day.” Will Kvetch be able to overcome his negative attitude to help his friend see the bright side? Beautiful, bright digital illustrations highlight Gitty’s optimism, while muted purple tones show Kvetch’s cynicism. A glossary of Yiddish words is included at the end, helping emerging readers understand Kvetch’s meaning throughout the story. Note: Kvetch is not identified as male or female, but for the purpose of writing this review I identified him as male.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing, young readers will adore Gitty and Kvetch’s friendship and come to appreciate how differences put together can make the perfect pair. Highly recommended for elementary picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – My City Speaks

Lebeuf, Darren. My City Speaks. Illustrated by Ashley Barron. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30414-3. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

A young girl takes readers through a day of exploring her city the way she experiences it – through sound. Though readers may not notice the narrator’s visual impairments, the intricate illustrations – a combination of cut-paper collage, watercolor, acrylic, and pencil crayon, with some digital assembly – show her using a white cane and yellow tactile paving at a crosswalk. Sounds from the city help highlight things one may not notice with so many beautiful sights – “hasty honks, impatient beeps, distant chimes, reliable rumbles, speedy sirens and urgent clangs.” A fun pre-reading activity would be to ask students to close their eyes and identify sounds they hear then compare what they hear with what they see.

THOUGHTS: This title is an opportunity to discuss diverse abilities and show children how similar people’s experiences may be, regardless of ability. Highly recommended for picture book collections, especially those seeking representation.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Adventures with My Daddies

Peter, Gareth. Adventures with My Daddies. Illustrated by Garry Parsons. Peachtree, 2021. 978-1-682-63281-9. Unpaged. $16.99. Grades PreK-3.

An unnamed child shares why her daddies are amazing in this sweet picture book. When they read stories together “exciting journeys start” – battling dragons, hunting dinosaurs, and exploring the moon and secret islands are just some of their fun adventures. But their favorite story is their adoption story which brought them together. The narrator talks about different types of families: “Some children have two mommies, and some a mom and a dad.” before explaining why she’s “SO glad” her “SUPER daddies” chose her. Even if they’re “not the best at everything” she knows “they’re always there.” A diverse cast of characters are featured by beautiful acrylic and pencil illustrations in this sweet, rhyming picture book.

THOUGHTS: This beautiful story will show children that all families have unique characteristics. Highly recommended for elementary schools looking to add family stories and LGBTQ representation to their picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – This is a Dog Book!

Henderson, Judith. This is a Dog Book! Julien Chung Ill. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30493-4. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Bunny wants to be in this book, but it is a dog book, and bunny is not a dog. Bunny tries to convince the dogs that he is a dog by providing them with cookies and answering all of their dog questions. Bunny does everything the dogs ask of him except answer the “doo-doos” question which he successfully avoids until the end when he must pass the “sniff test”. But that still isn’t enough for all of the dogs. Finally, the big dog asks Bunny if he is a good friend. If he passes this test, Bunny might just make it into the dog book after all. 

THOUGHTS: This is a sweet story about acceptance and inclusion. The red shirt of Bunny against the black and white illustrations of the dogs highlight that he is indeed not a dog even though he can do all that the dogs do. This text is a great conversation starter for students to discuss inclusion and exclusion and how each makes one feel.  

Picture Book          Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

Elem. – Ciao, Sandro!

Varni, Steven. Ciao, Sandro! Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-74390-0. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Sandro is a small dog who accompanies his owner, Nicola, a Venetian gondolier, on his daily tours around the city. Sandro even dresses like a gondolier himself, with a striped shirt, red kerchief, and straw hat. Instead of joining Nicola on his tours, today Sandro disembarks the gondola and heads into Venice. He visits a series of friends, each of whom greet him by saying “Ciao, Sandro!” None of the individuals seem surprised to see Sandro. In fact, they almost seem to have been expecting him. Francesca the fruit seller shows Sandro some fruit; Avise, a friend of Nicola’s, reassures Sandro he hasn’t forgotten; and Giorgio the glassblower presents Sandro with a goblet and asks for his approval. When Sandro re-joins Nicola and they head home at the end of the day, it turns out that all Sandro’s visits were in preparation for a surprise birthday party for Nicola! Backmatter includes a glossary of the Italian words that are included in the text. 

THOUGHTS: Not only will readers enjoy guessing why Sandro spent the day purposefully visiting his friends, they will also gain an appreciation for the Italian city of Venice. On his journey Sandro passes through many well known landmarks, which are depicted in Luciano Lozano’s watercolor pencil, ink, and digital illustrations. Say “Ciao, Sandro!” and consider adding this title to libraries serving younger elementary readers.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Moon Pops

Baek, Heena. Moon Pops. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47429-0. Unpaged $19.95. Grades PreK-K. 

In Korean folklore, the full moon is associated with a rabbit pounding items with a mortar and pestle. Author and illustrator Heena Baek puts a unique spin on this folklore in her story Moon Pops (translated from the original Korean by Jieun Kiaer). One hot night, in a city populated by animals, the residents of an apartment building attempt to sleep and escape the heat. When a steady dripping noise is heard, Granny (a wolf) discovers that the moon is melting! She runs outside and catches the moon drops with her bucket. Back in her apartment, she ponders what to do with the moon drops, when the idea of making cool, refreshing moon pops (ice pops made with moon drops). When a power outage hits the building (due to too many folks running their air conditioning), Granny distributes her refreshing moon pops to her neighbors, who are refreshed and cooled by the icy treats. Later, a knock is heard at Granny’s door–it is a pair of rabbits, dejected by the loss of their now melted moon home. Thankfully, Granny has another idea up her sleeve that might just result in the restoration of the moon. The story is illustrated with photographs of mixed media 3D dioramas that give the setting and characters depth and make excellent use of the elements of light and shadow. Of special note are the moon pops themselves, which emanate a glowing light reminiscent of the moon. 

THOUGHTS: This title easily could be incorporated into units on folklore, Korea, or animal stories. After reading the story, students will want to enjoy an icy treat themselves–why not go out and enjoy popsicles as a class or create your own as a class project. Highly recommended. 

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – The Midnight Club

Goth, Shane. The Midnight Club. Owlkids, 2021. 978-1-771-47394-1. Unpaged. $19.95. Grades PreK-1. 

Milly and her older sister Becca are members of the Midnight Club. When the clock strikes midnight, they quietly slip downstairs to explore their darkened home. As any good club does, the Midnight Club has rules. The siblings must tiptoe around the criss-crossed shadows of the upstairs window panes. Another rule of this magical time at night is that they can do whatever they want–whether it be sitting in their father’s chair and sampling his jelly beans or trying on their mother’s coat. They are joined in their adventures by a third member of the club–Oliver the cat. When their eyes grow heavy and they begin to yawn, it’s time to bring the club meeting to an end and return to their room before they are discovered. Young Ling Kang’s watercolor, pencil and digital illustrations bathe the darkened house in hues of blue and purple, with yellow street lights shining in through windows. This helps to create the shadows that the girls use to make shapes on the wall during their nighttime escapades. 

THOUGHTS: A sibling secret club will be quite relatable to many children, as will the idea of embarking upon home-exploring adventures. Kang’s illustrations lend the story a sense of nighttime stillness and atmosphere perfect for night adventures. Recommended. 

Picture Book            Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Cat Dog

Fox, Mem and Mark Teague. Cat Dog. Beach Lane Books, 2021. 978-1-416-98688-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1.

A dog is taking a nap on the couch. A cat is chasing a mouse. The cat wants the dog’s help, but he is asleep. The mouse gets away from the cat. The dog finally wakes up. The mouse comes out of his hole, and ….

THOUGHTS: The story ends there with the reader trying to figure out what happened between the cat, the dog, and the mouse. This is a beautifully illustrated story, simple in words and color that connects the reader directly to the story by asking questions. The interactive text makes the reader another character in the room with the dog, the cat, and the mouse.  This is a great story to teach story sequencing and predictions. It’s also a lot of fun for read aloud.

Picture Book        Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD