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

Elem. – A New Day

Meltzer, Brad, and Dan Santat. A New Day. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2021. 978-0-525-55424-0. unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

That’s it! She quit! Just like that, Sunday decided the weekly grind was too much and she needed to leave the rotation. While she was feeling unappreciated and ready to learn new things, the rest of the crew is left to fill her void, and that means a hiring process. In Brad Meltzer’s first fiction foray, we find a hilarious mix of personalities for each day of the week (Monday is so uptight, but Saturday is soooo chill!) as they work together to replace Sunday. Dan Santat offers up his unique humor to complement the text with endless visual gags and side jokes. The tryout process brings up suggestions like FunDay, RunDay, a running gag of DogDay versus Caturday, and many zany no-way kinda days! In the end, a little thanks and appreciation and teamwork really go a long way to making someone’s day. The simple fact is that every day can be a new day with a little more kindness.

THOUGHTS: Fans of the movie Inside Out will appreciate the personification of abstract concepts like emotions and days, while those looking for silly extensions like naming your own days have a natural writing prompt here. It is tricky as a read-aloud with the many voices and gags, but worthwhile for some classroom team building.

Picture Book          Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD

Elem. – LLama Glamarama

Green, Simon James. LLama Glamarama. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-73618-2. 32 p. $14.99. Grades PreK-1.

Larry the llama has a secret… he loves to dance! He doesn’t tell his llama friends because he doesn’t want them to judge him. However, one night they find a pair of dancing shoes in his room and he decides to take off and find some place where he can dance without being judged (all while being home in time for tea). While Larry finds the Llama Glamarama that accepts him and his love of dancing, he does go back to his friends and admits that he loves to dance. This leads to a great conversation with his friends who admit all of the things they love, with one of them admitting he isn’t even a llama!! The illustrations are wonderfully done! The way the text flows throughout the book causes the reader to engage more with the illustrations as the text sizing changes.

THOUGHTS: WONDERFUL! This book is such a great testament to being true to yourself, and even though this book is geared towards a younger audience, older students will love this book. This would be a great read aloud for any elementary class for teaching understanding and acceptance. The author has a Llama Glamarama party kit on his website, which I would also recommend checking out.

Picture Book          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Ho, Joanna. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. Harper Collins for Children, 2021. 978-0-062-91562-7 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

This is a heartfelt and breathtaking portrait of a young Asian girl drawing strength from the women in her family. In the story, a girl notices that her eyes seem different from her friends’. Most of the friends have “big round eyes and long lashes”; where she has eyes that “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” With pride and confidence, the girl shares with the reader that her eyes resemble her mother’s, her amah’s, and her little sister’s! With each turn of the page, the girl (and the reader) learn less about physical appearances and more about the legacy of family, relationships, history, and heritage. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a vibrant celebration of self-discovery and love! The brilliant illustrations and poetic words will resonate with readers of any age.

THOUGHTS: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is a must-have picture book for home, classrooms, and school libraries! I appreciate that there is no bullying, teasing, or conflict with the characters in the story. Instead this title is written as a lyrical celebration with a tender message: to love oneself.

Picture Book          Marie Mengel, Reading SD