Elem. – A Person Can Be…

Kokias, Kerri. A Person Can Be... Kids Can Press, 2022. 978-1-525-30487-3. $18.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.

Human beings are complicated. It is entirely possible to be more than one thing – in fact, it is possible for one person to embody opposite attributes. The opening pages of this sweet picture book show a neighborhood street. Simply drawn houses and yards are full of children and adults. As we look closer and peek into each home or backyard, we see that each person depicted is full of contradictions. A mother might think that feeding the family dog under the table is naught, but the dog thinks this act is kind. A young girl feeding a pet cat is careful while filling the bowl, but clumsy when she knocks over the entire bag of cat food. A boy with a huge bunch of balloons is lucky, and yet unlucky when one balloon escapes. It is possible to be loved and yet feel lonely; trying something new is exciting, yet can make you feel nervous. Delightful illustrations by Carey Sookocheff clearly focus on facial expressions to indicate each character’s feelings, despite what the bigger picture portrays.

THOUGHTS: A Person Can Be… cleverly shows young readers that no one is solely one thing or another. We all are complex and even contradictory at times. Young children often grapple with understanding this concept. This book provides concrete examples of how simple, everyday activities, behaviors, and emotions can be at times contradictory. A great read aloud with plenty to discuss.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – A Blue Kind of Day

Tomlinson, Rachel. A Blue Kind of Day. Penguin Random House, 2022. 978-0-593-32401-1. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PK-2.

Childhood mental health is the focus of this sympathetic story. Coen wakes up feeling blue; he doesn’t want to get out of bed. He can’t be enticed by dad or mom to get up, he has no interest in going out to play, laughing or cuddling with his teddy bear. But his loving family does not get frustrated or give up on Coen. Instead, they support him and wait with him until he is ready to accept their warmth and care and slowly begin to crawl out of the dark cave of blueness. Tomlinson, a registered psychologist, deftly describes the physical feeling of depression in terms a child will recognize: heavy, prickly, angry, while Tori-Jay Mordey’s soft, digital illustrations add emphasis to the story. Coen is shown restlessly trying to deal with his emotions, while his anxious family hovers nearby, attempting to determine the best course of action, which ends up being snuggles and patience. Tomlinson includes an author’s note with additional information on childhood depression. While the book is an important tool dealing with an under-represented topic, many children will recognize the experience of simply  feeling out of sorts, and be reassured that they are not unique. Coen and his family are represented as multiracial. 

THOUGHTS: This book hits a perfect note in approaching the topic of childhood depression and will serve as an excellent conversation starter with young children. 

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – My Brother Is Away

Greenwood, Sara. My Brother Is Away. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-12716-2. Unpaged. Grades K-3. $18.99.

Drawing from her own family background, Greenwood has penned a story which will resonate with children experiencing feelings of loss and abandonment due to the incarceration of a family member. The unnamed narrator is a young girl who is sad that her brother no longer lives with her and her parents. She misses his storytelling and remembers when they would fly kites or when he carried her on his shoulders as they gazed at the stars. Her classmates and the neighborhood children ask where he is, but the only answer she gives is that he is busy, even though she would like to say that he is at a job or with friends. One day a student reveals to everyone on the school playground that the “brother did something bad,” and the young girl goes through the emotions of embarrassment and then anger directed at her brother. Her parents comfort her and explain that they will visit her brother soon. After a long trip, the family arrives at a “building ringed with silver fences,”-a prison. The siblings reunite, and the girl understands that even though he is not at home he still loves her. As she sees the other family visitors, she realizes she is not alone in this situation. In the author’s note, Greenwood reveals that her own brother was incarcerated for eight years when she was a child. Just like the narrator in this story, the author felt alone and was comforted by seeing other visitors at the prison. Uribe’s illustrations are done in Photoshop. The colors are soft and muted, which help create a melancholy, but reassuring, tone.

THOUGHTS: This picture book handles a sensitive topic in a way that is accessible to young children and will be appreciated by families and guidance counselors. A touching story that is a must-have for elementary collections.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, PSLA Member, Retired

Elem. – The Year We Learned to Fly

Woodson, Jacqueline. The Year We Learned to Fly. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2022. 978-0-399-54553-5. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Stuck inside on a rainy day, an African American brother and sister follow their grandmother’s advice to let their imaginations take them away to another place. Soon, they are able to use their minds to fly away from all of the challenges life throws at them. When they’re mad, they fly away from the anger. When they move away and their new neighbors look at them funny, they fly away from the judgment and skepticism. Their grandmother tells them this ability to free their beautiful, brilliant minds and rise above adversity comes from their ancestors who, many years ago, overcame the challenges of slavery in a similar manner. 

THOUGHTS: This is a remarkable story about strength, resiliency, and the power of one’s imagination. An author’s note honors the ancestors who suffered through the horrors of enslavement and acknowledges the influence of Virginia Hamilton in this story (and other stories). This would make an excellent introduction to a unit on slavery, or it could be paired with Hamilton’s The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (1985). It can also be given to children who lack confidence to encourage them to believe in the power of their dreams. An uplifting and inspiring story, this book belongs in every elementary library.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – One Thursday Afternoon

DiLorenzo, Barbara. One Thursday Afternoon. Flyaway Books, 2022. 978-1-974-88837-1. $18.00. 40 p. Grades K-3.

When Granddad picks Ava up after school on Thursday, she just wants to go home. She is having a bad day and would just like to be alone. Granddad suggests the two go for a picnic and to the woods to paint together. He promises not to talk so that the two can be alone together. Granddad drives to a nature trail, where he and Ava have a quick snack and then set up to paint. Granddad encourages Ava to use all of her senses before she uses her paintbrush. Ava takes time to be aware of the smells, sights, and sounds of the woods, and she finds herself suddenly overcome with emotion. She explains to Granddad that she is upset because her school practiced a lockdown drill today. Granddad listens patiently, gently acknowledges Ava’s feelings, and admits that he too was scared of emergency drills when he was in school. As the two continue to paint and talk, Ava begins to feel better. Talking helped, as did being in nature, concentrating on her senses, and creating art. Throughout, Granddad provides an excellent example of how to be a good listener and how to approach discussing difficult and scary topics with young children. 

THOUGHTS: Simple and straightforward, this is a beautiful picture book that will be an excellent addition for school library Social-Emotional Learning collections. DiLorenzo is careful never to detail the specifics of the lockdown drill or the reasons schools have to practice them. Granddad only promises to listen and be present for Ava. A well-crafted story that models active listening and provides an excellent example of how to handle tough conversations with children who are anxious. 

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Brave Every Day

Ludwig, Trudy. Brave Every Day. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 978-0-593-30637-6. $24.99. 40 p. Grades PK-2.

Camila worries all the time. When she worries, she likes to hide. Her world is filled with what ifs and can’t. Classmates make fun of Camila. Her teacher doesn’t seem to understand or notice how anxious she is. When a field trip to an aquarium overwhelms Camila, she tries to hide behind a potted plant. She isn’t alone. Kai, who loves everything about the ocean and its inhabitants, is also overwhelmed by the crowd, the noise, and the opportunity to touch a real live stingray. Kai begs Camila to go with him to the Sea Friends Meet & Greet exhibit. Camila is nervous, but realizes helping her friend makes her want to try to overcome her own fear. Camila steps out of her comfort zone and enters the exhibit with Kai. Here she learns about a sea creature who hides to protect itself: the octopus. Camilla returns to school eager to share what she has learned, and encouraged to try to be brave when she has the urge to hide. End notes include questions for discussion, and a recommended reading list.

THOUGHTS: Many children bravely face challenges big and small at school every day. This social-emotional book can provide comfort for children with anxiety, with simple language to use when feeling worried or overwhelmed. The book can also help to educate peers on the difficulties their classmates encounter and the bravery they show every day in many small ways. Beautifully illustrated in cool, layered, aquarium tones by Patrice Barton.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story About Understanding

Kerascoët. I Forgive Alex: A Simple Story About Understanding. Random House Studio, 2022. 978-0-593-38150-2. $17.99. 32 p. Grades PK-3.

This is a wordless picture book with a simple, but powerful message. As the story begins, a school age child eagerly approaches the school yard, excited to show his friends something in his backpack. An art portfolio is revealed, and several friends spread the pages across a bench to admire the artwork. Alex, with a splash of bright red hair, dashes past the bench. Alex is taunting two students, playing keep-away with a basketball. When Alex tosses the basketball high over the heads of his dismayed schoolmates, the ball lands on the bench covered in artwork. The artwork falls in a puddle and is ruined. Classmates are incensed and rally behind the young artist, quickly trying to comfort him. Their sense of righteous indignation is palpable as they march en masse toward an adult standing at the door to the school. The next several pages depict scenes alternating between friends comforting the artist, and intentionally ostracizing Alex. At the end of the school day Alex offers a simple wave to the artist across the playground. The artist accepts this invitation to talk, and the two boys eventually shake hands. Alex tosses the basketball to the artist, and everyone joins in the game. The next day Alex makes amends, offering the artist a piece of art showing the artist dunking a basket while Alex cheers. End notes include questions for discussion, vocabulary words, and lesson suggestions.

THOUGHTS: A delightfully illustrated story that does not need words to convey the plot and meaning. School age children will immediately recognize this situation. The discussion questions and lesson suggestions make this a perfect book for social-emotional learning.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

Elem. – Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun

Khan, Hena. Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun. Salaam Reads, 2022.  978-1-534-49759-7. 127 p. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Zara and her brother Zayd are anxiously watching activity at the house across the street, curious to see who is moving into the vacant home. Will the people have children their ages? Zara, the confident leader of the neighborhood kids, is delighted when new neighbors move in and she meets Naomi, who is exactly her age. However, Zara’s enthusiasm vanishes rapidly when Naomi unintentionally changes the dynamic of Zara’s friend group with her charisma and fresh ideas. Zara suddenly feels like an outsider. Determined to reclaim her role as Queen of the Neighborhood, she decides breaking a Guinness World Record will be sufficiently attention-getting. But Zara quickly discovers that record-breaking is tough work. Worse, Naomi decides she wants to break a record, too. Zara is frustrated, but Naomi’s sympathetic overtures help Zara understand why her old friends are annoyed with her. Eventually she hits on the perfect plan to bring the neighborhood back together. Zara is an exuberant almost 11-year-old who takes for granted her role as leader, and views herself as keeping her friends’ games and activities fair. When the status quo is disturbed, feelings are hurt. But she observes how Naomi interacts with everyone, and realizes her prior behavior may have been a bit overbearing. Young readers familiar with friendship turmoils will relate to Zara’s situation of suddenly feeling like an outsider. Zara and Zayd are Pakistani; Naomi’s family is Jewish; and other friends are Black, white, and Asian. 

THOUGHTS: An entertaining story that addresses jealousy and friendship issues in an easily relatable way. The book is noted as the first in a series, so look for more adventures with Zara. 

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – Wondering Around

Fleming, Meg. Wondering Around. Illustrated by Richard Jones.  Beach Lane Books, 2022. Unpaged. $18.99 978-1-534-44935-0. Grades PK-2.

“Out for a hike, or a climb, or a ride–what do you wonder when you wander outside?” This whimsically illustrated book asks readers to answer this question everywhere they go. In the rain, near forest animals, underwater, under rocks… what do you see there, and what can you imagine there? After wandering through many places, the book shows several students drawing their own pictures, one student gazing thoughtfully (wondering) at his own. He incorporates some of the images from his classmates’ work–on his paper or in his mind. “Think and blink on everything. On wing. On foot. On fin. Wander on the outside…and wander on the in.”

THOUGHTS: This book successfully breathes life into places using imagination, encouraging readers to stop and consider, re-think, explore, and imagine. The illustrations work well to open up the pages using dazzling colors and light as a variety of children wander and wonder. This book is well-placed to inspire artists, writers, and wanderers to see their environment and see beyond, making the most of the possibilities of imagination.   

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Not Enough Lollipops

Maynor, Megan. Not Enough Lollipops. Illustrated by Micah Player. Random House Kids, 2022. Unpaged. $17.99 978-0-593-37256-2. Grades PK-2. 

Alice wins the school raffle: a huge basket of lollipops! Suddenly, she is the center of attention, receiving many requests from wide-eyed schoolmates of varying ages. Then worry strikes: what if there are not enough lollipops? Now Alice hears much advice, like “I always saved you a seat!” “Don’t count the new kid, he’s not a real classmate,” “I scraped my knee” (with accompanying tears).  Alice is under pressure to part with her pops, and the desperation shows on the kids’ faces. When she’s had enough of the talk, she decides, “What if I don’t choose? What if I say everyone can handle a lollipop?  Everyone deserves one. Everyone counts.” Still people worry there may not be enough, but Alice counters, “what if there are?” A line forms and lollipops are distributed, one apiece. Typical personalities come through, from “I can’t wait!” to “There won’t be enough. You’ll see.” And some say thanks while others are upset to receive just one. Alice gives out numerous colors and flavors, and they all discover that there were enough lollipops! This begins some apologizing, like “I used to be the new kid…” All seem content, until a first-grader asks about the extras, and Alice faces the same problem.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a fun read-aloud, and could generate some important talk about fairness and decision-making, expectations and exceptions. Coloring lollipops and identifying flavors–and charting favorite flavors, totaling how many for all schoolmates–allows this book to touch on important skills.

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD