Elem. – Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair

Ohora, Zachariah. Fuzzy, Inside & Out: A Story about Small Acts of Kindness and Big Hair. Abrams, 2021. 978-1-419-75190-5 p. 40. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Fuzzy Haskins is the best kind of friend. He has a huge heart and spreads cheer and goodwill everywhere he goes in his neighborhood. His community counts on him, and he is loved and adored by his neighbors. Fuzzy is active and fast-thinking, but his one challenge is his unruly hair! It takes two blow dryers to dry completely, and the humidity is most definitely his enemy! Author Zachariah Ohora depicts Fuzzy as the excellent character he is, both inside and out, in his picture book Fuzzy, Inside & Out. When Fuzzy gets into a dilemma of his own, it’s up to the community that relies on him to come through and help him out of his own predicament. As they say, “it takes a village,” and Fuzzy’s village is full of heart and resilience too. 

THOUGHTS: It is always a gem when a story oozes love and big-hearted acts of kindness, but it is even more delicious when the characters exude coolness and confidence. Fuzzy may have excessive hair that gets in the way, but it works for him, as does his everyday acts of generosity towards his friends and community. This adorable picture book is enjoyable to read!  Readers will want a friend like Fuzzy or be inspired to BE a friend like Fuzzy! 

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. – 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. – Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight

Muirhead, Margaret. Flip! How the Frisbee Took Flight. Charlesbridge. 978-1-580-89880-5. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Toss, glide, catch, repeat! Frisbees are some of the top-selling toys of all time, and this title explores their history. In the 1920s, east-coast college kids began flinging empty pie plates from the Frisbie bakery. The fad soon spread from campus to campus. Around the same time, in California, a high school football player named Fred Morrison began tossing a flat, tin popcorn lid with his girlfriend. They were amazed how the lid hovered, dipped, and glided through the air. When the tin lid became too dented to fly straight, the pair experimented with pie plates and cake pans. When someone offered to buy the cake pan from Fred after seeing him tossing it around on the beach, Fred was hooked with the idea of introducing the fun to others. Over the next several years, Fred tweaked the materials for the flying discs and capitalized on America’s obsession with aliens and flying saucers. Eventually, he sold his design to the Wham-O toy company who helped give the toy national recognition. Full-page retro-style gouache illustrations capture the excitement of a game of frisbee from all angles, making readers feel like they are ready to fling the flying disc themselves. An Author’s Note includes details about other colleges that claim to have invented the game of frisbee as well as additional information about Fred’s persistence and creative energy. 

THOUGHTS: This title will be an asset to units about inventions, and it also highlights STEM concepts, particularly ideas about creating prototypes and perfecting designs. It also can be integrated into social-emotional discussions, particularly those centering on resilience and perseverance. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
796.2 Activities and Games

Elem./MG – A Glasshouse of Stars

Marr, Shirley. A Glasshouse of Stars. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-48883-0. 246 p.  $17.99. Grades 4-6.

Meixing has just arrived in a New Land to live in a New House with her parents. She and her mother and father have traveled from the Old Land to live with First Uncle, but he passed away only weeks before their arrival and now they are adrift in a strange place, not quite speaking the right language and not quite understanding the right customs. When tragedy strikes Meixing’s family, she retreats into the backyard of her new home and discovers a magical world hidden away in a broken down greenhouse where the ghost of First Uncle helps her discover her inner strength. Meixing displays incredible courage in the face of xenophobia in her new school as she tries to learn her place in this New Land, but new friends and an understanding new teacher also help her overcome her family’s difficulties as they begin to build a life in the New Land.

THOUGHTS: This story offers a unique glimpse into the struggles of immigrant children who deal with poverty, discrimination, and cultural miscommunication. The magical realism in this book provides Meixing with a symbolic escape from her troubles and a way to process her feelings with the help of her family, and adds a beautiful, lyrical layer to the storytelling. This story would be an excellent addition to studies about the immigrant experience, and should be added to collections with a focus on immigrant experiences and diverse voices.

Realistic Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – The Little Butterfly That Could

Burach, Ross. The Little Butterfly That Could. Scholastic, Press, 2021. 978-1-338-61500-5 p. 40. $17.99. Grades K-3.

In Ross Burach’s The Very Impatient Caterpillar, we met a very dramatic yet adorable caterpillar-turned-butterfly. The little critter learns the importance of patience in a STEM-friendly picture book that integrates facts on metamorphosis. Fabulous news! Our favorite impatient butterfly is back in Ross Burach’s companion tale titled: The Little Butterfly That Could. In this comical picture book, our adorable butterfly is distressed and anxious as ever as the realization sets in that he must migrate 200 miles away. Lucky for him, he meets a gentle and encouraging whale that helps the butterfly build confidence to start his migration journey. Armed with new tools, the butterfly learns a lesson in perseverance and resilience.

THOUGHTS: Ross Burach’s second tale of this silly caterpillar-turned-butterfly will elicit giggles and laughs with every age reader! Written through dialogue from each character, the story will appeal to Mo Willlem fans while teaching STEM-related themes in science. A great companion to any school or classroom library!

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – Sticks and Stones

Polacco, Patricia. Sticks and Stones. Simon & Schuster, 2020. Unpaged. 978-1-534-42622-1. $18.99. Grades 2-4.

In another story based on her childhood, Polacco has created a heartwarming tale about the school year she spent with her father in Michigan. Trisha is eager to start middle school with her summer friends, but they desert her at the front door. She is on her own until a skinny boy with glasses called Thom helps her find her first class. The pair sits with a quiet girl named Ravanne, who is artistic and another outsider. A bully named Billy calls Trisha “Cootie” because of a nervous rash on her face and gives Thom and Ravanne the cruel nicknames “Sissy Boy” and “Her Ugliness.” The trio become fast friends as they deal with taunts from Billy and his gang. The three friends go kite flying with hand painted silk kites made by Ravanne and have a great time on Halloween, until Billy steals their candy. Trisha learns that she and Thom share a love of ballet and that he takes ballet lessons.  His secret is revealed to the other students when Thom easily clears the high jump bar, which Billy just failed to do. Thom shouts out, “See what ballet can do for you!” which is overheard by Billy and the coach. The bully is furious that the coach wants Thom to try out for the team and confronts him on his way home, breaking his glasses. Sick of the bullying, Thom announces that he is going to perform a dance in the talent show. Because he cannot see well with the broken glasses, Ravanne and Trisha help their friend with stage blocking. At the talent show, Thom dances the part of Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake and his classmates are amazed at his “high and powerful” leaps and other athletic moves. Thom’s brave performance earns him respect from his classmates. Polanco’s signature illustrations are done with pencil and acetone markers. The kite flying drawings contain so much movement that the reader can almost feel the wind. In the author’s note, the reader learns what her Michigan friends are doing today.

THOUGHTS: This is a powerful story of bullying and resilience. Although the text is wordy, it will still hold interest as a read aloud, because of the dialogue and pictures. It is a good choice for guidance counselors or classroom teachers for character lessons.  A worthwhile purchase and one of Polacco’s better works.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Hubbard, Rita Lorraine. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020. 978-1-5247-6828-7. $17.99. 40 p. Grades K-3.

As a child born into slavery, Mary Walker admires the freedom of birds that pass over the plantation. She spends her days toiling in the fields picking cotton, which leaves no time for schooling of any kind. After the Emancipation Proclamation sets her free at the age of 15, Mary works as a nanny and a maid to keep her family afloat. One day, she meets a group of evangelists who gifts her a Bible. Mary vows that she will read it one day, but today is not that day. Work consumes the next six decades of her life until she moves to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Having outlived her entire family, her life changes when she moves to a retirement home, and, at 116 years old, takes a reading class. Caldecott Honor illustrator Oge Mora uses paper, including sheet music and pages from books, to create beautiful collages in shades of brown, green, yellow, and blue. Readers should take care to notice how Mary’s dress changes throughout the book, especially once she learns to read.

THOUGHTS: Even though The Oldest Student is geared towards K-3 students, ALL students can take away the very important message of the book: No one is ever too old to learn. This inspiring book is a gentle way to ease into difficult conversations about slavery, race, and education in our society. With the current emphasis on growth mindset in the classroom, this is the perfect book to show that learning and growing continue long after school is over.

Picture Book          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD
921 WAL Biography

Mary Walker’s inspirational story, beautifully illustrated in this picture book biography, proves you’re never too old to learn. Born a slave in 1848, Mary never gave up on her lifelong dream of learning how to read. And, at age 116, she finally accomplished it. This book follows Mary from her childhood spent picking cotton on an Alabama plantation, through her emancipation at age 15, to her life spent working low-paying jobs and raising her three children. Mary always dreamed of learning to read, but there never seemed to be enough hours in the day. Finally, at age 114, after outliving her entire family, Mary attended her first reading class. From memorizing the alphabet and each letter’s sound to copying her name over and over again, Mary spent more than a year studying and practicing. Her dedication paid off when, at age 116, she finally learned to read. Friends and neighbors gathered around to hear her read aloud from her cherished family Bible. Oge Mora’s mixed media illustrations, composed of acrylic paint, china marker, colored pencil, patterned paper, and book clippings, bring Mary’s memorable story to life. Beautiful full-page illustrations feature a palette of primarily blues and greens and yellows. Endpapers include black and white photographs of Mary Walker celebrating some of her milestones.

THOUGHTS: Teachers will want to share this inspirational story with older students during morning meetings. It will also work well with lessons or units focusing on perseverance or the importance of working towards a goal.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD
Biography

As a young slave girl, Mary Walker would look up at the birds while working in the fields and imagine what it would be like to be free as a bird. When she was 15 the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, and Mary’s dream of being free was realized. However, that didn’t mean the end of hard work and a lack of education. As a teen Mary was given a Bible, and she vowed to one day learn to read the words written in that book. But marriage, children, and work took up Mary’s time, and she never learned to read. Until…at 114 years old and alone (her three boys and husband since passed), Mary heard about a class in her retirement building that taught folks to read. Mary joined the class and never looked back. She was proclaimed the nation’s oldest student by the US Department of Education when she was 117! Mary lived to 121! The endpapers include photos of Mary later in her life.

THOUGHTS: This amazing story is one of resilience and determination. It is beautifully illustrated by Oge Mora. This must purchase will make a great read aloud for any age.

306 Social Sciences          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy

YA – Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard

Brown, Echo. Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-30985-3. $17.99. 291 p. Grades 9 and up.

The reader meets the main character of Echo Brown’s Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard at age six in a dangerous situation and follows her until she embarks to college. On the way, Echo is becoming a wizard –not the Hermione Granger kind–but the kind made from determination and desire. Each chapter in this memoir-like novel includes a quality Echo, the Black girl of the title, assumes to realize her true self. Bad things happen as Echo treads that path to her goal: household rife with alcoholism and addiction; molestation; rape; incarceration of her brother; injury to her best friend. But author Brown realizes Echo’s existence is complex. Her mother craves the “white rocks;” but she, too, is a wizard with nurturing powers. Her brothers hang on the corner and drink too much; but they also have dreams and are their sister’s strongest champions. Echo has good friends, mostly Black, but also Jin, a Korean-American gay classmate, and Elena, an Iranian-American gay friend. (Their sexual orientation is irrelevant to the plot.) Her Cleveland neighborhood is supportive and proud of her accomplishments. She has an encouraging teacher, Mrs. Delaney, who takes Echo under her wing to help her attain her college goals. The first time she goes to Mrs. Delaney’s large, suburban home, Echo is shocked to discover her white teacher’s husband is Black. Seventeen and insecure, she senses his restrained and even dismissive opinion of her. The author has an ineffable talent for infusing these important themes of racism, white supremacy, implicit and explicit biases, micro-aggressions, Black versus Black aggression, self image among Black women, and misogyny among Black men seamlessly because she tells them as part of Echo’s story. At times, the author takes a non-linear approach to deliver Echo’s tale, especially when the lessons of wizardry are at work. This technique fits with the book. It is a study in opposites: real but fantastic; lovely but harsh; despairing but hopeful. It is a story of inequity and the innate ability to fight that inequity and succeed, hence the power of wizardry. In truth, the wizards are strong women, overcoming flaws and shortcomings. All of them show Echo how capable and resilient she is.

THOUGHTS: Echo Brown’s writing style is moving. Ms. Brown also differentiates between the main character’s standard English narrative and Ebonics of her family and Cleveland, Ohio, neighbors. Because of some language (the n word), sexual scenes, and the sophistication of the writing, this book may be better suited to older teens and young adults. An outstanding book.

Magic Realism          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia