Elem. – Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade

Hillenbrand, Will. Mighty Reader: Makes the Grade. Holiday House, 2021. 978-0-823-44499-1. 35 p. $18.99. Grades K-1. 

Lulu is beside herself and oh, so worried about the standardized test that is scheduled to happen in her class at school today. Formatted like a graphic novel, this picture book is full of evil villains like the scary test, pencils, books, and watchful eye but Might Reader comes to save the day with ‘partner power.’ Turns out, Lulu was just having a nightmare, but how was she going to be successful at school without Mighty Reader?

THOUGHTS: The graphic novel formatting may be a bit overwhelming for new readers, but this short story could break the ice for nervous students before big test days. Some of the techniques mentioned could even be tried out in class. Talk about a super power!

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Aaron Slater, Illustrator

Beaty, Andrea. Aaron Slater, Illustrator. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-419-75396-1. $18.99. Grades K-4.

Aaron Slater loves stories! He loves to listen to them and draw his very own pictures. When it is time for him to go to school, he is so excited to be able to read and write his very own stories. The words, however, look like jumbled squiggles to him and don’t really make any sense. Instead of standing out like he used to, he decides to fit in and be like everyone else. When requested by a teacher to write a story, Aaron struggles until inspiration hits him and he is able to create his very own story his way. With the help and support of those around him, Aaron begins to overcome his obstacles and struggles, becoming a reader and a writer, as well as continuing his illustrating.

THOUGHTS: This is another great book by Andrea Beaty! Written in text style Dyslexie to help individuals with dyslexia, we learn of a famous illustrator’s struggles to become a storyteller, and gain inspiration along the way.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

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./MG – The Beatryce Prophecy

DiCamillo, Kate. The Beatryce Prophecy.Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-536-21361-4. $19.99. 247 p. Grades 3-8.

“There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change,” reads the fearsome prophecy which the reader soon discovers is The Beatryce Prophecy. This magical story involves a bald, brave girl in monk’s robes; a gentle monk named Brother Edik who hands out maple candies; a slip of a boy, Jack Dory, orphaned by thieves and nurtured by an old woman—now deceased—Granny Bibspeak; a laughing, runaway king, Cannoc; and a wayward, stubborn but loyal goat, Answelica. Brother Edik comes upon a sickly Beatryce with her goat companion and nurses the girl back to health. He well knows the prophecy and when he discovers Beatryce can read and write, thanks to the foresight of her parents, he protects her by shaving her locks and disguising her as a monk. Twelve-year-old Jack Dory gets dispensed to the Brothers of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing to fetch a monk who can record the last words of a dying soldier and returns with Beatryce and Answelica with the strong directive from the monastery’s abbot not to return. Beatryce, though, cannot stomach the soldier’s confession and abandons the task. She and Jack Dory find themselves in the dangerous dark forest where they meet the jovial Cannoc who eventually tells them he once walked away from the gruesome responsibility of being the king. They seek safety from the king who threatens Beatryce’s life in Cannoc’s cozy tree- trunk home and are soon joined by Brother Edik. When Beatryce is abducted, the remaining four (the goat is included) vow to rescue her. A proverb comes to mind, Pride goes before a fall. The foolish king and his sinister counselor choose murder and lies to soothe their fragile pride: They cannot accept that a girl can read and write at a time when, as Brother Edik tell her, “Only men of God can read, and the king. And tutors and counselors. The people do not know their letters” (140). At its root, The Beatryce Prophecy is a simple good vs. evil story. But simply written it is not. Can any other author repeat a phrase or line with more meaning than Kate DiCamillo? DiCamillo illuminates this unenlightened world with characters who radiate kindness, goodness, and joy. They also turn out to be the strong ones. Perhaps The Beatryce Prophecy is a feminist story, but it is also a story of courage and friendship. In the capable hands of this author, the reader is ever more convinced that what makes the difference in people’s lives is love. . .and stories.

THOUGHTS: As a vehicle for teaching language and imagery, an example of characterization and plot development, The Beatryce Prophecy is a key tool. The story sweeps you up and the words envelope you. A good read aloud.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  SD Philadelphia

Elem. – Lila Lou’s Little Library

Bergstresser, Nikki. Lila Lou’s Little Library. Cardinal Rule Press, 2021. 978-1-735-34511-6. 25 p. $16.95. Grades K – 2.

Lila Lou loves to read! Her house is overflowing with books, which causes her mother to lose her in the house due to all of Lila Lou’s books. Lila Lou has an idea, to use a stump outside of her house to create a Little Free Library. This allows Lila Lou to share her books with others, as well as for her to get some new ones. At the beginning of the book, there are tips to help the reader for before, during, and after reading. At the end of the book, there are hints on how to make a family library. There is also a glossary for the Spanish words that are found throughout the book.

THOUGHTS: This is an adorable book to read aloud with students!

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World

Mitchell, Malcolm. My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World. Orchard Books. 2021. 978-1-338-22532-7. $17.99. Grades PreK-3.

Henley was on a journey to discover his very favorite book in the whole wide world. This was an assignment from his teacher. The problem? Henley didn’t have a favorite book in the whole wide world. Reading was hard. It wasn’t that he didn’t like reading… it was sometimes just too complicated, some books were too big, some were too boring, and sometimes Henley would rather be doing something else. When his teacher made this terrible assignment, Henley buckled down to try and find his favorite book in the whole wide world.

THOUGHTS: This is a book that many reluctant readers will be able to relate to. Sometimes finding what you enjoy reading can be very difficult. With a little perseverance, Henley was able to make his discovery, and so can other young (and old!) readers.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

MG – Santiago’s Road Home

Diaz, Alexandra. Santiago’s Road Home. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-534-44623-6. $17.99. 325 p. Grades 5-8.

Once more author Alexandra Diaz raises our consciousness about the plight of Central American immigrants in our country at this critical time. As she did in The Only Road and Crossroads, Diaz gives a fact-based novel of Santiago Garcia Reyes’s escape from domestic abuse in Mexico through the desert to the detention centers of New Mexico. She does not pull any punches describing the sacrifices and suffering Santiago endures as he makes his way to America with newfound “family” Maria Dolores and her five-year-old daughter, Alegria. After being thrown out once again from a relative’s home where he worked as a free babysitter, Santiago refuses to return to his abusive, neglectful grandmother. Instead, he makes the acquaintance of the kind and generous Maria Dolores and her young daughter and convinces her to take him as they migrate to the United States where Maria Dolores’s sister owns a restaurant. For the first time since his Mami died when he was five-years-old, Santiago feels loved and cared for; and he reciprocates by being the protective big brother. By working in the cheap tavern at the crossroads, he discovers Dominquez, the best coyote to help them cross. Unfortunately, rival coyotes kill Dominquez, leaving the refugees abandoned just shy of the border. Diaz describes the arduous and dangerous journey through the desert, dodging border patrol officers and experiencing dehydration and hunger under a blistering sun. Their efforts end in hospitalization and detention. Again, Diaz intertwines facts and realistic representation about the conditions children suffer in the detention centers, yet maintains both the negative and positive aspects. Some of the detention center guards are kind; some are arrogant brutes. Minor characters like an interested teacher and volunteering lawyers give the story balance. The distress and maltreatment of Santiago as he lingers in detention as well as his brave struggle to belong to a loving family is heart wrenching and sure to instill empathy and compassion toward a timely situation. Includes a glossary of Spanish terms and extensive resources.

THOUGHTS: Diaz’s writing has a way of creating a fully developed character and a well-rounded setting that arouses true sympathy in readers. This book can provide a reference point to discussions of undocumented immigrants, refugees, migration to America as well as current events around asylum seekers and their reasons for immigration.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – One Girl

Beatty, Andrea. One Girl. Abrams, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. 978-1-419-71905-9. Grades K-3. 

One dejected looking little girl sits all alone on the steps of a remote porch underneath a starry sky when a glowing book falls to her feet like a comet. Immediately upon opening it, her world changes into a brightly colored  fantasyland where books grow on trees and pencils sprout from the earth. As the young girl travels through this wondrous land, she witnesses diverse women working independently as artists, scientists, and leaders. The next morning she races to school to share her treasure with an eager and diverse group of students. Shortly after, she picks up a pencil and begins writing while astonished classmates watch the magic spill from her hand. Next, boys and girls alike follow her lead and begin to read, write, and share their unique stories while elements of their stories: a tiger, a grand piano, a helicopter, and hot air balloons float overhead. Later, by the light of the moon another girl sits on the front steps and watches as several new glowing books fall from the sky. Lovely, repetitive prose “One girl glowing/shares her song” reinforces the beauty of a young girl finding her voice yet also allows the reader to be fully immersed in the opportunities she has opened with her love of books. The young girl protagonist along with her supportive teacher present as Asian with medium-beige skin and beautiful dark hair. Classmates all wear the same school uniform but represent a variety of ethnicities among skin and hair colors.

THOUGHTS: One Girl is a loving tribute to the power of reading, writing, and storytelling. In addition to being a lovely read aloud, this title would make a great introduction to a writing unit or a classroom conversation about how words and actions can affect others. Short and repetitive text surrounded by stunning art with some graphic elements make this a nice option for sharing with pre-readers or English language learners who may need a little nudge to find their reading groove. This book has a place in any school library collection, classroom libraries, and beyond.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – The Lady with the Books

Stinson, Kathy. The Lady with the Books. Kids Can Press, 2020. $17.99. 32 p.  978-1-525-30154-4. Grades 2-5. 

Annelise and her younger brother Peter wander aimlessly through the streets of post-World War Munich. Feeling hungry and dejected, Annelise wonders why people are attempting to clean up the rubble. Outside of a building they join a queue hoping there will be something to eat. Grey, somber streets give the reader a realistic sense of the destruction Germany was facing after the war, but a lovely green tree just outside the building is a beacon of hope. Once inside, the pair is greeted by a room filled with books. Forgetting their woes for an afternoon, the children become completely absorbed. The illustrations skillfully capture a bustling archive brimming with colorful books from around the world. The children return the next day, just in time to listen as the “lady with the books” reads aloud from The Story of Ferdinand complete with translation from English to German. This story is especially comforting to Peter and Annelise, whose father was killed during the war for “standing up to” orders. Although the children cannot borrow books from the exhibit, they are encouraged to read as many books as possible. Whimsical characters and blooming flowers creep into the pages and eventually follow the children home. Annelise is able to find hope among the destruction and vows to join the rebuilding efforts. Graphite pencil and digitally colored illustrations beautifully enhance Annelise’s mood transformation from hopelessness to regaining a childlike sense of wonder. Annelise, Peter and Mama are white with blonde hair while the story lady has the same complexion with short dark hair. Some diversity in skin and hair types is shown among the book exhibition crowds. Backmatter informs the reader that the children in this story stumbled upon an international collection of books at the Haus der Kunst art museum as curated by Jella Lepman. A Jewish refugee who returned home after the war, Lepman managed to create a traveling collection of books that had been previously banned from Germany, including The Story of Ferdinand which she translated and printed by the thousands to distribute among children. Later, she was able to raise enough money to create the International Youth Library, also known as the “Book Castle” and contributed to the formation of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).

THOUGHTS: This picture book provides a nice mix of fantasy and historical fiction for elementary readers to get a glimpse of the impact Jella Lepman and her international book collections made on children recovering from the trauma of war.

813 Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Picture Books – Peep & Egg; Little Green Truck; Cat Nap; Let Me Finish

Gehl, Laura. Peep and Egg: I’m Not Hatching. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016.   978-0-374-30121-7.  32 pp. $16.99. Gr. Pre-K-2.

Peep wants Egg to hatch so that they can have fun together!  But Egg is NOT hatching!  It is too scary out there in the big world! Peep persists and continues to remind Egg of all of the fun things that they could do if she would just hatch; watch the sunrise; ride the sheep; splash in puddles. But Egg continues to say “I’m not hatching,” after each. This cute, highly graphic yet sweet picture book will have kids repeating Egg’s refusal with you and cheering when she ultimately doesn’t want to be left behind.  THOUGHTS:  This is a fun book that gently introduces the topic of fears and how to overcome them.  It is perfect for a younger crowd who will get into the repetition of repeating, “I’m not hatching!”  Students can even create a group story and choose another creature to try to convince to come out ( a turtle;  a hibernating bear; a tadpole) and give excuses and then a solution for how to finally get them to decide to come out!

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Schotter, Roni. Go, Little Green Truck! New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016. 978-0-374-30070-8. 32pp. $16.99. Gr. K-2.

Little Green Truck is the Farmer’s faithful helper.  Then one day, he is replaced by a Big Blue truck that is new and can haul bigger loads.  Little Green truck is forgotten and sad.  Then one day, the farmer’s daughter remembers how gently Little Green took them to town and what a nice small size he is for the narrow lanes at the Farmer’s Market.  So begins Little Green Truck’s transformation.  He is washed and painted.  The little girl paints happy flowers and fruit on his sides.  His engine is replaced with one that runs on corn and soy oil from their vegetables, and just like that Little Green gets a new life!  Little Green is used to haul all of the vegetables, pies, and preserves to the farmers market because he has a gentler ride and a fun new look that all of the customers love. This sweet transformation and repurposing tale is beautifully illustrated by Julia Kuo.  THOUGHTS:  This tale can be used to illustrate how we can repurpose and reuse things that might have otherwise gone into a landfill.  It also might be used to illustrate how we all have a unique purpose.  I loved how Little Green got a hybrid soy oil engine!  This might be a fun way to introduce alternative fuels to the younger set as well!

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Yuly, Toni. Cat Nap. New York: Macmillan, 2016. 978-1-250-05458-6. 32 pp. $16.99. Gr. Pre-K-1.

Cat just wants to sleep.  But Kitten just wants to play.  So Cat thinks up a clever way to get some quiet time, a game of Hide and Seek! Except Kitten is very good at finding Cat.  Too good!  Readers join Kitten in the search to find Cat. Finally exhausted, Cat decides to just go take a nap and finds a surprise waiting in his bed.  THOUGHTS:  This bold graphic tale of Cat and Kitten will delight young readers and perhaps make a good going to bed (or naptime) story.

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy

 

Le, Minh. Let Me Finish. New York: Hyperion, 2016. 978-1-4847-2173-5. 32pp. $16.99. Gr.  K-2.

The young boy has just gotten settled with his new book.  He is excited and anxious to get started.  Then, out of the tree, pop some birds who spoil the plot and tell the ending of the book.  Discouraged, the boy heads back to find another book that he wanted to read.  He sneaks off and finds a quiet spot, but again the animals spoil the book.  Why can’t they just let him finish?!? This hilarious romp to avoid the spoilers and finish the book he wants to read is a problem that many readers can relate to. The action packed illustrations are colorful and full of emotion.   Will he avoid hearing the ending?  Or should he really have listened?  THOUGHTS:  This is a great discussion starter for why students should not be “spoilers” – those who tell the ending of a book or movie and ruin it for others.  It also might be a fun way to talk about where students go to read and not be interrupted.

Picture Book     Donna Fernandez, Calvary Christian Academy