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

Elem. – The Cat on the Mat: All About Mindfulness

Worth, Bonnie. The Cat on the Mat: All About Mindfulness. Random House, 2021. 978-0-593-37935-6. 45 p. $9.99. Grades K-3.

The beloved Cat in the Hat is back, this time to give readers tips on managing all of the stressors life tends to throw at us. In an ode to mindful meditation, the Cat in the Hat encourages readers to just sit, breathe, listen to the sounds around them, feel each body part from the inside, and focus on the present. He goes on to explain some of the benefits of being mindful, such as learning to focus and listen better and learning to be kinder to oneself and others. All of this wisdom is presented in rhyming verse and accompanied by animated illustrations that readers have come to expect from the Cat in the Hat.

THOUGHTS: Considering all of the stressors thrown at us during the last couple of years, I would say this is a very timely book and a reasonable purchase for all elementary collections. Give it to Dr. Seuss fans, students who are in stressful situations, or fans of Cosmic Kids Yoga.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter

Elem. – Mole in a Black & White Hole

Sediva, Tereza. Mole in a Black & White Hole. Thames & Hudson, 2021. 978-0-500-65205-3. Unpaged. $16.95. PreK-1.

Mole lives alone in a dark, damp, underground hole. His only friend is a bright pink chandelier that hangs from the ceiling (which readers can see is actually a root vegetable). Chandelier tries to persuade Mole to come to the surface, where there is sunshine and lots of color and life to be found, but Mole isn’t so sure. One day, Mole awakens to a warm sunbeam on his cheek and realizes that Chandelier is gone! Mole is very upset, but remembers what Chandelier told him about the world above. He finally finds the courage to climb up through the hole and explore, and what he finds changes his whole outlook on life. Unique illustrations consist of horizontal two-page spreads that show a distinct division between the black and white underground and the colorful aboveground. This uplifting story about finding the beauty in things is sure to stir something in all readers.

THOUGHTS: I love the subtle message conveyed by this story about optimism, determination, and intentionality. In the words of Chandelier, “There is so much color and so much life to be found. But to find it, you must search for it.”

Picture Book           Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – I Will! A Book of Promises

Medina Juana. I Will! A Book of Promises. Versify, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-55559-9. Unpaged. $14.99. PreK-1.

In this uplifting, beautifully illustrated book, readers will make promises to make the world a better place through a variety of actions, such as being kind, helping others, and taking care of nature. Bright, bold illustrations feature racially and physically diverse characters, and the short, simple text makes this an incredibly accessible, straightforward guide for young readers who want to build a better world for themselves and others.

THOUGHTS: This would be a great book to share with preschool and Kindergarten students who are just beginning to interact with each other and the world. It would help spark important discussions about how they can show compassion towards themselves and others. It would also make an excellent gift for high school and college graduates, serving as a gentle reminder to be compassionate citizens as they go forward.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Return of the Underwear Dragon

Rothman, Scott. Return of the Underwear Dragon. Random House Studio, 2021. 978-0-593-11992-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2.

In this sequel to Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020), Sir Cole has determined that the Underwear Dragon only tried to destroy the kingdom because he was unable to read the signs instructing him not to. Therefore, Sir Cole makes it his mission to teach the Underwear Dragon how to read. It is a difficult process, and both parties get so frustrated they want to give up. However, that’s when Claire comes along with her fire extinguisher, which she uses to put out the dragon’s flames of frustration. Sir Cole selects another book that the Underwear Dragon finds more interesting, and together, the trio continues to work towards its goal. Portraying the value of both literacy and perseverance, this humorous book definitely will resonate with young kids who are just learning to read.

THOUGHTS: Although this was not necessarily my favorite book this year, I did appreciate the humor and subtle messages portrayed by the story. Give this book to fans of Attack of the Underwear Dragon (2020) and/or students just learning to read. 

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi

Yang, James. A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi. Viking, 2021. 978-0-593-20344-6. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Author/illustrator Yang introduces readers to a quiet, introverted boy named Isamu. Born to an American mother and Japanese father, Isamu was an outsider in both cultures, alone, but never alone. Instead, Isamu found comfort in nature, fascinated by the color, shape, texture, and pattern he found all around him. Stones were particularly special. A day spent in the company of the trees, the sand, the rocks, and the sea was a day well spent. This observant, thoughtful boy grows up to be a renowned sculptor, combining geometric shapes and natural elements like granite into stunning artwork. This stunning, Caldecott honor book gives readers a moment in the life of Isamu Noguchi, perhaps the day he became captivated by the elemental world around him. An author’s note gives further details into Noguchi’s life as a sculptor. The digital artwork enhances the gentle feel of the narrative, emphasizing Noguchi’s delight in being alone with nature.

THOUGHTS: The beautiful text and illustrations will send readers to learn more about this fascinating artist.

Picture Book           Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD
Biography

Elem./MG – The World below the Brine

Whitman, Walt. The World below the Brine. Creative Editions, 2021. 32 p. 978-1-568-46361-2. $18.99. Grades 4-6.

This picture book is a beautiful iteration of Whitman’s poem from Leaves of Grass. In just one stanza, the poet directs the reader’s attention to the wonderful and varied life under the salty sea. Whitman begins with a discussion of the plant life and how its many colors play with the light. Next are the “dumb swimmers,” who appear sluggish as they crawl on the bottom, like the sea snail, or like jellyfish that “graze…suspended.” The free verse poem ends with a catalog of better-known sea creatures, such as the shark, whale, and sting-ray. In the final lines, the poet observes that the world below the ocean does not differ much in its environment and society from the one above it. The verse comes alive with James Christopher Carroll’s rich, luminescent illustrations which the publisher likens to the works of Marc Chagall. Done with mixed media, the stunning images create a surrealistic atmosphere in the text. The drawings depict the poem through the eyes of a boy, who dives into the ocean and is amazed at all that he sees and experiences. As he swims furiously to escape from the jaws of hungry predators, the boy is surprised at his marine rescuer and returns to his boat. Whitman’s verses inspire us to open our eyes to the wonders of all worlds of our planet.

THOUGHTS: This is truly a remarkable rendition of Whitman’s “The World below the Brine.” The illustrations are Caldecott quality and readers will enjoy examining the drawings closely. This lyrical work is a great resource for poetry units. Highly recommended for elementary and middle school libraries.

811.3 Poetry          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member