Elem. – Norman Didn’t Do It!

Higgins, Ryan T. Norman Didn’t Do it! DisneyHyperion, 2021. 978-136802623-9 p. 48. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Norman! Adorable, wide-eyed, prickly Norman is a porcupine with a tree as a best friend. Mildred is the best kind of friend that Norman could ever hope for in a tree. They have a shared history, and their friendship is a fun adventure, each day filled with love and companionship. However, Norman’s friendship with Mildred feels threatened when someone new enters their world. Norman experiences an array of big emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, impulsiveness, and fear. These big emotions lead to a reaction that Norman is not proud to admit; however, his unconditional love for his best friend may help to change his perspective about his friendship. Is it possible that Norman will be able to understand his big emotions? Will he be able to find a way to expand his friendship circle and allow more love into his life? Grab this picture book and find out! 

THOUGHTS: Norman Didn’t Do It! is exactly what you would expect from a Ryan T. Higgins picture book: belly laughs and wit. Readers will understand what Norman is experiencing with the relatable storyline and perfect illustrations. Friendships are not easy, especially when there are unexpected influences from others. Remarkably, readers witness Norman make a mistake but take proactive steps to make it right. Norman Didn’t Do It by Ryan T Higgins is a gem! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem – I am Courage

Verde, Susan. I am Courage. Abrams, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $14.99. Grades K-2. 

What is courage? Is it speaking out, believing in ourselves, asking for help, trying new things, and getting back up in challenging situations? It also could mean feeling scared yet facing those things that place fear in our hearts. I am Courage, by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter Reynolds, is a picture book that promotes love and acceptance. The story shows various ways that a person can connect with themselves and others. 

We are strong.
We are capable.
We are important.
We are courage. 

THOUGHTS: I am Courage, the newest addition to Susan Verde and Peter Reynolds I Am series, is a story of empowerment. Readers will be reminded that they can conquer anything and remain strong in their bodies and minds. The yoga and mindfulness exercises at the back of the picture book also will encourage readers to be strong and confident. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader

Murrrow, Vita. Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to be a Leader (True Stories of Animal Heroes). Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021. 978-0-711-26145-7. p. 32. $15.99. Grades K-2. 

Onyx, a wolf pup that lived in Yellowstone National Park, was the smallest and scruffiest wolf in his litter. The runt in the wolf pack was often bullied by his siblings and had to learn skills to survive. However, Onyx grew older and learned leadership skills that served him well in the wild. One day, Onyx came across a wolf family with a lone mother wolf and young pups who had lost their male “alpha” wolf. With time, Onyx became a father figure to the pack and was attentive to a tiny wolf pup named Bravo. Bravo struggled to listen, would sometimes bite and snarl, and often pushed back in stressful situations. Onyx, now grown and showing signs as a leader, had a similar background and took a liking to the young pup. Onyx became a father figure to young Bravo and showed the young wolf how to interact in their world in different ways. This heartwarming story has a fact section at the back of the book that teaches the reader about the real-life reintroduction of wolves that occurred in 1995 in Yellowstone National Park. With time, this movement helped to restore and balance the failing ecosystem. 

THOUGHTS: Onyx, written by Vita Murrow, is part of the True Stories of Animal Heroes series. In 1995, it was indeed true that wolves were brought from Canada to the United States to help increase the movement and population of many animals in Yellowstone National Park. The facts in this story, particularly the story with two wolves now known as Onyx and Bravo, were observed by wildlife observers and biologists.

This picture book was engaging yet not lengthy (considering how much information was contained in the pages). If all the books in this series are as heartwarming and informative as this story, this series would be a great addition to any classroom, school library, or personal library collection. 

Picture Book. Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Ballou Mealey, Cathy. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-5253-0238-1 p. 32. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Teamwork. Perseverance. Flexibility. Problem Solving. Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle, a children’s book written by Cathy Ballou Mealey, shines a spotlight on all the qualities mentioned and models a growth mindset with character development. Sloth and Squirrel are loyal friends who work together to achieve a common goal; purchase a new shiny bike that they can enjoy together. However, they find a job in a pickle factory to buy the bike to earn some money. Although loyal within their friendship to each other, Sloth and Squirrel find themselves in a pickle at work when they realize they have different strengths and weaknesses, different styles of learning, and different abilities. Will they be able to work together, complete the job, and earn their wages? Or will everything fall apart, even their friendship? In this heartwarming story, two friends stumble together and remain kind to each other as they learn a few lessons along the way. Who would have thought that a squirrel and a sloth could be such a resourceful team! 

THOUGHTS: This picture book would be a great addition to character education. There are hilarious moments, darling illustrations by Kelly Collier, and many opportunities within the story for educators or parents to discuss growth mindset. Perfect for a read-aloud within a classroom or school library (or even a snuggle at bedtime), young readers will love the silly duo- Sloth and Squirrel! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth

Rubin, Sean. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth. Henry Holt and Company, 2021. 978-1-250-78850-4 p. 48. $18.99. Grades K-4. 

This is a story about a tree, a survivor tree, to be accurate. But, it is also a story about the resilience of our nation, a tribute to first responders, and the restorative power of humanity. This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth by Sean Rubin is profoundly moving and packs an emotional punch. A Callery pear tree was planted in the 1970’s in New York City between the newly constructed Twin Towers known as the World Trade Center. Over the years, the tree provided shade for tourists, employees of the World Trade Center, and a home for birds. It bloomed beautifully every Spring and stood tall between the two towers for many years. On September 11, 2001, something horrific occurred in New York City. Our Nation was mourning, and the tree’s home was destroyed and buried under rubble. The days that followed were difficult to maneuver, yet a shocking discovery was made after the tragedy–The pear tree had survived and quickly became known as the “Survivor Tree.” The tree was moved to the Bronx to recover, so the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation could nurse it back to health. Finally, almost ten years after the tragedy, the tree returned to its home and was planted in the 9/11 memorial. This Very Tree is told in simple words and illustrated with beautiful pictures that reveal more and more as the reader turns the pages. It shares a story of hope and healing that occurred after an immense tragedy that we experienced as a country. This book is a powerful introduction to this poignant event in our nation’s history. 

THOUGHTS: It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since New York City saw the World Trade Center fall to the ground. Since then, we have seen the literary world write to make sense of that horrific day and the days after that. This particular story, This Very Tree, resonated with me in such a profoundly moving way, and it shares a true story that may not be known to most Americans. Even the dedication will bring tears to the reader’s eyes as well as the hauntingly beautiful words written by author E.B. White in 1949 entitled: Here is New York that is at the beginning of the picture book. As much as this book is indeed emotional and heavy, it can still shine a light on hope and resilience. There is an informational section in the author’s note that explains the events of 9/11 in a sensitive and age-appropriate way. 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Becoming Vanessa

Brantley-Newton, Vanessa. Becoming Vanessa. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-525-58212-0 p. 40. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

The first day of school still gives most of us butterflies in our stomachs. We most likely remember the anticipation, the excitement, and the desire to put our best face forward in making a good impression. Vanessa, the main character in Becoming Vanessa, written by Vanessa Brantley-Hewton, feels all of these emotions on her first day of school as well. Vanessa puts on her fanciest outfit and her best smile for her first day of meeting her new classmates; however, she receives the attention she wasn’t expecting. Vanessa definitely stands out and begins to feel that her clothes are too bright, her boa has too many feathers, and her shoes are too shiny. Her classmates don’t seem to appreciate her bold outfit choice as much as she was hoping. Vanessa’s self-confidence begins to dwindle, and she begins to believe that she should blend in with her classmates and not stand out. 

After a tough day at school, Vanessa has a conversation with her mother that helps rebuild her confidence and gives her a new perspective on how to be herself AND share her fabulous self with others. Becoming Vanesa is inspired by the author’s real childhood and is full of self-love. 

THOUGHTS: Vanessa Brantley- Newton has become a favorite author (and illustrator too!) of mine! She is the author and illustrator of Grandma’s Purse and Just Like Me, two other fabulous picture books for young readers. Her stories burst with positivity by lifting up young girls around the world with her stories and placing girls of color at the center of the story. I cannot wait for more beautiful work from her! 

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – The Thingity-Jig

Doherty, Kathleen. The Thingity-Jig. Peachtree Publishing Company, 2021. 978-1-7972-0282-2 p. 32. $17.95. Grades K-3. 

What happens when you make a curious discovery? A discovery that is springy, bouncy, and oh-so joyous to sit and jump on! It is so special that you run home to tell all of your friends that you discovered a Thingity-Thing! However, the discovery is so cumbersome to move that Bear, the main character in this story, needs help from his friends to get the exquisite piece home. So when no one in Bear’s life wants to be bothered, Bear takes matters into his own hands (or paws) and builds a Rolly-Rumpity to wheel the Thingity-Jig home. But of course, there are bumps in the road, and Bear needs to invent the Lifty-Uppity to overcome the next obstacle. Author Kathleen Doherty creates an adorable, curious, and inventive character in her picture book The Thingity-Jig and cleverly combines wordplay and STEAM into her storyline. A delightful read-aloud for young children, The Thingity-Jig is both quirky and hilarious and so fun to read!

THOUGHTS: Author Katleen Doherty is a reading specialist and former classroom teacher for over 30 years. The Illustrator, Kristyna Litten, studied art at the Edinburgh College of Art and has illustrated several children’s books. Her style, heavily influenced by animation and illustrative art, is the perfect vibe for this charming picture book. An ideal read-aloud for STEAM or growth mindset!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD