Elem. – Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch

Virjan, Emma J. Captain Cat and the Pirate Lunch. Simon Spotlight, 2021. 978-1-534-49571-5. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-1. 

When three yellow birds land on a ship, they soon learn that it is a pirate ship captained by a cat in this short story told in rhyming verse. Two of the birds fly into the cabin with the cat. When the third bird looks in through a window, he sees the cat getting ready to cook lunch while the two birds sit and watch. Could his friends be on the menu? Worried, the third bird recruits a whale to help him rescue his friends. An end of story twist reveals that the bird has made some incorrect assumptions and misunderstood the cat’s intentions. Ultimately, a new friendship is formed between all the animals. 

THOUGHTS: This delightful story is an excellent choice for beginning readers and would also be a good selection for shared reading or read alouds. Though the story is short and the text simple, the author is able to incorporate a lesson about friendship that readers (and educators) will appreciate.

Picture Book                 Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg SD

Elem. – Best Day Ever!

Singer, Marilyn. Best Day Ever! Illustrated by Leah Nixon. Clarion Books, 2021. 978-1-328-98783-9. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Told from the point of view of a very energetic little puppy, Best Day Ever! follows two friends through a day that starts out great and ends up with some trouble. From stealing hot dogs (not the bun) to swimming in the lake, this pup has a day full of adventure. When he makes a mess of himself, though, the best day suddenly becomes the worst day. Can sweet this duo find their way back to the best day ever? Digital illustrations bring these characters to life. The pet’s human is a boy in a wheelchair who can do a lot of the same activities that able-bodied children do. Illustrated by a paralyzed artist, this title has disability representation as a subtle message for children.

THOUGHTS: Readers will love brainstorming about their own best days and talking about things pets do. Best Day Ever! lends itself well to a writing prompt about best days or a creative writing piece about the silly things pets might be thinking. Hand this one to any pet lover.

Picture Book          Maryalice Bond, South Middleton SD

Elem. – Inside Cat

Wenzel, Brendan. Inside Cat. Chronicle Books, 2021. 978-1-452-17319-1. 36 p. $17.99. Grades K-3. 

Inside Cat spends its days peering through many different kinds of windows in its house. Each window is a different size or shape and presents a different view of the city. Inside Cat takes in scenes of everything from flowers to birds, towers to balloons. It sees big machines, small mice, bright traffic lights, and dark nighttime skies. The cat also uses its wild imagination to fill in gaps about what it’s seeing and to help make sense of the world. Since it spends so much time looking through windows, Inside Cat assumes it’s an expert about the world. But, when an outside door is left open, Inside Cat forms entirely new ideas. Brief, rhyming text winds its way across each double-page spread as Inside Cat moves from window to window, constantly seeing the world from different perspectives. The illustrations, composed from a variety of media including cut paper, colored pencil, oil pastels, marker, and the computer, are the true stars of the story. Careful readers will notice new details each time the story is shared. In particular, they will enjoy searching for the mice and watching what antics they are up to on each spread. 

THOUGHTS: Use this text during creative writing activities to spark ideas about seeing the world from different perspectives and using your imagination. 

Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Pet stories. Perspective fiction. Stories in rhyme. 

Elem. – We Give Thanks

Rylant, Cynthia. We Give Thanks. Beach Lane Books, 2021. Unpaged. 978-1-422-46507-7. Grades PreK-1. $17.99.

Told in rhyming couplets, this story about gratitude is not about the Thanksgiving holiday. Each couplet begins with “We give thanks for” and Frog and Rabbit point out what they appreciate as they walk around the neighborhood. The objects of gratitude run the gamut and appear in no particular order. They include nature, the weather, activities, family, community helpers, and friends. After realizing what they are thankful for, Frog and Rabbit prepare a special feast to share with their friends, who come and partake of the treats before them. The author finishes with this: “Bless our nights and bless our days and bless all those we meet. We give thanks for everything and now it’s time to eat.” Ruzzier’s illustrations done in pen, ink, and watercolors and are whimsical and appealing. Readers will enjoy poring over the drawings for the details. There are some humorous touches such as the Dalmatian as an Italian waiter and Bear’s friend, the fish who is often out of water. The pictures help create a warm, cozy atmosphere within this delightful tale.

THOUGHTS: Young children will enjoy listening to this story, which is sure to dish up a little happiness and will have them thinking about what they are thankful for. This book is a good substitute for traditional Thanksgiving stories, especially for those children who do not celebrate holidays. A nice selection for storytimes in any season.

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – Jazz for Lunch!

Dapier, Jarrett. Jazz for Lunch! Atheneum Books for Young Readers. 978-1-534-45408-8. 40 p. $17.99. Grades K-3.

Built on the foundations of jazz music and creative cooking, this rhyming story vividly depicts the power both music and food have to bring people together. A young boy and his aunt set out to have lunch at a jazz club where his aunt is a regular. In the club, the sounds from the kitchen mix with the sounds from the stage, creating a vibrant, animated atmosphere. But, the club is so crowded that the boy and his aunt can’t get close enough to see the performers or place an order. They leave early, stop by a produce stand, and the next day, they cook up their own jazzy lunch at home. Each dish is inspired by jazz greats, including Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, and Ella Fitzgerald. End papers feature brief biographies of 20 jazz greats mentioned in the story as well one of their album titles. The lively digital illustrations capture the movement and the emotions the food and the music inspire.

THOUGHTS: Share this title with music teachers who can make curricular connections with the featured jazz musicians and the music vocabulary sprinkled in the text. Music and ELA teachers will also appreciate the use of onomatopoeia as the boy and his aunt cook up their feast. This exuberant book captures the joy of coming together to enjoy great food and great music.

Picture Book          Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye?

Yolen, Jane and Mark Teague. How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye? Scholastic Press, 2021. 978-1-338-36335-7. 40 p. $17.99. PreK-2.

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodbye is the latest book in the How Do Dinosaurs companion series, and it has all the laughter and lessons of the other books in the series. This one shows how dinosaurs react to either their loved ones leaving, or when they have to leave to go somewhere. It shows how the dinosaurs face their fears of goodbyes and are able to tell the adults in their life how they feel.

THOUGHTS: A great addition to the How Do Dinosaurs series. The illustrations are really well done throughout the book and give the reader a lot to look at while reading. 

Picture Book          Mary McEndree, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter Academy

Elem. – Red

Seeger, Laura Vaccaro. Red. Neal Porter Books. 978-0-823-44712-1. 38 p. $18.99. Grades K-3. 

With just two words on each spread, the illustrations and the emotions they evoke take center-stage in this title about a young fox’s separation and ultimate reunion with his family. After becoming separated, the fox leaves the forest and explores nearby fields, roads, and farms. He also sees humans and their fences, wheelbarrows, nails, and trucks. He is eventually caught in a metal trap and displays some of the strongest emotions in the book. A young girl empathizes with the trapped animal, releasing him back into the wild where he eventually reunites with his family. Full-page illustrations featuring acrylic paint on canvas depict many shades of red in both the natural world and the man-made one. Each shade corresponds with something the young fox is exploring or experiencing. This title completes the trilogy that includes the Caldecott Honor book Green and the acclaimed Blue. An Author’s Note at the end describes the way these three books are linked as well as some of the inspiration behind the series. 

THOUGHTS: Students will feel the connection between color and emotions as they page through this title. The links between the emotions the fox experiences and the colors used to convey the world around him will spark discussions during morning meetings as students explore feelings like anger, fear, courage, joy, empathy, and love. 

Picture Book. Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD

Elem. – Time for School, Little Blue Truck

Schertle, Alice. Time for School, Little Blue Truck. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021. 978-0-358-41224-3. Unpaged. $16.91. Grades PreK-2. 

Little Blue Truck envies the big yellow school bus when he sees it carry his friends to school. The school bus kindly reminds Little Blue Truck that he’s not big enough for the job, but Little Blue Truck decides to prove the school bus wrong when he sees Piggy distraught on the side of the road. Little Blue offers to help since Piggy overslept, and they take a bumpy shortcut that ends up beating the school bus. Good job, Little Blue! Another fun tale about Little Blue Truck whose adventures never take him too far from home but prove that he’s always there for a friend. A great back-to-school story!

THOUGHTS: A fun rhyming read aloud at back to school time.

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Free to Be Elephant Me

Andreae, Giles. Free to Be Elephant Me. Orchard Books, 2021. 978-1-338-734270. Unpaged. $16.91. Grades PreK-2.

Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees, the duo behind Giraffes Can’t Dance, teamed up to create the story of elephant Num-Num, a little elephant searching for his special gifts. It’s tradition for all young elephants to perform in front of king Elephant Mighty to showcase their talents and be given an elephant name like Elephant Noisy to the little one who can trumpet loudest or Elephant Strong to the little one who can rip a tree right from the ground. Num-Num doesn’t believe that he has any special talents and after a dismal performance and an unkind mocking by the king, he leaves and travels far away where he makes a new home by a watering hole. Over time, Num-Num makes many friends who assure him that he is perfect the way he is and that his talents involve being kind and simply being himself. Num-Num, supported by many animal friends, returns to the elephants and tells Elephant Mighty that he’d like to be called Elephant Me because “…the hardest thing sometimes is just to be you and to know being you is enough.” Elephant Mighty seems to truly understand and even reveals that he often feels stifled by his name and role, and the tale ends happily with a dance-filled celebration.

THOUGHTS: A simple, attractive rhyming story that may help convey ideas of self-acceptance to little readers. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of Christmas

Lee, Mark. 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of Christmas. Candlewick Press, 2021. 978-1-5362-1253-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades PreK-2. 

Perfect for the truck lovers in your library, 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of Christmas combines boom trucks, fire trucks, flatbeds, and more with the magic of the holiday season. Two children watch the goings-on in their town on a cold, snowy day. A doughnut truck arrives in the town center, followed by several trucks clearing roads, bringing a Christmas tree and decorations, trucks to help set up and decorate the town, and a few final vehicles to bring extra Christmas spirit. Mark Lee tells a simple rhyming story that pairs nicely with Kurt Cyrus’s colorful, clean illustrations. All the trucks are named and many are shown in use. My son, a major truck fan, will love this one! 

THOUGHTS: Perfect holiday fare for lovers of trucks and Lee’s first 20 Trucks story. 

Picture Book          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD