Elem. – John’s Turn

Barnett, Mac. John’s Turn. Candlewick Press, 2022. 978-1-536-20395-0. $17.99. 32 p. Grades PreK-3.

Every Friday John’s school has a morning assembly with announcements, activities, and guest speakers. If the students are well-behaved during the assembly, then one student may perform. This performance is called “Sharing Gifts.” Many students do not like the name, but all of the students enjoy seeing each other perform. Today it is John’s turn, and he plans to dance. Students wait attentively for John to prepare for his performance. John is nervous and unsure at first. Kids snicker at the classical music as his performance begins. John is tentative at first, but then begins to relax and enjoy performing. There is stunned silence as he finishes his dance. For a brief second the reader will worry that this will not end well for John; that perhaps he will be shamed for performing ballet in his “Sharing Gifts” performance. And then the students rise to their feet to cheer and applaud.

THOUGHTS: This book is perfect in its simplicity. This is a very straightforward story that beautifully invites discussion about talents, interests, acceptance, and diversity. Kate Berube’s illustrations are gorgeous. The three full-page wordless spreads show John’s transformation from a nervous performer to joy-filled dancer are absolutely splendid.

Picture Book          Anne McKernan, Council Rock SD

This is a simple but powerful story of a child sharing their gifts with their community. John’s elementary school has an assembly every Friday, and one component of that assembly, to be earned if students behave well, is a segment called “Sharing Gifts,” in which students share their talents with the school. The story focuses on John’s turn to share. He is nervous and excited to share his ballet with his classmates, and their initial reaction of laughter and comments is to be expected… but then John danced, and the clapping began.

THOUGHTS:  This is a wonderful story about being oneself and the courage that it can take. Kate Berube’s illustrations present a diverse audience of John and captures movement, joy, and growing confidence in his dancing. A strong selection that can be enjoyed by all as well as one used to create classroom community for show and tell and talent shows.

Picture Book          Hannah J. Thomas, Central Bucks SD

YA – Super Fake Love Song

Yoon, David. Super Fake Love Song. G.P. Putnam & Sons, 2020. 978-1-984-81223-0. $18.99. Grades 9-12.

Asian-American Sunny Dae is a nerd, into Dungeons and Dragons with his best buddies, Jamal and Milo and anticipating multiple followers when they broadcast an interview with the much admired Lady Lashblade. Then he meets Cirrus Soh, the daughter of a Japanese couple who do business with his own workaholic parents. To impress Cirrus, he takes on the persona of his rocker-brother, Gray. His older brother has returned from his Hollywood pursuit for fame with his tail between his legs. Depressed and disillusioned, Gray succumbs himself to his basement room only to be drawn out to mentor the fledgling band Sunny and his pals have formed as they rehearse for the annual high school talent show. As Sunny’s feelings for Cirrus deepen, he becomes more conflicted about his duplicity: he is pretending to be a rocker and gaining Cirrus’s admiration and the longer he pretends, the more he likes the confidence and attention he is getting from others, including Gunner, his former bully.  When the day for the show comes, the Immortals pull it off, until a drunk Gray interferes. Author David Yoon has a knack for clever dialogue. His narrator, Sunny, weaves DnD references with contemporary situations that are fun for teens. Sunny is wealthy and lives in a posh area of Rancho Ruby in California. Though he is intelligent and good-looking, he still deals with insecurities and feelings of being a loser. However, the charmed life he leads refutes that claim. For those looking for a light romance enhanced by good writing, Super Fake Love Song may be just the thing.

THOUGHTS: Dungeons and Dragons fans will appreciate Sunny’s obsession. Romance fans will like the different male perspective. Though the genre is realistic fiction, the circumstances and events that occur in this book are fantasy to many of the teens who may pick up this book. In one section Sunny gives his take on the extravagant party Cirrus throws when her parents leave her home alone: “Such phenomena occurred solely on insipid television shows written by middle-aged hacks eager to cash in on the young adult demographic” (224). This comment may be a prediction for Super Fake Love Song.

Realistic Fiction/Romance          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia