Elem. – A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control

Alber, Diane. A Little Spot of Frustration: A Story About Self-Control. Diane Alber Art LLC, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-951-28764-1. $11.99 (paper) Grades K-2. 

The book opens with Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot introducing themselves to two children, explaining that they can help when a Frustration Spot shows up. Frustration Spot shows up when something happens that we can’t control, and it can be good, because it can show that we are learning or being challenged. But because it can turn into an Angry Spot so quickly, it’s important to know how to help a Frustration Spot. Flexible Thinking Spot and Calm Spot show the two children a token with a special message on each side. One side, labeled “Frustration Flip,” lists some things we can’t control: “what others say, what others do, the weather, the future, and others’ mistakes.’  The other side, labeled “Calm and In Control,” lists some things we can control: my words, my actions, my attitude, my expectations, my choices, and my effort. With a diagram of the body, the two Spots share four warning signs of: Feel hot! Feel like yelling! Upset stomach, or Pounding heart. They explain that if we feel any warning signs, it’s time to do a Frustration Flip. While holding the Frustration Flip in one hand, count to four and repeat a rhyme to give your mind a chance to calm down. The Spots then practice the Frustration Flip in several situations.  The final page has a Frustration Flip that can be cut out, or accessed and printed from the author’s webpage (with lesson plans). 

THOUGHTS: This book gives specific details to identify feeling frustrated, and a specific response to help calm down or think flexibly about a situation. It would be ideal for social-emotional learning in the classroom or individually.  

Note: A colleague with young children told me about this resource and shared with me how helpful it had been in talking with her own children (one teen, a 5-year-old, and a two-year old) because their questions brought out more examples and understanding. Diane Alber writes and illustrates this large series of “Little Spot” books, which began with eight “Little Spot of Emotion” books (Anger; Confidence; Happiness; Peaceful; Sadness; Anxiety; Love; Scribble Spot). The series has expanded to three more sets of eight books (and still growing). “A Little Spot Takes Action” set includes: Respectful; Responsibility; Kindness; Patience; Diversity; Organization; Honesty; and Safety. “A Little Spot of Life Skills” Set includes: Perseverance; Teamwork; Optimism; Courage; Thankful; Giving; Talent; Creativity. “A Little Spot of Feelings” Set includes: Empathy; Frustration; Calm; Belonging; Worry; Boredom; Flexible Thinking; Feelings Detective). Educator’s Guide, Plush Toys–it encourages mindfulness and may be worth sharing with your teachers and counselors.  

Picture Book          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

Elem. – Most Days

Leannah, Michael. Most Days. Tilbury House, 2021. 978-0-884-48727-2. 32 p. $17.96. Grades K-2. 

Little moments that make up a day are highlighted with a nod to mindfulness. A variety of children share observations while completing ordinary tasks. On his way to breakfast, a boy notices six leaves on a plant where there were five yesterday. Outside, a girl in a wheelchair notices a new spiderweb. Walking through a busy neighborhood offers opportunities to take in many sights and sounds unique to the moment with a focus on positivity and the “good things happen in the ordinary minutes of the day.” Some diversity is shown among the children and adults portrayed. Calm, pastel watercolor illustrations set the scene for an engaging read aloud reminding children to find stillness and beauty in everyday moments.

THOUGHTS: A good picture book to use in conjunction with a five senses unit or to introduce mindfulness to students.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD 

Elem. – Napoleon vs. The Bunnies

Fox, Jennifer. Napoleon vs. The Bunnies. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30202-2. 32 p. $17.99. Grades 1-4. 

Until now, Waterloo may have been considered Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest loss. Young history buffs will giggle all the way through this zany description of another defeat suffered by the famous general to “les fluffy buneez.” After signing a treaty with Tsar Alexander in 1807, Napoleon’s chief of staff arranged a celebratory hunt in which hundreds (maybe thousands) of fluffy bunnies were released from cages. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his staff collected farm-raised bunnies that did not run from the hunters. Instead, tame bunnies charged directly towards Napoleon who inexplicably turned and fled! Ink and digitally colored illustrations paired with text bubbles will keep readers giggling. Napoleon’s retreat is framed in a kid-friendly way emphasizing that even the “bravest of the brave” have fears. Backmatter presents a list of Napoleon’s strengths and weaknesses along with historic highlights and failures encouraging the reader to decide. Some French phrases are scattered throughout the text.

THOUGHTS: A hilarious self-aware read-aloud with potential learning extensions into history and French culture. A great addition to any collection looking to expand the historical section for primary learners with a social-emotional learning twist.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD
944.05 Napoleon

Elem. – Bad Apple

Jones, Huw Lewis, and Ben Sanders. Bad Apple. Thames & Hudson, 2021. 978-0-500-65243-5. unpaged. $16.95. Grades K-2.

The thing about Apple is that he’s rotten to the core. It’s not fair that he steals pear’s chair or drinks pea’s tea. Each rhyming act gets worse as Apple bullies the produce and others… until along comes snake! That turns into his big mistake, and the silly surprising moral will have fans of Jory John and Jon Klassen wanting to read it again! Jones and Sanders create an easy reading, silly sketched, rhyming bit of fun!

THOUGHTS: Those connections to the Hat trilogy by Klassen and the Bad Seed by John will be apparent to even the youngest reader, but it is different enough, and certainly good fun for those who know that style and enjoy a surprise ending! Hopefully a better discussion about respect and bullying comes from the readers than from the book itself!

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – Home is in Between

Perkins, Mitali, and Lavanya Naidu. Home is in Between. Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-374-30367-9. unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Shanti is a sweet girl who says goodbye to her village in Bengal and moves with her parents to America. She keeps a curious and positive attitude through the cultural shifts of home and school and town and activities while trying to help her parents and keep their cultural identities intact. But all of this code switching takes a toll on Shanti, as she finds herself occasionally worn down and exhausted trying to keep up. The resolution of a social gathering to share the space between cultures is perhaps a simplified ending to what is surely an ongoing process for adapting and adopting to a new home, but readers will feel and empathize with Shanti’s dilemma. Mitali Perkins keeps the story relatable and mixed with personal experience and plenty of Hindi words and Indian customs. Lavanya Naidu shines as the illustrator who creates the family dynamics and emotional changes through the story with colorful expressions and emotional details. While the journey to a new home is not easy, this tale will help readers see that the ‘in between’ brings needed value to feeling at home.

THOUGHTS: The idea of code switching for young children from other countries and cultures has rarely been illustrated as well as this book. Perfect for classrooms who are welcoming ELL students or libraries looking for demonstrations of social emotional skills. Highly recommended.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It

Finison, Carrie. Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-1-984-8302-2 32 p. $16.99. Grades Pre-K – 2. 

You can hug a pug. You can hug a bug or a slug. But don’t hug Doug. He doesn’t like it. Don’t take it personally – Doug still likes you! He just feels that hugs are too squeezy, too squashy, too squooshy, and too smooshy. Doug has every right to decide if he would like a hug or not. Don’t Hug Doug: He Doesn’t Like It is the perfect picture book by author Carrie Finison and illustrator Daniel Wiseman that starts a great conversation about setting personal boundaries and addressing them in a kind but practical manner. Doug explains to the reader in a cheerful tone that all you have to do is ask: Do you like hugs? And the appropriate response would be to respect the answer.

THOUGHTS: Don’t Hug Doug is effective, yet gentle when discussing consent with the reader. I have not read many children’s books that address bodily autonomy and personal boundaries with appropriate and easy-to-understand strategies. This picture book would appeal to all ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, or early elementary students. I agree with Boston Globes’ review: “Don’t Hug Doug can make kids feel better about their own boundaries and challenge them to understand the comfort of others. But really, it gives grown-ups something to consider, too.”

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD

Elem. – The Crow and the Peacock

Fernihough, Jo. The Crow and the Peacock. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-802-85568-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Crow is living a perfectly happy life until he encounters a dove in the forest one day. Her beautiful, bright feathers and soft cooing cause him to question his dark feathers and loud “caw caw.” Suddenly, his self-confidence dwindles. In talking to the dove, however, he discovers that the dove actually envies the nightingale, whose singing is even more magnificent. The nightingale, in turn, envies the rooster, whose call is so famous it is heard across the land. As the crow travels from bird to bird, he discovers that they all want something another bird has. Ultimately, he meets a caged peacock, who only wishes to fly free like a crow. It is then that the crow realizes how good he has it and that the only thing that could possibly make him happier is sharing his joy with others. A thought-provoking tale complete with lively, colorful illustrations, this book would be an excellent read aloud selection.

THOUGHTS: This book would be a great introduction to self-esteem/confidence building activities. After hearing the story, young listeners could reflect on their own special traits and characteristics. Perhaps they could even share with their peers the attributes they like most about each other. The book might also prompt discussions about jealousy and the problem with comparing oneself to others. This is definitely a must-have for those looking to build social and emotional learning collections.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – It’s Okay to Smell Good

Tharp, Jason. It’s Okay to Smell Good. Imprint, 2021. 978-1-250-31133-7. 32 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

Panda Cat (a skunk) lives in Smellsville, one of the stinkiest places imaginable. He begins each day by making himself as smelly as possible thanks to his garlic and onion toothpaste and rotten egg hair gel. He also smears moldy mayonnaise into his armpits, guzzles spoiled milk with his breakfast, and eats toast with toejam and rotten apples. When he arrives at school, his friends share the news that celebrity stink-scientist Smellbert Einstink will be judging their science fair. Later that afternoon, Panda Cat practices his experiment: making the stinkiest soap ever. But, something goes terribly wrong. Even though he adds the smelliest ingredients he can find, the soap somehow comes out bright pink, smelling like cotton candy and sugar cookies. And, to Panda Cat’s horror, he finds that he actually kind of loves the smell. He wonders if he secretly likes smell-good stuff, but he’s too worried about being different from everyone else and sadly flushes the soap down the toilet. The next day at the science fair, Panda Cat repeats his experiment, and this time, his concoction smells even better: like caramel apples, sugar cookies, cotton candy, and strawberries! Panda Cat is worried about looking like a failure in front of everyone, but Smellbert Einstink confides one of his biggest regrets is that his work has created a world where stinky smells replaced nice scents. He asks Panda Cat to consider how we can ever truly appreciate really stinky things without nice smells to compare them to. He also reassures Panda Cat that it’s okay to like whatever you like, even if it makes you feel different than everyone else.

THOUGHTS: This title celebrates the idea that it’s okay to have your own preferences and like what you like, even if those tastes make you stand out from the crowd. It will be a good conversation-starter during morning meetings and will also be a crowd pleaser thanks to multiple references to farts, ear-wax, and other gross-out humor.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Mr. Complain Takes the Train

Bradford, Wade & S. Britt. Mr. Complain Takes the Train. Clarion Books. 2021. 978-0-544-82981-7. $17.99. Grades K-3

Mr. Complain is ready to take the train to his vacation in Dullsville. Unfortunately, the train is late. And loud. The train shows people that are too happy, but also too sad. Mr. Complain’s luggage won’t fit, and his seat is too lumpy. When he receives a new seat, his seat companions are just not up to par. There is nothing perfect on this train… especially when the train spirals downhill, goes in the dark, and even loop-de-loops! Is there something on the train that Mr. Complain will like?

THOUGHTS: Sometimes we need to see the positive things that are in life! We all know a Mr. Complain – this book provides readers with a chance to see the bright side of life, even when things may be a little different or crazy!

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship

Tomsic, Kim, and Hadley Cooper. The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-12783-5. unpaged. $18.99. Grades 2-5.

Welcome to Thula Thula, a wildlife reserve in South Africa! Lawrence and Francoise are caretakers for the animals and the land, which is huge and protected and harmonious, until a desperate call comes in to adopt seven elephants. These elephants have been angry, troubled, and dangerous in their previous homes. Though Lawrence has never cared for elephants before, he willingly tries to take in the herd. What follows is a learning experience of trial and error as a relationship slowly grows with patience and practice. Lawrence and Francoise show empathy and compassion, which wins over the herd leader and subsequently the rest. With amazing and vivid illustrations and sparse but poignant text, Tomsic and Cooper tell a true tale of hope and redemption which will stick with young readers. The remarkable connection between elephants and Lawrence is fully felt when they grieve his death by migrating to his home and comforting Francoise. Endnotes and works cited will leave readers wanting more tales from Thula Thula.

THOUGHTS: This works great with other true animal and human relationship bonding books. The method of dealing with the herd’s angry behavior will also be a talking point for social emotional learning lessons. Beautiful and worthy addition to African animal collections.

333 Natural Resources          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD