Elem. – Gitty and Kvetch

Pritchard, Caroline Kusin. Gitty and Kvetch. Illustrated by Ariel Landy. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-1-534-47826-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Gitty is sure today is “the perfect day to hang the perfect painting in our perfect, purple tree house.” Kvetch, Gitty’s bird friend, isn’t so sure he’s ready after their last adventure. But Gitty isn’t deterred by Kvetch’s pessimism and convinces him to join the fun with a tempting worm sandwich. Along the way, Gitty sees many wonderful sights, while Kvetch identifies the negatives. Even when storm clouds appear Gitty wonders, “Did we hit the jackpot or what?” It’s not until the friends are forced to take refuge in their tree house that Gitty realizes her “perfect painting was wet and wrecked, just like her perfect day.” Will Kvetch be able to overcome his negative attitude to help his friend see the bright side? Beautiful, bright digital illustrations highlight Gitty’s optimism, while muted purple tones show Kvetch’s cynicism. A glossary of Yiddish words is included at the end, helping emerging readers understand Kvetch’s meaning throughout the story. Note: Kvetch is not identified as male or female, but for the purpose of writing this review I identified him as male.

THOUGHTS: Reminiscent of Spires’ The Most Magnificent Thing, young readers will adore Gitty and Kvetch’s friendship and come to appreciate how differences put together can make the perfect pair. Highly recommended for elementary picture book collections.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Social and Emotional Learning (Series NF)

Krekelberg, Alyssa. Social and Emotional Learning. The Child’s World, 2021. $228.00 (set of 12), $18.95 (individual titles). Grades K-3.

Doing the Right Thing: Making Responsible Decisions. 978-1-503-84450-6.
Finding Solutions: Problem Solving.
978-1-503-84451-3.
Helping Friends and Family: Taking Care of Others.
978-1-503-84449-0.
Know Your Feelings: Recognizing Emotions.
978-1-503-84452-0.
Let’s Get Along: Resolving Conflict
. 978-1-503-84458-2.
No One is the Same: Appreciating Differences. 978-1-503-84456-8.
Setting Boundaries: Learning about Healthy Relationships. 978-1-503-84457-5.
Stop and Think: Learning about Self-Discipline. 978-1-503-84448-3.
We Need Each Other: Being a Good Friend. 978-1-503-84447-6.
We Work Together: Learning about Teamwork. 978-1-503-84455-1.
When Things Get Tough: Overcoming Obstacles. 978-1-503-84454-4.
Worrying Too Much: Learning How to Manage Stress. 978-1-503-84453-7.

Social situations can be difficult for children; they do not have the social experiences that allow them to develop understanding of interpersonal communication and relationships. This SEL series helps children develop understanding of situations they may have encountered or will in the future. Each text is divided into chapters that begin with a vignette that explores a realistic situation and the emotions that are involved in it. Throughout the chapter, ideas on how to respond and questions for reflection are presented. The questions help children reflect on their own experiences and consider the feelings of others in the same situation.  Each text includes a glossary (words are highlighted throughout the text) and a section to learn more about the topic.

THOUGHTS: This is an excellent series for young children to explore their feelings through very realistic situations. The series includes 12 titles. This reviewer had the opportunity to two review Let’s Get Along: Resolving Conflict and No One is the Same: Appreciating Differences. Each individual chapter can be used for character education and development and could easily be divided into short 15-20 minute lessons. This series is highly recommended for all elementary schools for use in the classroom and library especially in our current environment where students are lacking SEL and interpersonal skills due to more isolation from the pandemic.

Erin Bechdel, Beaver Area SD

YA – You’d Be Home Now

Glasgow, Kathleen. You’d Be Home Now. Delacorte Press, 2021. 978-0-525-70804-9. 400 p. $18.99. Grades 8-12.

For her whole life Emory’s family has been well-known in the town of Mill Haven. Her great great grandfather founded the mill that employed many of the town’s families for generations. But the mill has been abandoned for some time, and people have very different opinions about what should become of the space. Emory also is the little sister of Joey who overdosed and passed out while his best friend Leonard caused a life altering car accident, one that devastated their small town and Emory’s family. Now Emory is known as someone who was in the car when Candy died. Joey is on his way back from rehab, and their older sister Maddie is away at college. With workaholic parents who aren’t always around, Emory is tasked with keeping an eye on Joey who has been given some pretty serious restrictions to keep him “on the right path.” Always feeling invisible in the shadow of her perfect sister and self-destructive brother, Emory has been a good girl, a rule follower. But Emory needs someone to see her. Next door neighbor Gage, who Emory has had a crush on, shows her attention, though secretly, and it feels good for someone finally to notice her even if not out in the open. Despite some questionable choices, Emory is managing and keeping an eye on Joey. Until she isn’t. Secrets are brought to light, Joey disappears, and Emory loses herself. Will she pick up the pieces and figure out who she wants to be before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will root for Emory and Joey while cringing at some obvious warning signs. Glasgow writes a compelling, character driven novel that shines light on addiction’s impact on family, friends, and community. Teens will appreciate the authentic portrayal of serious issues.

Realistic Fiction          Maryalice Bond, SD

YA – In the Wild Light

Zentner, Jeff. In the Wild Light. Crown Publishers, 2021. 978-1-524-72024-7 429 p. $17.99. Grades 9 and up.

Set in a small Tennessee town, two misfits from troubled families develop a strong bond after meeting at a Narateen meeting. Cash is struggling to come to terms with his mother’s death, the knowledge that his beloved grandfather is dying, and his fear that he has no special gift to offer anyone. Delaney is a brilliant, self-taught scientist who discovers a bacteria-destroying mold with potential medicinal benefits.  Because of this discovery, she is offered a full ride scholarship to an elite New England prep school and secures a spot for Cash as well.  Delaney is determined to start anew and pushes Cash to join her, though he believes he is not deserving of this opportunity and fears missing precious time with his grandfather. They both struggle to adjust to their new life so far removed from their roots but are fortunate to find a friendship with two other new students at Middleford Academy and to nurture their own interests and passions and the special bond between them.

THOUGHTS: A thoughtful, coming of age story with a strong focus on the value of friendship and family, with charming characters, beautiful descriptions, and some gorgeous poetry. Touching, emotional, and heartfelt, this book will be appreciated by fans of All the Bright Places and Looking for Alaska.

Realistic Fiction                Nancy Summers,   Abington SD

Elem. – Lala’s Words

Zhang, Gracey. Lala’s Words. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-64823-2. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Lala is a little girl who loves to be outside especially when she can’t contain her energy. She loves skipping down the block of her neighborhood, an urban street of homes and shops. When Lala leaves her house, she runs to “a patch of dirt and concrete [with] short green weeds and leaves. A place of Lala’s own.” There she whispers sweet words to each of the plants in her garden, and she brings them water on hot days. Fed up with Lala being covered in dirt and not still and quiet, Lala’s mother refuses to let her “jibber-jabber in the dirt and grass” on the hottest day of summer. Sadly, Lala watches as all the people of her neighborhood pass by her window as she whispers to her garden’s plant friends. Overnight, something amazing happens, and Lala’s mother realizes just how special Lala is. Beautiful black and white ink and gouache illustrations with bursts of yellow and green perfectly capture Lala’s joy, kindness, and love.

THOUGHTS: Readers will enjoy this heartfelt story of kindness. Perfect for a morning meeting or a counseling lesson on using kind words, this title is sure to be a hit. 

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – You Might Be Special

Kokias, Kerri. You Might Be Special. Illustrated by Marcus Cutler. Kids Can Press, 2021. 978-1-525-30333-3. $17.99. Unpaged.  K-3. 

In this playful and silly story, a quiz is given to determine whether or not the reader or listener is special. A young girl ponders these questions along with her diverse cast of classmates. The answer of course is that everyone is special. Positive message about self acceptance for young students.

THOUGHTS: This would make an excellent choice for a lively and interactive read aloud.

Picture Book          Nancy Summers, Abington 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. – 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