Elem. – Playing Possum

Black Reinhardt, Jennifer. Playing Possum. Clarion Books. 2020. 978-1-328-78270-0. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Alfred is a possum. When possums become nervous, they tend to freeze and play dead. Unfortunately, Alfred is an extremely nervous possum, which means he often is freezing up. This can make life very difficult for him, as he does not do well in school, sports, or even making friends because of his freezing up. Sofia is an armadillo. Armadillos will often curl into a ball when nervous. Together, Alfred and Sofia slowly learn to trust each other and become friends, understanding that everyone has moments. Together they learn all of the animals cope differently, and it is okay. Friendship and trust can take time, but it is worth it!

THOUGHTS: A cute book about different animals, nerves, and anxiety! The back of the book contains information on how different animals react in different situations. A fun read that can be helpful for readers who may need help with nerves or anxiety.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Ellie Makes a Friend

Mike, Wu. Ellie Makes a Friend. Disney Hyperion, 2020. 978-1-368-01000-9. $16.99. Grades K-2.

There is a commotion at the zoo! A new animal has joined, and it is a painter just like Ellie! Only instead of an elephant, the new animal is a Panda who came all the way from China. Ellie wonders if there is room for two painters at the zoo. Ellie decides to learn all about her new possible friend. Soon, the two are sharing stories, ideas, and painting together. They find harmony in the ways they are different, and delight in learning more about each other. Sharing can be the best way to learn about someone else and a great way to make a new friend.

THOUGHTS: A delightful book on friendship and sharing. This book is a nice beginner book for readers to look at the country of China, as it contains some brief discussion topics and ideas.

Picture Book          Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred 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.

Elem. – Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School)

Button, Lana. Raj’s Rule (For the Bathroom at School). Owlkid, 2020. 978-1-771-47340-8. Unpaged. $17.95. Grades PreK-1. 

Young Raj has a rule: He does not use the bathroom at school. Of course, this is a gigantic challenge, and requires a lot of strategy. But he’s happy to share his knowledge: avoid any intake of liquids; avoid the sound of running water; avoid laughing (because you KNOW what might happen then!). But one day, when Raj is desperately holding it, he is undone by an unavoidable sneeze and flees to the bathroom. To his surprise, he successfully completes his mission, and his phobia is gone. Now, his school day is so much fuller, and he gleefully partakes in all the activities he had assiduously avoided, including belly laughing at classmate Kyle’s goofy antics. The story, told via speech bubbles filled with rhyming text, is amplified by Hatem Aly’s vivid cartoon-like illustrations. Raj’s classroom is lively, and his classmates diverse, all drawn with satisfying attention to detail. The topic may address a fear felt by first time school students, but will also be sure to elicit giggles from older students who can sympathize with having to “hold it,” for whatever reason.

THOUGHTS: While not a first purchase, the book will undoubtedly be read by young students who enjoy bathroom humor.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath

Verde, Susan. The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2020. $16.99. 978-1-419-74103-6. Grades K-3. 

In this fractured fairy tale, the wolf has a habit of huffing, puffing, and blowing things down when he feels angry. Before long, the wolf realizes he feels worse when he sees how his behavior frightens others. There are so many things to huff about like sharing, trying difficult things and feeling hungry that the wolf runs out of breath. Turning his frustrations toward the three little yogis, he is met with compassion. Instead of running away, they teach him to mediate, breath, and pose. Readers are reminded that everyone gets angry sometimes. Belly breathing, butterfly breaths and supported breathing techniques help the wolf finally feel relaxed. Common terminology from sun salutation to savasana is introduced. A few yoga poses such as downward dog and half-moon are sprinkled throughout. Social emotional learning themes are present as the wolf becomes aware of his behaviors, reflects on his feelings and practices new techniques in lieu of huffing and puffing. Pencil and digitally colored illustrations fill the pages with a healthy dose of tranquil whimsy. Backmatter includes a few brief but useful tips for budding yogis.

THOUGHTS: This book is a must-have for libraries looking to develop their lower elementary collection of books about breathing, meditation, and yoga. A great picture book to pair with an interactive yoga storytime for young learners.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Perfect Pigeons

Battersby, Katherine. Perfect Pigeons. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-1-534-45781-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-2. 

Look up! A flock of brightly colored pigeons is in the sky! According to members of the flock, they are perfect pigeons, because they are all “perfectly the same.” While the pigeons might certainly all look the same, it is quickly apparent to readers that one pigeon is different from the rest. He sports round red glasses and doesn’t like to participate in the same activities as the rest of the flock. For example, when the flock sleeps on a lamppost, he sleeps in a hammock. While the flock eats birdseed, he can be found enjoying popcorn. The flock soon grows frustrated with their fellow pigeon, challenging his go against the grain attitude and habits. But rather than give into peer pressure, the pigeon encourages the flock to pursue their own individual interests and hobbies (which they do). By the end of the story, the flock still feels that they are perfect pigeons, but they now feel that way because they are “are all perfectly unique!”

THOUGHTS: This charming story celebrates the importance of valuing the uniqueness of others. Readers will enjoy the humorous illustrations featuring large, colorful pigeons created in pencil, watercolor and digital media by author-illustrator Katherine Battersby. A worthwhile addition to libraries serving primary age readers.

Picture Book                Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Doodleville

Sell, Chad. Doodleville. Alfred A Knopf, 2020. 978-1-725-49859-4. 285 p. Grades 3-6.

Drew is a doodler. She always was, even while at her parents restaurant. She also somehow has doodles that come to life and take on a life of their own! She finds a connection with members of an art club who each have their own illustrated characters. But Drew has gone beyond her usual creations for a project, and now this leviathan monster is wreaking havoc in Doodleville, the real world, and Drew’s own internal feelings. Chad Sell has followed his innovative and inclusive graphic novel Cardboard Kingdom with an equally brilliant and important follow-up. The world play and emotions bounce between whimsical and dangerous, leaving readers and the protagonist unsure of how to process things. The inner turmoil of Drew allows for readers to discuss real feelings of depression, doubt, and belonging. The other members of the club also allude to their own struggles with gender, family and social norms. Sell hopefully will keep drawing on this creative fictional world for repeated visits.

THOUGHTS: There is a balance of understanding the rules in this world building and suspending your disbelief to truly appreciate the narrative. However, once that is established, there are so many possibilities for the doodles and the characters to grow and create that readers definitely will want this to be a series instead of a stand alone. There is some background and annotated history in the endnotes describing how Chad originated the doodles and what they represent to the author, making it clear that this is a passion project come to life! Highly recommended.

Graphic Novel          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – One Time

Creech, Sharon. One Time. HarperCollins Children’s, 2020. 978-0-062-57074-1. 248 p. $16.99. Grades 3-6.

Who are you? Who could you be? When Gina Flomena’s new teacher poses these questions on the board, along with several images and quotes and vocabulary words, her imagination and personality slowly develops. Her classmates also have unique reactions to the ongoing writing assignments connected to these essential questions. Gina’s new neighbor, Antonio, brings another interesting personality to the mix with unexpected results. In all, Sharon Creech has once again found the voice of introspective and creative children by bringing this story to light. The dynamics at home and in school are at turns humorous and heartfelt, but overall capture the art of storytelling, education, and friendship. Readers will be emboldened to write their own One Time stories to tackle their own life questions.

THOUGHTS: The writing prompts and activities in this story are definitely fit for a classroom lesson or two, and the discipline and empathy involved also should carry over. I particularly like and have used the “power of the first line” as a lesson before. The character relationship between Gina and Antonio will leave plenty to discuss for readers, including briefly questioning his real or imaginary existence! Highly Recommended.

Realistic Fiction          Dustin Brackbill    State College Area SD

Elem. – Ravi’s Roar

Percival, Tom. Ravi’s Roar. Bloomsbury, 2020. 978-1-547-60300-8. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2.

Ravi is having a bad day. Nothing is going his way! There are no seats for him on the bus, he’s too short to reach the monkey bars, and he’s too small to go on the big slide. The final straw is when the ice cream vendor runs out of ice cream, and Ravi doesn’t get any. This prompts him to lose his temper; he turns into a tiger and lets out a huge roar. He stomps around the playground roaring at others and doing whatever he wants. He soon finds, however, that his actions are only making matters worse, as no one wants to play with him. Ultimately, he apologizes and makes amends. A very relatable story about losing one’s temper, this book conveys some important messages about working through one’s feelings.

THOUGHTS: This book would make an excellent resource for anyone who teaches young children about feelings, coping mechanisms and emotional health. It is the perfect segue into a discussion about healthy methods of dealing with anger. An author’s note at the end of the book even provides questions to ask when one is mad. As an added bonus, there is a degree of diversity in this book, as the main character and his family are dark-skinned, and the only parent present in the story is the father. This is definitely a solid purchase for any collection serving young children.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

Elem. – Speak Up, Molly Lou Melon

Lovell, Patty. Speak up, Molly Lou Melon. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-399-26002-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Molly Lou Melon is back for more adventure with her friends. As she plays with her animal friends, Molly Lou’s mother reminds her to “Be true to yourself;” take responsibility for the things you do, good or bad;” “Accept peple for who they are and listen to their ideas, even if they are different from yours;” and “Use [your strong voice] to speak up for anyone who might need your help.” In the fall when Molly Lou goes to school, she needs to apply these lessons with her friends and the class bully. At every opportunity Molly makes her friends, Ronald Durkin and Gertie; the new kid, Garvin Grape; and even the class bully Bettina Bonklehead feel welcome as she lives the values her mother taught her. Even when owning her mess (alone), Molly Lou finds a way to make cleanup an adventure and remain positive.

THOUGHTS: Elementary libraries will not want to miss this additional title about Molly Lou Melon. Molly Lou is a recognizable and important character in children’s literature, and students will delight in her newest adventures. A must-have for elementary libraries, this title will be great for lessons on friendship, bullying, and making good choices.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD