MG – This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work

Jewell, Tiffany. This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work. Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2020. 978-0-711-24521-1. 160 p. $13.09. Grades 5-8.

This handbook provides readers with the answers about racism in America that young people seek but many adults do not have the answers to. Readers will explore more about themselves, how racism came to be, why it has yet to disappear, and how to actively work against racism. A glossary of terms will help beginners understand novel vocabulary words like complicity, assimilate, neurodiverse, and  BIPoC. Graphic art colors every few pages, and activities are provided at natural stopping points to help the reader fully understand and reflect on difficult concepts. The author writes about their own experience so that those who have experienced racism feel heard and others learn about a real person’s experience with racism. Although this book teaches readers about social activism, its main purpose is for readers to help dismantle and work toward ending racism.

THOUGHTS: This book can be used as a workbook to help discover more about oneself or used in book clubs to encourage conversation with others. I recommend this book to every educator seeking to better support their students. I personally like that it is small enough to be carried in a purse, backpack, or back pocket. Any person troubled by current events will benefit from reading this book, especially the section about Taking Action and Responding to Racism.

305.8 Racism          Jaynie Korzi, South Middleton SD

Elem. – I Am Every Good Thing

Barnes, Derrick. I Am Every Good Thing. Nancy Paulson Books, 2020. 978-0-525-51877-8. 32p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

I Am Every Good Thing is a poem that talks about the resilience, challenge, and beauty of being a child. It demonstrates children doing different activities such as making snowballs, riding a skateboard, swimming, and many other activities that children might do throughout their life. The narrator of this book adds to the feeling of “I can do anything I set my mind to” which is carried over with the illustrations. The illustrations done by Gordon James showcase the poetry beautifully and contribute to the feeling the narrator gives throughout the poem.

THOUGHTS: This is a beautiful book that is a vital addition to every school library collection.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Bo the Brave

Woollvin, Bethan. Bo the Brave. Peachtree Publishing, . 978-1-682-63182-9. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

When Bo’s older brothers set off on a monster hunt, she wants to accompany them, but they refuse, telling her she’s too little. Instead of accepting their words, Bo begins her own quest. Each monster she encounters makes her pause, and she takes time to look past first impressions and gets to know each creature’s true nature. This insightfulness ultimately leads her back to her castle where she pulls off her final, most heroic act. A tight palette of orange, pink, teal, and gray provide the inspiration for this alpine world, dotted with mountains, lakes, forests, and seas. Sharp-eyed readers will notice the foreshadowing of each monster from one spread to the next. 

THOUGHTS: Instead of accepting peoples’ opinions, Bo sets out to prove she’s smart and brave and strong. Her self-confidence is refreshing and will inspire readers, particularly girls, to follow their own dreams and set off on their own adventures instead of remaining on the sidelines. Themes of acceptance and not judging based solely on appearance also shine through in this medieval remix. 

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

YA – Six Angry Girls

Kisner, Adrienne. Six Angry Girls. Feiwel and Friends. 2020. 978-1-250-25342-2. $17.99. 262 p. Grades 9-12.

Raina Petree got dumped by big crush boyfriend, Brandon. Emilia Goodwin got dumped by the pompous all-male Mock Trial Team. They join forces to salvage their senior year by forming an all-female Mock Trial Team in their Pittsburgh suburban high school of Steelton drawing on Raina’s drama skills and Millie’s knowledge of the law and research. Adapting the title of the 1950’s movie, Twelve Angry Men, these six angry girls (all but one Caucasian)–overcome heartbreak and self-esteem issues to create a strong challenge to their male counterparts and a serious threat to other Mock Trial Teams as they compete for Nationals. Told in alternating chapters narrated by either Raina or Millie, the book develops a girl power story with the message that people need to stand up for what is right and, especially, stand up for oneself. Author Adrienne Kisner also manages to weave in a subplot involving knitting. Raina searches for an outlet for her grief and joins the knitting group at The Dropped Stitch, a local yarn store. Not only does she learn to cast on and purl, she finds herself involved with activists trying to stop the election of a local magistrate because of his history letting off misogynists and blocking legislation for reproductive rights. Their rebellion manifests itself in yarn-bombing the courthouse with knitted female genitalia. In a twist, the targeted judge turns up volunteering in Mock Trial. At the knitting shop, Raina meets new student Grace who is happy to join an extracurricular activity. Millie falls for Grace and begins to value herself and her time, separating her needs from her helpless father who expects Millie to be chief cook and bottlewasher after her mother moves to Ohio. Though told in a light-hearted manner, the book addresses serious topics, contains a full-range of LBGTQ+ characters, and models the strengths and weaknesses of adults in young people’s lives. What begins as a revenge against the boys story builds with each club meeting, practice, and competition to a triumph of self-identity and self-worth.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: The cover illustration depicts a diverse group of girls, but the two main characters are white. Author Adrienne Kisner is emphasizing gender identity: Millie and Grace form a romantic relationship; Izzy, a minor character, is transgender; the Mock Trial court case for the win centers on gender discrimination. Some parts to be aware of: The Dropped Stitch crew are not shy about using anatomically correct terms, and a smattering of curses appear throughout the dialogue, making it more a high school choice than middle grade. This book has the same feminist fight tone of Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu; and if this suburban, western Pennsylvanian high school resembles yours, Six Angry Girls is an attractive purchase.

Elem. – The World Needs More Purple People

Bell, Kristen & Hart, Benjamin. The World Needs More Purple People. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-0-593-12196-2. 40 p. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

You can hear Kristen Bell’s voice on every page in this adorable story about the importance of being an everyday hero. The moral of the story is to work hard, bring the community together, and use your voice. This book does not offer answers to some of the world’s toughest current issues, but it does offer a primer in recognizing that the world isn’t perfect and it’s hard to be angry if you’re laughing.

THOUGHTS: Although the book isn’t explicitly political, I do wonder if purple comes from combining red and blue (political party colors). A quick, silly read that can keep the attention of the youngest readers.

Picture Book          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD

MG – Forget Me Nat

Scrivan, Maria. Forget Me Nat.  Graphix, an Imprint of Scholastic, 2020.  978-1-338-53825-0. 234 p. $21.69. Grades 3-6.

Natalie is in love with Derek, and she is sure he is in love with her. He wrote her a cute note right before winter break, and he asked her if she wanted to read his comic book. Soon, they were spending a lot of time together, but Natalie spending time with Derek means she’s not spending time with Zoe and Flo, and it also means she’s doing things she doesn’t really like to do, like eating pineapple pizza and joining math club. Natalie’s obsession with Derek could mean the end of her best friendships, and when her feelings aren’t reciprocated, it sends Natalie into a spiral of unhappiness and self-doubt. Natalie will have to learn that self-confidence does not come from a relationship–it comes from within.

THOUGHTS:  Maria Scrivan picks up where she left off with Nat Enough. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Chmakova will enjoy this series.

Graphic Novel          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – You Matter

Robinson, Christian. You Matter. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-5344-2169-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K – 2.

Christian Robinson’s newest picture book has a straightforward message, even while delivering it through a roundabout story: You Matter! In fact, we are all matter, connected from the formation of the earth to the smallest living creatures. The flow of the story goes from a girl looking into a microscope and then off to several prehistoric creatures, before taking a galactic turn from a space station parent to a cityscape child. However, the message all along is meant to apply to all of us – despite hardships or worries or feelings of loneliness – you matter! The illustrations and their progression are delightful to connect and discuss, while the text hopefully hits home for those young readers who need those two reassuring words in a time of uncertainty.

THOUGHTS: The natural connection with this book would be for students to list things that matter to them, or ways that they matter to the world, and then share it with others. This would make for a great opportunity for building friendships and class identity at the start of a school year. Recommended for grades K – 2.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

MG – The Prettiest

Young, Brigit. The Prettiest. Roaring Brook Press, 2020. 978-1-626-72923-0. 301 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Eve Hoffman writes poetry, wears her high-school aged brother’s oversized shirts to distract from her curves, and buries her head in a book so as to not be noticed. She is the most surprised of all her eighth grade classmates to find herself in the top slot on the Prettiest List at Ford Middle School in suburban Michigan. As the principal and teachers try to root out the list’s instigator, both girls on the list and off suffer backlash. Prettiest by Brigit Young is told through the perspectives of the main characters: Eve, a well-developed, shy girl from a conservative Jewish family; Nessa Flores-Brady, her best friend, a theater junkie and a large, Latinx girl; and Sophie Kane, a determined blonde-haired girl whose bossiness and make-up mask the shame she feels about her family’s economic situation. When the ringleader of the mean girls, Sophie, gets knocked off her pedestal and relegated to number two on the list, she realizes the pretense of her groupies and reluctantly joins forces with Nessa and Eve to take down the person who they believe compiled the list. Aided by Winston Byrd, a lone renegade from the popular boys, their chief suspect is Brody Dalton, a wealthy, handsome, and entitled young man who has verbally abused or offended many of his classmates with no remorse. The trio enlist other wronged girls calling themselves Shieldmaidens. They bond in genuine friendship and sisterhood as they plot to expose Dalton’s crime in a public way at the finale of the school play. What starts off as a 21st Century equivalent to a simple slam book story becomes a feminist’s rallying cry for girls to be judged on their merits, not their looks, and for all middle school students to resist fitting into a mold to gain acceptance. It also uncovers the nuances of each person’s story. For example, the arrogant Dalton is the sole student whose parent never attends school events. Young’s talent for echoing the authenticity and humor of preadolescent dialogue enables her to tackle important issues with a light touch. This highly readable work reveals the insecurities embedded in a middle school student’s life: not being cool enough, popular enough, and the pain caused by too much attention and not enough.

THOUGHTS: Though there is some show of diversity here (an African-American girl, a girl in a wheelchair), the emphasis is on the pressure middle school students—especially girls—feel to look and behave a certain way. Lots of discussion points in this book: from the insults the girls receive and their collective show of power to the students’ bandwagon attitude and the sympathetic– but mostly ineffectual– response of the teachers and principal. Prettiest may present as a “girl” book because of its feminine cover and title, but it is definitely a book for all genders to read. For more tales of positive girl power: read Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu in high school.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

YA – It Sounded Better in My Head

Kenwood, Nina. It Sounded Better in My Head. Flatiron Books, 2020. 978-1-250-21926-8. 260 p. $18.99. Grade. 8-12.

Natalie had a good grip on her life until her parents jovially announce they’re getting a divorce. They’ve known this for months but waited until the Christmas holidays and high school graduation (which coincide in Australia, where the book was first published). A rarity for literature, Natalie has a great relationship with her parents and is devastated by the news and hurt by their deceit. She turns to her support network, her best friends Lucy and Zach. But since they started dating, Natalie sometimes feels like a third wheel. Having suffered through severe, scarring acne during puberty, Natalie has a shattered self image and has not dated. At a party, she connects with Alex, Zach’s older brother, but quickly convinces herself Alex’s interest was an act of kindness perpetrated by Zach. But an accidental case of musical bedrooms at a beach house over New Year’s brings Natalie and Alex back into close proximity, and as they talk they again feel a positive connection. However, Natalie’s lack of confidence and poor self image quickly threaten to sabotage the burgeoning relationship. This engaging book covers a topic not discussed in YA literature, the trauma of severe teen acne, and the scars it leaves, both physical and psychological. Natalie is a bright teen with caring parents and friends, but the long term effects of her acne are evident in her image, (styling her hair to cover which side of her face looks worse) confidence, and self-worth. American readers will need to translate Australian terms and references but will recognize themselves in the three friends as they shakily navigate through the next phase in their lives.

THOUGHTS: A welcome addition to YA realistic fiction collections. While some characters have sex off-page, Natalie and Alex discuss the issue and decide they are not ready.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Eighteen-year-old Natalie is looking forward to her well-planned future: she and her close friends and new couple, Zach and Lucy, will join her in their respective majors at a local Australian university. Perhaps then, Natalie will be able to shed some of the body shame she has from her years with inflammatory, scarring acne and finally experience a love life.

When Natalie’s seemingly loving parents announce their divorce on graduation night, Natalie relies even more on her friends, though she’s feeling more and more like a third wheel. As the trio await their uni placements, they join Zach’s family at their beach house in Queenscliff to vacation and celebrate New Year’s. What follows is a comedy of errors. Going against his house rules, Zach asks Natalie if she will trade rooms so he and Lucy can sleep together. Older brother, Alex, shows up at the beach house in the middle of the night and crashes in Zach’s room surprising both Natalie and himself. It doesn’t help that Natalie has a secret crush on handsome Alex since he gave her a peck on the cheek during a game of Spin the Bottle at a pre-graduation party. As their nights together multiply, romance blossoms. The revelation of the pair as boyfriend and girlfriend causes a ruckus not just in Alex’s and Zack’s family but also in Zach’s and Natalie’s relationship. Natalie’s first-person narrative reveals her insecurities in navigating the new terrain of sex and a boy/girl relationship. Though no graphic sex scenes occur, It Sounded Better In My Head does percolate the angst and delight of true friendship, first love, and new beginnings. Author Kenwood makes this story light and funny and her characters seem very real.

THOUGHTS: Natalie spends a lot of time obsessing over her bad skin and her lack of a love life. Natalie and Alex spend a lot of time talking and kissing in bed during the room switch and afterward. At this time when there are so many serious issues abound, Natalie’s common concerns about friendship, sex, appearance, university, and her parents may seem a bit trite; however, young readers may share Natalie’s insecurities and longings and enjoy her sense of humor.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Picture Books – Nerdy Birdy Tweets; Where Oliver Fits; Town is by the Sea

Reynolds, Aaron. Nerdy Birdy Tweets. Ill. Matt Davies, Roaring Brook Press, 2017. 978-1-62672-128-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

“One real live you is worth a thousand Tweetster friends.” and so is the lesson of Nerdy Birdy Tweets, a humourous look at how society manages friendship and what true friendship truly means.  Nerdy Birdy and Vulture are best friends, but when Nerdy Birdy joins Tweetser he ignores Vulture for his hundreds of “friends”, many of whom Nerdy Birdy has never met.  When Vulture joins Tweetster everything seems okay until Nerdy Birdy shares a picture and comment about Vulture that hurts her feelings.  Now, Nerdy Birdy must figure out what to do, but none of his “friends” on Tweetster are helpful.  It’s up to Nerdy Birdy to find Vulture and make things right again because “One real live you is worth a thousand Tweetster friends.”  Thoughts:  This is a wonderful book about friendship and what true friendship is.  It teaches young children to think about your actions before putting them out there for everyone to see.  Many adults could learn from this picture book.  The illustrations, as always, are fabulous.  They are colorful and fun to interact with through both the spoken text and written text.

Picture Book      Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Atkinson, Cale. Where Oliver Fits. Tundra Books, 2017. 978-1-101-91907-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. K-2.

Oliver doesn’t seem to fit in.  He’s too short or not square enough; his color isn’t right, or he’s too round.  He just doesn’t fit in, but Oliver wants to fit in, so he decides to change himself in order to fit in.  He’s accepted by the purple puzzle, but he wonders, “If I have to hide and pretend I’m someone else, am I really still me?”  Then he questions, “And if I can’t be me, then what fun is it to fit in?”  When Oliver decides to just be himself, he realizes that other puzzle pieces have changed their appearances to try to fit in.  He realizes that being oneself is better than trying to fit in because in time one will find his fit.  THOUGHTS:  This is a beautifully, brightly illustrated text about staying true to one’s own character and self.  This is a lesson that everyone needs throughout life and is especially important for students developing their own personalities and character.  The symbolism of Oliver as a puzzle piece is also a great way of introducing symbolism to elementary students.  This is a great picture book not only for elementary students but for character lessons in middle and high school.

Picture Book    Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

 

Schwartz, Joanne. Town Is By the Sea. Ill.  Sydney Smith. Groundwood Books, 2017.  978-15549-8716. $19.95. 52 pp. Gr. K-2.

This picture book follows one day in the life of a Cape Breton boy in the 1950s as he plays by the sea, visits a friend, runs an errand for his mother, and thinks of his father working in the mines deep beneath the sea.  Beautifully illustrated, this is a well-crafted mix of light and dark, seen in the sunshine on the sea vs. the deep dark of the mines and in the freedom of childhood vs. the dirt and weightiness of adulthood.  The boy loves his family and town, and his family loves him.  There is no sadness over their lives or of the change that will come from growing up.  The book matter-of-factly ends, “One day, it will be my turn. I’m a miner’s son. In my town, that’s the way it goes.” THOUGHTS: This is a frank and respectful look at hard expectations, well-written and well-illustrated.  

Picture Book      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD