Angeli, May. 2020. The Bear and the Duck. Wm. B. Eerdmans (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-80-285555-8. Originally published in France by Éditions des Éléphants.
When the duck is injured, he wasn’t expecting a bear to be kind to him. He was, however, expecting to be attacked so he threatened the bear. But, the bear just responded with kindness and offered to help the duck. The bear repeatedly does things to help the duck, like get him water and food. The duck slowly learns to trust the bear and they form a bond. The blue and green tones provide a peaceful mood for the friendship of bear and duck to blossom. The bear and duck ignore the typical laws of nature and become unlikely friends. The texture of the illustrations adds life to the story with lots of colorful shapes and lines. The woodblock stamping contributes to the natural textures represented in the visuals. The irregular lines and curves add to the natural setting of the story. Texture helps engage the reader in this tale of friendship. When the duck left for the winter and the bear went into hibernation they were not sure whether their friendship would continue. But, when spring arrives the two are excited to share their new stories with each other. The bear and duck learn about the importance of friendship and never forming an opinion based on appearances. (IMD)
Henkes, Kevin. 2020. Summer Song. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 40pp. $12.29 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-286613-4. Illustrated by Laura Dronzek.
“Summer is a green song” is a common motif in this concept book explaining the season. Imagery and metaphors, give different representations of how one can view summer. It can be green like the grass with sounds of birds chirping and lawn mowers, or it can be blue at the beach with warm sun. The descriptions help bring the concept of summer alive. Illustrations add to the depiction of summer through the organic shapes and textures. Color, shape and texture provide a childlike image of nature through the uneven brushstrokes and lines. The reader can see how energy is represented in the various types of lines, like the diagonal rain, or the horizontal waves in the ocean. One can visualize how summer is full of life.
The creativity in the ways summer is represented in this book is abundantly clear. Between the metaphors and the illustrations, a range of moods and settings are presented. The green provides a comforting and calm mood for the majority of the book. But, there is a range of other shades, like the gray fog and blue sky, to show the variation of summer and how it can make one feel different emotions. Young audiences will enjoy the various descriptions and illustrations that help one think about summer in many different ways. Summer is many things, but most of all, “summer is a green song”. (IMD)
Lerangis, Peter. 2019. Max Tilt: Enter the Core. HarperCollins. 384pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-244106-5.
Max and his cousin Alex are racing after Bitsy who stole the ingredients they need to cure Max’s mom’s illness. Bitsy and her dad want to use the cure for selfish reasons, but they still need more information to make it work. Everyone is racing to follow the next clue left by Jules Verne, which is based on his book Journey to the Center of the Earth. With the help of many others, Max and Alex journey to Iceland to dive under the Earth’s surface and compete with Bitsy for the final answers left by Verne. While taking place in modern times, the characters follow a timeless tale filled with ancient languages and puzzles.
Peter Lerangis has designed a world of wonder by presenting Jules Verne’s book as fact. All of the clues follow the excitement already generated by Verne which was so well-received among previous audiences. Similarly, when clues are found, the answers are considered factual, no matter how unconventional they seem at first. Max learns to think creatively with the facts he so loves. But now, he acts more collaboratively because he knows the value of listening to others. Readers ages 8-12 will find this fast-paced quest for the ingredients for the medicine to cure Max’s mother exciting and engaging. (IMD)
Lennon, John and Paul McCartney. 2019. With a Little Help From My Friends. Simon & Schuster (Little Simon). 40pp. $11.59 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-442983-3. Illustrated by Henry Cole.
Two girls develop a strong relationship after being alone without friends at school. The girls notice each other and establish a bond. They learn to do things together and depend on each other. However, they are separated because one has to move far away. The two stay in touch and meet again for a happy reunion. This narrative is set to the lyrics of the song “With a Little Help from My Friends” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The lyrics help the mood of friendship and hope come alive. Repetition helps reinforce the idea that friends will always be there to help when needed most. Thanks to the lyrics of this popular song, the mood is light-hearted and endearing.
The lyrics are the only words, therefore, the reader will get most of the information from the illustrations. Texture is very prominent in the illustrations through the line-shaded ink drawings. The images are mostly in black and white with small pops of color meant to draw one’s attention to important details. The final image is filled with color when the two girls meet again, showing how being with a friend can fill one’s life with happiness. Young readers will connect with the importance of friendship set to a well-known, heartwarming song. (IMD)
Renauld, Laura. 2020. Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-444122-4. Illustrated by Brigette Barrager.
Fred Rogers did not want any child to feel as lonely as he did in his youth. As a result, he set out to make children feel heard and understood. This goal was achieved through television shows such as “The Children’s Corner” and eventually, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Fred went to extra lengths to make sure his content was especially child friendly while still handling hard topics. He also had to overcome challenges, which is shown through tapes of the recorded senate hearing in which he asked to keep funding for his show. This biography details important milestones in the life of Mister Rogers, and showcases how he became such a popular television figure despite the obstacles he had to overcome.
The bright colored illustrations help add a playful and engaging tone for the story. Mister Rogers is often shown in his iconic red sweater and with hearts with small lines coming out of them to depict the love and joy he spread throughout his life. His emotions are shown through selected scenes from Fred’s shows, such as a “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” archive of some of his featured guests, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Ying Li. Children ages 4-8 will get a clear understanding of the bright caring man Fred Rogers was through this fun biography. (IMD)
Diesen, Deborah. 2020. Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights in America. Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 40pp. $16.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-443958-0. Illustrated by Magdalena Mora.
Voting rights have come a long way in our country. This is the focus of this informational book told through poetic form. The rhyme scheme in this poetic narrative makes the retelling of history very engaging for young readers. It details how voting rights were originally only for rich, land-owning, white men, then slowly over time more people gained voting rights. The repeated phrase “A right isn’t a right, Till it’s granted to all” emphasizes how progress has been made, but also explains where there is still room for improvement.
A list of activists and important figures in voting history are represented throughout the poetic narrative, in addition to a brief history of events important to the history of voting rights. Various important figures are illustrated walking and protesting for equal voting rights. Important historical figures such as Susan B. Anthony and W.E.B. Du Bois are depicted protesting for rights alongside people with whom the readers can identify. Readers can easily identify the people from longer ago in history because they are shaded in gray while the more recent figures are in color. This poetic narrative stresses how important it is for everyone to have equal rights and even young kids should understand that voting is important. (IMD)
Fulton, Kristen. 2019. A Royal Ride: Catherine the Great’s Great Invention. Simon & Schuster (Margaret K. McElderry Books). 40pp. $10.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-48-149657-5. Illustrated by Lucy Fleming.
Catherine the Great wanted to be able to slide all year round, not just during the winter on her ice slides. So she set off to hire some inventors to create the product of her imagination. They spent a lot of time having meetings and tweaking the design until it was just what Catherine envisioned. In the end, the first roller coaster was invented. The illustrations are reminiscent of a children’s cartoon, which makes it very appealing to those ages 4-8. The bright colors and detailed textures make the images particularly appealing and engaging to young audiences.
While gathering research for the book, the author traveled to Russia to access historical documents and meet with historians about Catherine the Great and her roller coaster. Fulton also includes a brief timeline of the invention of the roller coaster if one were interested in its historical development. Young readers will be inspired to act on their imaginations and invent items, just like Catherine the Great. (IMD)
Pataki, Allison and Myers, Marya. 2019. Nelly Takes New York: A Little Girl’s Adventures in the Big Apple. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 48pp. $10.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-442504-0. Illustrated by Kristi Valiant.
Nelly wakes up in her home in New York City. She leaves excited to take on the day when she is told to “enjoy the Big Apple”. This sends Nelly and her dog, Bagel, on an adventure to find the Big Apple. People tell her to find it in various places such as the American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and the Empire State Building. In the end, Nelly learns the Big Apple is not something one can find but is all of New York and its people, she also realizes that she is now part of the Big Apple.
The illustrations are bright and colorful just like one would see in New York. The warm colors bring a sense of comfort, while the cool ones imply life. Movement is evident in the images from the diagonal and curved lines. Particularly stunning images are created from the view of the Empire State Building with dark-colored buildings and bright yellow lights where one expects life to be throughout the city. Young readers will learn about New York while following Nelly’s exciting journey. (IMD)
Hannigan, Kate. 2019. Cape. Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 352pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-443911-5. Illustrated by Patrick Spaziante.
It is the middle of WWII and Josie is living and working in Philadelphia while her dad is fighting in the Pacific. Josie meets some new friends, Mae and Akiko, who are all recruited to become superheroes. They need to find Josie’s friend who has disappeared. To find their friend, they will solve puzzles and ciphers. Josie and her friends also need to stop people from stealing information to help the Nazis and send it to Hitler.
The comic pages were integrated to help keep readers engaged. They highlight the expressions and movements of the characters. The author left a list of resources about where she found her information. Readers will learn about what life was like in Philadelphia during WWII while staying engaged with the help of the superheroes. (IMD)
McDunn, Gillian. 2020. The Queen Bee and Me. Bloomsbury Publishing (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 288 pp. $11.79 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-68-119751-7. Illustrated by Isabel Roxas.
Meg and her childhood friend Beatrix are starting to have problems. Beatrix is becoming controlling and will not allow Meg to express herself in her own way. But, a new girl, Hazel, enters the picture and offers sympathy and support to Meg. Through the help of a new friend, Meg is able to realize Beatrix may not be the best friend for her at this time in her life. Moving on from old friends can be difficult, but beneficial in the long run.
The theme of a toxic friendship is relatable for young readers because quite a few people experience difficulty with their friends at some point as an early tween. Readers can find comfort in Meg because her experience may be similar to their own. (IMD)
Miller, Kayla. 2020. Act. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 224pp. $17.37 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-35-824218-5.
Olive is an average 6th grader trying to navigate school and friendships. She is happy to enjoy her school field trip until she realizes that some students cannot pay the fee. Olive thinks this is unfair, so she listens to the advice of her aunt and decides to be a voice for the students in her class. Issues like poor funding, unfair dress codes, and grade privacy are important to Olive. She runs for student council to be a representative of the people and bring change to her school. Olive learns it is important to listen to others and to fight for what she believes.
The images in this graphic novel provide an engaging vehicle. They are bright and definitive, which is entertaining for readers. Frequent images are used to show the passing of time without using dialogue. Middle school readers will relate to Olive trying to fight for what is right and still be a normal 6th grader. They will learn the importance of voting and representation in politics. (IMD)
White, Dianne. 2020. Green on Green. Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 40pp. $17.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-1-48-146278-5. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.
In this easy-to-read short story, the text and illustrations work together to create a compelling picture storybook for young readers from the ages of three to seven. The focus on a child’s journey through the four seasons and the changes, sights, and traditions associated with each of the seasons will appeal to readers who have experienced the cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter. The story follows a simple rhyming scheme while describing the sights, smells, and tastes associated with the cycle of the seasons. The illustrator highlights this is by changing the colors on the pages to correspond with the different seasons. The springtime pictures are filled with greens and yellows, summer is filled with blues and brighter yellows, fall has lots of reds, oranges, and browns, and lastly, winter has hues blues, and white. While all the seasons are paired with different colors, they all have a common theme of featuring warm-toned colors. These warm tones are most prevalent in the natural scenery in the book. One can see the vibrant green of the trees and the grass, the blues of the ocean and yellow sand, the red to brown hues of trees changing colors, and the white snow and deep blue skies when looking at the pictures. All these colors and pictures provide a happy and cozy feeling for the reader to experience. The shades of the colors are all relaxing and not super bright, which soothes the reader and puts them in a calming state when looking at the book.
The lines in this book are blurred and smudged, which gives the book a softness about it, which can make the reader feel calmer while also creating a more inviting atmosphere. There are also numerous vertical lines in the illustrations. These vertical lines convey a sense of energy and provide a childlike wonder. The non-abstract shapes of the trees, houses, animals, and people also play a role in the feeling of coziness in this book. With the shapes being non-abstract and recognizable one can feel a sense of familiarity and understanding which gives way to one feeling cozy. The texture in the illustrations is evident when looking at the various natural elements in the book. The trees or the shells have lines and shading in them to make them appear more realistic. (AEG)
Beltz, Temre. 2020. The Triumphant Tale of Pippa North. HarperCollins. 416 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-283586-4. Illustrated by Melissa Manwell.
In the magical kingdom of Wanderly, Pippa North is a lowly commoner. One day her whole world turns upside down when she is chosen to take a test to see if she can become a triumphant. Once Pippa passes the test, she is whisked away to Triumph Mountain. While at the mountain she becomes extremely homesick and writes to what she thinks is a fairy godmother to change her fate and allow her to go back home. The letter falls into the hands of an aspiring magician, Oliver, and soon their lives become intertwined with the challenges that lie before them. Three of the motifs Norton (2011) outlines in her children’s literature text are supernatural beings as helpers or adversaries, extraordinary animal beings, and possession of a magical object or power. These motifs were displayed by the magicians as adversaries, Pippa’s fire horse being an extraordinary animal, and the magical object being Maisy’s magical wooden spoon that made sweet treats and saved Oliver’s life.
This tale of magic and wonder is a pleasure to read. According to Norton (2011), children believe heroes and their environments are akin to children and their environments. Even though the book is set in a magical kingdom, the environment of Pippa and Oliver can be seen as very similar to the settings of typical children. They both were put into an environment of not feeling like they were accepted by the people surrounding them, as well as working tirelessly towards their aspirations. Students, ages 8-13 may easily relate to the theme of friendship and enjoy the mystical, magical nature of the mountain. (AEG)
Fry, Michael and Jackson, Bradley. 2018. Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again). HarperCollins. 272 pp. $12.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-265193-8. Illustrated by Michael Fry.
Bobbie Mendoza has already saved the world once. Now, more than anything else, all she wants is to pretend she is normal at her new school and forget about the whole thing. Her normalcy doesn’t last very long when on the first day the two elves who pulled her into saving the world the first time are back again and will not leave Bobbie alone. Bobbie tries her best to ignore the elves, until a bounty hunter begins to track her down and she has no choice but to begin her adventure in the trans-dimensional universe. Immediately the theme of trying to fit in and be “normal” is present in the book. Norton (2011) discusses this concept when she states “modern fantasies develop themes related to universal struggles and values.” Most children have felt the struggle of trying to belong to a certain group of people, thus making Bobbie a relatable character. The style is also appropriate for children from the ages of 8 to 12. The authors used the illustrations throughout the book to provide context for the events, but also as part of the text, which is unique and interesting (2011) and is how the plots of modern fantasy develop. In a similar way to traditional literature, literary motifs are present. In this particular book the motifs of fantasy creatures, such as unicorns, zombies, and mermaids and magic objects, such as portals, sprinkle guns, and nightmare replicators can be seen throughout the sequence of events. These motifs directly tie back to the mythical quests Bobbie must complete and also follows a theme of modern fantasies. Bobbie is completing a mythical quest when she is thrown into another universe to close a portal and stop the fantasy creatures from crossing over into the real world. (AEG)
Reid, Megan. 2020. Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis Fleet-of-Foot Girl. Harper Collins (Balzer + Bray). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-285109-3. Illustrated by Laura Freeman.
Althea Gibson was a young African American girl growing up in 1940’s Harlem. She spent the summer playing any sport or game which allowed her to move, but when summer ended and she wanted to keep playing, she found a passion for tennis. In the story we follow Althea’s journey of becoming the first ever black person, man or woman, to win a championship at Wimbledon, not once but twice. The story talks about Althea’s struggles in being a young black girl trying to break into the all-white tennis world, but also discusses the challenges society was facing as a whole with segregation and racism. There are direct facts and dates of important milestones Althea achieved in her tennis career.
The illustrations are lifelike with rich colors and realistic images while directly correlating back to the text on each of the pages. This allows for readers to wholly grasp the message, even if they do not completely comprehend the diction of the story. All of the illustrations are in warm colors, which gives the reader the sense this is a story with happy outcomes. This book would be best for children ages 5-11 due to these factors. The author helps readers build on their knowledge of Althea Gibson at the end of the book with the in-depth authors note; providing important dates, pages, and websites where one can learn more about her. (AEG).
Jenkins, Steve and Page, Robin. 2020. What Do You Do if You Work at The Zoo?. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-438759-1. Illustrated by Steve Jenkins.
A zookeeper is a person who is in charge of taking care of all the animals and their needs at a zoo. The primary goal of zookeepers is to make sure all the animals are staying healthy and safe as well as making sure to provide them with the most natural environment for all the different animals. To do this, zookeepers have unusual responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of their exotic animals. The reader is taken through all of the surprising tasks a zookeeper might have for the day and the reason why they perform the tasks for the animals. The message would best be suited for children ages 5-9. Each animal mentioned in the book has a responsibility attached to its needs in order to stay healthy, so the reader is acquiring lots of knowledge about each animal and their natural environments.
On each page, written in a bigger font than the other text, is the general idea of the responsibility the zookeeper has. Readers then learn why the task is performed and what it does for the specific animal. The illustrations in the book help aid the reader’s understanding what the authors are expressing. At the end of the book the reader can look at each of the animals mentioned and learn more facts about each one as well as facts about zoos. The authors of this book have written many stories on the topic of exotic animals and are also informational picture books for children. (AEG)
Elizabeth, Zunon. 2019. Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-68-119640-4. Illustrated by Zunon Elizabeth.
As a little girl and her father are baking her chocolate surprise birthday cake, the father recounts the story of his father–the girl's grandfather–and his journey of becoming a cacao bean farmer. A cacao bean farmer is someone who harvests the bean which is then traded and made into edible chocolate. When the father was growing up in Ivory Coast, Africa with his father he watched and helped with the growing process of the cacao bean. When telling his daughter about it, he explained the cake was a gift from her grandfather. Illustrations throughout allow for the reader to see the life of the grandfather as a cacao bean farmer. However, at the same time readers learn about the life of the little girl and her father while they bake the cake. Even though the illustrations of both stories are on the same page, they differentiate widely in the style of artwork. The grandfather is seen in all white, which gives him a mystic feeling; while the father and daughter are seen in bright colors which gives them a homey, comfortable feeling.
Norton (2011) discusses accuracy as critical when evaluating informational books. To judge the accuracy one must look at the qualifications of the author. The author of this informational book grew up in Ivory Coast, West Africa and learned of the chocolate culture quite well when she was there. Since it seems the author has a firsthand experience with the cacao bean. The author helps readers look at the accuracy of this story, as well as giving information at the end of the book that outlines the history, the process now, and the realities of the cacao bean trade industry. All of these factors would make this book best fit for a child ages 7 - 11. (AEG)
Standish, Ali. 2020. How to Disappear Completely. HarperCollins. 384pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-289328-4. Jacket art by Yaoyao Ma Van As.
Set in the contemporary world, Emma and her grandmother were best friends who spent their time in a secret spot called the Spinney, where they spent their days talking and writing about fairytales. When her grandmother dies though, Emma’s world turns upside down and if things could not get any worse, she starts to see abnormal pale spots on her body on the day of her gram's funeral. Emma and her family move to Laternwood, which makes Emma nervous to not only start a new school, but to go there with the pale dots forming all over her body. Soon after starting school, Emma gets diagnosed with Vitiligo, which is an autoimmune disease causing loss of skin color on the body. Facing school bullies, dealing with her vitiligo, and trying to cope with the loss of her gram, Emma starts to see other people for who they truly are, as well as who she really is.
The first-person point of view from Emma’s perspective allows the reader to understand what a child might be going through as well as how they are adjusting and thinking in these various life-altering events. Person vs. self is a prominent conflict with Emma dealing with her vitiligo. She must figure out if she wants to hide it from the rest of the world and try to be “normal” or embrace it and become a new version of herself with her vitiligo. With Standish’s style of writing, the reader has a clear perspective of each of the characters and their lives due to her vivid descriptions of their personality traits and interactions with other characters.
Readers ages 9-13 will be exposed to a believable outlook on tough challenges and how those challenges can impact them. (AEG)
Rubin, Steven Jay and Miller, David Lee. 2019. The Cat Who Lived with Anne Frank. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-52-474150-1. Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley.
Mouschi, a cat, goes with his boy, Peter to a secret annex in Amsterdam where they are hiding from the Nazis. Peter’s family and Mouschi are not the only ones hiding in the secret annex once Anne Frank and her family arrive. Told from Mouschi’s point of view, readers follow what is going on in Amsterdam when Hitler takes over the country, as well as the hopes and dreams of Anne Frank, which she writes about in her journal. Mouschi travels into Amsterdam and shows the reader a cruel world full of violence and discrimination because of what Mouschi calls the black spiders (actually Nazi soldiers). When he comes back into the annex the readers view a gentler world through Anne’s dreams of a more kind and accepting place for her and her family. The reader not only reads from the perspective of Mouschi, but also reads accounts from Anne Frank’s diary. This allows for the stark contrast between the outside world and the annex.
The illustrations play a key role in aiding the reader to see the differences from the annex and outside world. When Mouschi is outside, the pages are filled with red and black. This conveys the anger, violence, and destruction towards the Jews at the time in Amsterdam. When Mouschi is in the secret annex, the pages are filled with blue, with the exception of Anne’s dress and the window. This sends the message the annex is a place of sorrow and mourning for the people in it, but Anne and the window are a source of light in all the darkness. End pages share more information about Anne Frank as well as more details about the characters and places displayed in the book. This allows for the reader to know that although what is told is not entirely accurate, the people, places, and events are based on true facts and are a part of history. This story allows for readers to be introduced to a serious topic without overwhelming them, making it a book suitable for children ages 8-12 year olds. (AEG).
Behar, Ruth. 2020. Letters From Cuba. Penguin Random House LLC (Nancy Paulson Books). 272pp. $14.62. ISBN 978-0-52-551647-7. Illustrated by John Parra.
Right before the start of World War II a young girl, Esther, crosses the sea alone to be with her dad in Cuba while leaving the rest of her family behind in Poland. Esther’s father is in Cuba to work and make money for the family since he is no longer able to do so in Poland. After Esther begs him in multiple letters to choose her as the child he brings over to help him, he finally sends her a ticket to cross the sea to join him in Cuba. Esther is writing to her sister Malka who is back home in Poland with the rest of Esther's family in a series of letters. Once Malka comes to Cuba, Esther shares the letters with her sister to show all the people, places, and events Esther encountered while being there.
Set in the late 1930’s and from Esther's point of view, readers view the country of Cuba and how multicultural it is. The style allows the reader to explore many different cultures and their accompanying customs which go along with the cultures. The different cultures include African, Polish, Chinese, and of course Cuban cultures. When detailing the different cultures, phrases are in different languages with a translation in English to allow the reader to comprehend what was being said. Although historical fiction, the events are based on the author's grandmother and her journey to Cuba when fleeing from Hitler. This allows for readers ages 9 - 13 to understand the severity of what was happening and the thoughts as well as emotions one would feel if in Esther’s position. (AEG)
Faruqi, Saadia and Shovan, Laura. 2020. A Place at the Table. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 336pp. $12.19. ISBN 978-0-35-811668-4.
Two sixth grade girls, Sara and Elizabeth, have mothers who are immigrants to the United States and have not yet taken their citizenship test. Elizabeth is enrolled in the after-school cooking class taught by Sara’s mother. Through the cooking class the two become unlikely companions. Even though Sara’s mom is from Pakistan and Elizabeth’s mom is from England, the two find similarities in their different cultures and use their cross-cultural knowledge to become a team for a baking competition. The perspective alternates between Elizabeth and Sara’s points of view and allows the reader to see different cultural aspects as well as the thoughts and feelings of the girls and their “abnormal” lives as daughters of immigrants. The conflicts illustrate the struggles and experiences many children of different religions, races, and ethnicities face in everyday life because they are not what is considered “the normal.”
Alternating between the voices of Sara and Elizabeth, words and phrases from each of their cultures make the plot and conflicts authentic and more realistic. The theme of racism is also realistic. Children should be taught about racism and biases, which are both reflected in the plot and conflicts. The author also touches on how to overcome racism and appreciate people who are not the same as oneself. Images use food as a prime example of how cultures can differ but can be appreciated by everyone. When Sara and Elizabeth become friends, they look at the many different foods they associate with their cultures and the significance the food holds. Due to classrooms becoming more and more diverse, the information is best for children ages 9-12 to look at different cultures, racism or bias, and the experiences of children of immigrants. (AEG)
Kurman, Hollis. 2020. Counting Kindness: Ten Ways to Welcome Refugee Children. Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $16.39. ISBN 978-1-62-354229-0. Illustrated by Barroux.
Through simple phrases, this counting book explores the complex journey of refugee children. Organically formed shapes throughout the pages clearly depict the character development of the children and their families as they travel from their former home to their new home as refugees. Specific statistics about child refugees are also included in the end note. In addition, the end page shares resources readers can explore to get more information on the topic and find ways to help refugee children.
The detailed pictures in this book will captivate any reader. Juxtaposing bright and dark colors within the illustrations shows the stark difference between the hope of what is known and the fear of the unknown. For example, on the fourth page where “four beds keeping us safe and warm” are described, the bright hues of yellow and orange portray warmth inside the room to express hope in what is known, whereas the black darkness outside the window represents what is unknown for the refugees. (AHJ)
Lendler, Ian. 2020. The Fabled Life of Aesop. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 64pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-32-858552-3. Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski.
Readers young and old explore the life of Aesop, the Greek slave behind many classic fables through this biography. Woven into this biography are several of the fables Aesop has become known for, such as The Tortoise and the Hare, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, and The Goose and the Golden Egg, each with its own distinct moral: slow and steady wins the race, no one believes a liar, even when they are telling the truth, and if someone always wants more, they will lose what they have.
Aesop told these fables as a way to communicate meaningful messages with his masters over the course of his time as a slave, and by intertwining these fables with factual information regarding Aesop’s life, readers are exposed to information his fables alone cannot provide. For example, due to the fact that Aesop was born a slave, there was no record of his existence until after his death.
The organic illustrations provide a whimsical feeling which mirrors the fables Aesop is known for. Soft tones of yellows, greens, and blues in addition to white backgrounds spark a light, dreamlike feel from the pages. These images, in conjunction with dreamlike fables provide readers with a sense of comfort.
As the book switches from telling the story of Aesop’s life to telling some of his most famous fables, the pages change from matte pages to glossy pages, respectively. This detail adds a physical connection to the information being conveyed. (AHJ)
Riordan, Rick. 2019. The Trials of Apollo, Book Four: The Tyrant’s Tomb. Penguin Random House Children’s UK. 448pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-48-474644-8. Designed by Joann Hill.
As a god, Apollo had little regard for others, especially those who he believed to be inferior to himself. He often made choices that hurt other gods as well as mortals. These behaviors lead his father, Zeus, to banish Apollo from Mount Olympus to the mortal world, where Apollo takes the form of a 16-year-old mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. As a mortal, Apollo tries to regain Zeus’ approval so he can become a god once more. Early on, Apollo realizes the birthday Zeus has set for him as a mortal is different from the birthday he had as a god. This is the first cue to know something bad is going to happen on his new, mortal birthday. With this information, Apollo has to create and execute a plan to save everyone around him before “Lester’s” birthday.
As Apollo has been known for being quite arrogant, the themes of selflessness are prevalent throughout the book as Apollo creates a plan to save the gods of Camp Jupiter before his new mortal birthday. As the fourth book in the series, readers will benefit from having read books one through three, as this is a continuation of the previous narrative. Having prior knowledge of the narrative will also assist in the ability to grasp the importance of Apollo’s character development.
Readers ages 10 and up will be exposed to characters of Greek and Roman mythology, as well as the importance of teamwork as Apollo works with Meg, who has been given the opportunity to control Apollo, as well as a multitude of other familiar faces to the series. (AHJ)
Doyle, Ruth. 2020. Songs for our Sons. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.72. ISBN 978-0-80-285557-2. Illustrated by Ashling Lindsay
The hopes and dreams for young sons are shared through short four to five-line stanzas. The aspirations shared do not align with stereotypical values found frequently in society, but rather, the opposite. One page reads:
“Honor your huge heart-
your feelings are real.
And pain is a big deal
that crying can heal. “ (unnumbered)
Poetic elements such as rhyming and alliteration are found in lines such as “[be a] kaleidoscopic color-catcher” (unnumbered) and “rain-bouncing, puddle-pouncing” (unnumbered). These poetic devices entertain audiences as they read. Illustrations accompany the text through bright, bold colors and organic shapes which capture and sustain readers’ attention. Through brushstrokes, the illustrations mirror the whimsical minds of children. This collection is recommended for readers young and old who either identify as male or have male loved ones. (AHJ)
Hegedus, Bethany. 2020. Hard Work, But It’s Worth It: The Life of Jimmy Carter. HarperCollins (Balzer & Bray). 40pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-264378-0. Illustrated by Han Eun Kyung.
The life of the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, from his youth to his current age is shared through this colorful and informational biography. Jimmy grew up in a segregated south. From having a childhood best friend who was of color, to working alongside the fieldworkers of color, to advocating politically as a senator and governor for the rights of people of color, Jimmy worked hard for his beliefs.
The text does not talk specifically about the merit of Jimmy’s political policies, but rather his personal life and the different values for which he advocated. Readers of all ages will be exposed to the segregated history of the United States and Jimmy Carter’s work to integrate the country. The illustrations, which mirror the text on the page capture the audiences’ attention through vivid, life-like colors and semi-formed, sketched shapes. As readers pay close attention to Jimmy throughout the illustrations, lines develop in his face to symbolize the passing time. Credibility is given to this biography of Jimmy Carter through the author’s former occupation of being a teacher. Readers of all ages may be introduced to new and priorly unknown aspects of Jimmy Carter’s life. (AHJ)
Seluk, Nick. 2019. The Brain is Kind of a Big Deal. Scholastic Inc. (Orchard Books). 40pp. $13.79. ISBN 978-1-33-816700-6. Jacket Art by Nick Seluk, Jacket Design by Kirk Benshoff.
Young readers will learn to understand the brain through this vivid exploration of its functions. Using technical terms and metaphors for the brain’s completed jobs, such as referring to a synapse as a message, explains the complexity of the “command center” of the body. The explored aspects are guided by a neurosurgical oncologist, giving credibility to the information in the text.
Bright hues of all colors are used to entice and capture the attention of audiences. The illustrations personify parts of the body such as muscles and lungs in addition to the brain by adding eyes, lips, and glasses. These personified body parts use speech bubbles to enhance the text paragraphs which explore the aspects of the brain; for example, on the page that reads in part “Your lungs to breathe,” the lungs use speech bubbles to “Gasp” and “Huff” (unnumbered). Since young readers learn best through personification, this included aspect enhances the learning of readers. (AHJ)
Robbins, Dean. 2019. The True Story of Alan Bean: The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon. Scholastic Inc. (Orchard Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-825953-7. Illustrated by Sean Rubin.
Readers are exposed to the reasons that Alan Bean chose to paint depictions of the moon through a portrayal of his childhood, and career as an artist and an astronaut. Alan’s time as an astronaut took him and two colleagues to the surface of the moon, where Alan was awe-struck and developed a desire to share this experience with the world. Vivid verbs, such as, roared and zoomed, describe the events of the space shuttle launch and re-entry respectively. These verbs entice readers and offer a glimpse of what the events were truly like.
Black and white crosshatched illustrations fill the pages depicting all aspects of Alan’s life including his childhood, his space mission, and his completed artwork. These images are enhanced through colors, most noticeable through bright hues of purple and yellow. Readers of all ages will be exposed to the thoughts of an astronaut after the moon landing. (AHJ)
Hitchcock, Shannon and Senzai, N. H. 2020. Flying Over Water. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 272pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-861766-5.
In the midst of the 2017 Muslim ban, seventh-grader, Noura, and her family are granted asylum in Tampa, Florida escaping the civil war of Aleppo. In Tampa, Noura befriends Jordyn. Even though the two are from different sides of the world, they manage to find compassion for each others’ experiences. The water theme is present as Jordyn embraces water through her time as a competitive swimmer. Noura, on the other hand, is terrified of water after losing a close friend to drowning.
The two struggle with anxiety in different ways. Noura often refers to the things she learned in her time with a physiatrist and Jordyn experiences panic attacks, which later bring her to seeing a therapist. Racism and prejudices are themes exhibited throughout the text; since the story is told from both Noura and Jordyn’s perspectives through alternating chapters, readers see two different point-of-view on the topics. Noura is directly impacted by acts of racism and prejudice; she is part of the group that these attacks are aimed towards and Jordyn, who while not directly affected by the acts, shows compassion for those who are. Readers interested in current events and educators who are interested in teaching young readers about the challenges of immigration are encouraged to explore Noura and Jordyn’s perspectives (AHJ)
Cole, Henry. 2020. One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 48 pp. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-33-835997-8.
The journey of a single paper lunch sack and its owner is shared without words. The bag belongs to a young boy, and through the illustrations, readers follow the different uses he finds for the bag, from the time he was young until he dies. For example, as a young child, the bag acts as a lampshade, and when the boy is a young adult, the bag is used to hold flower petals at his wedding. The theme of environmental conservation is present through both the journey of the paper bag and the author’s note at the end.
The complex, linework illustrations create the setting, plot, and characters. Black and white create most of the illustrations except for the brown, and later red of the paper bag. The cover image, for example, illustrates a grocery store, where the young boy sees the paper bag, on the counter. Before the title page, the journey of the paper bag from tree to bag is shared in the same way as the rest of the plot. The tree which later becomes the bag is the only thing in a color other than black or white.
Readers of all ages will be exposed to both ways in which they can promote the conservation of products and the process of the papermaking industry. (AHJ)
Bascomb, Neal. 2020. The Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Focus). 336pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-33-827741-8.
Based on the true story of Rene Dreyfus, Rudi Caracciola, and Lucy Schell, readers are exposed to the thrill of European racing in the 1930s, the rise and fall of car companies such as Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, and the rise of Nazi Germany under the direction of Adolf Hitler. The rise of Mercedes-Benz occurs with the inclusion of Hitler’s transactions with the car company for his vehicles and the vehicles of the Nazi party. The theme of the growing Nazi control is present through frequent reminders: Hitler wanted German cars to win all of the European races.
Rene Dreyfus and Rudi Caracciola, both male drivers in the European circuit stand to offer the themes of the importance of working hard and competition. Both of the drivers rely on their teams to keep them racing the best they can, and the two racing enemies provided person vs. person conflict. Lucy Schell offers a person vs society conflict as she was often not allowed to race in the majority of races because she was female. Challenging society’s inability to drive, she started her racing team, funding the project herself.
Various sized black and white images of the events are included in the majority of chapters, providing visual representations of the events. Also, a multitude of reference pages develops credibility. Readers, grades 7-9, will be exposed to an entertaining part of history excluded from their school textbooks. (AHJ)
Hillary, Tony. 2020. Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-440231-7. Illustrated by Jessie Hartla
Neveah attends PS 171, in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City. Her school sits across the street from the “haunted garden,” an empty lot full of junk. One day a man named Mr. Tony came to school. This is the true story of one man, one classroom, and a big dream turning the “haunted garden” into something spectacular. In a person vs nature conflict, the class begins to get their hands dirty by removing garbage and planting a community garden. In the beginning, the illustrations paint a picture full of grays and reds which create a sense of dreariness and fear in the reader. The use of diagonal crossing lines adds to the overall uneasiness surrounding the “haunted garden.” These features can be noticed in the scenery, buildings, and depiction of the empty lot. As the plot progresses, the colors shift to brighter greens, pinks, and yellows symbolizing the transformation of the empty lot into a colorful garden. The diagonal lines seem to engage the reader until they shift to horizontal lines which create a sense of sturdiness and tranquility. A winding garden hose persists, serving as a reminder of the hard work of gardening. This story presents ideas to readers, ages 4 – 8, to think about the importance of dreaming big and working hard to chase those dreams. Endnotes include gardening tips for readers to grow in their understanding how to create their own garden. (CRL)
Brown, Waka. 2021. While I Was Away. HarperCollins. (Quill Tree Books). 320pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-0-06-301711-5.
Middle school is a challenging time even without the added stress of moving to a new country and being immersed in an unfamiliar culture. This is exactly what happened to Waka after her parents were unsatisfied with her ability to speak Japanese. In her memoir, Waka tells of person v. society as she struggles with her cultural identity. 12-year-old Waka, living in a small town in Kansas, receives the news of her parent’s drastic decision to send her to live with her grandmother in Japan for 5 months. Not only will she miss her entire summer vacation, but she will also miss the start of her 7th grade year. In America, Waka receives straight A’s in every class, but in Japan, she is seen as a “dumb jock” due to her lack of understanding of the Japanese language and culture. In this narrative nonfiction, Brown crafts a character everyone, young and old, can relate to. Her anxieties and fears come to life in a real and relatable way in which every reader is rooting for her success. This book takes place in the 1980s across two different continents; however, the style of writing transcends space and time to allow anyone to relate to Waka’s experiences. Readers ages 8 and up will enjoy reading and relating to Waka’s experience. (CRL)
Miranda, Anne. 2019. Tangled. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-149721-3. Illustrated by Eric Comstock.
A little circle became stuck in a jungle gym while playing at the park. Her friends all came to help her escape, but none of them could succeed on their own. After most of the shapes are trapped in the jungle gym, a line arrives who unravels a plan involving teamwork to help the shapes escape. The themes of friendship and teamwork prevail as the shapes are not able to succeed on their own, but when they work together and use their differences, everyone is able to have a happy ending. In a person against nature conflict which takes place in a large public park, readers are introduced to a variety of different shapes and simple tools such as levers. Beginning with a circle which produces a light-hearted feeling in the reader, and continuing with the jagged lines which make up the jungle gym: creating a sense of uneasiness. Despite the symmetrical shapes and vibrant colors reminding the reader of a mood of friendliness, the jagged lines persist throughout until the straight horizontal line acting as a lever provides a sense of safety and calm. The vibrant illustrations, theme and rhyming pattern would excite readers between the ages of 4-8. (CRL)
Zosienka. 2020. The Moon Keeper. HarperCollins Publishers (HarperCollins Children’s Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-295952-2.
Emile, a polar bear, receives important news: he has been chosen to become the new keeper of the moon. Emile prepares for this important task by collecting materials and climbing up to meet the moon. Every night, Emile watches over the moon: making sure it can shine. Emile is enjoying his new job until one night; he notices the moon starts to disappear. In this picture storybook Emile learns about the importance of responsibility and the lunar cycle. With a person against nature conflict, Emile struggles to understand why the moon is disappearing. Illustrations emphasize the emotions Emile is feeling. While climbing up to the moon, the diagonal lines and dark color scheme highlight the uncertainty of the new job. The large circular moon with a blue color scheme on the following page reminds Emile he has nothing to worry about while providing a sense of calm. This story helps young readers find joy in reading while introducing the idea of the lunar cycle; this text is recommended for preschool readers, however, readers of any age can find joy in Emile’s discovery. (CRL)
Ferry, Beth. 2020. Swashby and the Sea. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-470737-5. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.
A retired, grumpy sea captain hopes to live out the rest of his days secluded on a beach. Swashby has lived and worked with the sea his entire life and would consider the sea as his only friend. He is enjoying his lonely retirement until a girl and her grandmother move in next door. While Swashby tries to write intimidating messages in the sand hoping these new neighbors might leave, the sea decides Swashby’s messages are too harsh; thus, she rewrites them into more inviting phrases. In this person against self conflict, Swashby comes to understand what true friendship is. Friendship is the dominant theme. The main character, Swashby, develops as he struggles with the idea of having friends; whereas, the other characters help Swashby grow as a human being. The use of curved, swirly lines provides a sense of whimsical joy which reminds the reader of the themes: playfulness and friendship. The combination of blues and yellows provide a balance between energetic playfulness and the calmness of the sea. Readers, ages 4 - 10, will find clarity where friendship can be formed amongst any group of people. (CRL)
Muth, Jon J. 2020. Addy’s Cup of Sugar: Based on a Buddhist Story of Healing. Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-43-963428-1.
The loss of a childhood pet and beloved friend is difficult to process. Fortunately, Addy’s friend, Stillwater, has some medicine she might find useful. The tragic event shared holds loss and grief, a young girl loses her beloved cat, Trumpet, in a car accident. As she struggles with her grief, she runs to Stillwater, who is depicted as a panda, in the hopes Stillwater will be able to bring Trumpet back. Stillwater sends Addy on an emotional journey in which she learns to process her grief. Details and events can be used in building on children’s emotional development: everyone experiences loss and sadness, and can help children process their own grief. In this person against self conflict, Addy struggles to overcome her grief. Addy, the main character, develops as an individual with the help of her friend, Stillwater. This friend is depicted as a panda to create a sense of safety and comfort with him. The illustrations are full of deep blues and purples which create a sense of peaceful sadness symbolizing the loss of Addy’s dear friend, Trumpet. Throughout the story, the use of horizontal lines shows even in her loss, Addy is not alone: she can find stability in her friends. This conceptual picture book would be an excellent read for anyone struggling with grief ages 3 and up. (CRL)
Sidman, Joyce. 2021. Hello, Earth! Poems To Our Planet. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 68pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285528-2. Illustrated by Miren Asiain Lora.
The Earth is full of puzzles and mysteries. In this collection of narrative poems, the reader has the chance to ask the Earth how it feels, what its favorite memories are, how natural disasters occur, and other thoughts. While the Earth cannot answer in words, it shows its love for humans in other ways. The text provides deep and meaningful imagery which appeals to all the senses while appealing to familiar and relatable experiences. This collection of poems explores the natural world of science while engaging readers with evocative word choice and illustrations. Blues and grays are used when reminiscing with the Earth on the memories shared while bright reds and yellows remind readers of the disastrous effects nature can have. Readers are reminded of the connections humans have with the Earth from the city buildings outlined against the bright sky to the boats sailing alongside wildlife in the ocean. Following the poetry, readers learn more about the Earth’s phenomena. (CRL)
Hughes, Hollie. 2019. The Girl and the Dinosaur. Bloomsbury Children’s Books. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-54-760322-0. Illustrated by Sarah Massini.
Marianne, a young and lonely girl, is searching for a friend by the sea when she starts digging up one dinosaur bone after another. As she wishes on a star, her new friend comes to life and shows her incredible new worlds where Marianne starts to believe in the impossible. This picture storybook captures the essence of imagination; the illustrations suspend the reader in a realm of disbelief by incorporating curved and flowing brush strokes throughout the plot. The text is printed into the illustrations at many points to create true immersion in the story. For example, words spew out alongside fog flowing between the girl and window during the night (unnumbered).With a person against society plot, Marianne overcomes her loneliness and uses her unique attributes to make new friends. Starting with a setting mimicking the real-world causes readers to relate to Marianne and her struggles before joining her adventure through a fantasy land. The illustrations provide a sense of peacefulness throughout by incorporating blues and purples but remind the reader of the dangers which exist in this fantasy land by adding occasional reds and blacks. This adventure is recommended for children ages 3-6, but anyone can enjoy Marianne’s journey. (CRL)
Jenkins, Steve and Page, Robin. 2019. Look Again. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-32-885094-2. Illustrated by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page.
Not everything is what it seems as readers discover animals in camouflage. The pages introduce youngsters, ages 3 - 7, to animals of all different shapes and sizes. However, they all have one thing in common; their camouflage skills. The shapes and colors make it a challenge for students to find where the animals are in the pictures, and how they can blend in with their environments. These animals can be found anywhere, in the water, in the trees, hidden among rocks, dirt, and shrubs. There is even an index at the end of the book including summaries, other books, and other websites where readers can learn even more about the animals featured! The detailed lines and texture of the photos make students want to feel the animals and make it more apparent what kind of places the creatures live in. (GJM)
Mercurio, Peter. 2020. Our Subway Baby. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-52-542754-4. Illustrated by Leo Espinosa.
Finding a forever home can be difficult for many adopted children. However, this is not the case for Kevin because as the book says, "with love anything is possible." Children, ages 3-7 who are hoping for a loving family will resonate with this line and find hope when reading. Kevin was discovered in the New York subway by a man named Danny. Danny and his partner could not stop thinking about Kevin. Eventually, a judge decides that Danny and his partner might be the perfect parents for Kevin. Even though they were not prepared to have a child at the time, their family helped them gather supplies, and they immediately knew that they loved Kevin, and he made the perfect son. Readers learn from Kevin's journey there is a place for everyone in the world, and for some people, the standard american family or a mom, dad, and siblings, is not the only way to be a family.
The bright and colorful pictures add to the excitement of Danny and Peter's journey of finding their son. The lines and shapes are more distinct to convey the true story it was based on. There is a softness in the texture to resemble the storytelling nature of the narration of the book. (GJM)
Hawking, Lucy. 2019. George and the Ship of Time. Simon & Schuster. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 416 pp. $18.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-443730-2. Illustrated by Garry Parsons.
George finds himself on a spaceship he can not control. All he wants is to go back home. When the spaceship redirects itself towards Earth, George thinks everything will be fine, but nothing looks familiar when they land. Readers are exposed to the destructive nature of pollution as they read about this future Earth. There are multiple articles provided in the back of the book for more information about the effects of pollution. There is an evil ruler in charge who is brainwashing all of his people. It is up to George to save the children from the mean and ridiculous Dump, but first George has to learn who he can really trust. It is difficult to know who is actually helping him. Readers can relate to many of the situations George experiences because of how similar they are to the real world. The author, the daughter of Steven Hawking, suspends disbelief by incorporating the real dangers of pollution into the fictional events. By doing this, readers are exposed to the ways they can stop the earth from looking like this unknown world.
There are not many pictures, but the ones used aid in relating the fictional tellings to the world. The muted colors and lines convey the effects of pollution The gritty texture aids in showing how dirty and incompetent this “new” earth is. George emits behaviors suggesting age or size are not factors when making a positive difference in the world. (GJM)
Doyle, Ruth. Dreams for our Daughters. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285558-9. Illustrated by Ashling Lindsay.
Every child has dreams. These dreams can be achieved, and have all the potential in the world. The poem itself is not gender-specific, however the illustrations depict young girls completing all their goals. If students are ever unsure of what they might be able to achieve, these verses provide an answer. There are endless possibilities for them. The use of bright colors shows the optimism of fulfilling one’s dream. The painted texture and soft lines and shapes portray a childlike aspect. This shows regardless of one’s age, dreams can be achieved.
The use of rhyme and repetition contribute to the themes of believing in one’s self. The lyrical verse creates a songlike rhythm. There is an abundance of ideas for what children can be such as, stargazer, trailblazer, and fire-crackling moon-dancer. There is unlimited potential in readers as conveyed in the poem. (GJM)
Cline-Ransome, Lesa. The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 48pp. $18.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-48-146289-1. Illustrated by John Parra.
Ethel L. Payne was a journalist breaking ground not only as a woman, but a woman of color. Readers are exposed to how she would stand her ground in the face of racism. Readers are also exposed to the encouragement she got about her writing. Her story is an inspiration to children for them to achieve their goals without letting anything get in the way. The author, Lesa Cline-Ransome is also a woman of color. She has written many books about people of people, especially women of color. Her books are all written specifically for youngsters.
The illustrations highlight the key parts of Ethel's life. The more important the figures or items in her story, the larger the image. The people in the photos are also often labeled, so students know the names of people. Readers are exposed to many key events and figures in the fight for civil rights. (GJM)
Carballido, José Luis and Diego, Pol. 2019. Titanosaur. Scholastic (Orchard Books). 40 pp. $18.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-33-820739-2. Illustrated by Florencia Gigena.
Two people with doctorates who specialize in dinosaurs and fossils teamed up to write about the Titanosaur. They were actually the two leading the excavation where they discovered the largest dinosaur in the world. Readers will be exposed to both the dinosaur discovered and the team that discovered them. Included are definitions of what constitutes a team, and how the people work together. Students can follow the lead of the team and cooperate with others.
The illustrations are accurate to the true events including people on the digging site and the Titanosaur. An illustration of the skeleton of the dinosaur is included inside, the bones that have been found are blocked out while the bones which have yet to be found are not, giving the reader an extra visual aid when learning about what exactly was found on the dig. (GJM)
Seluk, Nick. 2018. The Sun is Kind of a Big Deal. Scholastic (Orchard Books). 40pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-33-816697-2.
The Sun brings readers on a journey to learn about all he does for the planets, especially Earth. He supplies warmth, controls the days and years, and helps plants and animals survive on Earth. Nick Seluk is a cartoonist, so he is not specialized in any particular way in science or astronomy. He is, however, specialized in the artform. The planets are personified throughout the book within the drawings. This engages young readers as they are exposed to more important topics.
The brightness of the planets add contrast to the dark sky. The commentary of the planets adds humor to the facts. A glossary of terms is added to enhance the understanding of the reader. The added poster on the inside cover is an added element to the book, it serves as a reminder to the readers of what they have learned. (GJM)
Burgan, Michael. 2020. Great Escapes: Nazi Prison Camp Escape. HarperCollins Publishers. 128pp. $4.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-286036-1.
Bill Ash was a brave soldier originally from Texas. He joined the war efforts early by joining the British military. When his plane is shot down, he finds himself constantly needing to find ways out of Prisoners of War camps. He was one of the greatest escape artists during World War II. As he shares his war-time experiences, readers may admire Bill’s ability to set goals and persevere. These qualities are evident in how he never gives up trying to escape so that he can continue fighting. Readers also observe that, like Bill Ash, it is ok to ask for help and to rely on others.
There are not many images in the book, but the few images are in all black and white and extremely shadowy. This all adds to the dark nature of the book’s content. The various events depict the fear all prisoners of war had when trying to escape. Throughout Bill Ash's story there are brief explanatory moments included that explain different situations, events, or items in the war. This would include things like the largest escape during the war, aircrafts, resistance to German rule, etc. These include a description of what it was and why it was important as they become relevant to the plot. Micheal Burgan is very knowledgeable in this topic, as he has a degree in history. His experience and passion for history make this book an educational biography for students. (GJM)
Winter, Jonah. 2020. Oil. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter, Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 40pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-53-443077-8.
Based on a true event in 1989: The Exxon oil spill–in which a tanker spilled millions of gallons of oil into the sea–has had a considerable impact on many aspects of both North and South America. Readers follow the pipeline past all the animals and the land on which they live. The pipeline goes across land and wildlife that it disturbs, and, as they put it, was "previously unspoiled" where Native Americans had lived (n.p.). However, on March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil across 11,000 square miles of ocean. Jonah Winter recounts this incident in simple, straightforward text: thick, hot oil is pumped from deep underground into gigantic pipelines that cross miles of pristine wilderness to a port where it is transferred onto enormous ships. As one tanker glides past icebergs and sea creatures, it wrecks, causing crude oil to gush into the water, killing wildlife and spreading over miles of ocean and shoreline. Jeanette Winter's simple, uncluttered art depicts both the machinery of the oil industry and the natural beauty of the Alaskan arctic and northwest reaches of the Pacific, filled with snow, tundra, wildlife, mountains, and icy ocean vistas. Two wordless spreads pause the narrative and allow young readers to fully absorb the leak's impact. One depicts the initial breach with oil flowing all around unsuspecting sea creatures; the other offers an overhead ocean view, revealing the enormity of the disaster. Perhaps most moving, however, are the illustrations that show seabirds and otters covered in oily crude. Concluded with an author's note, suggested readings, and a final spread that reminds readers that some of the spill remains uncontained, this is an accessible and important contribution to environmental science.
The dark colors match the sad tones throughout the sequence of events. The rounded lines and textures show the spread of oil, and the negative impact on the animals. There is a large selection of websites and books referenced in the back if readers were to want additional resources about oil. Although Jonah and Jeanette Winter are not specialized in this specific subject, they inform readers of the dangers and problems caused by oil. (GJM)
Pancholy, Maulik. 2019. The Best At It. HarperCollins Publishers (Balzer + Bray). 336pp. $7.99 (Hardcover) ISBN 978-0-06-286642-4.
Rahul, like many middle schoolers, is experiencing new thoughts and emotions. He is unsure about why he feels uncomfortable talking to girls. He is constantly checking things like locks and outlets to make sure everything is safe. On top of this, he does not know how to defend himself as an Indian against people who bully and discriminate against him. He is unsure as to how to deal with all of this, but is too embarrassed to ask for help. He thinks what he is experiencing is unique to him, and students around him seem to have perfect lives. Anyone who has previously or currently is going through middle school can relate to these emotions.
The writing style is extremely descriptive, allowing for readers to completely feel what Rahul is feeling. Rahul explains his confusion and frustration with growing up and having so many questions with so few answers. Through his family, teachers, and peers, Rahul is able to finally ask for help. Readers will learn to reach out to the people around them for their needs as well. (GJM)
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. 2020. Fighting Words. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books). 272pp. $17.99 (Hardcover). ISBN 978-1-98-481568-2.
Traumatic events such as abuse, sexual assault, neglect, etc. occur in too many children's lives. Della and her sister both experience difficult childhoods. They recently escaped their dangerous life, but they are having trouble accepting they are actually safe, and they can trust their foster mother. They are also having issues coming to terms with their history. Statistically 1 out of 3 children will not be able to relate to these troubles. They have had relatively 'normal' childhoods. However, too many young adults have to live through extremely traumatic events, and they go through much of their lives thinking they are alone in those experiences. Della's kids understand that no kid is alone in what they are going through.
Although fiction, the story is based off that of the author's and stories that people have shared with her. Although written for a middle school reader, most people would find Della and her sister's journey worth celebrating and could learn much from it. (GJM)
Delacre, Lulu. 2020. Luci Soars. Penguin Random House LLC. (Philomel Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-98-481288-9.
Luci is born without a shadow, which makes her feel isolated from her peers who do. One day, after years hiding in the shade, she steps into the sunlight at school. Luci’s peers laugh and stare at her because she lacks a shadow. She wonders why people think shadows are important. As her perspective shifts, she begins to fly, which none of the other children can do with their shadows stuck to the ground. Finally, she realizes her differences make her special.
Luci faces a person versus society conflict because she does not have a shadow like everyone else. As she learns she can fly, the theme of differences making one special is established. There are two main settings significant to the plot: the school and the sky. At school, which represents conformity, she is ridiculed by her classmates, developing conflict and making Luci realize she does not need a shadow to fit in. The sky represents freedom because Luci feels like her authentic self when she is floating through the clouds. Whenever dialogue is spoken, it is in Spanish, which is significant because it represents the diverse culture Luci lives in, exposing readers to new vocabulary and normalizing other languages. Luci’s story is told from the first person perspective, bringing the reader to a personal level of understanding Luci’s experience and emotions.
Color is impactful to developing themes in this book. When Luci flies, her body, clothes, and nearby surroundings start to appear in bright colors. In the beginning of the book, all illustrations are in black and white, representing how unified the world is, but as color begins to appear, it shows how Luci’s confidence grows and how her uniqueness makes the world brighter. The use of curved lines, especially when Luci is flying represents her freedom and motion, rather than when she is on the ground and lines are mostly straight and vertical, representing stability and uniformity. The shapes are mainly organic, leaving interpretation of certain background elements up to the reader and representing imagination and unpredictability. The texture of the illustrations appears soft, making it appealing and comforting to young readers and representing the youthfulness of Luci’s experiences. (CEM)
Stein, Joshua David. 2020. The Invisible Alphabet. Penguin Random House (RISE x Penguin Workshop). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-59-322277-5. Illustrated by Ron Barrett.
Letters, A-Z, are represented by invisible concepts, such as “air” for A or “lost” for L. Though these concepts are not seen by the reader, they are portrayed by surroundings and people’s reactions. The limited use of colors–black, white, gray, and orange–is significant because it represents the simplicity of each letter. Lines are used to show reactions to the letter’s concepts, such as diagonal lines implying movement (for example, a person running), as well as curved lines representing the uncertainty of wind direction. Shapes are geometric and identifiable, resulting in a feeling of stability, which is helpful in a conceptual book where the readers have to imagine what is not there. Texture is flat, authenticating the feeling of something missing in the illustrations. Alphabet books help young students identify sounds and letters, as well as associate them with objects. However, this is different because what each letter represents cannot be seen, creating a sense of mystery and engagement. This allows for students to use their mind’s eye to envision these concepts. (CEM)
Latham, Irene. 2020. Nine: A Book of Nonet Poems. Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $16.99. ISBN 987-1-62-354116-3. Illustrated by Amy Huntington.
In this collection of poems, the number nine is emphasized. A nine-year-old girl explores ideas such as a cat having nine lives, baseball having nine players and nine innings, Beethoven's ninth symphony, and other nine-related ideas, all of which are written as a nonet. A nonet is when the first line of the poem begins with nine syllables, followed by eight, descending all the way to one. This can be done the other way too, with the first line starting with one syllable and ascending to nine. Therefore, there are nine lines, either beginning or ending with nine syllables.
The illustrations use bright colors to inspire a feeling of childlike playfulness, along with curved lines, showing movement and creating a sense of freedom for the readers. Also, each page is illustrated with either the number nine, nine objects, or both, which is engaging for readers to search for. These are lyric poems because they are brief and discontinuous. Repetition is used throughout with the theme of the number nine. In each specific poem, imagery is used through descriptive words, similes, and metaphors, which enables readers to use their previous knowledge and senses to engage while reading. (CEM)
Smith, Ronald L. 2020. Gloom Town. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 288pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-32-894161-2. Chapter opener illustrations by Celeste Knudsen.
Rory, a twelve year old boy, applies for a valet job at a nearby mansion to help his mom with rent money. Despite rumors of the mansion being haunted and a mysterious boss, Lord Foxglove, Rory moves in to start the job. He encounters bizarre occurrences around the house, so he and his friend, Izzy, attempt to discover the dark magic hidden in the mansion.
Rory’s adventure takes place in the fictional town of Gloom, which is representative of the impending darkness of the plot and often cloudy weather. Conflicts arise, such as person versus society when Rory is trying to defeat the evil magic roaming the town, as well as person versus person because Rory is in battle with Lord Foxglove. Also, person versus self conflict is evident because Rory struggles with his own identity and the possibility of being magical. The theme is about the power of friendship, as shown through Rory and Izzy’s developing relationship and collaboration, which eventually leads to their triumph.
Suspension of reality is shown through the use of vivid imagery and figurative language, which creates images in readers’ minds. Another way the plot suspends disbelief begins with Rory doubting the existence of magic. Therefore, as the plot develops, so does Rory’s opinion regarding magic, allowing the reader to come to the conclusion magic is real alongside him. (CEM)
Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2020. By and By: Charles Tindley, the Father of Gospel Music. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 48pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442636-8. Illustrated by Bryan Collier.
Charles Tindley was a Black child who grew up working in the fields. He heard spirituals about Bible stories being sung there, which intrigued him and led him to attend a worship service. He was inspired by his chance to read the Bible aloud in church. Later in life he became a pastor by taking night classes and working as a physical laborer during the day. Tindley became a well renowned pastor who wrote many of his own hymns.
The colors of the illustrations represent Tindley’s surroundings growing up. Darker colors are used to represent challenging times in life, but the colors get brighter when he goes to church and is surrounded by music and worship. The use of collage, such as cut outs of pictures used for the trees, crops, chairs, music notes, and people, encourage the reader to acknowledge the realism in Tindley’s journey.
The author of this biography, Carole Boston Weatherford, has written and won many awards for other books about people and events of the Civil Rights Movement. She includes her resources and bibliography at the end of the book, as well as a few titles of his hymns. (CEM)
Bryd, Robert. 2019. Liberty Arrives! How America's Grandest Statue Found Her Home. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-73-523082-8.
Erecting the Statue of Liberty was a long process with various people involved. The story of how the statue was brought to America is played out in a narrative fashion, including the designing, building, and transportation to New York. However, when the money ran out and the project’s success looked doubtful, newspapers, including Joseph Pulizer’s, wrote about the problem. Pulizer encouraged the American people to take action and donate to the cause, which rallied people to do so, and the project was completed.
The bright colors represent the excitement of the project, and in contrast, the dull colors used when the project is underfunded shows lack of hope. Shapes are fairly geometric and illustrations are detailed, which engages the reader to explore the pictures more intensely. At the end, there is extra information on people involved in the project, as well as a drawing with dimensions of the Statue of Liberty, a summarized timeline of events, and a bibliography. Robert Byrd writes and illustrates books about historical figures and events, many of which are award winning. (CEM)
Laroche, Giles. 2020. Lost Cities. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-875364-9. Illustrated by Giles Laroche.
Ancient cities from over a thousand years ago are explored with its people, history, and mysteries. Each lost city invites readers to think about what it would be like to live there in its introductory paragraph. Then there is information about the location, who lived there, why it was lost, how it was found, and what makes these lost cities so mysterious. The book ends with a timeline of all the cities, and a work map of where they were located, providing a visual for all of the information learned.
The illustrations include landscape painting, with people and details drawn, cut out, and placed on the background. This is a collage style, which is engaging to the reader because it provides different dimensions to the pictures. Colors reflect the cities in which they are used: some contain more muted browns and greens, others with black and white, and some with bright and bold hues of red and gold. Lines are precise and sharp due to the collage style of illustrations, which helps the readers to clearly visualize the lost cities.
The author is an artist who uses his talents to illustrate books like this, where readers need clear visuals to understand the context of the information. He writes and illustrates informational books. (CEM)
Kephart, Beth. 2020. The Great Upending. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers: Caitlyn Dlouhy Books). 272pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-149156-3.
Sara Scholl lives on a farm with her family, but her life is not normal due to her health issues. A few years back, she was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, which affects her eyesight, creates heart problems, and makes her limbs longer, resulting in her being taller than everyone in her family. After the farm’s hay barn accidentally burns down, the family is in financial troubles. Sara also needs heart surgery, but her family cannot afford it, especially after the loss of their hay barn. However, some money comes in from the room they rent out to a mysterious man. Sara and her brother, Hawk, find the man has troubles of his own, so they set out to solve the mystery of what the man is hiding, as well as a solution for funding Sara’s heart surgery.
There are conflicts, predominantly person versus self. Sara struggles with her identity as someone with Marfan syndrome and how the world perceives her tall body. Another conflict is person versus society, which is evident when Sara’s family faces economic disparity with their farm and Sara’s health issues. The themes reflected in Sara and Hawk’s journey is perseverance and compassion, both of which are relevant to today. The setting takes place on a small town farm, which is described by Sara using her senses through metaphors and similes. The use of figurative language works with Sara’s point of view because she cannot see very well, so the metaphors and similes stimulate all of the reader’s senses and background knowledge, not just sight. (CEM)
Glaser, Karina Yan. 2020. The Vanderbeekers: Lost and Found. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 368pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-35-825619-9. Illustrated by Karina Yan Glaser.
Jessie, Isa, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney Vanderbeeker are a biracial family living in Harlem, New York. They live with their parents and enjoy spending time with their friends and neighbors. As frequent visitors of the nearby community garden, the siblings find someone living inside the tool shed. They leave food and warm clothes to help the person living in the shed, but their world is turned upside down when they find out their close friend, Orlando, is the one taking residence. The Vanderbeekers try to help Orlando, but the situation proves more difficult and complicated than they originally thought.
Readers are engaged with all the characters’ thoughts and feelings through the usage of the third person omniscient point of view. The setting is emphasized when Orlando contemplates if he should move back home to Georgia instead of staying in Harlem with the Vanderbeekers. Therefore, as the plot progresses, Harlem represents a sense of belonging and friendship for Orlando and the Vanderbeekers. A person versus person conflict is experienced between Orlando and the Vanderbeekers because the siblings want to help him in any way possible, but Orlando does not want their charity. This creates tensions among them. Another conflict is person versus self, which happens when Orlando cannot decide where he should live. This results in an identity crisis and conflicting emotions. Lastly, a person versus society conflict is apparent when the Vanderbeekers realize homelessness is a complex and widespread issue. Themes include friendship, compassion, and understanding others feelings, which are relevant issues for today’s children. (CEM)
Acros, Carrie. 2020. Skywatchers. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 368pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-98-481229-2.
The year is 1952, the height of the Cold War, and the uncertainty of a foreign nuclear attack keeps the United States on edge. Seven high school students join their school’s “Operation Skywatch” club to survey the sky for Soviet Union missile attacks. During one evening shift, three people leave early, leaving Teddy, Caroline, John, and Bunny to finish the job. During this seemingly uneventful night, Caroline spots a glowing orb in the sky. When the four search in the woods nearby for the orb, they go missing. Caroline, John, and Bunny come back in the next few days, but have no memory of what happened after they entered the woods. Teddy is still missing, leading the group to look for answers about Teddy’s location, as well as search for answers about their missing memories and what happened in the woods.
The point of view shifts between many characters, depending on the chapter. Every chapter title is a character's name: Caroline, Teddy, John, Bunny, or Frank. Frank is one of the Skywatch members who left early the night of the disappearance. Each character’s chapter is told from a third person limited omniscient point of view. This means the narrator only explores the thoughts and feelings of the character whom the chapter focuses on. This allows readers to gain insight to the different perspectives of the complex storyline. This book falls into two main genres: historical and science fiction. The author stays true to the values and norms of the time period for the reader to experience the authenticity of 1952. Also, there are many detailed descriptions throughout the book, which help the reader fully understand the surroundings and setting of the historical context, as well as the science-fiction aspects of the plot. Through the novel’s consistency in these details, the fantastical elements of the plot are more believable. The themes in Skywatchers are about friendship and bravery, which are relevant issues for current readers, as well as for the historical context. (CEM)
Clark-Robinson, Monica. 2018. Let the Children March. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-470452-7. Illustrated by Frank Morrison.
A young girl in Birmingham, Alabama volunteers with her brother to resist the discriminatory Jim Crow laws by marching in the Children’s Crusade. Many adults, including the girl’s parents, are fearful of losing their jobs, so children and teenagers march in their place. Police threaten them, attack them with water hoses, and use their police dogs to fight the protesters. Many children–including the girl and her brother–end up in jail. After two long nights in an overcrowded cell, she arrives home feeling as though she made a difference. Soon thereafter, President Kennedy calls for new civil rights legislation, which makes the girl feel proud of her courage to take part in the march.
The illustrations are realistic, especially the close-up framing of people’s faces. The lines are more solid and sharp, bringing a sense of realism to the people and events, which helps put readers with the context of the events, making it a vicarious experience. Texture also reflects the details of a person’s face, such as their skin. This detail in texture helps the audience depict the emotions of each character. Shapes are organic, making the illustrations more realistic and encouraging readers to feel like they are part of the events. Brighter colors, such as yellow, orange, and blue, are used for clothing, the sky, and other surroundings in scenes where the young adults are hopeful, such as the beginning of the march. Duller colors, such as black, white, gray, and brown are the main colors used in scenes which depict jail, police brutality, and sadness for the children. Therefore, colors show readers the shifts in mood.
The girl faces person versus society conflict because at the time, African American people were segregated from White society. The girl also experiences person versus self conflict in the beginning when deciding if she should march in the place of her parents. The story takes place in Birmingham, Alabama, which is depicted through racism in the pictures of angry policemen and white protestors. The clothing and surroundings are realistic for the historical context of 1963. The general themes are bravery, sticking up for what one believes in, and using one's voice to make a difference. The universal message is relevant in the story when the children march for their rights, and can be related to students today by encouraging them to use their voice to fight for what they believe in. The little girl’s first person perspective helps young readers understand and relate to the events. (CEM)
Minor, Wendall. 2003. America the Beautiful. Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-62-354121-7. Poem by Katherine Lee Bates.
In this visual trip across our beloved country, America, readers indulge in the abundant paintings of our nation’s landscapes and historical moments. Encompassing multiple eras, this book highlights our country spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Through this classic poem and song, readers are captivated to learn more about the adventurous journey.
From “amber waves of grain” to “purple mountain majesties,” the stunning paintings are enhanced through their color and texture. The large words and direct sentences draw readers to focus primarily on the images. The illustrations are realistically shown through their exquisite detail of contrast and mood. The depiction of light in the poetry is revealed in the darkness of the skyline and the luminosity of the fields. The shading in the book creates a difference and demonstrates the texture of nature on the pages. The theme of togetherness and unity is brought to the reader’s attention through the striking words and illustrations. This can be used as an educational tool to teach youngsters about the leaders of the United States while calling attention to the values such as diversity and freedom we obtain. (HBM)
Crumble, P. 2008. We Are All Equal. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 24 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-59-320255-5. Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley.
A diverse group of animals come together to honor the meaningful idea that everyone is equal. Even though the animals eat different foods, do different things, and have different families, they know those differences are not what defines them. Nothing makes them inferior or less important than any other animal. With shared hopes and dreams they find and happily portray the true meaning of equality in society.
The text’s playful and friendly illustrations are full and colorful. The white and light blue toned background contrasts the vibrant colors of the animals. The figures are shown through complex linework and strong shading. The animals are represented realistically through noticeable authentic textures. The language is straightforward, simple, and comprehensible for young readers. The common vocabulary of positive words is appropriate for readers ages 4-8. The refrain “We Are All equal” is used repeatedly, reinforcing the basic message. The content will inspire readers to explore their value in the world along with endless love and compassion. (HBM)
Moriarty, Jaclyn. 2018. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Scholastic (Arthur A. Levine Books). 384 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-825584-3.
Bronte Middlestone’s parents ran away to secretive new adventures when she was a baby, leaving her with her Aunt Isabelle and the Butler. This setback didn’t stop her from having a perfectly happy childhood drinking tea and riding horses. That was, until she receives an abrupt telegram stating her parents were killed by pirates. Unfazed by the news, she is shocked to hear they left instructions for her in their will. The detailed instructions must be followed, or disaster would hit her home. Equipped with only the instructions, a bag of gifts, and a list of ten aunts to meet, Bronte embarks on a multi-kingdom journey alone. As she travels from one aunt to the next, she suspects there is more to this inconvenient quest than she thinks.
The back-to-back adventures, speedy plot, and clipping pace leave the readers with no time to catch their breath. The plot is simple at first but increases in complexity with each visit and task she accomplishes. The sprinkle of whimsical and fantastical elements of the story contrast Bronte’s practical approach during her escapade. The characters are distinguishable and well developed, even though the abundance of new characters readers encounter can be overwhelming. This novel explores the concepts of belonging, the value of family, and the idea that everything happens for a reason. It’s about trusting the process to steer our ship and ultimately choose which way we decide to go through life. (HBM)
Hopkins Bennett, Lee, editor. 2020. Night Wishes. Wm. B. Eerdmans (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285496-4. Illustrated by Jen Corace.
In this collection of fourteen outstanding poems, poets visualize a young girl’s wishes in her bedroom as she falls asleep for the night. Each poem is told from the perspective of objects in her room: from the bed and pillow to the cat and dog, the vivid scenes connect to something greater than the object itself. The gentle poems signal drowsy readers into dreamland and follow the young girl from when she lays down until the moment morning returns.
The poems are organized with double page spreads to provide expansive visuals. The cool colors convey a soothing tone and a subdued midnight backdrop. Imagery is a primary element to bring readers into this particular experience to visualize the events. Repetition is used to emphasize lines and phrases to accentuate feelings and emotions. This collection of poems is a form of entertainment, and the narrative format increases children's interest. With the lasting creativity shown throughout, young readers can be transported into a new and unpredictable world. (HBM)
Mortensen, Lori. 2020. Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-803368-4. Illustrated by Chloe Bristol.
Welcome to the brilliant world of Edward Gorey. He was a respectable but silly and eccentric man. From the very start, he was a child prodigy and taught himself how to read at an extremely young age. He skipped several grades while moving with his family multiple times before attending Harvard, after a brief stint in the army. He followed his own rules which led to a lot of nonsense that came his way. From there, he went on to publish over one hundred books. His stories were innocent and sweet, but also dark and dangerous. He enjoyed making readers uneasy and creating an uncertain place where anything could happen at any moment.
This stunning biography is illustrated with a touch of humor and realism. The images displayed contain darker and bolder color tones. They also possess vivid detail through bold shading and immaculate texture. This lyrical biography teaches children about the inspiration behind past creators. The theme of individualism shines through, by celebrating uniqueness and that artists come as they are. The author writes with straightforward prose, which helps readers follow Edward’s jumbled mind and life in a stronger way. The author’s note at the end and the list of sources provide for an exceptional resource in the classroom as well. (HBM)
Montgomery, Sy. 2020. Condor Comeback. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 96 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-54-481653-4. Illustrated by Tianne Strombeck.
The mighty Condor is the largest flying land bird in the Western Hemisphere. With a bare head and black feathers, the condor spent time soaring high in the sky; until 1987. That year, the last wild California condor was captured and taken into imprisonment. No one expected a return of these remarkable birds after their captivity. After endless research and tireless effort, biologists were able to ban the largest threat to the condor population: lead bullets. The condors were able to bounce back from near extinction and are flying freely again.
The stunning full color photography offers a look into the lives of these ancient creatures. The illustrations indulge readers to immerse themselves into this birds’ eye view of the world. With amusing facts and details added in on the sidebars to create writing style, viewers develop further understanding about the history, dangers, and relationships of Condors to the Chumash nation. Sy Montgomery greatly indicates the inspiring efforts of people coming together. Scientists, volunteers, and everyday citizens joined forces to guide the return of these elegant birds. As a National Book Award finalist, Montgomery promotes cooperation and perseverance as a takeaway from her informational and thrilling read. (HBM)
Shamir, Ruby. 2019. What’s the Big Deal About Americans? Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-52-473803-7. Illustrated by Matt Faulkner.
Through the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the privileges of the American people are protected. From new technology to medicine to building skyscrapers, Americans have done it all since the founding of the country. People come to America for numerous different reasons and from many different countries. Looking closer at the American people, there are countless differences. Languages, backgrounds, interests, hopes, and beliefs are all characteristics which make people unique. By putting these differences aside, citizens are able to work together and learn from one another to continue to commit to the betterment of the country.
This question and answer format book allows for easy following. The focus is on the topics of diversity but also the similarities throughout, especially keying in on the ideals of freedom and democracy. The caricature illustrations are prevalent from the start. The pages are overbusy and crowded with all sorts of people participating in every aspect of life. The writing style is not difficult for children to grasp. A timeline and additional resources are included as effective tools to navigate the information. This reading touches on the historical aspect but also on the modern world of our country. This is one of multiple picture books used by Ruby Shamir on the history of the United States. Her main goal is to motivate youngsters of multiple backgrounds to know they are capable human beings. With exceptional drive and strength, children are the next leaders of the United States of America. (HBM)
Ferrada, María José. October 27, 2020. Mexique. Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285545-9. Illustrated by Ana Penyas.
On May 27, 1937, 456 children boarded the Mexique ship to flee the Spanish Civil War. Home was no longer safe. There were never ending attacks, and bombings became a threat to everyone who lived in Spain. Parents worried their children would be killed so they decided to send them away from Spain to a town in Mexico called Morelia. They packed their bags, thinking it would be a short stay of a few months. That plan did not last. The war dragged on for longer than expected and the children only grew more concerned. When the war ended years later, home was ruled by a dangerous dictator. The children were safer staying in Morelia.
When the children embark on their journey, they experience person versus society conflict by witnessing war, leaving their families, and moving across the world. The text and illustrations work hand in hand with each other, and the words are powerful yet touching. The images are primarily black and white with scattered dollops of red. The color red symbolizes danger and conveys strong feelings of the grim reality. The themes of immigration and emigration are relevant since millions of people have been displaced in the past and continue to be today. This book can spark conversation among young readers about hope during difficult times and immigration issues. (HBM)
Sierra, Sarah and Haff, Stephen. 2020. Becoming Kid Quixote: A True Story of Belonging in America. HarperCollins Publishers. 224 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-294326-2.
Sarah Sierra is a shy ten-year-old from Brooklyn, New York. When she joins an after-school program with other kids her age in the neighborhood, the teacher, Stephen, leads discussions about Don Quixote. They rethink his dreams and determination to fix the injustices in the world. The students put it into perspective of themselves as they share the similarity of all coming from immigrant families. Soon after, Sarah and her peers transform Don Quixote’s experiences into one that depicts the challenges of immigrants today. Still as a student, writer, singer, and actor, Sarah loves to critique, translate, and adapt famous stories for her pleasure and readers’ enjoyment.
Sarah encounters person versus society conflicts as she attempts to use the arts and her acting to break down social boundaries and barriers. Readers see her character develop as she becomes confident by expressing herself in front of her peers. She gains understanding of herself and the world around her by speaking up about present issues important to her. The setting takes place at her after school program, Still Waters in a Storm, which becomes Sarah’s safe place for doing what she loves. The limited illustrations and images have symbols and designs in the spaces, which adds detail. The emphasis on identity is shown throughout her journey as a young Mexican American immigrant. Readers are reminded of the importance of dealing with and processing hardships in life. Sarah inspires readers that if she can find her voice, they can too. (HBM)
Yang, Kelly. 2020. Three Keys. Scholastic (Scholastic Press). 288 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-859138-5.
The Tangs, who emigrated from China when their daughter Mia was very young, are now the proud new owners of the Calivista Motel. Mia works alongside her friends, Lupe Garcia and Jason Yao, running the front desk. The Tangs are living competently after escaping the oppressive behavior of the former owner, Mr. Yao. The only thing they have left to worry about is their tight financial situation and the upcoming gubernatorial election. One of the candidate’s proposals is to ban undocumented children from access to adequate healthcare and public schooling in California. As Mia and her family run into instances of discrimination and racism, being on the edge of poverty only makes matter worse. Mia will do everything in her power to use her voice and talent, despite her teacher’s negative opinions about her writing, to change the political beliefs of everyone around her.
Mia’s drive and determination shows how much she cares about the issues affecting her family and friends of color. Her youthful sixth grade character develops as she confronts hatred and battles racism. The plot is driven through person versus person conflicts such as racial threats and frightful crime. Person versus society conflict is also demonstrated when Lupe’s dad is sent to jail after she reveals they are undocumented immigrants. The resonant themes are prejudice, unity, and assimilation. Uninformed readers will immerse themselves into contemporary issues about the political climate of the United States. Readers will learn about the importance of fighting for their dreams by finding belonging in a country with many social barriers. (HBM)
Cho, Tina. 2020. The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story. Penguin Random House LLC (Koklia). 48pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-98-481486-9. Illustrated by Jess X. Snow.
The premise of education and advocating presents conceptual growth, despite whether it’s scary. Although Dayeon fears the ocean and its creatures, her grandmother takes the role of educator and works with her until she succeeds, despite her urge to avoid diving. The colorful spirals of yellows and purples within the waves create a peaceful scene, resembling the tranquility of a sunset. This imagery reduces the tension and anxiety which Dayeon feels towards the ocean. The endurance the main character portrays is an important message to be a prioritized lesson for children. The perseverance through fear between the grandmother and child can be influential to students everywhere. (MRP)
McCanna, Tim. 2020. In a Garden. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers (Paula Wiseman). 48pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-441797-7. Illustrated by Aimée Sicuro.
This rhyming story description uses the environmental cycle of plants and flowers. In the garden, one can learn about the growing seedlings, the creatures, and the revolution of the seasons. The energetic illustrations portray the peaceful, refreshing environment in which gardens can be. Different uses of drawings with lines were incorporated to depict elements like the movement of wind or diagonal lines conveying uncontrollable rain.
Near the end, an author’s note delivers a valuable message regarding how a garden grows and important aspects which gardening provides humans, such as pollination from bugs and oxygen exchange that occurs between humans and the earth. Although the story describes these elements through simplistic, rhythmic language as an engagement strategy to young students, the quality synopsis that concludes the book ties everything together. This leaves the reader with an understanding of what the subject matter is. This book can be beneficial to children expanding their language and forming classification skills within their cognitive development. (MRP)
Shurtliff, Lisa. 2019. Time Castaways: The Mona Lisa Key. HarperCollinPublishers (Katherine Tegen Books). 400pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-06-2056813-7.
Matt and his younger siblings, Ruby and Corey, were forced to live cautiously, lacking in experience and adventure because of their parent’s rules. This all changed when the three children accidentally step into a time-traveling transforming vehicle and become time-pirates with the help of Captain Vincent. However, the lying, stealing, and cheating of the pirate lifestyle leaves the children questioning their loyalty. This action-packed plot travels beyond time to reveal many shocking discoveries and describes an exhilarating adventure.
Loyalty is an essential aspect of the plot, as the children never know who to trust. In the end, the family perseveres. The audience can take away this powerful message with the persistent familial longing throughout the plot and the heartwarming unity of the children with their parents in the conclusion. Along with this premise, the setting offers historical background information, allowing the reader to understand the authentic context from its respected time-period. This can be a benefit to readers working towards developing a deeper background knowledge in history, but who are also looking for intriguing fantasy fiction to read! (MRP)
Dumon Tok, Bibi. 2020. Leave a Message in the Sand: Poems about Giraffes, Bongos, and Other Creatures with Hooves. Wm. B Eerdmans (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 64pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285548-0. Illustrated by Annemarie van Haeringen.
This collection of playful and original poems leaves a longstanding message for all readers. Ungulates, otherwise known as hooved mammals, share the perspective for each of the poems. The animals have personifying characteristics discussing social controversies or issues which are occurring today. These issues include equality for ungulates, communicating without utilizing microaggressions, environmental issues, and much more. Abstract rhythms and rhymes are implemented throughout the story, along with deep societal connections through metaphors.
The page layout for some of the poems created an homage to modern-day technology, resembling examples as an appearance of a complaint email to customer support, a text conversation with a friend, a “live” radio performance, or an obituary. These creative outlays interest the reader with its different appearance while incorporating a new communication strategy. While learning about what the animals are with descriptive word-choice and expressive language, the illustrations of each animal within the context of their story accurately depict the storyline and the mammalian. A glossary of ungulates provides readers at the end of the story more to learn. This collection of poems can be beneficial to children learning to classify types of animals or kids participating in socioemotional learning. (MRP)
Turk, Evan. 2019. You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 56pp. $11.39. ISBN 978-1-53-443282-6.
The beauty of nature is called home to plants, animals, and people. This piece of nonfiction literature reminds readers of the importance of the environment by exploring national parks and encourages the reader to protect it. To create a reliable image which encapsulates the grace National Parks exhibit, the illustrations are sketched in nature to provide all possible details. Where the environment is warm and sunny, the yellow and orange colors are vibrant, combined with lines moving, such as the wind; in a contrasting manner, the scene becomes darker in winter, nighttime, or space, portraying what the normal habitats resemble.
For more information about national parks or the animals, the endnotes concluding the story can be found regarding this. There is also a map of locations of National Parks. The author’s note describes his background as a child growing up in national parks. He discusses the positive and negative elements of the historical climb to building national parks and how this has impacted the lives of many individuals, including his own; this experience gives a firsthand account of the environment. Through this book, readers are exposed to the message: everyone is connected to nature through a sense of belonging to the land which deserves to be protected. (MRP)
Golio, Gary. 2020. Dark Was the Night: Blind Willie Johnson’s Journey to the Stars. Penguin Random House (Nancy Paulsen Books). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-52-473888-4. Illustrated by E.B. Lewis.
Although darkness and tragedy overtake his life, Willie Johnson does not let his disability stop him from making music. Told in second person, this perspective allows the reader to understand Johnson’s positive outlook on the world and his reasoning for continuing his musical journey. The concepts of light and darkness are conveyed by the shading around Willie’s face. For example, when Willie involves himself with his church choral group, it states “Now you were back in the light”. On this page, the illustrator includes the light shining directly on Willie through a stained-glass window to symbolize finding himself through the music.
Willie Johnson’s biography will resonate with young readers, ages 7 - 11 because Willie Johnson emphasizes using one’s voice to speak up for what they believe in, which he contributes through his music. He also believed in trying to find a positive outlook from every perspective and this is a valuable theme for young children. The endnotes offer additional information on Willie Johnson and his recorded song Dark Was the Night, along with multiple listed references supporting the author’s credibility for his knowledge on Willie Johnson. (MRP)
Loomis, Ilima. 2019. Eclipse Chaser: Science in the Moon’s Shadow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 80pp. $15.49. ISBN 978-1-32-877096-7. Photographed by Amanda Cowan.
Solar-gazing opportunities intrigued the physics-loving astronomer Shadia Habbal, especially during unbelievable events, such as a once-in-a-lifetime, a solar eclipse visible in over thirteen states. This instructive science chapter book joins cosmology into fair-minded writing to show genuine life encounters. Useful photographs and diagrams explain the eclipse in-depth to the reader; other pictures reveal what Shadia’s career entails, offering further knowledge to anyone interested in a physicist position.
Eclipse Chaser introduces solar physics, which promotes the scientific study of space. One may also learn more about solar eclipses’ through the inclusion of glossaries defining vocabulary critical to understanding the concepts. There is also a list of references and selected sources which the author chose to provide the most accurate backstory of Shadia Habbal’s experience. (MRP)
Harrell, Rob. 2020. Wink. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers). 320pp. $11.79. ISBN 978-1-98-481514-9.
Ross realistically narrates his battle against mucoepidermoid carcinoma, cancer of the salivary glands. Ross describes the struggle of having a life-threatening disease in middle school. Ross proves he is more than his cancer through his artistic passion and musical ability. The incorporation of doodles throughout the chapters not only reestablishes Ross’ love for drawing but also provides a visual aid to the reader.
Through Ross’s experiences, readers are exposed to the idea of when a traumatic event occurs, such as cancer treatment, a person experiences all the emotions–fear, anger, and loneliness. Instead of bottling the feelings away, a person can use these emotions through communication. Feeling all of the emotions and using them through communication forms a solid foundation of communication skills and should be used as a tool to reestablish this message. The writing style is conversational, imitating text-messages as well as including twenty-first century vocabulary, for example, memes. The lighthearted language combined with the depth of the plotline forms a touching narrative that can expand knowledge of medical jargon and understanding. (MRP)
Novesky, Amy. 2020. Girl on a Motorcycle. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 48pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-59-311629-6. Illustrated by Julie Morstad.
The girl, the protagonist on a motorcycle, feels most alive when traveling around the world. In this historical fiction, set in the 1970s, the girl journeys to captivating destinations, such as, where she notices each location’s culture, people, and etiquette. Stick-like figures come to life in vibrant illustrations through the use of inviting warm and cool toned colors, like pastel blues or sunset pinks, depicting the environment surrounding the girl. Alongside visually appealing images, tips and tricks the girl learns in each territory are provided throughout the plotline; an example is How to Drink Tea in India. The girl, originally from France, exhibits her own culture through the use of the French language, descriptions of tourist destinations in France, and examples of diversity between her homeland and other countries.
There are multiple quotes which provide a long-lasting message to the reader, such as “She is all alone, but she is not afraid. She is free”. The lines romanticize the scary moments which the girl goes through and remind the reader of the mental health of the girl on her journey. One recurring idea is the girl may fall, she may be hurt, but she always gets back on her bike. The theme of perseverance can be beneficial to children and young adults who fear failure and can be used as inspiration to work hard, because the results can be beautiful. (MRP)
Graff, Keir. 2020. The Tiny Mansion. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books). 288pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-98-481385-5.
The twelve-year-old protagonist, Dagmar, uses her charismatic, bubbly personality to narrate hard-hitting topics, such as eviction, stress on familial relationships, and the reinvention of oneself in a new environment. Dagmar, although upset with her new life, learns to recognize the good aspects of her difficult situation and connects with the people around her. The conversational writing style allows for the reader to take a place in her small world. The implementation of difficult vocabulary along with its part of speech and definition, allows for language development to expand within children.
Dagmar eventually develops into an empathetic person, recognizing that on the scariest day of her life she chose to be vulnerable and let people in, saving her from a terrifying fire. Watching Dagmar analyze this revelation is useful for the reader, as disconnecting from sensitivity and emotional relationships will only worsen the difficult moments. This can also be a helpful tool when discussing familial resolutions, as Dagmar’s family ties grow stronger once living in a confined space together. (MRP)
Chee, Traci. 2020. We Are Not Free. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 400pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-813143-4
In the midst of World War Ⅱ, fourteen Japanese teenagers find one another in an incarceration camp used to hold Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The narrative is told through each teen’s varying perspective on the events by allotting one or more chapters to a single character; for example, Yum-Yum’s primarily focuses on her romantic, motherlike perspective, compared to Frankie’s angry demeanor. Alongside this, the style of the text, whether this was told through journal entries, to-do lists, or poetry, provides a different way of illustrating the timeline of the war. Artifacts and drawings were also dispersed to incorporate visual aids that assist the reader through the historical plotline.
Racism is a recurring theme which oppresses the lives of minority groups all around the United States. Readers are exposed to narratives covering types of discrimination in order to stop the cycle of repeating history. The author’s note describes the reasoning for writing is because “History is not dead” (375). The author’s note also includes information regarding interviews conducted about the Japanese-American internment camps, along with a reference page to expand further knowledge on this topic. (MRP)
Erdrich, Louise. 2020. The Range Eternal. University of Minnesota Press. 32 pp. $17.95. ISBN 978-1-51-791098-3. Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. Originally published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2002.
A young girl and her family reside in the Turtle Mountains, where they experience harsh winters and unbearably cold nights. They are grateful for their multipurpose heating tool, which happens to be their woodstove named “The Range Eternal”. The stove is a deep, rich, blue color, which may symbolize hope in the freezing winters and a sense of comfort for the young girl during the chilly nights she would experience but for The Range Eternal. The girl learned a great deal from The Range Eternal, such as learning to write by tracing the letters engraved on it, using her imagination to create images within the flames lightening the darkened room, while also appreciating the comforting warmth the woodstove brought to the family. The blazing fire kept the ice monster, Windigo, whom the girl feared, away from their cottage. The girl felt protected and safe in the calm blaze of the flames.
As time passed, electricity arrived, and a new electric stove replaced The Great Eternal. Although it was much more practical, the young girl missed the warmth and comfort of the heat during the winter months. She had no warmed stones on her feet during her sleep, and she felt Windigo near her as she lacked the flame of the wood stove to keep the ice monster away. As time passed and the young girl grew up and had her own home and her stove, she realized something essential in her life was missing; The Range Eternal. The theme expressed is sometimes, simpler is better. Humans take advantage of luxuries and forget that a simple life is sometimes the most valuable. The girl experienced this firsthand and realized that her comfort is with the woodstove, even as an adult. (CLS)
Copeland, Misty. 2020. Bunheads. Penguin Random House (G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $13.53. ISBN 978-0-39-954764-5. Illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey.
Misty has a passion for ballet and loves to challenge herself to reach her potential. When discovering she is unfamiliar with the next ballot she will be performing, titled Coppelia, she feels a bit uneasy, but is determined to follow in the footsteps of her fellow dancers. Misty finds she envies the drive of Swanilda’s attitude in the ballet and she truly impresses her teacher with her natural talent. As the days pass on, Misty works excruciatingly hard and it pays off when she is awarded the honor of playing Swanilda in the upcoming ballet. Her fellow dance team member Cat, who is playing Coppelia, dances with incredible gracefulness. This encourages Misty to work even harder.
Misty shocks the entire crowd with her astonishing performance, but most importantly she shocks herself with the grace and confidence evident in every step she takes. The illustrations express movements of dance using curved lines and lines portraying circular motions, which helps the readers visualize the characters dancing and using their bodies as props. During the performance, light is utilized in creating a spotlight shining on the dancers, displaying dominance and the realistic use of light on a stage. The plot resonates with young readers who have passions but are a bit hesitant in feeling confident in their abilities. Misty’s determination and hard work led to her confidence blossoming and feeling free through dance. It could be an inspiration for others to follow their dreams. (CLS)
Okorafor, NNedi. 2020. Ikenga. Penguin Random House (Viking Books for Young Readers). 240 pp. $15.29. ISBN 978-0-59-311352-3. Book design by Jim Hoover.
Nnamdi is a 12-year-old boy living in Kalaria, Nigeria. This resembles a low fantasy story because it takes place on Earth, but magical elements are incorporated. When Nnamdi’s father, the police chief, is murdered, Nnamdi acknowledges he has the responsibility to destroy the criminals who are desperately trying to destroy their town. After the death of his father, Nnamdi and his mother experience vulnerability. Once a middle-class family, they now struggle to cope with fearing for criminals who allegedly killed Nnamdi’s father, the police chief, and the family no longer has protection. Nnamdi’s luck changes when he is visited by a mysterious spirit on the first anniversary of his father’s death, who may be the spirit of his father. He is left with the Ikenga, which is a magical statute creating the possibility of using superpowers.
Conflict arises after Nnamdi realizes he must use and control these powers for the rest of his life. Nnamdi knows his duties: he needs to find closure and redemption for his father and protect his town from the danger surrounding them. He must learn to control and take charge of his newfound powers to succeed. The plot surrounding these characters encourages disbelief with the use of magic and the spirit who visits Nnamdi. It creates a creative world for the readers and allows their imagination to flourish in this setting. The values which are encouraged include bravery, courage, self-control, and creating goals for oneself will help an individual reach their full potential. Entertainment throughout the story is evident, and the book would be a great read for middle school students who are intrigued by fantasy and magic. (CLS)
Hughes, Derek. 2020. Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall. Penguin Random House (Penguin Workshop). 48pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-52-479302-9. Illustrated by Nathan Christopher.
Humpty Dumpty lived his life behind a wall with no possibility of fulfilling his dream of a magical and exciting life. Humpty spends his days working from day until night and is ruled by the king who destroys the dreams of his people who have a curiosity about what is behind the wall. Humpty builds up the courage to make his dream a reality and secretly builds a ladder to see what is beyond the wall. He succeeds in this impressive task but is ultimately crumbled to pieces. The town begins to chatter, realizing that Humpty has disobeyed the King. The King feels as though he has won, but he fails to realize Humpty truly defeated the king because he defeated the odds and fulfilled his dreams.
The lyrical rhythm incorporated sets a tone for young readers, creating a beat to keep in mind while reading. There are many uses of rhyme which will appeal to the younger generations, creating an order with rhythm making it easy to follow for the readers. The plot surrounds conflict for Humpty and the imagery incorporated sets a clear picture of the wall and the obstacles Humpty faces from attempting to make his dreams a reality, including his long workdays, the eyes of the King, and the immense height of the wall. The black and white images highlight the gloom of the lives of the towns’ people. This is a simple and easy read for youngsters and opens the possibility of using imagination and creativity to paint a picture of the poetic elements used. (CLS)
Wick, Walter. 2019. A Ray of Light: A Book of Science and Wonder. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-43-916587-7. Book Design by Walter Wick and Charles Kreloff.
Atoms are the building blocks of the entire universe, and the matter is what makes up the world in the form of solids, liquids, or gases. Light is an element which does not fit into these categories. Each form of matter can play a part in the creation of light, which brings heat and energy to the surface of the world. The explanation of where light comes from is broken down into categories including incandescence, light waves, iridescence, the sun, and the color spectrum. The reader is given an opportunity to soar high into the wonders and confusions surrounding the creation of light impacting the world daily.
Wick, an award-winning author, and photographer uses mesmerizing photography which enhances the power of light. The illustrator's use of colors and angles of his camera; including dark rooms being lit, and the evident ‘rainbow’ colors produced by light. Each picture captures the power of the surrounding light and offers a complex explanation of each category of light. Images capture light in the natural world, in an enclosed setting, as well as light existing in the world beyond Earth. The detailed images aid Wick in describing the creation of light and its importance with vibrant colors, angled lines mimicking the piercing rays lighting the world, and the textured details encompass every image. An informative and scientific book gravitated towards middle-aged readers who have an interest or curiosity about light and science. (CLS)
Stelson, Caren. A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story. Lerner Publishing Group (Carolrhoda Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-54-152148-3. Illustrated by Akira Kusaka.
Sachiko and her family reside in Nagasaki, Japan, where they are surrounded by harbor and mountains and the beauty which comes along with this way of life. The city is a warm place to reside, but World War II is erupting and Sachiko’s family knows it. A family artifact generates hope for the family during the unknown of this frightening time. Sachiko’s Grandmother takes pride in this special bowl which has been passed down from generation to generation. The bowl is precious, creating a symbol of peace and protection. It is used for every meal set on the table. On August 9, 1945, tragedy strikes when an atomic bomb raids the city of Nagasaki only half a mile from the family home. The only belonging to survive the bomb was Grandmother’s special bowl. This foreshadows the strength of the family to thrive through the harsh times.
The illustrations create a sense of despair during the bombing, using dark contrast in the sky. The bright colors of the resident’s clothing resemble the importance to maintain a bright outlook on life in even the darkest times. Set in 1945, the historical aspects create a sense of realistic and historical fiction, which may help readers connect with real-life events taking place during this year which affected lives throughout the entire world. The themes include the importance of connection to the past while also having a sense of hope for the future. The family artifact aids in this task, connecting Sachiko to her ancestors and believing she and her family are protected through the unknown and their ancestors are protecting them. (CLS)
Winston, Sherri. 2020. Great Escapes: Journey to Freedom, 1838. HarperCollins. 128pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-286038-5. Illustrated by James Bernadin.
Set in 1838 Kentucky, right in the midst of the slave world, Eliza Harris knew the only way to ensure freedom for her son Harry was to march through the treacherous terrain which would lead her to the Northern states. Mr. Seldon was her slave master, who kept her estranged from her husband and created a life full of unknowns, which brought fear upon Eliza. Mr. Seldon had plans to sell Harry for a large profit, which resulted in Eliza beginning to panic. She knew she had to act quickly to keep her son safely in her care. The idea of freedom excited her, and she finally built up the courage to leave everything she knows as a slave and creates a free life with her son and her husband.
The historical elements relate back to the pre-Civil War era, where slavery dominated half of the United States. The escape to freedom essentially took place through the underground railroad which was run by abolitionists, and Eliza’s escape can be tied to the excitement but also nerves of running north and never looking back to the plantation. In a third-person point of view, readers can still hear and feel the determination to defeat the odds of a black slave escaping during the years of slavery and racism in America. The sparse images communicate the harsh realities of slaves, such as marching through harsh weather to obtain freedom. There is also a feeling of loneliness along with the free life that none of the characters chosen for themselves. The images are dark and lonesome, just like the slaves. The themes incorporated are determination and bravery as a young mother fights for her son’s freedom and defeats the odds of a devastating life. (CLS)
Gino, Alex. Rick. 2020. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 240pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-804810-0. Book design by Maeve Norton.
Rick is preparing to begin Middle School with a foggy haze surrounding him. He has spent his entire short life pleasing others and following the rest of the crowd, which has hindered his ability to discover his identity. Rick is intensely influenced by his best friend Jeff, who is the school bully, and expresses his sexist views in regards to the LGBTQ+ community. The discussion about liking girls has always made Rick uncomfortable and the conversation makes him squirm in his seat. Rick is not sure who or what he is attracted to, and is ashamed of this confusion. He knows being honest with his peers about his sexuality and his identity may turn heads as he enters middle school. He begins to feel comfortable in his own skin after entering middle school and discovering the Rainbow Spectrum Club, which is a place where students can discuss their gender and sexuality in a safe space.
The relationship Rick gains from joining this school club is much more powerful than fitting in with the rest of the crowd. Melissa, Rick’s new friend from the club, gives a new perspective to Rick in accepting him for being different from the rest of the world. Rick knows his actions of joining the club may result in losing the superficial friends he had been spending all of his time with, but he learns to not care. Rick finds his voice and his safe place within the club, giving him a sense of purpose even in the most uncomfortable situations. The realistic conflicts Rick faces such as confusion with oneself, conflict with those who were once close to him, and the fear of being true and opening up to the rest of the world is relatable to young adult readers, ages 10-13. (CLS)
Rusch, Elizabeth. 2020. The Big One: The Cascadia Earthquake and the Science of Saving Lives. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 80pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-54-488904-0. Jacket designed by Nina Simoneaux and Andrea Miller.
The region of Cascadia is closely watched because grave dangers are heading their way. Earthquakes are common natural disasters that emerge in the cities along each coast, especially the western side of the United States, such as California. Only a few decades ago, scientists discovered an unfamiliar structure running along the northwest of the Pacific Ocean. Following this discovery, unexplained land features have been discovered such as odd sand layers lining the beaches, ghost forests, and marshes buried underneath another marsh. Scientists have now found themselves landed in the unknown nature, and what kind of danger is to come for the Cascadians. The informative text is a human vs. nature conflict, which creates a crucial explanation of the uncontrollable Earthquakes that are yet to explode for the North Westerners.
The equal mix between the graphs, charts, and photos aid readers in understanding the magnitude of these destructive and enigmatic earthquakes. The realistic photographs contain the damage of these higher magnitude earthquakes, which help readers aged 8-12 emphasize the harsh tragedies earthquake survivors face. There are survival and preparation tips for readers to note that could help a city that is in trouble, but these preparation tips are useful for anyone that may reside near the coast. Elizabeth Rusch is an award-winning author who follows the scientific experiments and discoveries that will help uncover the mystery of the cause of the anticipated earthquake that is bound to hit the Pacific Northwest. (CLS)
Russell-Brown, Katheryn. 2020. A Voice Named Aretha. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-68-119850-7. Illustrated by Laura Freeman.
Aretha Franklin grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where she lived in a Christian home full of praise, joy, and music ringing through the entire house. She, who was once a shy, timid girl, who experienced tragedies and emptiness, found her calling and became the Queen of Soul at a young age after moving to New York. With segregation heavily impacting the world in the ’50s, Aretha made a statement by refusing to perform at segregated venues. She was the first woman to be acknowledged in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after her hit songs began to skyrocket. Aretha touched the lives of her audiences and used her talent to help others by raising money for civil rights groups. Her courage and determination were inspirational, as she followed her dream.
Illustrations complement the biography of Aretha Franklin. In each image of Aretha singing, readers can feel the passion behind her voice, which allows readers to be moved by Aretha’s talent without actually hearing her. Emotion is easily determined by each character present because of the detailed images which capture sadness or happiness. The vibrant colors of purple, orange, and red catch the reader’s eyes. This is what Aretha Franklin did with her impressive and powerful vocals. Katheryn Russell-Brown is an award-winning author who is an expert in race and crime. Her purpose in telling Aretha’s story captures the importance of standing up for what one believes and following personal dreams. (CLS)
Day, Christine. 2020. I Can Make this Promise. HarperCollins Publishers (Quill Tree Books). 272pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-287199-2.
Edie is a 12-year-old girl who knows extremely little about her heritage, except the small detail in confirming she is half Native American. The curiosity of her extended family and their story floods her brain, bringing frustration when her mother and father give very little information about her culture. The reason for the lack of detail is not necessarily intentional, but only to protect Edie’s young heart in the midst of growing up in a cruel world. Edie does not let her wonders go to waste when she finds a mysterious box in her attic filled with pieces of a puzzle in which she has been trying to complete for as long as she can remember. When Edie uncovers shocking discoveries, there are various emotions and confusions brought to the surface revolving around a woman named Edith, who is present in many photographs in the box, looking nearly identical to Edie. The themes evident in this read are self-growth and realization, the struggle with maintaining trust in multiple relationship dynamics, and the discovery of who one is and where they come from.
The realistic literary elements are evident which conveys Edie’s journey, who resides in the real world, and who overcomes natural conflicts present in the average person’s daily life. The person vs. person conflict is evident when Edie wants to know her background, but is receiving silence from her parents. Edie struggles with anger and confusion, as well as confrontation and the breakage of friendships while people tend to grow apart as aging occurs and one discovers who they are. Incorporating the hardships and racism surrounding Native Americans once faced and still face today helps the readers empathize with real-life events which are tied into Edie’s story. A swirl of emotions including sadness, frustration, and happiness moves readers to the realness of the story and would be most appropriate for middle-schoolers aged 11-15. (CLS)
Pinkney, Brian. 2021. Time for Kenny. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-073528-9.
Kenny is a young boy with a busy day. Through four small moments in his day, readers, ages 3 -8, see his journey from waking up and getting dressed to playing in the last fleeting minutes before bedtime. Along the way, we see Kenny face his fears and learn new skills, like how to play soccer with the help of his sister. Each moment in Kenny’s day is differentiated by solid bright colors with a description of Kenny’s activity or challenge. Although the new activities can be tricky, Kenny approaches them with an open mind, continuing to try again when things do not work in his favor the first time.
Bright colors and curved, fluid lines in the illustrations attract readers from the moment they see the cover. Simple, white backgrounds with little detail draw attention to the characters and their actions and interactions. These bare backgrounds draw the reader’s attention to the characters and their actions and interactions. The visual elements are paired with rhyming words and style. Making the book an enjoyable, approachable read for young children. (PAB)
Davis, Tanita S. 2020. Serena Says. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 272pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-293697-4.
Serena St. John is a sixth-grade girl with the dream of becoming a vlogger. She sits in her room practicing her vlogs and talking about everything going on in her life. It is all fun and games until Serena encounters a big dilemma. Her best friend, JC, gets a kidney transplant, but Serena can not visit her. Instead, Serena is forced to watch JC become close with their classmate Leilani. While trying to figure out the future of her friendship with JC, Serena is also trying to navigate the other relationships in her life and find out who she is on her own. This is a heartfelt novel about growing up and the change that comes with it.
Change is a dominant theme in the plot of this book, every day seems to bring new challenges for Serena to overcome. In the end, Serena finds that she is able to overcome any challenge with a bit of communication and help from her friends and family. Readers can find this message in the familial connections and heartfelt conversations shared between the characters. There is also quite a bit of representation for young Black females. Readers will find themselves lost in this fictional read with a good parallel to real life. Recommended for ages 8-12. (PAB)
Gomez, Rebecca J. 2020. Federico and the Wolf. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-856778-9. Illustrated by Elisa Chavarri.
Federico, Rico for short, has a huge task to take on. He must go to the market, gather ingredients for the perfect Pico de Gallio, and take them to his Abuelo’s store. Once he has the ingredients, he heads into the woods. On his way through the woods, Rico meets a wolf who is hungry and looking for his next meal. They have a brief interaction before Rico continues toward his destination. After arriving at his Abuelo’s store, he sees some questionable signs that his grandfather might not be who Rico thinks he is. Rico must use his quick mind to outsmart the wolf and save himself, his Abuelo, and the pico.
In this classic tale, Little Red Riding Hood, the use of a simple rhyme scheme, vibrant color pallet, and detailed, airbrushed style illustrations provide an easy and entertaining read for younger children. The rainbow of colors in the market invites the reader into Rico’s neighborhood. The different stalls and decorations show various aspects of the community and its culture. The slightly darker setting and color pallet used in the forest when the wolf is introduced shows trouble might be afoot. The shading and contrast of defined versus rounded, soft lines give the settings and characters depth. This interesting twist brings a new life to a well-known tale. (PAB)
Literfield, David. 2020. Lights on Wonder Rock. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-835953-1.
Heather was fascinated by space. She knew there were wonders out in the universe, and she wished one day she would get to see it all. One night, Heather went outside to Wonder Rock, deep in the woods, and sat looking at the night sky, hoping to spot an alien in the vast darkness. Heather flipped her flashlight on and off, hoping to catch the attention of something interesting. Suddenly, a humongous spaceship came down in a wash of bright rainbow colors, and out from the ship came an alien, Heather’s new friend. They spent time together until Heather realized her parents were searching for her; this lead her to say goodbye, and her friend to take off and make their way home. Remembering her friend, Heather made her way back to Wonder Rock several times over the years, trying any method she could to bring her friend back to their meeting spot, but nothing seemed to work.
The phenomenal world of the spaceship is expressed through vibrant colors. Loud pinks, reds, yellows, and blues, drawing direct contrast from the subdued greens, blues, oranges, and yellows representing the woods, home to Wonder Rock. The different color palettes show how beauty can pull in someone’s attention but it will not always be what the person thought they wanted. Readers will learn to find magic in the things around them, even when they know there are other magical things out in the universe. Heather was experiencing her lifelong dream, but she could not feel complete knowing that she was leaving her family behind. There are a plethora of themes children can hold onto as they grow older, just like Heather. (PAB)
Voirst, Judith. 2020. I’ll Fix Anthony. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-440841-6. Illustrated by Arnold Lobel.
All the boy wants is for Anthony, his big brother, to be his companion. Anthony is constantly putting down and picking on his brother, although their mother assures our main character that it is out of love. Growing tired of these unpleasant interactions, the main character imagines what life will be like when he is six. He envisions all of the things he will be and ways he will do better than Anthony, once he has grown a little older. From winning at games like bingo and tic tac toe, to being a more skilled bike rider and swimmer, he thinks of the many ways he will be better than Anthony.
This easy-to-read picture book combines large, simple, repetitive text with many small pictures showing glimpses of the situations being described. The simple color palette of black, white, and warm hues, such as red, yellow, and orange, draws attention to the interactions without distracting from the story. The unnamed main character wears mostly yellow, except for his shoes, giving him a very friendly look while his brother Anthony wears red and black giving him a darker demeanor. Readers will be amused and tap into their imaginative self while looking at the interesting ways children see the concept of growing up. (PAB)
Maynor, Megan. 2020. Helga Makes A Name For Herself. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-895783-2. Illustrated by Eda Kaban.
Helga is a young farmer’s daughter who dreams of being a Viking warrior. Her hero is the famous warrior Ingrid the Axe, and Helga spends her days trying to mimic the viking. Helga asks to hear about the stories of Ingrid’s accomplishments at any moment she can, and practices her warrior skills often. Even though those around Helga remind her that she is only a farmer’s daughter, she knows she can be more and when Ingrid arrives in search of new warriors to join her crew, Helga is more than ready to show her abilities.
Helga’s story is one of perseverance and believing in oneself. Helga proves the people around her wrong and makes it known where she comes from does not dictate who she can be. This underlying message places the development of emotional intelligence at the forefront. Teaching children to continue standing up for, and believing in themselves, can build a strong foundation for educational growth. When children believe in themselves they are able to push through challenges with more fervor. This book is a phenomenal example of self-motivation for children in early elementary school. (PAB)
Hische, Jessica. 2018. Tomorrow I will be Brave. Penguin Random House (Penguin Workshop). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-52-478701-1.
The young and optimistic main character is hopeful for all the qualities they will embody in the coming day. They hope to be strong by being active and having fun, even if they don’t win, and be curious by asking why millions of times. They might not succeed at all of their goals in embodying these qualities, but they know that is okay. They are trying their best and that is enough.
The use of an AB rhyme scheme, with internal rhymes throughout, allows emerging readers to flow through the lines easily. The action and rhyming words are shown through differences in font color, and the smooth and detailed, hand-drawn pictures are inviting to readers. Different font styles signify the importance and differences of the qualities the main character is trying to embody. Each personality trait is presented in through an image which represents what that word means, it is especially well shown in the childlike scribbles used to illustrate the word creative. The overarching theme of perseverance and acceptance of progress in one's growth is a tremendous message for readers aged 3 to 7. (PAB)
Burach, Ross. 2019. The Very Impatient Caterpillar. Scholastic Press (Scholastic Inc.). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-828941-1.
A little caterpillar sees many of his friends climbing a tree and questions why. They find out soon the other caterpillars are going to metamorphosize, or in other words, become butterflies. The somewhat clueless caterpillar is excited to go through this change and follows right along, but once they have formed their chrysalis, realize they will have to wait a full two weeks. They try waiting, but their impatience gets the best of them and they break free before the first day is over, only to find they have not made any kind of transformation. With this discovery, they decide to try again testing their patience and encouraging themselves to get through the two weeks in spite of their impatience.
Humor contributes to the theme of the importance of patience. Young readers familiar with the concepts of patience can find themselves in the caterpillar and recognize the best things take time. This comic-style book is an easy read for young children with its large text and short, simple sentences. The bright colors draw the reader’s eye to what the caterpillar is doing and the interesting ways it chooses to pass the time. The different green hues with accents of yellow, purple, and orange used for the caterpillars show the contrast between life as a caterpillar and a vibrant and transformed butterfly. The mixed medium illustrations give depth to the different scenes and bring the small space inside the chrysalis to life and make it just as eye-catching as the outside world. (PAB)
Cronin, Doreen. 2020. Click, Clack, Good Night. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum / Dlouhy Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-445108-7. Illustrated by Betsy Lewin.
It is almost night time and the farmer is ready to tuck in all the animals and say good night. The cows are snuggled in, the sheep are cozy, and the chickens have their night light and are ready for bed, but the duck is still wide awake. The farmer reads the duck a story, sings him a song, and even tries a white-noise machine, but nothing works. Eventually the farmer snoozes off in his chair while the duck is still wide awake. The duck waddles his way to sleep with the cows, but it is too crowded. Duck tries to go to bed with the sheep, but they are too soft, and sleeping with the chickens is too bright! Duck is confused, not knowing what to do until finally he finds the coziest place on the farm.
Illustrations portray day in bright yellows and other warm colors, while displaying blues and cooler colors for night. The water colors blend together to create illustrations to immerse the reader in a different world. The illustrations were light with calming, cool shades to create realistic scenes. The lines are combined to create smooth and round shapes, making readers feel calm and relaxed. Children, ages 3 - 8, may find the interactions among the animals quite humorous while getting ready to cozy up in their beds. (GAB)
Truly, Beth. 2020. The Last Tree Town. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 272pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442064-9.
Cassi, a seventh grader, is experiencing challenges which she needs to overcome. The seasons are changing and Cassi is thrown with new challenges and changes with her family, friends, and herself. She struggles with her Puerto Rican identity, sister struggling with depression and mental illness, grandfather diagnosed with Alzheimers, and her own personal growth. The plot goes through all the demanding changes in Cassi’s life, as well as how she goes about approaching them. Readers witness Cassi’s own body changing as well as conflict with her sister. Cassi eventually found an outlet in her mathematics class, and met a boy named Aaron. Aaron told Cassi about the tree towns he lived in before he met her. Cassi develops a crush on Aaron, who managed to bring her happiness even in these difficult times.
Readers learn about how to overcome personal challenges faced when coming of age. It shows a person vs. self conflict. Cassi may not look like the rest of her family, but she knows her ethnicity. The lessons of Math Olympics helped guide her throughout her own life. She discovers life is going to have challenges, but it is only going to be one chapter in her life. Recommended for ages 9-12. (GAB)
Yim, Natasha. 2020. Luna’s Yum Yum Dim Sum. Charlesbridge Publishing. 32pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-62-354130-9. Illustrated by Violet Kim.
It is Luna’s birthday and the whole family is going out for Chinese Dim Sum. Luna and her two brothers, Kai and Benji order a total of six pork buns to share. There are three pork buns in the baskets and each of them get two buns. SPLAT! One of the pork buns falls off Luna's plate onto the floor and she is left with one. She tries to take another bun, but the brothers say no and swat her hand away. It is her birthday she should not only get one! The three siblings argue about who will get the last two pork buns. The oldest brother, Kai said he should get it because Luna and Benji should respect their elders. The youngest brother, Benji said he should get the pork bun because the older kids should take care of the youngest one. “BUT IT IS MY BIRTHDAY” said Luna. They decide to cut the last two in half, but there is still a half left! Yum yum, dim sum!
Dim Sum is traditionally served in bamboo baskets from push carts, it is a meal of bite-sized foods. It originates from Southern China and means “to touch the heart” in Cantonese. Readers are introduced to traditions from around the world. Math is incorporated when the siblings solve the problems about sharing the last two pork buns among three people. Acrylic paints in vibrant colors convey energy. The smooth straight lines form together to create a stable floor. There are not many jagged lines, but smooth shapes convey feelings of calmness. Recommended for ages 3-6. (GAB)
Swanson, Shari. 2020. Honey, The Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln. HarperCollins Publishers (Katherine Tegen Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-269900-8. Illustrated by Chuck Groenink.
A boy named Abe found a stray dog with a broken front leg, so Abe splinted the dogs leg and brought the dog home. Abe begged his mom to let him keep the dog and after great persistence, she could not say no. Abe named the dog Honey. Everywhere Abe went, Honey followed, they were inseparable. One day, Abe and Honey found themselves in the mouth of a cave. Abe got trapped between two boulders and could not move, and Honey had to leave him to get help. The dog sprinted back to the town, and the town followed them back to the cave. A miller, Mr. John, who Abe works for carefully went down into the cave, and helped him escape from the boulders. Honey saved Abe, just like Abe saved the dog by fixing his leg and giving him a safe home.
Abe and his dog are a perfect match, a heartfelt story about two best friends. Illustrations grab readers ages 4 - 8 attention with great detail and have gentle looking characters. This picture storybook has warm colors during the day time and once disaster strikes, the colors are dark and give off a feeling of fear. The different shades blended together created a texture readers want to touch. Illustrations themselves show off a story to readers, but also complement what is being described. The curvy lines symbolize the ground and flow smoothly throughout the pages. Jagged lines throughout images also signify danger. Readers ages 4 - 8 will not want to put this book down, it is bound to put a smile on their faces and maybe even make them want to buy a best friend. (GAB)
Nadareishvili, Tatia. 2017. Sleep Like Me. Wm. B Eerdmans (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285566-4. Illustrated by Tatia Nadareishvili.
A little boy just cannot fall asleep and decides to go for a walk. On his walk, he encounters several different animals also trying to get some sleep. Sleep like me, says the Giraffe. The boy tries it and doesn’t work. Try sleeping like a bird, but it doesn't work. Try sleeping like a sloth, nope still does not work. Eventually, the worn out little boy realizes that all of these animals sleep very differently than he does, and he makes his way back to his comfy human bed.
The conflict in this early to read picture storybook for children, ages 3 - 8, will resonate with youngsters. The illustrations are detailed and lines within the illustrations create a realistic texture that makes readers want to reach out and touch the animals. Watercolors bring children ages 3-7 into a different world full of vibrance and detail. The blue contrast causes feelings of calmness, and the red color shows the uneasiness of the struggle the little boy has when trying to fall asleep. The colors and the lines form together to create peaceful experiences. It shows a person versus self conflict from the little boy and the struggle to find the right way to sleep. It creates an enjoyable experience for the reader and relates to children when they are having a difficult time going to bed. Readers will also start to realize the value of multicultural literature. Enjoy the story before bedtime, and try sleeping like fun animals around the world. (GAB)
Dopirak, Kate. 2020. Hurry up!: A Book About Slowing Down. Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442497-5. Illustrated by Chistopher Silas Neal.
A boy and his dog are hastily moving through the day. They hurry to get to school, running to the bus and into the school. They move quickly through the day but eventually they stop, breathe deeply, and enjoy the world and fresh air. It is important to slow down and take a moment to see what is around them. After school the boy and his dog slow down, take a break, and open their eyes. They start to see the elegance of the world. They count the stars, look for the end of a rainbow, and move on to wonderful adventures.
In a story about personal and social development, readers realize they need to slow down and take in their surroundings and while encouraging them to go on new adventures. It helps children avoid the impulses of moving fast, never slowing down, and keep pushing forward, but promoting personal growth and mindfulness. The illustrations are vibrant and colorful that take readers ages 2 -8 to a different world. The pastel colors create feelings of relaxation and peace that make readers feel calm. (GAB)
Roberts, Tomos. 2020. The Great Realization. HarperCollinsPublishers. 32pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-306636-6. Illustrated by Normoco.
“Tell me about the virus again”, said the little boy. The mom tells him to snuggle down, in the world she once knew full of waste, wonder, and poverty. Companies flooded over the earth and people could get anything they could have imagined with a click of a button. Families stopped talking and children's eyes were glued to a phone. People filtered out the imperfections and even with the noise they felt alone. The seas were filled with plastic, but then in 2020 a new virus came along. People hid away, it was a time of discovering new passions and taking time for oneself. The earth began to breathe, people started getting outside, dancing, singing, and baking. The simplest acts of kindness were meaningful. People will remember the world as it was and where it is going. It was a great realization.
The text is based off of an inspiring poem by Tom Foolery and sends a message of hope for children, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Illustrations are created with watercolors and pencil; Using darker colors like black and dark blues to convey gloom and loneliness and later, brighter colors such as red, orange, and yellow colors to convey a hopeful, positive mood. Repetition enhances the positive sides of 2020. Grouping the sentences into two, the last word rhythms with the last. It is a theme of hopefulness emerging from the effects of a deadly virus. Readers, aged 4-8 are best suited for these messages. (GAB)
Tabor, Corey R. 2021. Mel Fell. HarperCollinsPublishers. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-287801-4.
People have to fall down, down, down before they can fly up, up, up. Sometimes it is important to immediately confront fears before moving forward. Me, a bird, l was ready to fly out of the nest, took a leap of faith, and dove off. She fell down the tree passing families of owls and squirrels who tried to catch her, buzzed by the bees, and even the spider who also tried to save her. SPLASH! Mel dove into the pond; kicked her legs, wiggled her tail feathers, and spread her wings. Mel got out of the pond and flew up, up, up past the spider, buzzed past the bees, the squirrels who tried to race to the top, and her mom was waiting when she got back with a proud look on her face.
Vibrant colors made with pencil, colored pencil, and acrylic paint. When Mel starts flying up back towards her nest, the reader has to rotate the book around to give off the illusion of Mel changing directions. Each illustration in the book takes up the full page. The different shades of brown combined with lines, come together to form the texture and shape of the tree as Mel falls down and then flies up. The greens show the colors of the leaves from the tree and the beauty of nature. The curvy lines connect to form smooth shapes of all the different animals; the spider, bees, and squirrels. shown in the story. The theme of taking risks resonates as readers follow Mel falling, then flying. Mel accepted the challenge to face her fear; recovering from her fall and then flying back to her nest. (GAB)
Henkes, Paul. 2020. Sun Flower Lion. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 40 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-286610-3. Illustrated by Kevin Henkes.
The white and yellow sun, outlined in two ‘circles’ of black, is shining in the sky, all alone. Gentle, curved lines give it the look of a delicate flower. The light shines down gently on a quiet hill. There is nothing in sight except for the few clouds drifting lazily through the sky. Soon the little hill will not be so vacant. A sunflower pops up on the hillside, a miniature sun on a stem. Readers, ages 2 - 6, may also observe the flower resembles the head of a lion. All of a sudden, here comes a little Sun Flower Lion! He is going on an adventure. Children cannot help but be drawn in by Lion and his adorable antics, which leads to creativity and curiosity. The complementary shapes between the sun, flower, the head of the lion, and the tail of the lion gives simplistic shapes for young readers to expand their imagination. Readers follow Lion as he makes friends with the sunflower and runs around the hill finding many new things to do. Soon enough, he wears himself out and takes a nap. Fluffy dreamy clouds show children cookie flowers as big as the sun. No child, or lion, could possibly resist cookies like that!
Yellow is the dominant color, representing happiness and joy. Lion helps remind children of the adventures they can have in the great outdoors, by using their imaginations. The drawings are simple in style but effective for young readers. The use of yellow in each scene and character helps the reader track where things are going and what is important on the page. For example, with the simple illustrations like a sun with little to nothing else. The simple scenes lets readers focus on exploring their imagination. The gentleness of lines and shapes guide the readers’ imagination to a plush little lion or one of their favorite stuffed animals frolicking in a field. The short sentences and easy vocabulary like, “Sun shines. Flower blooms.” (unnumbered), encourages readers to put their own creative spin on the sequence of events. The shapes, line, and color may inspire children to create their own stories with their families and toys! (MLC)
Chase, Paula. 2020. Turning Point. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 384pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-296556-0.
The heart grows fonder with ballet, first loves, and distance. For best friends, Rasheeda and Monique, this is not the case. It is their first summer apart since Sheeda came to The Cove. Monique is off to ballet camp for the summer and Sheeda is stuck with Aunt D… at church. Their stories are told from their own perspectives, overlapping periodically through their text messages to each other. Monique’s side presents the person vs. society conflict along with person vs. self, while she is struggling to come to terms with being one of two black students at the camp. As classes continue, Mo has the feeling she is singled out for all the wrong reasons. Black is the only thing the teachers see. The truth will only be revealed when Mo learns to accept herself and discover others will accept her as she regardless of her race. While Monique is going through her self-discovery, Rasheeda is in love. Or she thinks she is. Lennie, Mo’s older brother, is sending her all kinds of mixed signals and she doesn’t know what to do with them. Sheeda is torn between telling her best friend about her newfound relationship with Lennie and keeping it to herself. The longer Mo is away, the worse Sheeda begins to feel.
It’s like the world is starting to collapse around her which presents the person vs. person conflict alongside person vs. self. With Mo gone, Sheeda finds herself getting wrapped in everyone else’s drama while struggling to keep her own life in order, a feeling that many kids her age can empathize with. Lennie is a constant source of emotional turmoil for Sheeda and Aunt D, Sheeda’s “mom”, is the other half of Sheeda’s internal conflict. Church is the first thing in her life and Aunt D has no problems reminding Sheeda of that. Between her aunt and Lennie, Sheeda can’t catch a break. It’s like Sheeda can’t just be herself anymore. Both girls have a great deal of self discovery to do if they are going to survive a summer without one another. They’ll have to work around their issues and grow in order to overcome their challenges. Readers, in grades 3-8, can relate to the conflicts presented in Turning Point as they begin their transition to being teenagers. (KLC)
Busby, Cline. 2020. The Bookstore Cat. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-289434-2. Illustrated by Charles Santoso.
Meet the Bookstore Cat. He is like any other cat but there is one thing that makes him extra special. Bookstore Cat, or BC, has his very own bowtie imprinted in his fur and lives in a bookstore full time. His days are spent running “his” bookstore alongside his owner. Customers and guests flock from all over to see the rambunctious kitten do what he does best. If you asked his owner, she would give you a whole list of adjectives to describe BC. She uses a list like this to describe BC’s daily life in the store. A new adjective for each day, it is endless fun for BC and the people that cross his path. His zany antics will keep young readers captivated.
This is an ABC concept book with an animal theme. Each page utilizes a letter of the alphabet and an adjective starting with that letter. The language that is used in this book is simple for the most part, but there are some larger words. Some of the adjectives used in the book include ‘Xenopus-chasing’ and ‘regal’. The larger words, the adjectives, might seem difficult for young readers but the author uses the illustrations to help show what the word means. The pictures in this book are vibrant and bright, capturing the reader's attention. There are no sharp, pointed edges. Everything is round which creates a sense of calm and safety. This also helps set the tone for the relaxed atmosphere. Children will not be able to take their eyes off the handsome cat who is the center of attention. This book uses something that readers are familiar with, a cat, to give them a unique introduction to the alphabet. This book is recommended for kids 4-8 years old and in grades PreK to 3rd grade. (KLC)
Bates, Amy June. 2020. When I Draw a Panda. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-145148-2.
Imagination is limitless. What a person creates reflects oneself and does not have to adhere to anyone’s standards. Told from the perspective of a little girl, with no name, and a panda that she draws. They share their opinions about how they feel about people telling them how to draw. The little girl has an issue drawing a perfect circle, and she is troubled by this expectation. She can draw a fluffy cloud, a scoop of ice cream, and even a flat tire, but not a perfect circle. As the little girl continues to draw imperfectly, she starts to see a panda. When the little girl is struggling with the fact she can not draw a perfect circle yet, her panda teaches her it is okay to draw her own way. The panda also teaches her to have pride in her art regardless of the expectations of others. Panda encourages her to draw the opposite of what people tell her to and to find creative workarounds. The more time the little girl spends with her panda drawing, the more she realizes they are right. Her art is only hers and it is flawless even if she cannot draw a perfect circle.
Similar to a fable, an animal helps convey the central idea which is that nobody is perfect. In this case, the animal, a panda, is one children enjoy, and the message of artistic individuality becomes a gentle theme. Readers will understand it is perfectly acceptable to make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is part of life. It takes time and practice to become successful at something one is passionate about. The detailed illustrations used in this book looks like it could have been drawn by a child. Of course, it is more refined than a child’s but it makes the story feel more familiar. The whole story is drawn in a way that looks like everything is done on a blackboard. All the lines and shapes are soft, they look like they have been smudged. Everything is gentle which makes the reader feel safe and comfortable while reading the story. This book is recommended for kids 4 to 8 years old and PreK through 3rd grade. (KLC)
Wheeler, Eliza. 2019. Home In The Woods. Penguin Random House LLC (Nancy Paulsen Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-39-916290-9. Illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.
Meet Marvel, the middle child of eight. She and her family leave their home after her father passed away. Marvel is terrified of moving, she has never been away from her childhood home before. The family takes only what they can carry and set out to find a new place to live. Her mother finds a little tar paper shack in the woods, decides it is worthy of being their new residence and Marvel does not agree. She describes it as cold and empty, a similar way to how she feels inside. Her Mother promises her that if she looks hard enough she is sure to find some hidden treasures, Marvel only has to give the run-down shack a chance. As Summer slowly starts to change to Autumn, Marvel finds new things all around her: secret whitetail deer trails, a hidden root cellar, and a creek lined with berry bushes. She and her siblings are slowly acclimating to their new lives and have taken it upon themselves to do everything they can to help out their Mother. After one of their rare trips to the General Store, the children see fancy things that they could never afford. When they get home, they decide to make one of their own. Autumn turns to Winter, and the family retreats inside to spend time together. Spring comes along, the family becomes friends with their neighbors and trade bread and jam for eggs and milk. Their small world is slowly expanding. Marvel finally sees the little tar shack as a home. It is warm and happy, just like she feels on the inside.
Moving can be a frightening experience for children, however, they may view the situation differently after reading about Marvel’s acceptance of her new environment. Cool and pastel watercolors of blue, yellow, and green convey the changes in the seasons and moods. The colors signal the changes in season in the woods. They also represent the change in Marvel’s emotions as she comes to enjoy her new home with her family. This is a story about a little girl in a person v. self conflict. As stated before, this conflict is represented through the change in colors used throughout. The plot centers around a family making the best of a poor situation. However, there is a secondary plot of Marvel overcoming her emotional turmoil. A perfect choice for beginning readers and their parents. The language is simple and utilizes childlike themes and descriptions. This book is also based on a real family. It is a perfect way to get children interested in history at a young age. This book is recommended for kids age 5 to 8 and grade k-3. (KLC)
Montgomery, Sy. 2020. Becoming a Good Creature. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-825210-8. Illustrated by Rebecca Green.
Teachers are not only found in the classroom. Nature can be the best teacher. Animals have wisdom some people will never learn unless they take a moment to listen. When a teacher takes their own advice and listens, they become the student all over again. It all starts with their childhood dog, Molly. They found their next teacher, the Emus, who taught them to discover their passion. Then the Gorillas showed them how to fully respect all creatures, not just humans. The Tigers and Lions taught them to never be afraid and embrace fears. The Cassowary taught them the importance of patience, both for himself and others. The next lesson came later on, from a pig. The pig teaches that a family is what one makes of it. The Hyenas and Tarantula teach to never judge a book by its cover, there is more to people than stereotypes. Forgiveness was taught by a weasel in the chicken coop. An Octopus named Octavia shows that even though everyone has their differences, they can still bond. The final lesson comes from a blind puppy that nobody else wanted. Today does not define your future, you have to trust what tomorrow will bring.
Creatures can reinforce the important life lessons if one takes the time to listen to the world around them. Animals and nature can teach children how to grow as a person. Just because something can not speak does not mean that they can not communicate. Learning is not constrained to verbal communication. Readers are exposed to lessons which encourage them to reflect on themselves and learn from their new and past experiences. If children open themselves up to those experiences, there is not a single thing that they can not do. Children are also exposed to the idea of looking toward tomorrow and the lessons it brings. People never stop discovering things about themselves. There is always something to be learned and growing to be done. This book is recommended for children 4-7 years old and grades pre-k through 3rd. (MLC)
MacLachlan, Patricia. 2020. Prairie Days. Simon and Schuster Publishing (Margaret K. McElderry Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-44-244191-0. Illustrated by Micha Archer.
The countryside is as endless as the summer sky. The little girl who lives on the farm loves both of them. There are so many adventures to be had when living between two endless things. The little girl reminisces of her time in the country, the smells, colors and sounds of her birthplace. She thinks fondly of the old dirt roads and the places they led. It did not matter to her if she reached familiar destinations by horse or her father’s gray car, she loved them all. Each animal on her farm was unique in its own way from her three-legged dog, May, to the wild horses running through the fields. The little girl, and the other children, spend their afternoons riding in the grain wagon wagons and swimming in the farm pond. The adventures never end.
As an early reader, youngsters will recognize the language as simple and repetitive. It is something that children will be able to recognize and understand. Paper, oil pastels, and acrylic paint create elements of a safe and exciting environment through vibrant colors and various textures. Additionally, there are no harsh lines or edges, everything is soft and rounded. This adds to the calm the book conveys. Readers, ages 4-8, will be able to explore characteristics of a summer countryside. Recommended for children ages 4 to 8 and grades Pre-K through 3rd. (KLC)
Yuksel, M. O. 2020. In My Mosque. HarperCollins (Harper). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-297870-7. Illustrated by Hatem Aly.
According to a little girl, the Mosque embodies life. The Mosque is filled with laughter, love, and understanding. The little girl calls it a place of rainbow colors and a hundred different accents. Shoes from all different walks of life line the temple like colorful little beads. Anyone and everyone is welcome within its walls. It is a place where families foster lifelong bonds. Children, dressed in their best, fill the courtyard with giggling and shouts of joy. Grandfathers clasp their tasbihs while they chant and Fathers hold their children close while they listen to the sounds of the Mosque and the gentle cooing of the pigeons outside. Grandmas read from the Qur’an while children race to spread the prayer mats and hand out tasbih. Aunties sway to the sounds of life, their hijabs like a sea of dancing flowers. The Mosque is home to everyone. It fosters the idea of living in harmony with everyone around you. To cherish love, peace, and joy is to be a part of a Mosque.
Poetic elements of imagery and repetition. Readers, ages 3+ will appreciate the gentle rhythm. There are a lot of descriptive words in the story which create beautiful lifelike images. This allows the text to flow with the images in the book. Each page is filled with vibrant colors and lively characters of every shape and size. All of the shapes are rounded, soft, and filled with small details. This makes the characters and environment feel warm and inviting to the reader. Readers will feel like they are being pulled into the melodus rhythm of the Mosque. (KLC)
Denos, Julia. 2020. Star Crossed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 64pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-35-815729-8.
Eridani and Acamar are close friends who live far apart from each other. Eridani is captivated by studying the stars and has a deep desire to fly among them. Acamar is a constellation living amidst the stars. Every night, Eridani looks out her window and waits for Acamar to appear. One night, the two friends decide to wish upon each other, both secretly longing to live alongside their friend. With Eridani and Acamar wishing in the same moment, their requests come true and the two friends take each other’s places. Acamar finally gets to sink his feet firmly into the sand, and Eridani can float freely among the stars. The distance between Eridani and Acamar makes their friendship strong, as they learn from each other about faraway places and share their explorations.
The illustrations on each page are exquisite with beautiful paintings and eye-catching colors. Each page is painted with soft lines and irregular shapes to create a dreamy ambiance. For example, the paint is splattered in the illustrations of outer space and the stars, making outer space look whimsical. The colors used in the illustrations help the reader decipher between the two different settings of the book. The colors of blues and black throughout outer space contrast the warmer hues of yellow and green throughout the stars and Earth. The colors convey the message that people from two different backgrounds can be best friends. (AAF)
Cotterill, Samantha. 2020. Can I Play Too? Penguin Random House (Dial Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-52-555346-5.
When a young child asks his classmate to play with trains, he has to learn how to share and read other’s emotions during playtime. The one young boy has a vision for what he wants the train track to look like, but he forgets to take his classmate’s feelings into account. After the young child’s playmate gets upset, the young boy storms off, the teacher teaches the child what to do when his playmate is showing signs he is feeling unheard or frustrated. After the child learns how to play more empathetically, the two boys have more fun playing together. Throughout this book, it becomes clear the different kinds of conflicts the young child goes through. For example, when the young child shows frustration toward his peers and does not take into consideration how his actions affect them, he shows an example of person versus society as well as person versus self.
This picture storybook would aid in social development as it reinforces readers the theme of being kind and empathetic while playing with others, along with cues some children might use to show their frustrations while playing and what to do in different situations. The illustrations use vibrant colors of green, yellow, and red (the colors of traffic lights) to share a technique about how to check in with a playmate if they appear to be having fun. The children’s faces have detailed expressive features to emphasize the various feelings of each child. The inclusion of sharp motioned lines shows how people and toys are moving forcefully. This can show the frustration or anger the child might carry with them from their homes or from different situations around them. (AAF)
Dealey, Erin. 2020. Dear Earth...From Your Friends in Room 5. HarperCollins. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-291532-0. Illustrated by Luisa Uribe.
The students in Room 5 try something new every month to do their part to be respectable citizens of Earth. Each month they write a letter to Earth, telling what they are going to do to make it a better place. These acts include planting a garden, trying to use less plastic, and turning off the lights when they are not in use. Each month, the Earth writes a letter back to the students thanking them for their hard work towards improving the planet’s quality. Earth also occasionally includes some ideas for things the students can do in the future and informs the students on the impact they are making on the Earth by doing each task.
This concept book, recommended for ages 4-8, introduces readers to different changes they can make in their lives to protect Earth. The actions the students take are practical for readers to implement into their lives like using less plastic, planting a garden, etc. The illustrations show the contrast between the inside of the classroom and the natural world, as the letters are sent back and forth from inside the classroom to Earth. The classroom includes bright colors of yellows and pinks with clean lines to highlight the neat order of the classroom and artificial lighting. Organic colors, including many greens, blues, and browns, with soft lines to depict the outlook of nature. (AAF)
Hoefler, Kate. 2020. Nothing in Common. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-477478-0. Illustrated by Corinna Luyken.
Two neighbors believe they had so little in common they could not even wave to each other. However, they both enjoy watching an old man play with his marvelous dog. When they see an old man sad and lonely, searching for his dog, both decide to search for the pet. They get out their binoculars and begin searching in all of the bizarre places the dog could be, including quiet rooftops, under a whale, and near planets. They both spot the dog in a hot air balloon, looking for its owner, and together they bring the dog home to the old man. As they are bringing the dog home together, they realize the similarities between each other. They both have the same feelings about returning the dog to its owner. The old man is elated to have his friend home and the two neighbors noticed they each thought each other was marvelous, which gave them something to have in common.
Abstract illustrations, with special attention to texture, draw students into a mystical world where dogs fly in hot air balloons and two neighbors, who assume they have nothing in common, are the only people who think to look for a missing dog in unusual places. A variety of blues, pinks, and purples cascade through the book having a cool toned look. The hues of colors give a relaxed feeling as well as the uncertainty with getting to know someone and not knowing where it will lead. Youngsters ages 4-7, gain a reader’s personal development, as the book delivers the theme of getting to know another person before making assumptions even with no commonalities between each other. (AAF)
Robinson, Christian. 2020. You Matter. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442169-1. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.
Readers, ages 3 - 7 will gain joy and validation through the bright and colorful pages. Different kinds of people, things, and places, delivering the message everyone and everything is valid and is important. Even during times when it is difficult to feel like one is validated, there are ways to show compassion. The variety of examples helps the reader feel included and validated. One example is, “Those who swim with the tide and those who don’t...you matter” (unnumbered). This line validates although some people are different than others, they still matter.
The geometric illustrations with textured details create unambiguous images of different aspects of life on Earth and in outer space. The bright colors of yellow, green, pink, etc. draw the reader into the concept as well as the different experiences of life. The reader’s personal development is aided, because the reader is validated through individual experiences. Although this story is recommended for children in grades Preschool through third grade, it is a powerful message for anyone. (AAF)
Fleming, Meg. 2020. Here Comes Ocean. Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442883-6. Illustrated by Paola Zakimi.
This picture storybook tells about a young boy's adventure at the beach. Repetition of the phrase “What next? Who knows? Here comes ocean!” (unnumbered) articulates how the ocean is moving closer as the high tide rolls in. As the ocean is approaching, the young boy explores by playing in the sand, listening to the sound of the ocean, and splashing in the water. The use of imagery describes what it is like to be at the beach, as the boy uses his senses to feel the warm sand, smell the saltwater, listen to the crashing waves, and watch the wildlife in the ocean. Rhyming at the ends of lines, such as “run and one” or “pale and trail” (unnumbered). Person versus nature conflicts appear whenever the young boy the different sounds and interactions occur. The setting is conveyed through the different obstacles the young boy encounters, which conveys a variety of moods. The different senses the young boy uses at the ocean gives way for many reactions emotionally and physically.
Primary colors create a simple pallet showcasing each vibrant hue. The ocean is depicted with soft lines of varying shades of blue, showing the movement in the water. Streaks of white show the movement of the waves forcefully crashing against the shore. The sand is depicted with soft lines of numerous shades of yellow, which gives the beach texture and depth through the use of shadows. The soft lines resemble a cartoon, which would draw the attention of young readers. The light colors bring a feeling of joy, as it depicts a sunny day at the beach. Because of the rhyming words and repetition, young readers, ages 3- 7, may be able to increase their vocabulary and reinforce their language skills. (AAF)
Bond, Rebecca. 2020. My Bed: Enchanting Ways to Fall Asleep Around the World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-54-494906-5. Illustrated by Salley Mavor.
This picture concept book profiles different kinds of beds from around the world. Some children sleep in hammocks, others on hand-woven rugs. Some children sleep in a cool courtyard, others have nets to protect them from mosquitos. Differing climates and cultures are cause for unique sleeping arrangements. For example, in the Netherlands, there are some beds swaying on water (unnumbered). Even though beds look different in various parts of the world, they all fit each child just right.
The assemblage of fabric, beads, wire, and yarn, emphasizes the details of each unique culture. The abundance of colors match the environment of each distinct location. South and Central America use earthy browns and greens to match the qualities of the jungle. The Middle East includes bright blue, pink, orange, and green, which brings out the vibrant colors of Middle Eastern culture. The frigid conditions of Russia include a lot of white outside and brown, to depict natural wood, inside the home. The stitching gives texture to the illustrations, especially the vegetation and clothing. The shapes of the fabric are used to create geometric shapes, which set the background of each page, while the stitching, wire, and beads are used to create organic shapes, which give the illustrations more detailing and texture. This story would be beneficial to the reader’s cognitive development as it shares with them about lifestyles different from their own. Even though beds in different cultures look different, they still serve the same purpose of giving children a comfortable place to sleep. (AAF)
Averbeck, Jim. 2020. Love By Sophia. Simon & Schuster (Margaret K. McElderry) 40 pp. $17.99 ISBN 978-1-48-147790-1. Illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail.
Sophia is a young girl who loves a lot of things in her life, but when she gets assigned to paint something she loves she finds this difficult. Through the art teacher Ms. Paradigm, Sophia learns about the concepts of “A bird’s-eye view” and “worm’s eye view''. Once figuring these out, Sophia knew exactly what she wanted to draw to make the best picture. There is a catch, the picture has to be approved by her family to be put onto the refrigerator. Sophia proceeds to show her creation to her family and asks if they believe it is refrigerator ready. While looking at the art the family just sees a circle, without realizing the meaning behind the circle. The idea of love being seen in multiple perspectives is the goal Sophia is trying to achieve, but will she succeed?
Readers, ages 4-8, will be able to learn about character development and the importance of understanding multiple views. The message of persistence and perspective are prominent when Sophia tries to persuade her family members her view on what love is. Color is an important visual element within this picture book. Vibrant hues of red, yellow, blues, and more captivate the reader's eyes to understand the piece and what is being taught by Ms. Paradigm. Red is prevalent, representing the color of love which is the meaning of the piece Sophia paints. Another main element is line. Vertical lines define a tall giraffe with a long neck and legs. Organic shapes show the whimsical nature of adolescent’s drawings. This picture book will inform readers about the importance of understanding different perspectives and standing your ground when no one understands you. (KLF)
Adler, A. David. 2020. Run Mo Run. Penguin Random House LLC (Penguin Young Readers). 32 pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-98-483682-3. Illustrated by Sam Ricks.
Mo Jackson is a young student excited about the upcoming track meet after school. While eating lunch he decides to save his jelly donut for later after his track meet so he put it in his pocket. While in class Mo has a hard time paying attention to the lesson because he is so worried about catching the baton later at the meet. It comes time for one of Mo’s friends’ events, the long jump. His friend jumped so far causing her to hit him and knock him over squishing his jelly donut in the pocket. Mo decided eating the donut was the best option to clean the mess up. The two runners before Mo, Jenna and Don both are behind the other teams’ runners. It all comes down to Mo’s and his opponent’s turn to catch the baton from their teammate and win their race. Mo faces many challenges he has to overcome to achieve his goals whether it is person versus self or person versus nature. Readers will understand the lengths it takes to reach their goals.
This picture book is a level three penguin young reader book which is useful for transitional readers focusing on compound words, different story elements, and points of view. The illustrations are simple allowing the students to focus more on the words and understanding the storyline. Most pages consist of a little picture on the pages of just the characters involved and the items being used. This is important in children's books when they are learning to read because they are able to focus on the plot and not the illustrations. The theme shares the importance of never giving up, because one day you will reach your goals as long as you work towards it. Readers recommended ages 6-7, can connect the theme to their lives as they learn about everyday struggles and how to overcome these challenges. (KLF)
Celenza, Harwell, Anna. 2018. Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite (Once Upon A Masterpiece). Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $16.99. INSB 987-1-57-091701-1. Illustrated by Don Tate.
Las Vegas, 1960, was the place to become a big-name music artist. Duke Ellington, was well-known and performed every night along with his band at the Riviera hotel. Duke and his band enjoyed a multitude of sold out shows with many record producers present hoping to sign Duke on as a client. Just one producer spoke words Duke was waiting to hear. The words “You are the boss” which recorded producer Irving Townsend spoke. When Duke and Irving were trying to find a project to work on before Duke signed, they decided on the idea of reinventing the Nutcracker Suite’s romantic nature into jazz. Duke began thinking it was going to be impossible, yet after talking to his right-hand man, Billy Strayhorn, they decided it was worth the try. While trying to figure out how to reinvent one of the most famous ballets there were struggles, such as the band not believing that contemporary ballet can be changed into danceable jazz music which is what their audience enjoys. While trying to figure out how to mix up each song Duke would think of different themes and ideas corresponding with the pieces. After all the struggles, the final notes of the reinvented jazz nutcracker pieces were played, and Irving burst through the studio doors to tell Duke how fantastic it was and how unique pieces were.
This picture storybook will show children no challenge is too difficult. The result is the best feeling, but never forget to acknowledge those helped along the way. This picture book shows creativity with the animations bringing the pages to life. Don Tate, the illustrator, uses different colors in the pictures to show the mood. For example, cool toned colors such as blue or grey may convey a gloomy and sorrowful mood while warm toned colors such as orange or red may convey excitement or happiness. The colors allow the reader to see the story come alive on the page. Readers ages 6-9, are able to learn about teamwork and working towards a goal and the feeling gained when the project is finished. (KLF)
Polacco, Patricia. 2020. Sticks and Stones. Simon and Schuster (Paula Wiseman). 48 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442622-1. Illustrated by Patricia Polacco.
Trisha always spends the summers in Michigan with her father and grandma. During the school year she stays with her mom who lives in California. This year is different, because her parents decided she will stay in Michigan with her father for the school year. Trisha could not wait to stay at Michigan with her father because she thinks it means she could be considered popular then no one would know about her reading difficulties. While everything in Trisha’s life may be coming together, an unexpected turn of events gives Trisha a chance to learn what it means to be an authentic friend. As Trisha’s life comes tumbling down, Thom comes along and introduces Ravanne. Even when things become tough, Trisha, Thom, and Ravanne learn what it means to have authentic relationships.
This picture book allows young readers to see it is not always about looks or being in the popular crowd. Instead, it is better to look at those who do not care about their physical appearances or considered eccentric. This book's focus is the concept of three students learning to accept themselves without letting mean kids control them. It helps educate students understand and realize it is okay to stick out but also to be able to stick up for yourself as well as for your friends. Trisha, Thom, and Ravanne show that nothing can break them apart from being friends and no matter what you say to them they will always have each other and that is all you need in the end. The illustration of the book allows younger readers, ages 4-6, to understand the feelings and emotions of the characters. This is conveyed through the soft, whimsical lines lightly outlining objects and characters. The lines emphasize the different textures whether it is hair, grass, or clothes. The organic shapes show a natural feature of motion from one moment in life to another. (KLF)
Feuti, Norm. 2021. Beak & Ally Unlikely Friends. HarperCollins (HarperAlly) 64 pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-06-302157-0. Illustrated by Norm Feuti.
A “Yellow Bellied Fee Boo” Bird and a “Boring” Alligator become best friends through many trials. Ally the Alligator lives in a swamp, quiet and alone. One day a bird singing “Fee Boo Fee Boo” lands on Ally’s snout. All Beak wants to do is become friends with Ally, but Ally does not have the same idea as Beak. They try getting to know each other, Beak even has a nest warming party. The day of the nest warming party does not come smooth sailing as Ally sees Beak crying. After figuring out why Beak was sad Ally takes it upon herself to make sure the problem is solved. Both Beak and Ally grow socially and personally through their experiences. Through the experiences Ally and Beak learn the importance of sharing and fully understanding how someone will react to the actions of others.
The theme resonates as Ally learns she likes Beak and learns how to get along with others. The main colors are blue and green, these colors compliment each other and work well just like Beak and Ally. The organic shapes encapsulate the fun nature of this picture book. With clear, soft lines the characters are emphasized with drawn outlines. This book shows personal growth as well as social growth. Personal growth is shown in Ally as she learns it is okay to share and get along with others. The social growth is for both Ally and Beak, both characters learn how to act around other people and get along. Considering that Beaks first neighbor did not enjoy being neighbors with her because Beak was loud. Beak had to learn to be silent sometime and give Ally her space. Now that Beak and Ally are living next to each other they have both learned to be respectful of each other and their space. Readers will appreciate the growth and connections they can make through observing how Ally and Beak are responding to new situations. Recommended for readers ages 5-10. (KLF)
Soman, David. 2019. How To Two. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-52-542785-1.
The concept of numbers 1 - 10 is reinforced as three words for every page. Young children, ages 2 - 7, may count the numbers using three words and the complementing pictures. The focus of this book is the pictures and having students conceptualize through them. The illustrations involve an assortment of colors like red, orange, blue, etc. The lines are drawn with pencil and filled in with watercolors. The shading is emphasized with the background being lighter than the rest of the watercolors. The movement of the watercolors show the different textures of rough grounds and smooth clothing. The pictures encourage children to count out loud as well as read the numbers on the page. Every picture displays a different activity that could happen while playing at a playground and each page may contain more than one image pertaining to the activity. The picture takes up the whole page, with vibrant colors such as blues and greens which encapsulates a calming nature to reinforce knowledge. They also foreshadow what is coming next, whether it is the next child to come into a new group or finding a new friend to play with on the playground. The playground setting allows children to conceptualize things they know and understand while having a good time playing with their friends. Readers, ages 3 - 5, will be able to conceptualize their counting skills while playing games by counting the number of friends with them. (KLF)
Ferry, Beth. The Nice Dream Truck. HarperCollins. 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-290783-7. Illustrated by Brigette Barrager.
Readers may have experiences with an ice cream truck, but not a dream truck. Youngsters, ages 2 -7, can brush their teeth, crawl into bed, and after reading about the dream truck, may experience the perfect dream. The dream truck is serving up exactly what is needed to be able to sleep well. The different settings are all up to the imagination and the different types of moods being experienced. Whether the dreams are a little scary or go on traveling adventures to outer space or celebrating your birthday twice it may happen with the dream truck. Get ready, get set, and go make the perfect dream.
Rhyming verses define the styles, such as “When bedtime is near and teeth are all brushed and the house is asleep and noises are hushed” (unnumbered). Children can take a step into their imagination and figure out the best dream for them, to either help them sleep or to be entertained. The concept of ice cream with different flavors, helping children find a connection to something they know and love. The lines drawn are soft and whimsical, just like a child’s dream, with flowing motion and organic shapes the dreams are brought to life. The different textures are emphasized with the detailed lines and shading which provides different layers to the illustrations. Each page is filled with colors of purple, blue and pink, creating a relaxing bedtime mood. The colors also reflect a clear night sky and dreaming weather. Dreams are lifelike with every one being shown with some sort of ice cream and what that ice cream stands for with the dream. (KLF)
Bernstrom, Daniel. 2020. Big Papa and the Time Machine. HarperCollins. 40 pp. (hardcover). $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-246331-9. Illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
African Americans have faced a series of injustices over the course of history. An African American boy does not want to go to school because he is scared. Together, with his grandpa, they take a trip in his time machine, exploring times when he had to be brave.
The lines are sketch-like and round, showcasing thoughts of happiness. Wavy lines swirling across the pages create a road for grandpa’s car to drive down while the two look at dynamic images of his life. The shapes created by the lines are soft and do not have sharp edges, which creates a loving environment between the grandpa and his grandson. Shades of blue, yellow, brown, purple, and white captivate the reader’s attention. Brown is used to show skin color and make the characters stand out while yellow illustrates the radiation of joy and happiness. Purple is used intermittently to convey the unique loving relationship between the grandfather and his wife. As the two characters continue to drive they witness many more moments when the grandpa had to be brave. Readers ages 4-8 see and observe why it is important to be brave, even though they might be scared. (CDG)
Sheneman, Drew. 2020. Dinosaurs are not Extinct: Real Facts about Dinosaurs. HarperCollins. 48 pp. (hardcover). $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-297234-7.
Most adults think they know dinosaurs became extinct long before they were born, but how would they react knowing that dinosaurs are everywhere in their day-to-day lives? Readers are exposed to the process of what happened to the dinosaurs and their ancestors of the birds outside the window. The plot consists of an overview regarding why we imagine dinosaurs are not roaming the world currently, how birds evolved from dinosaurs, and how birds emulate their dinosaur ancestors. This unique story is told through bright colors, detailed images, and scientific evidence. Readers ages 4-8 as well as the adults reading to/with them will be captivated by the text and illustrations.
Bright colors, detailed images, and cartoon-like designs. Every bird and dinosaur is personified. Each animal is unique and individualized, done by creating dinosaurs with different eye shapes and sizes, color palettes, and home environments. Illustrations are made by outlining pencil sketches, colored in with watercolor paint, and finally detailed with a fine-point pen. This is a detail-oriented and fact-focused text designed to help readers uncover previously unknown facts broken up by comedic speech bubbles portraying the perspectives of the birds, dinosaurs, and scientists who did research on them. These speech bubbles interact with the informative text which creates a balancing effect between entertainment and informational text. Readers will be introduced to facts about dinosaurs and how they evolved into birds while also finding the text humorous and silly (CDG)
Ho, Joanna. 2021. Eyes that Kiss in the Corners. HarperCollinsPublishers. 40 pp. (hardcover). $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-291562-7. Illustrated by Dung Ho.
A commonly heard phrase is “Eyes are the windows to the soul” this quote relates well to the central plot of this text in which an unnamed Asian female protagonist learns to accept her eyes are different from her peers through examining her family’s. She examines her mother’s, grandmother’s, and younger sister’s eyes to realize even though her eyes are different from her peers, they are still important and meaningful. Her journey of self-realization and self-love comes through looking at her family’s eyes, learning there is beauty in the culture and background of her family who has “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea” (unnumbered).
Children, ages 3-8, should be able to connect with the dominant themes of self-love and confidence. The text is short and simplistic which makes it readable for the targeted reading age of three to eight-year-olds. Themes include finding self-love and appreciation of the unique aspects that make people unique; an idea many young students find themselves struggling with at this age. Pictures made in Photoshop portray traditional Chinese symbols like the Monkey King, lotus leaves, phoenix, koi, and dragons. Colors, most noticeably pinks, reds, yellows, and greens are mixed with white backgrounds. These color choices are similar to the Japanese artwork displayed in museums. The main character is displayed on most pages interacting with her female family members, all of whom are smiling while being themselves. (CDG)
Quackenbush, Robert. 2020. Henry’s Important Date. Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 48 pp. (hardcover). $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-441546-1.
Anything that can go bad will happen. This seems to be the case for Henry the duck’s latest adventure. Henry’s job is to bring cake for his friend Clara’s birthday party. No matter what he does, Henry continuously gets delayed for a variety of reasons. Examples range from getting stuck in an elevator to being a suspect in the theft of a car. Readers will find enjoyment from reading about his trials and tribulations in delivering the cake to the party, even though Henry would be upset to hear the reader laughing at his tough day.
Each page either has an illustration or text, with the illustration depicting what is occurring in the reading on the page prior or after. The illustrations are made with watercolor as the color source, while pen and ink make up the fine details and the outlines of the characters. The combination of the three creates a contrast which allows Henry to stand out in the picture. Each illustration displays what is happening to Henry along with how he feels at the current moment. Readers can use the illustrations as context clues to determine Henry’s emotions. The illustrations give Henry characterization, providing the reader more to visualize and connect with. The plot is humorous, drawing readers in with increasingly surprising unfortunate events. Readers will be excited to read about what happens to Henry next, thus making it engaging and purposeful for students. The illustrations, plot, and the format, creates a book that readers and their parents/teachers will enjoy. (CDG)
Ward, Jennifer. 2020. Round. Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 48 pp. $18.99. ISBN-10 978-1-53-443119-5. Illustrated by Lisa Congdon.
Introducing preschool and kindergarten students to words, shapes, nature, and rhymes are important for linguistic and observation skills. Young readers will examine rounded shapes which occur naturally in the world around them. Shapes include the moon, turtles, ladybugs, and a snowman. Readers ages 2-6 will be engaged as they explore others ways round shapes impact their lives.
The values exemplified throughout include nurturing and expanding the imagination and promoting early literacy skills. Every page has only two words, one is an adjective and the other is the word round. An example is “Cuddle round. Puddle round.” (unnumbered). Print and phonological awareness may be promoted since there are only two words per page. Also the concept of the print skill of reading left to right may be reinforced. Students build phonological awareness through working with onset and rime. Each time a reader turns the page, there is a new set of rhyming adjectives that the reader becomes exposed. Students will also build and expand their imagination by being encouraged to think of what other shapes they see in their day-to-day lives. Students will find a multitude of uses in the classroom, such as easily tying mathematical concepts like shapes to early literacy concepts and the values of literature. Teachers can expect students to grasp these concepts through extended time in order to hone and practice their desired skills. (CDG)
Stein, Peter. 2020. The Runaway No-Wheeler. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-59-311420-9. Illustrations by Bob Staake.
Overcoming obstacles is rarely easy and many give up trying. Themes of perseverance and determination are present as an 18-wheeled truck named Tony completes an important delivery. He has many obstacles to overcome before he reaches his destination. Some of these obstacles include crashing into an alien ship, running into thieves in a dark tunnel, and avoiding a family of ducks on the road. Tony drives on after every obstacle so he can deliver his important cargo. The themes are geared toward preschool and kindergarten students.
Features of poetry attract young readers. Peter Stein teamed up with Bob Staake to create a masterpiece that has bright colors, an interesting plot, and themes appropriate for young readers, ages 3-7. Told in a poetic style, using rhyming verses such as “after all those thrills and chills/ and hill he had to climb…/ fluffy chicks and awful thieves/ and aliens and slime” (unnumbered). Keywords are in bold text often in different colors similar to how onomatopoeia words are used. Illustrations featuring bright colors and bold contrast, are made from marker and chalk. Most pages primarily feature Tony with other people and vehicles making up the foreground and background. Tony has a green cab and a red trailer. His face is silly, with a mouth showing one-to-three large teeth and two large eyes in place of where the headlights would be. Other characters in the illustrations are similar to Muppets, with odd skin colors such as purple and green. Characters also have distinct features like horns and pointed teeth, setting them apart from Tony. Readers can clearly feel Tony and the other characters’ emotions through their facial and body expressions which will build on their developing understanding of social and emotional intelligence. The contrast between colors in the background creates a fantasy-like world for Tony. An example would be Tony driving on a winding black road around a purple mountain. Green slime covers part of the road, causing Tony to be on half of his wheels, teetering on the edge at risk of falling into the sharp green trees below. Young readers are exposed to an exciting story, rhyming lines, and bright pictures. Readers can work on subtraction as they read, keeping track of how many tires Tony has left before he reaches his destination. (CDG)
Pilkey, Dav. 2019. Dog Breath: The Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis. Scholastic Inc. 32 pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-33-853923-3.
A dog named Hally lives with the Tosis family. She has a problem, a rather big problem. Her breath is so bad Mr. and Mrs. Tosis try to find Hally a new home. The Tosis children want to keep Hally and try to fix Hally’s breath. They try taking her to a breathtaking view, an exciting movie in which they hope will leave Hally breathless, and even take her on a rollercoaster. After all ideas had failed, the Tosis children and Hally say goodnight for the last time. Luck is on their side when two burglars sneak into the Tosis home. Hally jumps into action and saves the day by licking the burglars, ultimately knocking them out with a “nice big kiss.” Hally becomes one of the most famous crime-fighting dogs in the country causing Mr. and Mrs. Tosis to change their mind and decide to keep Hally.
Dav Pilkey’s utilization of puns and word play will captivate young readers. Hally Tosis is a play on the condition halitosis, which happens when a person has exceptionally bad breath. Pilkey uses figurative language that the intended audience will misinterpret such as “breathless” or “breathtaking” in a literal sense to make the story humorous. Acrylics, watercolors, pencils, Magic Markers, and Dijon mustard are visual elements complementing the literary elements. Hally’s bad breath is portrayed through a turquoise cloud that surrounds Hally and whomever she is around. Each illustration exaggerates how bad Hally’s breath is, with examples being the Sun covering its nose, a fish upside-down in its bowl, and children passing out on a rollercoaster. Backgrounds include small details can be noticed, either being small pieces of foreshadowing like a wanted poster of the two burglars attached to a tree or small jokes like a movie being shown at the movie theatre called “Breath of a Salesman” featuring Ginger Vitus. These are jokes that the adult readers understand and enjoy when reading with their children, being ripoffs of “Death of a Salesman” and gingivitis respectively. Recommended for 4-8 year old readers who enjoy humor. (CDG)
Johnson, Stephen T. 2020. Music Is . . . Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman). 52 pp. $24.99. ISBN 978-1-41-699950-8.
Music is . . . takes readers on a spunky and engaging journey through ten different musical genres anywhere from Latin music to Heavy Metal. The pages of this book are imaginatively organized in an accordion-like-fashion. The front sides of the poster style pages are filled with modern pop-art illustrations with contrasting colors. The whimsical illustrations match the style of each musical genre. Johnson uses creative onomatopoeia to express sounds, melodies, and rhythms coming from every corner of the world. His playful use of fonts, colors, bolding, italicizing, enlarging, and capitalizing the text offers teachers opportunities for visually cued student participation. On the back of each page with illustrations, there is supplemental material available with historical background and general information about each respective musical genre. The information consists of descriptions of the genre, a list of general instruments one would normally find in that style of music, as well as multiple examples of songs. The back-of-the-page content is informative and could function as a stepping stone for a unit on musical genre exploration in a general music classroom. The book is engaging in all aspects and would be a fantastic addition to a music teacher’s library. (HMJ)
Wood, Audrey. 2020. Quick as a Cricket. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 32 pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-35-836262-8. Illustrated by Don Wood.
Self-awareness is celebrated through unembellished language and wording. The young boy expresses different emotions to each of the animals while expressing validation for all feelings. The use of metaphors acts as a way to describe a variety of illustrations comparing the young boy to animal characteristics, for instance, “I’m as weak as a kitten” (unnumbered). The creative and imaginative use creates an outlook into describing human expressions.
The soft, whimsical illustrations convey child-like imagery. Organic shapes and a variety of textures throughout show the intrinsic fur of the bunnies, the bumpiness of the toads, and so on. The use of a multitude of colors shares a variety of emotions. The darker, cooler-toned colors share a sadder and calmer voice conveying the vulnerable side of the young boy, while the bright, warm-toned colors share a happier and stronger voice conveying his resilient side. “I’m as nice as a bunny” has a pink hue, as well as a pink border, creating an inviting and warm feeling (unnumbered). “I’m as sad as a basset” has a blue hue, as well as a blue border, creating a somber and cool feeling (unnumbered). Both sides are shown with the same whimsical illustrations conveying to readers, ages 4-7, the importance of expressing their feelings and knowing they are valid. (CCHW)
Phelan, Matt. 2020. Turtle Walk. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-293413-0. Illustrations by Matt Phelan.
A turtle family is slowly making its way through the four seasons, starting in Spring to find the family’s hibernation location before the onset of Winter. Through the fields of flowers to the snowy hills, this turtle family will steadily encounter a variety of flora and fauna, such as an apple orchard and a pair of chipmunks on a beautiful fall day. A turtle’s world may look small, but taking time to savor the beauty of nature makes a place full of vibrant creations.
Readers, ages 4-8 years, will be captivated by the vibrant watercolors, as well as the repetition of simplistic text. Various hues of red, green, yellow, and more bring out the characteristics of the different seasons. The use of watercolors and soft organic pencil drawings brings out the calming nature of the slow-moving turtles. Readers will marvel at the contrasts; for example when the fireflies are highlighted, a variety of warm yellows, contrast the cool blues and greens of the water and the turtles (unnumbered). Readers will appreciate how the turtles adapt to change and perhaps share the value of taking one step at a time. (CCHW)
Tan, Shaun. 2020. Eric. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 32 pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-1-33-862208-9.
Eric, a foreign exchange student, is curious about many things. His host family is unsure how to answer the questions he raises. Each day, the family goes on explorations around the town, for example, the movie theaters, the zoo, and a casino. During these explorations, Eric is not as interested in the bigger attractions but is fascinated with small trinkets found on the ground such as buttons, wrappers, and bottle caps. Curiosity grows as the host family wonders about Eric’s home life and culture. For example, although the family prepared a furnished room for Eric, he prefers to do everything, like sleep and study, in the kitchen pantry. Eric’s actions lead the host family’s son to ask his mother why Eric acts this way, to which her response is, “It must be a cultural thing...As long as he is happy” (unnumbered). Readers are introduced to the importance of understanding and respecting different cultures as well as how some people adapt to new environments. Just when the host family was getting intrigued by the findings, Eric suddenly leaves and gives the family a gift full of color which he collected from the ground.
The importance of using imagination and exploring the mysteries in everyday life is evident. Readers will be able to use the theme of looking past the bigger picture and focusing on the smaller pieces making each day special. Vibrant hues of red, blue, yellow, and orange, among others, showing the items Eric finds, are set within dull drawings. Organic shapes convey the whimsical story, which shares the importance of wonder and the unknown in everyday life. Shading brings out textures of objects and the pencil strokes bring a fluid motion that provides a sense of peacefulness. The gift Eric gives his host family incorporates multiple colors, which brings out the beauty against the dark grey background. Readers, ages 5 and up, will be captivated by the delicate drawings and appealing plot, bringing the importance of finding beauty in everyday life. (CCHW)
Reynolds, Aaron. 2020. Rescuing Mrs. Birdley. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442704-4. Illustrated by Emma Reynolds.
Miranda is a young, ambitious girl who loves watching the wildlife enthusiast Nature Joe. One day when Miranda is walking past a grocery store, she notices her teacher Mrs. Birdley. Miranda is perplexed; she thought teachers were only supposed to be in their classrooms at the school, but with the knowledge Nature Joe provides about rescuing animals, Miranda schemes a plan. Miranda struggles at first to capture Mrs. Birdley, but preserves with several different capturing techniques. For example, Miranda schemes to use Mrs. Birdley’s favorite blueberry yogurt to lure her in and then drop a net to capture her teacher (unnumbered). Miranda shows strength and use of knowledge to do her best to bring Mrs. Birdley back to her natural habitat, which is her classroom.
The unusual sightings of teachers outside of the classroom may come as a surprise to students. Miranda’s adventure brings out how readers may feel and react when they notice one of their teachers outside of their normal setting. Some readers may feel like the classroom is their teacher’s natural habitat. Readers ages 4 - 8 years can relate to the colorful, enthusiastic, and adventurous nature of Miranda’s mind as she creates various traps for Mrs. Birdley. The curious mind of readers can bring out different reactions when they see their teacher outside the classroom. This colorful picture book brings out concepts of how readers’ imaginations can overwhelm the realities of the world which may be contradicting. Readers may appreciate the various problem-solving strategies Miranda shows when trying to rescue her teacher. Readers can connect by understanding how it may be easier to give up when things do not go your way, but also anything can be achieved if they set their mind to it and try again, readjusting the plan. (CCHW)
Sirotich, Erica. 2020. Can We Be Friends?: Unexpected Animal Friendships from around the World. HarperCollins. 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-294158-9. Illustrated by Erica Sirotich.
Unlikely friendships can happen all around the world. The differences between a tortoise and a hippo are numerous, but their developing friendship is undeniable. With colorful and captivating illustrations, grabbing the reader's attention. Rhyming to tell stories is critical to sharing the theme of friendship. The use of simple and complex vocabulary expands the reader's mind. For example, “The two foraged and ate together” (unnumbered). This example comes from the adventures of a tortoise named Mzee and a hippo named Owen. Readers can broaden their view on friendship while expanding their vocabulary.
Themes of kindness and empathy regardless of appearances, resonate with readers ages 3 -8. no matter how one looks on the outside. The idea of friendship going beyond outside features is prominent and shows readers the importance of overcoming superficial barriers. This calm and heartwarming story, based on true events, gives readers a path to finding out what it truly means to be a friend. (CCHW)
Naylor-Ballesteros, Chris. 2020. The Suitcase. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-832960-2. Illustrated by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros.
Everyone is beaming with questions when a stranger arrives in town. Questions such as: Where is he traveling from; what is he doing in this town; most importantly what is in his suitcase? The townsfolk work to decide if building trust with the stranger is more important than learning what is inside his suitcase. After some questions, a nap, and some searching, the truth of what is in the suitcase is finally revealed. The townsfolk need to act fast to fix their mistake of opening the suitcase. To make amends with the stranger, they decide to do something generous and unexpected.
The watercolor illustrations will captivate readers, ages 4-7, as they create a soft variety of shapes and textures. The use of ink emphasizes the textures and creates small flowing lines to show fur on the animals. These shapes are whimsical and organic, which show an assortment of rounded objects. Muted colors of teal, yellow, red, orange, and more are used to show the different feelings each animal has when the stranger comes into town. For example, the stranger is colored in a cool teal compared to the townsfolk, who are yellow, red, and orange. These colors symbolize the townsfolk feeling hesitant and refrained from the stranger’s arrival as well as when the mysterious person is drained and tired from traveling all day. Readers are exposed to the importance of treating others with respect and kindness, even if they are strangers. This is shown through the townspeople, who go through the stranger’s suitcase without permission and realize it was not an appropriate activity. (CCHW)
Charles, Tami. 2020. All Because You Matter. Scholastic Inc. (Orchard Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-857485-2. Illustrations by Bryan Collier.
Deep and inspiring aspects of today's life for anyone of color. The plot consists of a child not yet born, but starts by saying “They say matter is all things that make up the universe: energy, stars, space… if that's the case, then you, dear child matter”(unnumbered). The child is then born and goes through his life. He experiences more injustices and fear than a white person, he is teased by classmates for his different sounding name, he understands the fact that people of his color are being killed, and lastly how people are standing or kneeling because of the injustice. The conclusion reflects the beginning, once more one reads “You Matter”. Including books where the main character is a person of color is vital in today's world as all need to be included in every aspect of life.
Water colors are dominant, however, cut-out pictures of faces creates a colorful collage. It is clear, these faces are drawings of more people of color. Texture is evident through the people depicted. Colors are cooler tones such as; blues, greens, and purples. Blue is used as the main calming color in the background. Greens are seen throughout in the main character's clothing as he tends to only wear green. Lastly purple is used to show the past when looking back at history. The most common shapes are rounded rhombuses which are the backdrop of the cover. This book is an extremely powerful read for children of all ages. (VLH)
Pilutti, Deb. 2020. Old Rock (is not boring). Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-52-551818-1.
An old rock has been in the same location for as long as anyone can remember. One day, when a Tall Pine, Spotted Beetle and Hummingbird start talking to the old rock they assume the rock must be boring because the Old Rock is unable to go anywhere, unable to see the beauty of the world, and unable to dance. Old Rock disagrees with this assumption and begins to explain the unique events it has experienced. Old Rock tells a tale about how they got to travel, helped a dinosaur escape becoming dinner, and rolled down a hill to the spot where they currently sit. The story ends with Old Rock explaining how his friends also broaden and enrich his world with how they learn and live through life.
Not only is the plot interesting but so are the illustrations; consisting mainly of geometric shapes, such as triangles, along with other organic shapes. The background is always a bit more geometric to keep attention to the forefront of the pictures. The main colors are green, brown, and grey. Green is used to represent nature, by a pine tree forest. When flashing back to the past the color brown becomes extremely prominent with warm brown undertones. Lastly grey is used for the main character to symbolize and generalize the idea regarding Old Rock is indeed an old rock. Young readers will be exposed to the exciting adventures rocks may take. (VLH)
PopularMMOs (Pat & Jen). 2020. Zombies’ Day Off. HarperCollinsPublishers (Harper Alley). 208pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-06-300651-5. Illustrated by Dani Jones.
Jen returns to the underworld when she finds out Evil Jen is her sister. Upon her return she finds much has changed. Meanwhile in the real world, friends Pat and Carter go looking for Jen and the mayor gets involved. He is not the protagonist and actually works for Herobrine, the dictator of the underworld. Unbeknownst to the mayor he helps the boys find Jen. Jen was found tied up by Herobrine with the intent to destroy her. Luckily, her sister Evil Jen, ends up distracting Herobrine by destroying his plan to take away her Zombies. They must work together to destroy Herobrine in the underworld yet again. The sisters reunite with the hope of finding their real mother. Fight scenes are scattered throughout the plot, such as a fight between Zombies and Ninjas. The underlying theme is how a true family will always support one another.
The graphic novel includes multiple pictures and words on the page as well as many twists and turns in the plot. Readers ages 8-12 may want to read the previous books in the series as it can be confusing and hard to follow at first if the readers have not read the other stories. Organic shapes to portray multiple aspects of the pictures, from background to foreground. An intriguing aspect is the shading done with dark blue or purple, giving it a crayon texture look. Purple is used to replace blue in the underworld, and green is used to emphasize nature as the primary setting. A superb aspect of the book is how each character is given a color and sticks to using the one color in order to identify different characters. This graphic novel, appropriate for readers 8-12, is unique and will appeal to young adults who enjoy adventure. (VLH)
Sisson-Talbert, Lyn and Talbert, David. 2020. The Square Root of Possible, a Jingle Jangle story. Penguin Random House LLC (Razorbill). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-59-320383-5. Illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker.
A young girl named Journey has an incredible talent of solving problems using math. She hears she has the same talent as her Grandfather, but he does not have the spark she has for problem solving. Journey ends up going to visit her Grandfather and there she sees first hand he is missing one vital part of his own personal equation… Fun! Journey works hard to help her Grandfather. Eventually, he finds the missing part of his equation, “Fun minus sad… multiplied by mischief… divided by love… with the addition of affection added for good measure… Equals Joy!” (unnumbered). The authors do a phenomenal job of incorporating adventure, love of family, and math language/symbols. Journey is a lovable and relatable character for readers ages 3-8. Overall, when looking at the plot, and character growth this book would be perfect for elementary students.
Students beginning to read will appreciate the style because each page is filled with a picture as well as a decent amount of text, ranging from three to seven sentences per page. A few times the text changes to a different font to give emphasis to the word. Illustrations consist of animated like characters, looking like a cartoon. Natural shapes are utilized throughout, mainly in the background as houses and stores are a constant aspect of the setting. Many types of artistic styles are shown throughout, such as painting, drawing, and graphic design. The main colors used across the book are brown, blue, and white. Brown is used for the skin color of the characters blue for the sky and lastly white for the snow. The main character is not white and readers will appreciate the inclusive, diverse characters. Representation and diversity are key aspects for a developing child. Journey herself becomes a relatable character that elementary age children need more of. Although the setting is seasonal, students may enjoy the main themes year round. (VLH)
Kalan, Elliott. 2020. Sharko and Hippo. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-279109-2. Andrea Tsurumi.
Readers meet the two main characters Sharko and Hippo. Sharko is the one who does all the talking, and Hippo is the one who transports everything. A conflict between the two friends emerges when Hippo cannot understand Sharko. Hippo keeps pulling absurd objects and combinations out of his jacket. After some frustration, Sharko thinks he finds a pattern to the madness Hippo is pulling. Unfortunately for Sharko, he was wrong. Sharko gives up on going fishing. In the last illustration one can see Hippo was avoiding fishing all along to help out the fish who occupied the given body of water. Readers are exposed to a compelling story of frustration and friendship. Sharko and Hippo are friends but occasionally they are frustrated with each other
Language as an important element in literature is reinforced as each item from Hippo’s coat is identified. For example, Sharko asks for a pole to go fishing but, instead of a pole, Hippo pulls out a plow (vastly different than what was initially requested). The object is both illustrated and identified through text. A second value promoted is emotional development. Sharko feels happy and excited about fishing, but slowly gets more and more frustrated with Hippo’s constant misunderstanding of the activity. Sharko ultimately feels better after a hug from Hippo. (VLH)
Weber, Emerson. 2020. Sincerely, Emerson: A Girl, Her Letter and the Helpers All Around us. HarperCollinsPublishers. 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-306696-0. Illustrated by: Jaclyn Sinquett.
It has been said, writing letters is a dying art, especially in the time of instant messaging. This story revitalizes the idea for all, including the reader, should continue to write letters. The benefits to the writer and the recipient are worth the 5 minutes it takes to write the letter, some of those benefits include, making someone smile, telling a joke, and working on writing/storytelling skills. The main character, Emerson, is a girl who loved to write letters. With her letters, she made connections with people from all over the United States. Her letters were personalized with each one including a piece of Emerson’s life. She slowly realized she had one more person to write a letter to and this was someone she had seen everyday. Who yet, had not received a letter from her, so she decided to write and send a letter to her mailman. A few days later Emerson received something she did not think was possible: letters from mailmen across the country who wrote to her, letters upon letters, each and every one personalized. She was thrilled to receive a countless amount and tried her best to respond to all of them. At the end of the story there is a final letter, which informs the reader about how this story happened to the 11 year old author. Readers will be captivated through the welcoming and warm atmosphere created within the text, as well as recognize and celebrate the mood.
Illustrations complement the plot creating exciting and entertaining interactions and moods. Each picture is filled with bright colors with warm undertones. The illustrations consist of a combination of watercolor, marker, pencil and crayon. Not only do the illustrations give the book character but so does the calligraphy. Abundant amounts of pages of different styles signal to the reader each letter is written by a different person and creates individuality for each writer. Different aspects of poetry are shown throughout as it is written in a narrative poem style children tend to prefer. Other aspects of poetry shown in this book are repetition, nonsense, and humor (specifically seen in the letters). Finally, mood/feelings, specifically love and kindness, are evident. (VLH)
Sauer, Tammi. 2018. Knock Knock. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 40 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-33-811694-6. Guy Francis.
“Who is there?”
The classic pun filled jokes of knocking on a door and answering in a reply are considered a typical class humor for young children. These jokes are creative, and worthwhile for children in guiding their joke making and storytelling skills. Notable examples of some knock-knock jokes young children can use without being rude or offensive. A bear is getting ready to go into hibernation, just as he is about to go to fall asleep someone comes knocking at his door. Startled, the big bear, who readers will later find out is named Harry, reluctantly goes to answer the door. It is his neighbor Justin who stops by to make a cozy fire and to say hi! Following Justin, there is a steady parade of visitors such as Ken, then Luke, then Olive who is in a big group, followed by Ima, and lastly Al. By the time Al stops by Harry is visibly upset. All he wants to do is lie down and go to sleep for the winter. However, he quickly realizes, his friends are throwing him a goodnight party. All these characters are his friends and they wanted to say goodnight before Harry goes into hibernation for the winter. To end this cute tale Harry wakes up when it is finally spring time. He goes to knock on a neighbor's door.
Harry up! It’s Spring!” (unnumbered).
The illustrations are detailed and cute; each animal is personified through illustrations with facial expressions, clothes, and posture. Every page has cartoon drawings depicting animals, everyday house tools, and even houses themselves. Organic shapes can be found throughout the drawings of these characters. Each knock is drawn in a different font than the others. Each knock is in big bold red letters. All the speaking is done in speech bubbles, with a solid white background. If Harry is the one speaking the text is brown, if another character is talking the words are blue. The change in color and font really help the text pop from the illustrations guiding young readers in identifying the words from the pictures. Overall this book would be exceptional for students who are learning to read, and want puns involving animals. This is a superb book to have for young elementary students. (VLH)
Wiesner, David. 2020. Robobaby. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-498731-9.
A robot family has just ordered a new baby brother. The family consists of a mother, father, daughter, and new twin robots. When families bring another child into their lives, it is a big moment for the whole family. Older siblings can help the parents with younger siblings, and that is exactly what Cathy did for her family.
Through the chaos of having the baby at home, and trying to put the baby together, Cathy shows she is capable of caring for and helping her new sibling.
There are new emotions when bringing a new sibling into the family, showing that children can help their families and are not simply being replaced by a new sibling is a valuable idea for children.
The yellow and orange hues of the robots convey high energy in a bright, happy moment such as when the siblings welcome a new family member. The symmetry of the characters' shapes draws the reader into a world where robots are the primary beings. Horizontal lines represent the stability the family is giving to the newborn. Lines are not used to show movement throughout the book, instead movement is shown through texture of the baby's flame. The flame propelling the baby makes it seem as if readers, ages 3-6 could feel the wind and smell the smoke. (PLS)
Giles, Lamar. 2020. The Last Mirror on the Left. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Versify). 272pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-35-812941-7. Illustrated by Dapo Adeola.
Cousins Otto and Rasheed Alston work together to bring a fugitive to justice in an alternate universe similar to their own. In order to repay a debt from a previous adventure, the cousins work to bring a dangerous prisoner from the alternate universe to justice. Rasheed has an underlying health condition throughout and refuses to go to the doctor. As Otto attempts to get Rasheed to get help, they go through a series of adventures.
Caring relationships are represented through the cousins while also putting into question what justice really is. The alternate universe balances the immutable truths of reality while creating a place for children to imagine themselves in. The setting is shown through the shifting antagonists throughout the book. It exposes children to not judge people based on first impressions through someone else’s opinion, but to truly look at the character of people rather than what is heard about them. Using two young African American boys as main characters shows the culture that may not be present in rural areas, and can help relate students' culture to their literature while teaching some students about a culture they have not been exposed to. Recommended for ages 8-12. (PLS)
Jackson, Richard. 2020. The Three Billy Goats Gruff - the Full Story. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books. 48pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-141573-6. Illustrated by Katherine Tillotson.
The Brothers Gruff have been eating all the grass on their part of the mountain. They decide they are going to visit their cousins on the other side. In order to get there, they must cross a bridge guarded by a barbaric troll who is hungry for goats. One by one, Little and Medium Billy Goat Gruff goes across the bridge, narrowly escaping the troll. Big Billy Goat Gruff comes along to ram the troll up into the sky, allowing the goats to pass safely to their destination. After meeting up with their cousins, they all celebrate and share their adventure.
The story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff comes from Norway where it was collected and recorded in its most familiar version by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe in 1845. While similar stories have been found in other cultures, the well-known story appears to be Scandinavian in origin.
Dark color is used when the troll is drawn to show the overall negative and scary connotation with the troll. The troll is drawn as red and orange to show its anger. This fable from Norway, discourages greed. The troll has the opportunity to eat the first two goats, instead it waits to attempt to get all three and gets rammed into the sky because he was greedy. Greed is a struggle in human life that is shown through the life of the three goats. Children are able to empathize with the honorable characters and their struggles, the goats in this traditional tale from Norway. Recommended for ages 4-8. (PLS)
Patchett, Ann. 2020. Escape Goat. HarperCollins. 32pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-288339-1. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser.
Things seem to be going wrong on the farm. The goat jumped out of the pen around the same time Mrs. Farmer's petunias were trampled. Again, the goat escapes his pen out and eats Andrew’s homework. All day the goat seems to be causing trouble, despite Mr. Farmer building the fence higher and higher. The whole day the goat gets blamed for everything the kids did wrong, making him the escaped scapegoat.
Lines show motion whether it be a jumping goat or flying duck. The lack of horizontal lines conveys the chaos caused by various events. The bright colors suggest an overall happy setting for the family and the farm. Emerging readers will appreciate the illustrations which accurately reflect the storyline. The pictures in the book align with the vocabulary to help young readers understand the ideas. Recommended for ages 4-8. (PLS)
Copp, Mary. 2020. Wherever I Go. Simon & Schuster (Denene Millner Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 972-1-53-441919-3. Illustrated by Munir D. Mohammed.
Abia is queen of the hills, she spends the days tending to her people and helping with the workload, and not living a life of lavishness. From pumping water to standing in line for rice, she is no different than any other village member. Children refugees face many difficulties when coming to The United States. It is important for children to remember no matter where they go, they create their own stories that will follow them.
The illustrations in this picture storybook show the setting through the portrayal of Abia’s home. The written expressions of the book show that Abia is the queen of the hills, and does not give much else. The illustrations show that she is from a rural village in a country that is outside of the United States. At the end of the book the illustrations show that Abia has moved to a modernized city. The plot is also expressed through the illustrations. While there is little about Abia’s story written, her life is portrayed through pictures. Horizontal lines are used to create a ground, which gives the reader comfort and a sense of security. It also shows children in times of change, family can be a constant source of comfort and security. Recommended for ages 6-9. (PLS)
Cabrera, Cozbi. 2020. Me & Mama. Simon & Schuster (Denene Millner Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-445421-7.
Days with Mama are worth getting up in the morning for. The day starts with the warm smell of cinnamon and the bright sound of Mama’s voice. They then brush their teeth, shower, and begin their day. They do everything together, from showering, to going on walks in the rain. Mama is there when she wakes and there when she goes to bed. The day is unpredictable, but the one constant in life is Mama.
Children will appreciate the descriptive language as well as the expansive vocabulary and adjectives. Readers, ages 3-8, with fond memories of their mothers, will connect to the affectionate, adoring relationship between the child and her mama. Every child may not share the same relationship with their mother, but the idea of having a strong relationship will be pleasant to readers. The strong descriptive language gives a soothing presence that children find enjoyable. Recommended for ages 3-8. (PLS)
Wood, Audrey and Wood, Don. 2020. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-85-953012-5. Illustrated by Don Wood. First published in 1984.
Little Mouse has stumbled across a ripe strawberry. It is time to pick it, however after it is picked, Little Mouse begins to fear the big hungry bear. The bear and mouse both love strawberries and the mouse must keep the strawberry from the bear. The mouse can’t hide, guard, or disguise the strawberry to keep it from the bear. There is only one solution, the mouse must cut the strawberry in two and share it with the narrator. This is the only way to keep it from the bear.
Bright colors notably red and green are used to create a high energy, friendly mood children will enjoy. Curved lines are used to create most of the shapes to show the setting is natural. Line is used to create texture in the book to show the fluidity of shapes found in nature. The large and simple pictures make it easy for young children to follow along with a sense of similarity if they are unfamiliar with the vocabulary. The major theme is the value of sharing. The question of whether the narrator tricks the mouse into sharing the strawberry also shows a moral dilemma that children, ages 2-5 can contemplate and discuss. (PLS)
Ferrada, Maria. 2021. Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 76pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285567-1. Illustrated by Maria Elena Valdez. Translated by Lawrence Schimel.
In 1973 a political coup began in Chile, lasting 17 years and killing many citizens. Among the casualties, 34 children under the age of 14 were reported dead. Thirty-four poems were written and named in honor of each victim. This list was thought to consist of 34 children until 2013, when Pablo Athanasiu, once presumed dead, was found alive. These poems give hope to those who experienced this collective trauma.
The illustrator uses watercolor, colored pencil, and pastel to create complex illustrations. They are not murals of the children, but rather a reflection of the poem, such as a girl seeing her first insect, leaves falling from a tree, a dog fetching a stick. The concrete poems spark children's imagination, allowing them to associate a picture with the words on each page. Imagery and illustrations are used to connect children with familiar experiences, showing readers the missing children are no different than they are. Repetition is used on pronouns to humanize the 34 children in the poems. Recommended ages 7 and up. (PLS)
Raschka, Chris. 2020. The Blue Table. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-293776-6.
The table is a gathering place for many families. readers will gain a sense of community and gathering to the reader through the illustrations. A child and a parent gathering at the table eventually grows into multiple people celebrating together. The curved edges of the table give a welcoming feeling to the reader. A sense of calmness is given by the blue color of the table. Every item placed on the table has soft lines, emphasizing the calm feeling.
The illustrations help create the setting by showing the welcoming environment at the table. The illustrator does not use a lot of detailed images throughout the text, causing the reader to focus more on the table and theme. Soft lines are used in the illustrations to create a comforting table for families to join. This text will leave readers with a sense of community and belonging. It is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8. (EBH)
Creech, Sharon. 2020. One Time. HarperCollins. 272pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-257074-1.
Eleven-year-old, Gina Filomena, gets a new neighbor, Antonio, who has an active imagination similar to her own. They tend to keep their creative thinking to themselves in fear of what others will think. Gina and Antonio start the school year with a new teacher who has a unique teaching philosophy, and encourages students to practice creative writing. Readers are encouraged to use their imagination in writing and everyday life. When Miss Lighthouse met the students, she posed a question “Who are you?” The students pondered this question through creative writing, helping them to develop a sense of self-worth and purpose in life. By creating a welcoming and encouraging environment, the reader is better able to understand the setting of the text through the mood of the characters and the classroom.
Antonio was the new student in Miss Lighthouse’s class; thus, he made quite the impact on his classmates. Especially when he correctly predicted each student’s future career. Antonio left due to his grandmother becoming ill, yet he continued to write to Gina and impact her life through conversations involving creative thinking. Gina became a writer and continued to use her imagination, which she would not have thought to be her future. The story of Gina Filomena and her classmates will inspire young readers to ponder the world around them using their imagination and create a sense of purpose in their lives. Recommended for ages 8-12. (EBH)
Ali, A. E. 2020. Our Favorite Day of the Year. Simon & Schuster Inc. (Salaam Reads). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-148563-0. Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell.
Everyone has a favorite day of the year regardless of their gender, age, or cultural background. It is the first day of Kindergarten and none of the students know each other. The teacher, Ms. Gupta, lets the students know they will become friends with one another, and she shares her favorite day of the year: the first day of school. Throughout the school year students get to share their favorite days. Musa, Moises, Mo, and Kevin share about different holidays they celebrate: Eid Al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, and Pi Day. This gives the students an opportunity to share holidays with their friends, emphasizing the theme of friendship and celebrations. Ms. Gupta helps students remember one another and the special days by giving out a calendar of different holidays.
This concept book shows the importance of cultural identity using students’ favorite days of the year. The last page describes the four holidays discussed in greater depth, creating a way for all readers to learn more about these holidays. The illustrations help explain the holidays as well, especially using color. Bright colors are used for all the celebrations, showing the joy and magic in the day. The children and surroundings appear more real-life using color and lines to create texture. This book is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8, but older students could also relate the concept of a favorite day of the year. (EBH)
Recio, Sili. 2020. If Dominican Were a Color. Simon & Schuster (S&S Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-446179-6. Illustrated by Brianna McCarthy.
Cultural heritage is an important aspect of everyone’s lives. People have different beliefs and values based on their culture and life experiences. This concept text shows color within a culture. The colors begin to bring to life the Dominican culture. The patterns and bright colors show the liveliness of these people. Not only are the colors representative of the community, but the skin of the people as well. Readers will be able to see the vast variety of the skin colors of Dominican people. Students from the Dominican could relate to this text, along with all students who see themselves differently from others.
The illustrations keep the reader engaged, along with the poetic style of the verses. The reader will also be introduced to games, activities, food preferences, the environment, and other physical features of people in the Dominican. Cultural heritage is represented through the poetic words and illustrations. This is used to create the theme of love for oneself and culture. This is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8 years old. (EBH)
Allen, Tessa. 2020. Sometimes People March. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-299118-8.
People take part in marches due to personal beliefs, to support the rights of others, and to put an end to the injustices in the world. People of all ages, abilities, races, cultures, languages, gender, age, and political perspectives, march to make their voices heard. Marching can bring a sense of community to different groups of people with the same mindset, who fight against society because of injustices in the world. The illustrations demonstrate the variety of people who come together at marches. Bright and warm toned colors are used to build a sense of community. The lines give depth to what people stand up for and give the illustrations a realistic feeling.
The setting is shown through the antagonist as the people fight against societal injustices. The theme encourages children to reflect on their personal and emotional well-being. Readers can make connections with the people and learn to advocate for the things they feel passionately about. Cultural heritage could be represented and discussed with the Black Lives Matter Movement. The concept of marching to create justice for all people can relate to all readers and help promote the development of well rounded citizens. This is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8, but it could be used for slightly older students to help explain different movements happening around the world. (EBH)
Solheim, James. 2021. Grandmas are Greater than Great. HarperCollinsPublishers. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-267123-3. Illustrated by Derek Desierto.
Everyone has two grandmas, four great grandmas, and eight great great grandmas. Grandmas carry a lot of history with them and take part in shaping the different people on this Earth today. The setting changes and is created through the historical background of each individual grandma. A poetic style of writing repeats “great” and explains the daily life of each grandma during their respective lifetime There is a poem towards the end of the text telling the little girl about all of her grandmothers.
Historical events were brought to light in each generation of grandmas, potentially informing the reader about their cultural history. The illustrations help connect the reader to the era of each grandma using collages. Real images of hair, flowers, leaves, and fruit create realistic images. This text is recommended for children between the ages of 4 and 8. (EBH)
Battersby, Katherine. 2020. Perfect Pigeon. Simon & Schuster (Margaret K. McElderry Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-445781-2.
People can be different from others and express their identity in unique ways. The person against society plot is shown by a pigeon wearing red glasses who is not the same as the rest of the flock. These red glasses stand out and represent how bold the pigeon is. The other pigeons start to realize the differences and wonder why one pigeon is not the same as the others in the flock. Little pigeon explains how it feels to do whatever he wants and to be unique. The theme of finding one’s own self-worth is revealed through changes in the pigeons. They come to realize there is value in being different from one another.
Bright and dull pastel colors including purple, green, blue, orange, and yellow, create a welcoming place for the pigeons to discover their unique personality traits. Horizontal lines are used to help guide the reader's eyes across the illustrations. Most of the time, the pigeons are lined up and the pigeon in red glasses stands out. This encourages the reader to look for the similarities and differences in every single bird. Readers, ages 3-8 can make connections to their lives and support personal development by learning to be different from others. (EBH)
Sheppard, Markette. 2020 (Illustrated Edition). What Is Light. Simon & Schuster (Denene Millner Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-447651-6.
Throughout this lovable book readers, ages 3 - 8, experience true joy in the discovery of light found in the biggest places and the smallest of places. Light is emitted from the stars in the sky and tiny fireflies on Earth. Warm and cool colors alike brighten each page, helping readers to understand the emotions the author intended to get across. Sheppard uses her phenomenally written words to strike joy into the hearts of her readers. Each page is its own unique look at a child’s life and all the joy and light you can find in the most unexpected places. (SCS)
Steinke, Aron Nelz. 2019. Mystery Club: Mr. Wolf’s Class #2. Scholastic (Graphix). 160 pp. $9.99. 978-1-33-804773-8.
With everyone getting settled into the classroom, Mr. Wolf has really no idea what kind of day is ahead of him. Aziza has a birthday party coming up and announces that the whole class has been invited, including Mr. Wolf. The announcement of recess being moved to the beginning of the day, causes the wild group of elementary students to start running around the room with excitement. At recess, Aziza’s friends, Randy and Margot, decide to make a mystery club that is dedicated to solving mysteries around the school. All the way from discovering if the girls’ bathroom is haunted, to locating their teacher Mr. Greens who mysteriously disappeared. Just as things get exciting, the bell rings and it’s time to go back inside.
Readers will find themselves engaged with the characters, as every page comes with new exciting ideas and events. Readers will also enjoy the antics of Aziza and her friends. Especially with the radiant colors that bring the pages to life, ranging from a dark stormy green to a lovely bright red that shines like the sun. Steinke’s work is truly a treasure to read and is best suited for children ages 7-10. (SCS)
Muth, Jon J. 2019. The Seventh Voyage. Scholastic (Graphix). 80 pp. $19.99. 978-0-54-500462-6.
Ijon Tichy, the main and only character, finds himself caught in a time loop in the middle of space, millions of miles from Earth. Within this adventure, readers follow Ijon, and learn about what a spaceman does. Readers will also encounter future and past versions of Ijon. As they work to try and fix the broken rudder, they often find themselves running in circles and creating problems where none exist. Readers ages 8 - 12 will find themselves witnessing a domino effect, meaning with each problem Ijon encounters, another one springs up. When one is left alone with no one but themselves, they may find themselves at their wit’s end.
With somewhat of a graphic novel look, youngsters will read from panel to panel, wondering whether or not Ijon will actually make it out of the mission or not. Additionally, the amazing watercolor illustrations and immense attention to the writing, there is not one moment where readers will be able to look away. With the combination of excellent writing and remarkable illustrations by Muth, it makes for an enjoyable read for any child who would pick it up. (SCS)
Pellicioli, Anna. 2020. Song of the Old City. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). 40pp. $17.99. 978-1-52-474104-4. Illustrated by Merve Atilgan.
Sometimes unexpected objects can create harmonious symphonies in one’s mind, such as a warm sesame roll, flying seagulls, a rocking boat, steaming-hot tea, and pomegranate juice. Readers will find that sometimes the most unexpected things around them can create the most beautiful symphony in their own unique mind. Readers, ages 3 -8, follow a little girl throughout the city of Istanbul (probably inhabited by people as early as 3000 B.C), as she enters the town, its gate opens and welcomes her with open arms. With lovely people to meet at each stand and corner, another ray of sunshine appears. Each page creates its own world, as the young girl shows us how to find fresh, pure life in the most unthinkable places.
The heartwarming sequence of events is refreshing and will cause readers to smile. Its bright colors and illustrations make each page feel like a different story within itself. The writing style itself is amazing and gives the reader a look into a world where joy can be found in the most unexpected places. (SCS)
Soontornvat, Christina. 2020. Simon at the Art Museum. Simon and Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-443752-4. Illustrated by Christine Davenier.
With countless colors and shapes and figures in the art museum to explore, the one thing Simon wants to explore, he can’t. He wants to run with the pigeons and get a nice fresh slice of cheesecake. In this flowing adventure, Simon and his family take a trip to wander through the gigantic art museum filled with halls and floors of unique art, each piece different from the rest. Although the art is quite tasteful, Simon finds himself wishing he could be doing other things other than looking at art. With each page, readers see a variety of perspectives and colors, from flying pigeons to floor to ceiling art filled with every color imaginable.
A delightful read, textually and visually, each turn of the page comes with pleasure to the eyes and the imagination. The illustrations drawn by Davenier make us realize that even if all one desires is cheesecake, everyone can all connect with the most unexpected things, even art. This book is recommended for children ages 4-8. (SCS)
Prelutsky, Jack. 2021. Hard-Boiled Bugs For Breakfast. HarperCollinsPublishers (Greenwillow Books). 144pp. $18.99. 978-0-06-301913-3. Illustrated by Ruth Chan.
From ridiculous ways to ask someone to be one's valentine, to almost any animal on Earth, this book has it all. With the rhymes from page to page and the genius humor, there is never a dull moment. This collection is full of humor, wit, charm, and beauty, and put together it makes each poem unique in its own way.
With the repetitive rhyme schemes and the detailed illustrations, readers understand the easy-to-read passages and can connect the illustrations to the passages on the pages. Although the illustrations aren’t colored, the texture and lines pop out of the pages to make funny-looking food and animals (sometimes food animals!). Readers, aged 8 - 12, will find themselves highly engaged while they throughout this intriguing read. (SCS)
Falwell, Cathryn. 2020. A Space for Me. Lee & Low Books. 32pp. $18.95. 978-1-62-014963-8.
Alex has had enough of Lucas acting like a wild child, and decides it isn’t fair his older sister has her own room while he has to share one with his younger brother Lucas. Disaster strikes when Lucas throws and breaks Alex’s favorite dragon and puzzle. Alex immediately storms out and begins to make his own space in the backyard. It is the perfect space to play, read, and relax away from older siblings. As Lucas pears through the window at Alex, he realizes he misses his brother, and asks him to come back. Lucas might have broken his toys, and caused a ruckus, but he really just wants to spend time with his older brother, Alex. Alex decides that some days he will spend with Lucas, and some in his own space, so he can relax and play the day away alone.
The intersection of the themes, conflicts, moods, and resolution light up one’s soul. From the vibrant greens to the glowing blues, every page pops out of the book and into the readers imagination. The themes of brotherly love and friendship are evident and will resonate with readers, ages 3 -7 with siblings. (SCS)
Park, Linda Sue. 2020. Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing). 42pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-443141-6. Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi.
Gurple and Preen are on a mission they must complete in three short hours, but they find themselves in quite a mess. Readers, ages 2 - 8, follow the journey of the pair solving their problems by using broken crayons and a little bit of determination. The reader gets a chance to look inside the mind of a child to show how a broken crayon can still create beautiful and meaningful art if one does not immediately toss it in the garbage.
Bright, vibrant, colors in the form of crayons, portray the conflict that occurs throughout the book. The shapes include objects such as hockey sticks and lampshades. These objects help to connect the reader’s life, as most children are able to picture what a green or red crayon looks like, and what they would be used for. The shapes of the robots slightly vary in size and body features. The interesting shape of the robots grabs the reader’s attention from the first glance at the cover. The illustrations show Gurple as the largest character and on the front of the page, conveying she is the main focus. In contrast, Preen is shown in the background utilizing the objects Gurple is making out of the broken crayons. Having the characters placed this way makes the reader question what is to come next and how Preen is going to be involved. Preen eventually reveals what she had been doing and leaves the reader with a quote relating to the theme “...The way you do anything hard, step by step by step.” Meaning, whenever there is a hard task in the way the most efficient path to take is by small steps. Blues and greens contribute to a tranquil finale. The intentional use of these colors completes the story with a sense of tranquility. (MJO)
McInerny, Vivian. 2021. The Whole Hole Story. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company (Versify). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-812881-6. Illustrated by Ken Lamug.
Holes in the pockets of clothing may mean it is time to donate the article to a thrift store; but not for young Zia. When she discovers a hole in the small pocket of her bright red overalls, her imagination takes over; the hole is no longer a place to lose her coins, but it is a trap to catch an elephant, a starting point to dig a hole to the other side of the world, and a drinking hole for a greedy lion. Readers will follow Zia as she grapples with conflicts created by her own mind about the true nature of the hole in her pocket. The setting is within a child’s mind. The bright purple and green colors of the sky in Zia’s mind help to show evidence of the imaginative mood.
The familiar illustrations of lions, fish, and elephants partnered with the child-like word choice will appeal to the reader’s imagination as well as a child’s delightful ability to pretend. This story aligns with the characteristics of a traditional folktale through the elements of reading a humorous folktale. Humorous folk tales allow for people to laugh at the characters and receive an overall sense of pleasure. For example, as the hole gets bigger, Zia finds clever ways to reshape the purpose of it. At the end of the book, the reader is given a glimpse of what the theme of the story is. Zia climbs a tree and sees the hole from far away. She sees how truly small the hole in her pocket really is. This scene in the book goes to reiterate that any problem is not so big if one takes a step back to truly see how large it is. Recommended for ages 4-7. (MJO)
Millner, Denene. 2020. Fresh Princess: Style Rules!. HarperCollins Publishers (Harper). 32 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-288458-9. Illustrated by Gladys Jose.
Destiny, the Fresh Princess, is filled with a multitude of nerves for her first day at a new school. Now that the day has arrived, she wonders how she is going to stand out. After eating a big breakfast prepared by her dad, Destiny feels ready for the day. She is excited for everything in her new school… except for the boring school uniform. The only exciting part of her uniform is the jacket with a vibrant inner lining. During recess one day, Destiny accidentally puts on her jacket inside out and realizes she may have found her way to shine. Shortly after Destiny decides to start wearing her jacket inside out to spice up her uniform, the whole school joins in. The playground and lunch room are now a sea of colorful prints. Destiny finds her way to stand out by being a “smart, colorful, original, confident” person.
Vibrant colors on every page. These bright and playful colors align with Destiny’s bright and playful personality. The shapes in this book are not jagged and intimidating, but have smooth or rounded edges forming objects such as swings, pancakes, and classroom desks which are familiar to children. This book is a picture story book emphasizing the theme of being oneself at all times, even on the first day of school. Diversity is represented, as the students and teachers within Destiny’s school exhibit various races. Children of color will be able to see themselves as they read about the characters. Recommended for ages 4-8. (MJO)
Reynolds, Peter H. 2019. Say Something!. Scholastic Inc. (Orchard Books). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-586503-6. Illustrated by Peter Reynolds and Patti Ann Harris.
The news media has made it possible for one small voice to be heard around the world. People of all backgrounds are invited to speak up and fight for what they believe in. This call to action is not framed as mandatory, but rather as an opportunity to express feelings in a positive and peaceful way through mediums such as speech, art, or gardening. The characters demonstrate different ways to speak out for reasons including issues surrounding racism, environmental concerns, and a lack of kindness in the world.
Bright, eye catching colors will appeal to readers, ages 3-8. The vivid colors showcase the idea of speaking up as being desirable and welcoming. Much like other concept books, the illustrations are essential for the reader to understand the theme and purpose. Each page shows people from all walks of life completing tasks such as standing up to a bully or planting a garden where there is a dry patch of dirt to show love for the environment. This variety of examples reinforce the concepts of social justice by demonstrating realistic tasks a child could do to make the world a better place. Readers are exposed to the importance of people using their voice to say something about what they deem as important when “So when you’re ready… Say Something!” . (MJO)
Ali, A. E. 2020. Our Favorite Day of the Year. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Salaam) 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-148563-0. Illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell.
Like many children, Musa is feeling very anxious about his first day of school. Making new friends at the beginning of the school year is very intimidating for many students because there is no guarantee the people they encounter will be friendly and receptive of their interests. The plot follows students in a kindergarten classroom as they celebrate their cultural heritage. The students take time to share with the class their own personal experiences with holidays such as Eid Al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, and Pi Day.
Familiar, inviting shapes as well as bright colors to portray the holidays and family traditions each of the children are sharing. Readers are exposed to the beauty that comes from different traditions carried out by families around the world. Recommendations to strengthen social development for children ages 3-8 include providing them opportunities to meet different kinds of people through literature. Social development is promoted as the reader goes on the journey with the kindergarteners and obtains knowledge about the cultural differences in the students. Additionally, socialization occurs between the young children. They are introduced to the ways of the people before them to help each child function in the group as a whole. The audience is able to see how the young children have increased their social understanding by how the story ends on the different experiences he has been able to share with his new friends and classmates. (MJO)
Steiger, A. J. 2021. Cathedral of Bones. HarperCollins (HARPER). 368pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-293479-6.
Simon Frost, an inexperienced Animist (who manipulates magic), is presented with many conflicts throughout the mysterious fantasy world of Eidendel. Simon sends himself on a mission to help a small town after he sends a letter asking for assistance dealing with a monster. The reader follows Simon face a character vs. supernatural conflict depicted through the setting and events. The surroundings set the stage for a mystical environment, as it takes place in Eidendel, a city where Animists use magical powers to call upon imps, wraiths, and other monsters to help humans complete tasks they could accomplish on their own. Simon faces a supernatural monster to help protect the local town and uncover truths about his family’s past.
Readers, ages 8-12, are able to see The craft of suspending disbelief by the constant increase in intensity of supernatural beings Simon faces. Vivid descriptions such as “Winged wraiths swooped through the air, pale shapes in the night, their eyes glowing bloodred, and like crimson search lamps” to help the audience picture the characters presented in the book (pg. 233). The plot is in line with modern fantasy by its ability to make events seem real and possible. For example, humans are as tangible/concrete as they are in real life. They are simply co-existing with the forces in magical Eidendel. Characters have relatively believable conflicts such as Simon not enjoying his job in the mail room at the beginning to pull readers into the realistic elements of the plot before making the transition into the realm of fantasy. Recommended for ages 8-12. (MJO)
Williams, Karen L. 2021. Facing Fear: An Immigration Story. Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Company (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 44pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285490-2. Illustrated by Sara Palacios.
For many families living in the United States of America, deportation is a daily fear. Depicting the everyday struggles of immigrant families through a young boy named Enrique and his family after living in the United States for many years. The reader is able to see the struggle of Enrique’s family as his father grapples with explaining to Enrique that he cannot attend his big soccer tournament, despite how much Enrique and his team want him to participate. The plot shows conflict between the main character, Enrique, and society as he battles to understand why his father will not let him travel past the checkpoint with his soccer team. Readers, ages 5-9, can visualize the strength and courage of people facing realities of deportation every day.
The colors, shapes, lines, and texture convey a warm and loving mood. Shades of yellow, green, and red portray affection amongst the characters. The shapes are not sharp or intimidating, but instead are primarily rounded. This makes the reader feel the safe environments the parents want to provide for their children. Resources at the end of the book point the reader in the direction of more information regarding immigration. (MJO)
Underwood, Deborah. 2020. Outside In. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-886682-0. Illustrated by Cindy Derby.
Tall, shapeless trees tower over an expansive forest floor. Warm-toned earth is combined with deep cool greens to give the scene depth. A young girl and her cat are but small on the page; towered over by the luscious textures of the woods. The outdoors appears to be foreign, but inviting and intriguing for readers. Illustrator Cindy Derby mixes textures of objects such as string and flowers to contribute to a rich and delicate watercolor palette.
Readers, ages 4 - 8, will find a combination of history where objects and people originated, with how things are in the present, to invent a sense of yearning for the past. Readers will also become disheartened by the lack of connectivity with the earth which was once so prevalent, and a longing to once again become a part of what lives outside. When the girl realizes she spends a majority of her time inside, her facial expressions reflect her sadness as well as the presence of the dark black and white colors of the background. When she is outside, the colors return in bright and vibrant hues of red, green, orange, and more. The outside is welcoming and sparks a sense of curiosity. The contrast between the two background color themes allow readers to explore their understanding in emotions and how it affects them in their daily life. It constructs and manages exposure to insects and animals with readers by depicting ones that students may feel antsy or anxious about, and allows them to look at it through aesthetic viewing to give them a sense of cautious comfortability. Readers begin to wonder what they may find if they themselves venture outside into situations that may be unfamiliar to them. Readers will recognize words that are common enough for oral comprehension, but expand their comprehension. Words such as beckons, sunbaked, and mysterious intrigue readers and help them widen their word recognition and knowledge. She concludes by informing readers that it is never too late to go outside and feel connected because “Outside waits… and we answer.” (unnumbered). (CMS)
Raschka, Chris. 2020. In The City. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Richard Jackson Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-148627-9.
A bustling city of miscellaneous sights, sounds, people, and animals welcome a scene structured with strong clean lines of skyscrapers and soft rounded edges of a two-toned sky. The organic lines are whimsical and bring a flowing movement to every illustration. A combination of warm red, brown, a cool blue and green hues provide an inviting sense of mystery for readers. Every building is different, but together they are all a part of the same community. The city feels cohesive, yet diverse. Notably, the first page features a rainbow flag in the window of a central building’s top floor. This demonstrates all types of people are welcome in this city. The imagery has movement which is first showcased by the various colored pigeons that bend, sway, and fly across pages as the reader follows the plot. As the plot continues, curtains billow through open apartment windows, rain falls diagonally, and the pointer fingers of newfound friends meet. The placement and focus of the multicolored pigeons is intentional on each page. The connection of the two main characters is tied together by both of them paying attention to the city’s pigeons and wondering if they might find a friend too.
Patterns of cumulative and pourquoi folktale are evident. The rhyming patterns guide readers and help predict the next scene. However, the pigeon noises create space for a cumulative response. This encourages listeners to interact with the text by joining in for the repetitive lines. The pourquoi aspect is found when the question “why choose this one, not another?” (unnumbered) is asked about finding friendships, and the following response is “I suppose it’s in the air. All my answers are up there”(unnumbered). This gives readers a non-definitive yet reassuring response. This is a city where pigeons roam as they please, the weather changes, and young girls become new friends. The characters are not well developed partly due to the original nature and time allotment for oral storytelling, but also because the patterns of the text create an importance of the illustrations. The primary theme is friendship, and how it may be found and analyzed. As with traditional literature, a universal truth for a particular society or era, is evident. Friendship is found even in a place with an insurmountable number of people and objects. People discover others and bond for a reason, this is a universal fact. Recommended for ages 4-8. (CMS)
DiPucchio, Kelly. 2021. Oona. HarperCollins Publishers (Katherine Tegen Books). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-298224-7. Illustrated by Raissa Figueroa.
Oona is a spirited young mermaid. Otto, her best friend, is an otter she rescued from a fishing net. Together, they team up to attempt to grab what feels impossibly out of reach - a crown. Oona has spent days, weeks, and months longing to have the most beautiful crown in the ocean, but her plans to obtain it always seem to fail. Slowly but surely, Oona becomes discouraged and decides to give up trying. However, Otto knows that “mermaids are not quitters” and continues to support Oona until she is ready to try again. When the time comes for the pair to venture back into the depths of the ocean, Oona summons all the courage she has and formulates a new idea. Although it doesn’t go exactly according to plan, in the end, Oona is rewarded with both the crown and the knowledge that “sometimes the best treasure in the world isn’t found. It’s made” (unnumbered). Oona’s quest depicts not only her strength and fearlessness, but representation of diversity that feels genuine and impactful. Oona is a young black girl. Oona is a mermaid. Oona is smart, and kind, and a little bit salty, but overall Oona shows young children a beloved character type, a mermaid, can look like any of them.
Throughout Oona’s journey, there is a softness and warmth that comes from the illustrations which the written text needs to fully convey its significance. Even as Oona is struggling to get the crown, and the colors of the illustrations turn deep and dark cool colors like the bottom of the sea, the lines are still round and unconfined. Nothing on the pages ever appears as harsh or direct. The color is reflective of the mood depending on the page, but the general tones are cool and rich without being detached and cold. The ocean showcased in Oona appears to be welcoming and full of curiosity and wonder. Oona’s discoveries of a multitude of treasures and the creation of some of her own provides her with the opportunity for self-growth. Oona’s journey concludes not only with the success of her original mission, but also the knowledge of what a treasure may look like to others. Oona’s world is one readers, ages 4-8, will dive into eagerly. (CMS)
Pita, Charo. 2019. Thank You. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-80-285524-4. Illustrated by Anuska Allepuz.
Splotchy and textured ink cover the initial two pages and display the characters shrouded in darkness. The tone is cool in both feeling and color. The main character, Isabella, and her grandmother wait on an abstract cliffside and wonder why the sea doesn’t swallow up the land. Isabella is certain her grandmother knows everything and asks her about the water. When the grandma doesn’t give her a response, Isabella assumes grandma believes she is not yet ready to know the secrets of the universe. This concept continues to follow this pattern. Isabella is curious about the many wonders of the world, such as how the moon remains in the sky or who turns on the sun. Grandmother repeatedly refuses to respond to Isabella’s questions which increases Isabella’s frustration until she finally asks to know why her grandma will not respond. When grandma explains that she doesn’t know the answers, Isabella’s perspective changes. The pair then set out on a journey to show gratitude to all of the wonderful mysteries of the world for contributing to the universe.
Isabella and her grandmother explore the world together in hopes of expressing their gratitude. They thank the clouds, the moon, the water, and the sun for keeping them safe and warm, but they also thank each other. The plot is well developed and has the ability to stand mainly on its own, however, the illustrations further expand the emotions of the characters. They provide scenic and emotional depth that otherwise may have been difficult to portray in age-appropriate text. This is best represented on the final pages when the predominant colors of the story shift from blues to creams and pinks. Suddenly, readers will find themselves feeling much warmer as Isabella thanks her grandma for all the lines on her face and the love she gives her. Recommended for ages 4-8. (CMS)
Stott, Apyrl. 2020. Share Some Kindness Bring Some Light. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-446238-0.
A warm and snowy afternoon inside a forest transports the reader into the scene as the two main characters are introduced. Their dynamic is fluid and familiar. The illustrations and dialogue showcase the pair feeling l comfortable around each other. Almost immediately, the tone shifts into something more somber and heavy. One of the main characters is being excluded and shares his feelings of sadness and frustration with his friend. These emotions lay out the basis for highlighting and promoting emotional intelligence in its readers. The characters ask questions about feelings and friends and attempt to decipher the ways they intertwine.
A young girl named Coco and her best friend, Bear, make it their mission to discover why the other forest animals are wary of befriending Bear. Bear displays a range of overwhelming emotions when it comes to having trouble making friends. Each emotion portrayed provides children with the opportunity to see less desirable reactions in their environment. The theme of kindness and how it may look in situations of uncertainty is shown through careful word choice. Students are shown through writing and illustrations how each individual, no matter how big or small, needs the help and support of loved ones in order to navigate relationships and regulate feelings. Throughout the characters journey’s, both Coco and Bear develop personally as they come to terms with the reality that kindness is not found in actions done for reward, but rather actions done despite the guarantee of recognition. In the closing statements of the book, Coco relates back to the title in her realization of “I guess kindness is about giving away love instead of gifts.” This brings the characters full circle in their journey of building a stronger relationship. Recommended for ages 3-8. (CMS)
Alston, B.B. 2021. Amari and the Night Brothers. HarperCollinsPublishers (Balzer + Bray). 416 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-297516-4.
Amari, a thirteen-year-old girl from a project neighborhood who attends an elite private school has her life flipped upside down when her older brother Quinton goes missing. After experiencing endless bullying from her peers over her family's financial status, the color of her skin, and the reputation of her brother, she finally lashes out as she loses her temper. Amari’s mother expresses immense disappointment in this, and Amari winds up being grounded indefinitely. However, the discovery of a briefcase in her brother’s closet changes everything, immediately changing Amari’s life. Suddenly, she is exposed to a world separate from her own; one full of magic and supernatural beings she believed to be only fantasy.
The central fantasy concept of universal themes blends key components together artfully, whether touching on economic inequality, race, or what it’s like to be a teenage girl who feels ostracized by her peers. The world-building intertwines many of the classic fantasy characters such as an abominable snowman, ghosts, witches, and aliens then designs a place where they can cohabit with humans. The plot points of disguise and a secret bureau to protect supernatural beings capture the reader’s attention and make the story plausible. Readers ages 8-12 will find themselves inside of a world that is ordinary; set so deeply in reality that the addition of otherworldly beings does not shake the sense of realness one feels when reading the book. The conflicts are practical and age-appropriate. The challenges that Amari faces, as impossible as they may sometimes feel, never remove the reader from reality, which is a key component in the structure of fantasy. Many of the primary concepts are relevant to the lives of readers, which makes Amari relatable and interesting. She is full of flaws and impulsivity, yet still has the opportunity to learn and grow despite the many hostile environments she faces. Ultimately, the tale of Amari is entrancing, keeps readers engaged, and brings a whole new light to the phrase “black girl magic”. (CMS)
Smith, Keri. 2020. Wreck This Picture Book. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers). 64pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-59-311102-4.
A note written for readers to reassure their parents over the initial pristine quality of the pages is a light and playful way to get readers engaged. Reading is approached from a brand new perspective, an activity to be done not in quiet solace, but rather in a series of adventurous and innovative ways. Activities such as shaking the book to wake it up, folding the upper corners of pages, and finding a way to wear the story, are integrated to change the way children see how to use a book in different ways. Youngsters can see that reading has the potential to be much more than a stagnant activity, challenging readers to discover opportunities to emulate this line of thinking. The focus of the text is on developing higher thinking and creativity in readers, rather than strengthening a direct plotline.
Images are detailed with a series of collages which feature a variety of layers full of vibrant colors. There is an abundance of textures, whether in the softness of a cotton ball cloud or the slightly rough and jagged edges of a personified cork. The story follows its own narrative through its illustrations. Rounded black and white doodles, wooden blocks with plaid felt coats, a plastic wrap sea, black and white photography, and newspaper mountains combine together to showcase a strong singular message. The more well-worn an object is, the more deeply it is loved. Although it is easy to fall into the desire of maintaining the newness of books, letting readers, ages 5-8, explore reading in a variety of ways both increases their exposure and engages individuals who may be wary of reading for pleasure. (CMS)