Elem. – Play Outside!

Moreau, Laurent. Play Outside! Norton Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-324-01547-5. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades K-2. 

It’s a common refrain uttered by parents on a regular basis – “why don’t you go play outside?” Author and illustrator Laurent Moreau puts a creative spin on this refrain in this picture book which was originally published in France in 2018 and appeared on U.S. shelves in a translated edition in 2020. The story features an unnamed brother and sister who are encouraged to play outside by their mother after their horseplay leads to a broken vase. Once outside, the pair travel through a variety of landscapes, including trekking through deserts, climbing mountains, climbing trees in the forest, and sailing on icebergs, among other locales. Each locale features a variety of animals, some common and plentiful, others endangered and facing extinction. At the conclusion of the book, readers can explore an illustrated index showing each animal the children met along their journey and identifying the endangered status of each.

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy the challenge using the index to help them try to locate the 250 animal species hidden in Moreau’s vibrant artwork. This title could easily be incorporated into lessons involving endangered species and the importance of protecting the environment, themes which are also reinforced within the text of the storyline.

Picture Book          Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

MG – The True Definition of Neva Beane

Kendall, Christine. The True Definition of Neva Beane. Scholastic, 2020. 978-1-338-32489-1. $17.99. Grades 3-7.

While Neva Beane’s parents are on a summer singing tour abroad, she and her sixteen-year-old brother, Clay, are staying with their grandparents in West Philadelphia. The new girl across the street, Michelle Overton, is only a year older than Neva, but Michelle’s full figure and bikini outfits has Neva feeling inexperienced and babyish. In addition, Clay is preoccupied with the community organizing Michelle’s father is spearheading, and Neva’s best friend Jamila is busy preparing for her family vacation in Ghana. It’s a hot time in the city this summer, though. People are protesting unfair practices in housing and wages.  Against his grandparents’ orders, Clay is surreptitiously leading the youth branch of the protests. Although they were activists when they were younger, Nana and Grandpa now believe their duty is to protect their grandchildren which means keeping them away from the protests. Neva feels left out, but so does her grandmother—especially when her grandson forges her signature on the permission slip for a protest. Twelve-years-old and on the cusp of being a teen, Neva grapples with many conflicting feelings: she’s intimidated by Michelle but admires her, too; she values her friendship with Jamila, but they seem out of step; she’s homesick for her parents but doesn’t want her selfishness to stop their success; she’s wants to support the good cause but is anxious about protesting. Christine Kendall has produced a middle grade novel that recreates a Black American neighborhood against the backdrop of a tumultuous summer. Not only is the appealing character of Neva well-developed and identifiable to other readers her age, but the other characters are equally as genuine. Neva’s fascination with words is an added bonus to the book. This page-turning book will be a favorite and also boost the reader’s vocabulary!

Realistic Fiction    Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: With the mention of familiar street names and places and the extremely relatable main character and timely setting, this book will fly off the shelves at my library. This book is an incentive to learn how to use the dictionary and improve one’s vocabulary and spelling. Food for thought in classroom social/emotional discussions is Neva’s processing of social activism.

YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

MG – We Dream of Space

Kelly, Erin Entrada. We Dream of Space. Greenwillow Books, 2020. 978-0-062-74730-3. 391 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

This story, told in multiple points of view, follows the Nelson Thomas kids (Cash, Fitch, and Bird) as they navigate life through 7th grade in the mid 1980s. Cash, the oldest sibling, is repeating 7th grade and is in danger of having to repeat it again if he doesn’t get his act together! Fitch spends all day trying to keep his temper in check and every afternoon in the arcade, and Bird, Fitch’s twin, just wants to be an astronaut. With their parents constantly arguing and emotionally distant from their children, Bird just wants someone to notice her. Spending her days dreaming of becoming the first shuttle commander, while following every step of the coming Challenger launch, has left Bird wanting. Wanting to be noticed, wanting to belong, and wanting to be in space. This book contains a section about the Challenger Disaster and a page of resources to learn more.

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection. Kelly does it again with her captivating writing. Will be in my Top 5 for 2020.

Realistic Fiction          Krista Fitzpatrick- Waldron Mercy Academy

Elem./MG – Allergic: A Graphic Novel

Lloyd, Megan Wagner. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. Illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter. Graphix, 2020. 978-1-338-56891-2. 240 p. $24.99. Grades 3-6.

With younger twin brothers and a new baby on the way, Maggie feels alone in her loving family. She’s convinced her parents, who are preoccupied with baby names and other preparations, to let her adopt a puppy that will be her own. Maggie has been looking forward to her tenth birthday for a long time, since this is the day she gets her perfect pet. At the animal shelter, however, Maggie breaks out into a severe rash, and she learns that she’s allergic to anything with fur. So much for her puppy. Devastated, but determined to find the perfect pet, Maggie begins research, as she works her way through allergy shots and makes a new friend. Told in colorful graphic panels, readers will enjoy Maggie’s attempts at finding a perfect pet and will appreciate her frustration when things go awry with her new friend.

THOUGHTS: Readers with any allergies, but especially those allergic to pets, will felt represented in this cute graphic novel. A great addition to elementary and middle grade collections.

Graphic Novel          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – This is the Path the Wolf Took

Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Saucy

Kadohata, Cynthia. Saucy. Atheneum Books, 2020. 978-1-534-47597-7. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 3-6. 

As one of a set of quadruplets, Becca frequently worries about who she is, and what is her “thing.” Her brother Jammer is an obsessive ice hockey player. Her brother K.C. is a math and science genius, who theorizes our existence is actually a simulation designed by another life form. And other brother, Bailey, composes music. But Becca just can’t figure out what makes her unique. So when she finds a dying piglet while on a family walk one evening, she believes she has found her calling: saving Saucy, so dubbed because of her obvious attitude. But Becca quickly learns that sickly pigs require expensive veterinary care, and healthy pigs are rambunctious and destructive. And grow rapidly. But Becca, having spent her 12 years trying not to take up time and money, because Jammer’s hockey and Bailey’s medical needs (he is in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy) take up so much of the family’s resources, feels she’s owed some leeway. Besides, everyone in the family is falling in love with Saucy. Eventually, the siblings determine Saucy escaped from a large commercial pig farm, and Saucy is sent to live at a nearby pig sanctuary. The story is lovely, slice-of-life Kadohata writing (she shows off her hockey-mom chops again), and the relationship between the four siblings is sweet and caring. As different as the four are, they support each other, a revelation that seems to surprise Becca, who is used to feeling outside and overlooked. The conditions of large pig farms are detailed when Becca and her brothers sneak into a building one night to see where Saucy came from. While the transition from sweet animal story to commercial meat producing exposé is a bit awkward, readers will no doubt be properly appalled.

THOUGHTS: A sweet story perfect for readers who love animals, or are realistic fiction fans. Any reader with siblings will sympathize with how Becca feels out-of-step with her brothers. A first choice for most libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Danger on the Reef

Maddox, Jake. Danger on the Reef. Stone Arch Books, 2020. 978-1-496-58700-8. 72 p. $5.95. Grades 2-4.

Jasmine is already a certified scuba diver, and she loves diving with her parents who are marine biologists. She knows how far she is allowed to dive, how to check her diving buddy for safety, and how to calmly react in any situation. Her younger brother Arjun, however, has not been a good diving buddy. He tries to swim farther than he is allowed, interact with the wildlife, and doesn’t listen to his diving buddy. Jasmine is frustrated with him…how can he learn to be a marine biologist if he isn’t safe? Things can take a deadly turn when you are deep in the water, and they just might if Arjun doesn’t learn to be a good diving buddy!

THOUGHTS: An enjoyable Jake Maddox adventure story! Fans of Jake Maddox’s sport series will love reading his adventure books.

Realistic Fiction          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Bad Sister

Harper, Charise Mericle, and Rory Lucey. Bad Sister. First Second. 2021. 978-1-250-21905-3. 240 p. $12.99. Grades 3-6.

Is Cherise really a bad sister to her younger brother Daniel? As the oldest, her need to dominate dictates her actions. Whatever the situation, she makes the rules and he plays along. The games (spinning in inner tubes, climbing into dumpsters, playing lawn hockey) end when someone gets hurt, cries, or both — and it usually isn’t Cherise. She wants to be good and truthful, but she continues to lie and cheat to get her way. Daniel, naturally trusting and empathetic, forgives his sister over and over again, even when she’s downright mean. But two accidents with serious, painful consequences test the limits of Daniel’s (and their parents’) ability to forgive and forget. Rory Lucey’s retro color palette and artwork perfectly represent Cherise’s childhood memories. He depicts their deep sibling bond by portraying them together in almost every panel. While mentioned briefly, it’s unfortunate that the author did not better develop her experience of Prosopagnosia (“face blindness”) or include a note with more information about the cognitive disorder.

THOUGHTS: Bad Sister is the kind of graphic memoir that leaves the reader longing to know what happens next in the author’s life. It’s highly recommended for readers of Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland, Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley, and Short & Skinny by Mark Tatulli.

Graphic Memoir          Amy V. Pickett, Ridley SD

Elem. – A Year of Everyday Wonders

Klein, Cheryl B. A Year of Everyday Wonders. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-419-74208-8. Unpaged. $16.99. PreK-2.

Beginning on the first day of a new year, this story follows a young girl through all of a child’s “firsts” within the course of the year. There’s the first snowfall, the first green, the first beach trip, the first new teacher, the first Christmas gift–and much more in between. Not all of the experiences are positive; for instance, there are colds, storms, and many sibling fights. However, it is these everyday moments that ultimately make up a year’s worth of memories. This is an endearing story about living in the present and cherishing the small moments, good and bad.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great story to read with beginning readers, as the text is very succinct and somewhat repetitive, and the illustrations provide wonderful context clues. It would also make an excellent introduction to the four seasons in a preschool or kindergarten classroom. Have students bring in photographs of their “firsts” throughout the year and create scrapbooks. This book provides many possibilities for learning and connecting with students and should therefore be a strong consideration for purchase by preschool and elementary teachers and librarians.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member