Picture Books – The Road Home; Smoot; T. Veg; Windows

Cotton, Katie.   The Road Home.  Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 9781419723742. Unpaged. $15.95. Gr. K-2.

In this poetic and comforting tale, animals prepare for winter.  Each pair of animals has a goal in mind. The mouse builds a nest underground, and the bird and her chick fly off to a warmer climate.   On their journey, the rabbit and her kit find themselves in an alarming situation. They are being pursued by a wolf and cub who feel hunger or that “burning thing that settles like a stone.”  The author describes the rabbits’ fear as they try to outrun their predator. The reader is reassured to see that the pair have escaped the hungry wolves and have found safety in their leafy home as night falls. As spring arrives, all the animals return to the meadow, having survived the harsh winter. The illustrator Sarah Jacoby has chosen watercolors in a soft and muted color palette, which helps set the mood of the story.  Her engaging drawings take us through the seasons, as the tale begins in late summer and ends in spring. Most of the illustrations are full bleed and are done over a two-page spread. In the drawing of the fall leaves being blown about, one can almost feel and hear the wind. The winter landscape looks bleak and cold, with a blanket of snow topped by thorny bushes. The message here is that whenever parent and child are together, that place is home, no matter how difficult the road was to get there.  THOUGHTS: This lyrical story works well in winter-themed storytimes and would make a wonderful bedtime story.  Children will enjoy looking at the sweet drawings of the animals. A worthy selection for elementary collections.

Picture Book            Denise Medwick, West Allegheny SD


Cuevas, Michelle and Sydney Smith. Smoot: A Rebellious Shadow. Dial Books. 2017. 978-0-525-42969-2. $17.99. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

A shadow’s job is typically to obediently follow you around, but “if life is a book, then Smoot the Shadow has been reading the same yawn-colored page for the last seven and a half years.” One day, Smoot has the chance to live out his dreams and wishes when he comes unstuck from his boy. As Smoot continues his journey, other shadows find courage and try their own fantasies. Smoot worries that this could get out of hand, so the rebellious shadow takes matters into his own shadowy hand, all within the curious eye of his boy. Will they find a connection? Sydney Smith’s gentle wwatercolorswith inky shadows make for an interesting contrast, and Michelle Cuevas keeps her text lyrical and well paced. The shadow of Smoot may just encourage more dreaming and action for other children who are stuck in a rut.  THOUGHTS: Smoot would make for a fun twist for science lessons or the old groundhog stories that primary teachers use every year.

Picture Book     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area SD


Prasadam-Halls, Smriti. T. Veg. Abrams Books, 2017. 978-1-4197-2494-7.  $16.95. Unpaged. Gr. K-2.

Poor Reginald the T. Rex just doesn’t fit in with his jungle friends. He is great at roaring and stomping, but come dinner time, he opts for carrot cake over steak. He attempts to convince his family and friends to try grapes, greens, avocado pie and smoothies, but they insist that a T. Rex should just eat meat, meat, meat. Eventually, the poor little dino, tired of being teased and tormented, packs his bag and runs away, looking to hang out with like-minded herbivores instead. But that proves to be challenging for a variety of reasons, leaving Reg frustrated and alone. However, his friends and family are missing him, too, and when Reg saves the clan from disaster, they finally appreciate the benefits of eating their fruits and veggies. The story is related in rollicking rhyme, and the palate of the  bold illustrations bring to mind carrots, peas and eggplant. THOUGHTS: A cute book to underscore the freedom to be different, or to encourage healthy eating.   

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD


Denos, Julia. Windows. Candlewick, 2017. 978-0-7636-9035-9. $15.99. Unpaged. PreK – 1.

Evening begins to fall and a young boy heads out into his neighborhood, taking his small dog for a walk. As the pair amble past homes and businesses, the boy notices the variety of activities taking place in the windows, eventually returning home to a familiar, welcoming warmth. The detailed illustrations will invite children to closely examine each page and each window to see what is happening.  THOUGHTS: Beautifully illustrated, this is a lovely book for one-on-one reading.  

Picture Book     Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District

Picture Books – The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes; Snowflake in my Pocket; Miguel & the Grand Harmony

Compestine, Ying Chang, The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. 978-1-4197-2542-5. 32pp. $17.99. Gr K-3.

This variation on the traditional Hans Christian Anderson tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes features nine-year-old boy emperor Ming Da. Ming Da’s corrupt advisors think he is too young to rule, so they take advantage of him, stealing silks, rice, jewels, and gold. When he looks outside the palace windows, Ming Da sees poor, hungry children begging in the streets. He longs to help them, but it isn’t until his tailors come with his new robes for the Chinese New Year parade that Ming Da hatches his plan. Instead of wearing the ornate robes they initially present, Ming Da enlists the tailors’ help in sewing together old rice sacks decorated with vegetable juices. When he appears in front of his advisors wearing these sacks, he explains that they are magical and that only honest people will be able to see their true splendor. Wanting to mask their corruption, the advisors gush about the rice sacks and agree to have the tailors design magical robes for them as well. One by one, the advisors try on their new robes, and they each want to look more splendid than the others. They bring back the silks, rice, jewels, and gold to finance the creation of the supposedly elaborate robes. Ming Da uses the rice, silks, and gold to feed and dress the poor, and on the morning of the New Year’s Day parade, the advisors march behind the young emperor wearing their own rice sack robes. Amongst themselves, they keep up the charade of complementing each other on the clothing’s splendor, but a young boy in the crowd points and laughs at their rice sacks, and the embarrassed advisors flee the country. Ming Da replaces them with honest ministers and rules wisely and fairly for many years. David Roberts’s vibrant pen and ink and watercolor illustrations feature intricate details such as Chinese scrolls and latticework, and the ornate details pop against plain white backgrounds. Careful readers will also enjoy searching for the emperor’s pet cricket and mouse who appear in almost every spread. A note on the final pages describes the author’s personal history with this fairytale and her childhood in China that inspired this retelling.  THOUGHTS:  This retelling will fit nicely with fairytale units and activities where students compare an original fairytale and a variation. Also use it for Chinese New Year celebrations and storytimes.

Picture Book    Anne Bozievich, Southern York County SD


Bright, Rachel. Snowflake in My Pocket. Kane Miller, A Division of EDC Publishing: 2017. 978-1-61067-551-2. 32pp. $12.99. Gr K-2.

This is the gentle story of a wise old bear who has seen many seasons and a young squirrel who has seen only three. Together, the pair explore every corner of their forest home, and one night, Bear declares that the snow is on its way. Squirrel has never seen snow before, and he is overjoyed when he sees a wintery wonderland outside his tree the next morning. He can’t wait to play outside with Bear, but Bear has come down with a cold and must rest in bed. Squirrel promises to have fun for both of them and heads outside for a day of rolling, making snow angels, and building snow bears. Even though Squirrel has fun, he still misses his friend and decides to catch a snowflake to take home to Bear. He finds the perfect one, puts it in his pocket, and heads home. But, when he tries to show Bear the snowflake, there is nothing in his pocket. Bear tenderly explains that snow comes and goes, but other things, like their love for one another, last forever. Snowy scenes pop in Yu Rong’s papercut art, and her detailed illustrations ensure children will notice subtle details with each repeated reading. THOUGHTS: This title is perfect for snowy storytimes, and it could also be used to jumpstart discussions of students’ favorite snowy day activities. Pair this with Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day.

Picture Book     Anne Bozievich, Southern York County


De la Pena, Matt.  Miguel and the Grand Harmony.  Disney Press, 2017. 978148478149. Unpaged. $17.99.  Gr. K-4.

This beautifully crafted book tells the story of a boy called Miguel who lives in a Mexican village and yearns to play music.  Inspired by the Disney Pixar film Coco, it is told in first person by the muse of music called La Música, who is depicted as a fairy by illustrator Ana Ramírez, an artist at the Pixar studios. De la Pena begins this story by telling the reader how music shapes and is a part of people’s lives in a wedding, quinceañera or a funeral and keeps “gray at bay.”  Músicos play in the village, where we meet the boy watching the musicians, but who are shooed away by his abuelita who states that their music will upset “Madame Coco,” an old woman in a wheelchair.  Unknown to his family, the boy has an attic room where he “plays” a broomstick guitar to recorded music.  Músicos again perform in the village and the boy is enraptured with the sound. Once again his abuelita chases them away.  The boy finds a guitar and begins to teach himself how to play.  The music he creates appears to bring happiness to Madame Coco as she smiles with delight at the boy’s music.  Ramirez’s drawings depict a Mexican village and are done in bright colors with lots of details.  On several pages, she has placed vibrantly colored flowers and music notes, which are small in the beginning of the story, but are huge by the end when the boy plays the guitar.  This lavishly illustrated book is a delight to the eyes. De la Pena has created a book that shows us the importance of music in our world and how it colors and brings harmony to our lives.  This book stands alone for the most part, but there are some questions left unanswered that might be answered in the film. Why is the boy’s abuelita concerned about the music upsetting Madame Coco?  Who is Madame Coco?  Who is the man that played music to “his little girl”? THOUGHTS: This book will be popular with readers who have seen the film.  It will also be useful for music teachers as a read aloud and will inspire young musicians.  The art in this book may make it a Caldecott contender.  De la Pena’s book is a worthwhile purchase and will add diversity to elementary collections.

Picture Book     Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

Picture Books – Ask Me; One Today; Toys Meet Snow; Oskar and the Eight Blessings


Waber, Bernard. Ask Me. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015. 978-0-54773394-4. unpaged. $16.99. Gr Pre-K – 1.

Question-asking is a huge developmental skill for a preschooler, and some kids are clearly more prolific and inquisitive than others! Ask Me is a gorgeous, sly, and sweet book published posthumously by Bernard Waber. On a daddy-daughter walk through the park, the little girl dominates both sides of the conversation, which seems to work fine for the patient and cordial father.  As they move into their bedtime routine, their conversation shows that she is settled, reassured, and loved. The autumnal, spirited color pencil illustrations by Suzy Lee bring the appropriate tone and setting to the story, and hopefully will leave your young reader ready to ask more questions.  THOUGHTS: Sweet addition for a read aloud or preschool, especially geared toward early inquiry, nature exploration, and dialogue. Worthy purchase!

Picture Book; Family     Dustin Brackbill, State College Area School District


Blanco, Richard. One Today. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. 978-0-31637144-5. unpaged. $18.00. Grades K – 3.

Poetry has a gift for reaching an audience and finding commonalities and connections. Such is the gift that Richard Blanco and Dav Pilkey have created in this gorgeous picture book edition of One Today, the inaugural poem from President Obama’s ceremony to begin his second term in office. The audience, for its initial delivery, was government leaders, but this version will reach even the youngest future leader with the journey of one family through one today. Pilkey’s acrylic and India ink illustrations blanket every page in vibrant colors, often reflecting the rays of sunlight blending the sky and city together. The two children, plus a cat, walk their mother to work at a market and then go about their day exploring, reading, learning, listening, and seeing what the city has in store. The words and pictures are perfectly complementary in both the obvious and subtle text at work, creating connections both intimate and broad. By the end of One Today, readers can appreciate the differences of our backgrounds, faith and family while understanding the bond and unity that comes with sharing the same sky and ground, sight and sound, color and light, day and night.  THOUGHTS: With it’s starred reviews, and certain awards to come, this book will be a great addition to your library. Classes could build discussion questions around community topics or discover other famous inaugural poems and poets as extensions.

Picture Book; Family      Dustin Brackbill State College Area School District




Jenkins, Emily. Toys Meet Snow. New York: Schwartz and Wade Books, 2015. 978-0-385 37330-2. 36 p. Grades K-3.

The characters from the Toys Go Out series are back in a picture book enhanced by Paul O. Zelinsky’s colored illustrations. The little girl is away, and the toys decide to head outside for their first snowfall. Two-page spreads told in panels voice each character’s thoughts; book-smart Plastic, curious Lumphy and poetic StingRay think out loud about the snowy day. They examine how their world looks different when they make snow angels, and Plastic even finds a sled. Plastic goes from voicing facts to truly appreciating the beauty of StingRay’s words as the day ends.  Thoughts: Fans of the Toys Go Out chapter books will welcome this beautiful colorful story about the three friends. Those new to the characters will appreciate its charm as well. A gorgeous read-aloud for all ages.

Picture Book; Winter      Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School




Simon, Richard and Tonya Simon. Oskar and the Eight Blessings. New York: Roaring Book Press, 2015. 978-1-59643-949-8. 32 p. Grades 2-6.

The book begins on Kristallenacht, the Night of Broken Glass, during World War II. Sent alone to America to find an aunt he’s never met, Oskar finds himself in New York City on Christmas Eve, also the seventh night of Hanukkah. The story follows his travels up Broadway as he walks over one hundred blocks to find his aunt’s apartment. Along the way he discovers the kindness of strangers, the blessings his father told him to look for in people: a roll from a woman feeding the birds, a free copy of the Superman comic, and a pair of mittens from a boy in the park. He even encounters Eleanor Roosevelt, who, the author’s note informs us, really was in the city that day. The happy reunion of Oskar and his aunt feels like the biggest blessing among so many smaller but equally significant ones.  Thoughts: There is just enough information and subtlety about World War II to discuss with older students (or gloss over with younger ones to focus on the “miracle” part of the story instead). A good addition to a genre study on historical fiction or an older grade Hanukkah picture book collection With illustrations reminiscent of both Chris Van Allsburg and Brian Selznick, panels giving it a graphic novel feel at times, illustrator Mark Siegel enhances the story with realistic historical details.

Picture Book; Family     Lisa Weiss, Churchville Elementary School