YA – Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story)

Nayeri, Daniel. Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story). Levine Querido, 2020. 346 p. 978-1-646-14000-8. $17.99.  Grades 7-12.

When Khosrou’s (Daniel’s) physician mother converts to Christianity in the 1980’s, she endangers her life because of the Iranian government’s restrictions on religion. His father, a jovial, loquacious dentist covertly obtains the proper paperwork for escape, then drops off his eight-year-old son and twelve-year-old daughter, Dina, at the airport as his wife starts a journey that will take the threesome to Dubai, Italy, and finally, Oklahoma. Daniel Nayeri’s Printz Award-winning book, Everything Sad Is Untrue (A True Story), telling how his family turned from comfortable, wealthy land owners to battered, poor refugees can be summed up in these few sentences; but the flow of the chapter-less pages weaves a tale likened to the much admired, Scheherazade of 1,001 Nights. The paragraphs describing memories of Daniel’s (no one in America can pronounce Khosrou!) grandparents’ home and his parents’ relationship spin into beloved Persian legends and myths and wind up next to pages relating the harsher daily existence he experiences in Oklahoma. Daniel is at the center of a maelstrom as the cover depicts, a twelve-year-old boy with different tastes in foods and specific hygienic customs, wanting to fit in yet also wanting to hold on to the Persian culture he cherishes. A son with vivid recollections who longs for the warmth of his biological father, but is resigned to live with his stern, abusive Farsi- speaking step-father whom his mother marries and keeps remarrying for companionship and convenience, despite the beatings she suffers. As Daniel narrates his life tale with casual familiarity, the reader learns of the ancient heritage of Iran and its reverence and love of story, his difficulties adjusting to each stage of the refugee journey, and his impressions of Americans and life here. Most of all, the story is a tribute to the perseverance and unconditional love of his mother, Sima. In the refugee hotel of Italy instead of lolling around all day waiting for the call to emigrate, she makes a connection with a Texan woman living in Rome who home schools her own children and arranges for Daniel and Dina to share in the lessons even though Sima has to spend hours erasing the answers from the host children’s cast-off notebooks so that Daniel and Dina can use them. Her determination and dignity to make life good for her son and daughter are evident in that scene. Told not as a memoir, but as a work of fiction—for as the narrator tells us, it is not so simple to sort out fact from fiction when dealing with one’s memories—Daniel delivers the truth of his life as he remembers it with humor and charm and not a bit of self-pity. Shifting from present to far past to recent past, he shares his varied observations, thus preserving his precious legacy of storytelling, made up or real, or a mixture of both.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

THOUGHTS: Like the coveted cream puffs described in one of Nayeri’s tales, this book is a treat for those who appreciate a different writing style and matchless imagery. There are bits of scatological references—the unhappy affect of a first-time encounter with Sloppy Joes and negotiating a toilet with a bidet—but the targeted audience may appreciate and even empathize with Daniel’s situations. Written with a truly inimitable voice, this work is unlike any book for middle grade or young adult this reader has encountered. Recommend to students who love words or like to write, to those new to a place, or those needing to understand another perspective.

Elem. – This is the Path the Wolf Took

Farina, Laura. This is the Path the Wolf Took. Kids Can Press, 2020. 978-1-525-30153-7. Unpaged. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Big brother loves reading to his little sister, but the stories he imagines are never quite like the ones mom or dad tell their daughter. Rather than wolves terrorizing little girls, grandmas, and pigs, all the characters make friends and have ice cream. It seems big brother does not do scary. Happy stories are his comfort zone. But his little sister sees BORING where he sees safe. Faced with losing his audience, can he confront his fears and create a story that will entertain his sister? This rollicking tale, complemented by Elina Ellis’s comic illustrations, addresses every young reader who wriggles through suspenseful fairy tales, while sharing a sly wink with older, braver readers. They will recognize the stock staple elements of fairy tales, and giggle over how big brother reimagines each story to his peaceful satisfaction. When big brother finally ups his storytelling game, readers will be surprised at who is left with the feeling that something bad is about to happen.

THOUGHTS: A delightful look at fairy tale story elements, as well as addressing the fears of timid readers. Imaginative text pairs with delightfully humorous illustrations for a winner of a book, recommended for all collections serving young readers.

Picture Book          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

Elem. – One Girl

Beatty, Andrea. One Girl. Abrams, 2020. $16.99. 32 p. 978-1-419-71905-9. Grades K-3. 

One dejected looking little girl sits all alone on the steps of a remote porch underneath a starry sky when a glowing book falls to her feet like a comet. Immediately upon opening it, her world changes into a brightly colored  fantasyland where books grow on trees and pencils sprout from the earth. As the young girl travels through this wondrous land, she witnesses diverse women working independently as artists, scientists, and leaders. The next morning she races to school to share her treasure with an eager and diverse group of students. Shortly after, she picks up a pencil and begins writing while astonished classmates watch the magic spill from her hand. Next, boys and girls alike follow her lead and begin to read, write, and share their unique stories while elements of their stories: a tiger, a grand piano, a helicopter, and hot air balloons float overhead. Later, by the light of the moon another girl sits on the front steps and watches as several new glowing books fall from the sky. Lovely, repetitive prose “One girl glowing/shares her song” reinforces the beauty of a young girl finding her voice yet also allows the reader to be fully immersed in the opportunities she has opened with her love of books. The young girl protagonist along with her supportive teacher present as Asian with medium-beige skin and beautiful dark hair. Classmates all wear the same school uniform but represent a variety of ethnicities among skin and hair colors.

THOUGHTS: One Girl is a loving tribute to the power of reading, writing, and storytelling. In addition to being a lovely read aloud, this title would make a great introduction to a writing unit or a classroom conversation about how words and actions can affect others. Short and repetitive text surrounded by stunning art with some graphic elements make this a nice option for sharing with pre-readers or English language learners who may need a little nudge to find their reading groove. This book has a place in any school library collection, classroom libraries, and beyond.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

Elem. – Wrong Way Summer

Lang, Heidi. Wrong Way Summer. Amulet Books, 2020. 978-1-419-73693-3. 268 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

“Claire no longer believed her dad.” She used to, and sometimes she still wanted to, but when she discovered what really happened to her mother, that she wasn’t stolen by a troll king, that she wasn’t a pilot on the world’s fastest jet, a scientist working on a new crayon color, or even a secret agent infiltrating a pride of lions, she stopped believing her out-of-work father’s endless supply of tall tales. So when he pulled into the driveway with an old van and declared that this was a summer of adventure, that they would fix up the van and travel the country living the “hashtag vanlife,” Claire knew there was much more to the story. Told from Claire’s point of view as they travel from one city to the next, the reader slowly learns why the family is living in a van, and why Claire’s mother is no longer in the picture.

THOUGHTS:  Nestled underneath the fantastic tales told by Claire’s dad is a story about homelessness and poverty, although it may not be immediately apparent to a reader who doesn’t recognize the subtle clues. The reveal of the whereabouts of Claire’s mother is quick with few details, but it should be enough to satisfy most readers. There are students in our libraries who need to read a story about an unreliable parent and the burden that is felt when the child has to act as the responsible one.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Elem. – Freedom Bird

Nolen, Jerdine. Freedom Bird. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 978-0-689-87167-2. Unpaged. $17.99. Grades 2-5.

Brother and sister Millicent and John Wheeler are enslaved children whose parents instilled in them the dream of freedom. One day, while the children are working in the fields of a North Carolina plantation, the overseer takes a whip and hits a large mysterious bird, knocking it to the ground. At night, the children rescue the bird and keep it safe. The siblings learn that John would soon be sold to a farm in Georgia, and the pair realize that now is the time to make their escape. As the children run away from the overseer, the bird takes flight into a storm and heads west. The children hide in the woods during the storm and they eventually escape westward across the Missouri River. On the last page, the author reveals this tale was one that was told by storytellers and utilized the common imagery of the bird’s flight to symbolize freedom. James E. Ransome has created vibrant full bleed illustrations that show the characters on a large scale, like the drawing of the bird taking flight. The images masterfully show motion, and the reader can almost feel a breeze from the bird’s wings.

THOUGHTS: This book completes a trilogy of stories that feature African Americans from the same plantation and their journey to freedom from slavery (Big Jabe and Thunder Rose). This book works well as a mentor text for imagery and metaphor and shows the power of storytelling. A wonderful read aloud for anytime.

Easy Picture Book          Denise Medwick, Retired, PSLA Member

Elem. – The Biggest Story

Coyle, Sarah. The Biggest Story. Kane Miller, 2020. 978-1-684-64045-4. 32 p. $12.99. Grades K-2.

Sarah Coyle’s vibrant picture book, illustrated by Dan Taylor, reminds readers that even in a world with the iPad, Nintendo Switch, and YouTube, the best entertainment comes from the imagination of storytellers. Errol is surrounded by every toy and electronic he owns and yet, he is still bored. His mother is a fantastic storyteller, and he begs for one of her stellar stories. Unfortunately, she must complete some errands around the house first. She suggests Errol think up his own tale instead. While worrying that he doesn’t know how to come up with a story, he bumps into some insect and animal friends who give him some fun and unusual ideas for his tale. Errol also meets some time-traveling dinosaurs who want a featured spot in his first literary creation. Together, his newfound furry and scaly friends help him create a story so big, even his mother, storyteller extraordinaire, is impressed with the final result.

THOUGHTS: This book shows students the power of storytelling and how a story can be generated just by looking all around you. Teachers and librarians will especially love that Errol has an activity in the back of the book to help students find their inner storyteller. What I love most about this book, however, is that Errol is a character of color featured in a children’s book that shows him doing normal activities. Every library can benefit from books that show people of color being, well, regular people!

Picture Book         Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Elem. – Old Rock (Is Not Boring)

Pilutti, Deb. Old Rock (Is Not Boring). G.B. Putnam’s Sons, 2020. 978-0-525-51818-1. 32 p. $17.99. Grades K-4. 

Old Rock happily sat at the edge of the forest “for as long as anyone could remember. And even before that” until one day friends begin to brag about their many adventures. Hummingbird’s stories of flight remind Old Rock about what it was like to sit in darkness before erupting from a volcano. Spotted Beetle’s tales of scaling trees to watch animals and ships remind Old Rock of times when dinosaurs roamed before giant glaciers covered the land. Tall Pine’s dancing in the wind inspires rock to recant what it was like to tumble down a ridge and land in a vast grassland full of mastodon. Old Rock’s friends are finally convinced that staying in one place for as long as anyone can remember might not be that bad when Old Rock shares what it has been like to watch seedlings grow into tall pine forests while listening to stories of adventure and travel from good friends. Anthropomorphic flora, fauna, and rock illustrations paired with occasional conversation bubbles add whimsy to the story. The final page consists of an illustrated timeline spanning from 18 million years ago to present day providing additional facts about Old Rock’s journey.

THOUGHTS: Connect this book to a science lesson about the rock cycle, geology, earth history, or just read it aloud for fun. I think students will enjoy the humor of this book while also appreciating the geological facts rooted in Old Rock’s stories. SEL connections can also be made with Old Rock’s contentedness to be still and live in the present.

Picture Book          Jackie Fulton, Mt. Lebanon SD

MG – When You Trap a Tiger

Keller, Tae. When You Trap a Tiger. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020. 978-1-524-71570-0. 287 p. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

Lily, known as Lily Bean to her mom, and Eggi in her Halmoni’s stories, and her family suddenly pack up and move to Washington one rain soaked evening. They are moving in with her Halmoni, a storyteller, and the story she shares with Lily from many years ago is about how she stole the stars from the sky and bottled up the bad stories which angered a tiger. Lily is intrigued by her story, and when a tiger suddenly appears in the middle of the road one rainy night, Lily is convinced everything is real. But time is of the essence, as Halmoni is showing signs of illness – could it be a consequence of her stealing the stars? With the help of Ricky, a boy Lily meets at the library across the street, the two devise a “hypothetical” tiger trap. Little did Lily know that the Tiger would make her an offer that can help her Halmoni, but with consequences. Lily wants answers and to find a way to help her Halmoni before it’s too late. But can a QAG, short for quiet Asian girl, really find the truth? Can she rescue her family before it’s too late?

THOUGHTS: Readers will not be disappointed with the characters in this book – they are full of heart, determination, love, and curiosity, even if one of them is a tiger. This title is perfect to add to your collection of diverse books, as it shows the struggle of an Asian family and how their history and heritage affect their lives today. I truly enjoyed reading this story and believe it is the perfect story to capture how storytelling and reading books can truly be art.

Fantasy          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD

Change is happening in Lily’s life. With little notice, her mother has uprooted her daughters from their California home to their halmoni’s (grandmother’s) home in Sunbeam, Washington. Lily does her best to be the invisible, accommodating, “QAG” (quiet Asian girl) while her older sister, Sam, finds every reason to voice her displeasure to their mother and often rebukes Lily. Lily both chafes under and finds comfort in her invisibility. Lily’s many worries worsen when she (and only she) sees a tiger in the road as they approach their halmoni’s home. Her grandmother has shared countless Korean folktales with Lily and Sam, often with a dangerous tiger involved. When Lily discovers that her grandmother is ill and facing death, she’s determined to convince the tiger to use its magic to cure her grandmother, despite admonitions from her mother and sister that dissuade her from believing the “silly” stories have any power in their lives. The library across the street provides hope and friendship for Lily, who teams up with Ricky to build a tiger trap in her grandmother’s basement. Can she convince the tiger to help, and can she convince her family that the stories are real and useful?  Will the stories save her grandmother and her family?

THOUGHTS: This is a tale of a young girl growing up and deciding who she will be, while she comes to terms with death. The targeted age level seems to increase through the story as Lily matures, and this may not quite work for readers. The grief, anger at moving, and the sister difficulties between Lily and Sam smooth a bit too perfectly by the story’s end. I found myself wishing for more scenes with the interesting, enigmatic tiger.

Magical Realism          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD
Korean Folktales

2017 Catch-up PreK-3 – The Too-Scary Story & Series NF – About Habitats

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Murguia, Bethanie Deeney.  The Too-Scary Story.  Arthur A. Levine, 2017. 9780545732420. Unpaged. $16.99.  PreK-2.

 

In this charming picture book, two children request that their dad tell them a bedtime story.  Grace, the older sister, wants a scary story, while her brother seems less sure of this. Their father begins a tale about two young explorers who are walking through a forest with their dog on their way home. In the darkness, Walter, the young brother, is very worried, but cheers when the darkness is relieved by fireflies.  Next they hear a lot of breathing sounds that turn out to be sleeping animals and finally, the “evil shadow” they see is really their father sitting on the bed as he finishes the story. The illustrations are full bleed and done in watercolor, gouache pencil and tissue collage. The “scary” scenes are illustrated with dark colors, while the “non-scary” scenes use a lighter colored palette. The stuffed toys in the children’s bedroom appear in the forest as real animals.  Children will enjoy looking for the owl, which appears on each double page spread. THOUGHTS: Murguia’s text is a wonderful and reassuring bedtime story. It also serves as a great read aloud, especially around Halloween, when a non-holiday story is needed. An additional purchase for libraries that want more not “too-scary” stories for young readers.

 

Picture Book          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District


 

Sill, Cathryn.  Seashores.  Peachtree, 2017. 978-1-56145-968-1.  Unpaged. $16.95. K-3.     

                     

Sill, Cathryn. Deserts. 978-1-56145-641-3
Sill, Cathryn. Forests. 978-1-56145-734-2
Sill, Cathryn. Grasslands. 978-1-56145-559-1
Sill, Cathryn. Mountains. 978-1-56145-469-3
Sill, Cathryn. Oceans. 978-1-56145-618-5
Sill, Cathryn. Polar Regions. 978-1-56145-968-1
Sill, Cathryn. Wetlands. 978-1-56145-432-7

 

Seashores is one book in a series of habitat books by Cathryn and John Sill.  In this text, the reader learns about seashore ecology around the world.  The author discusses the different types of beaches, the landforms surrounding the beach, the effect of tides and various animals that inhabit coastal areas, including some lesser known ones.  The text appears in a large font size on the left hand side of the book and is a single simple sentence. On the right side appear the muted watercolor illustrations, which are called plates. John Sill’s meticulous drawings could be displayed as wall art. More information about each plate is included in the back matter, which also contains a glossary and bibliography of books and active websites.  It might have been better to include the additional plate information in the body of the text itself, because now the reader must flip back and forth, especially if reading the book aloud. THOUGHTS: Despite this concern about book design, this text is a wonderful introductory resource for young children learning about coastal ecology. Teachers could use this as a read aloud or students could read this alone. Librarians needing books on habitats for primary grades may want to consider this series.  (The other books in this series were not available for review).

 

577.699, Seashore Ecology          Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District