Summary: Julián from Julián Is a Mermaid is back, and this time, he and his grandmother are going to a wedding. Julián is rocking a lavender suit, and he and a girl named Marisol are attendants, Marisol scattering flower petals and Julián looking after the brides’ dog Gloria. “A wedding”, the narrator explains, “is a party for love.” After the ceremony, the two sneak away from the reception. Marisol plays with Gloria, while Julián explores a fairy house under a willow tree. When Marisol’s dress gets dirty, Julián comes to the rescue with his keen fashion sense. The two grandmothers discover the children, and everyone goes back to the reception for dancing, cake, and a snooze for the kids. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Just like the first book, this one celebrates being yourself. The children, the brides, and the grandmothers all do (and wear) their own thing, and everything is A-OK. The illustrations are gorgeous with a beautiful palette of colors and should get a look at Caldecott time.
Cons: I feel like I should recognize Marisol’s grandmother from the first book, but I can’t place her.
Summary: The story begins on August 31 in a Long Island beach town during World War II. Julie Sweet and her younger sister Martha find a baby on the doorstep of the new library. Bruno is on a secret mission to New York City when he sees Julie, a former friend who has stopped speaking to him, and decides to follow her. The action then goes back to the beginning of the summer, and the three main characters tell the story in alternating voices. Bruno has a secret he’s guarding about his older brother Ben who’s away in the army. Julie is worried that her widowed father is about to get married again. Events unfold to bring all the characters back to August 31, when the reader finally learns where the baby came from. A famous woman makes a surprise appearance and helps Julie figure out what to do with the baby. The war isn’t over yet, and Ben’s fate is still uncertain, yet the three kids manage to find their way to a happy ending for the time being. 192 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This brief story unfolds in short vignettes which prove surprisingly engaging and will draw the reader in quickly. This would make a good first historical fiction book for elementary students, as well as an excellent study of different points of view. The ending is heartwarming yet realistic for the middle of wartime.
Cons: Because this is such a short book, I would consider it a good choice for third or fourth grade. But the multiple perspectives and flashbacks could confuse some young readers who may need some help to understand what’s going on.
Summary: It’s December 1937, and Esther’s family in Poland has just gotten word from Papa that he’s saved enough money to bring one family member to Cuba. 12-year-old Esther manages to convince him that it should be her, not her younger brother, and she sets off on the long journey across the ocean to a tropical island she knows little about. Once there, she learns that her father is trying to make a living as a peddler, but is a terrible salesman. Esther looks for ways to make money, and discovers a talent for dressmaking. As she settles into her new home, she and her father make new friends including wealthy Cubans, a poor black family, and a father and son from China. Meanwhile, they hear of increasing atrocities against Jews in Poland, and work day and night to bring the rest of the family over. Esther tells her story through letters she writes to her younger sister Malka, and by the end of the book, she is able to share the letters with Malka in person. Includes an author’s note telling about her grandmother on whom this story is based and a list of resources. 242 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: I don’t always find the letter writing format particularly engaging, but this book drew me in almost immediately. Excellent historical fiction with compelling characters make this a great choice for a wide range of readers and a book likely to be considered for some awards.
Cons: Papa seemed a bit passive for someone whose family was depending on him for their survival.
Summary: It’s a big day for the Robot family when their new baby arrives, boxed up and ready for assembly. Big sister Cathode (Cathy) is all ready to help out, but the adults are sure they can do it themselves. One after another they fail: Dad, Mom, Uncle Manifold, and even the Robobaby Emergency Hotline. Finally, with the help of her dog Sprocket, Cathy manages to get the Robobaby all to herself, and is able to get him up and running at last. Everyone’s ready for a nap when Cathy takes another look in the Robobaby box and makes a startling discovery…the new baby is a twin! 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Caldecott medalist David Wiesner has another winning book with all kinds of interesting mechanical creations. Unlike his many wordless books, this one is told completely through cartoon-bubble dialogue, which will sure to be a big hit with kids. There’s lots of humor in the illustrations and robo-conversations.
Cons: This is probably not quite the Caldecott material of some of Wiesner’s other books. But since he’s won three medals and three honors, I guess he can afford to share the wealth.
Summary: Mari and her mother get out crayons and poster board to make signs: “Be Kind”, “Love Is Powerful”. From their apartment, they can see crowds gathering in the streets. Mom explains that they are sending a message to the world. “How will the whole world hear?” asks Mari. “They’ll hear because love is powerful,” her mother tells her. Mari thinks about friends and family members who are also demonstrating around the world as she and Mom ride the elevator down to join the crowd. Her mother lifts Mari up on her shoulder. When Mari shouts the message on her sign, “Love is powerful”, others around her pick up the chant. The illustrations show hearts swirling around the crowd and up into the sky. Includes a note from Mari that explains how she felt when she participated in the first Women’s March in 2016. 32 pages; ages 5-8.
Pros: An inspiring story of activism told from a child’s point of view. The Women’s March is portrayed very positively with lots of empowering signs and happy people marching together. LeUyen Pham’s illustrations are adorable and capture the spirit of the story.
Cons: As I sit here on the morning after Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, pondering what is going to happen in the next few months, it’s hard for me to feel the happy optimism of this story.
Summary: There are just three people in Alex’s family: him and his mom and dad. He knows he has a big family in Cuba, so when his parents tell him his abuela is coming to stay, he’s thrilled. The next day, his aunt Celia and her three children move in. Then Cousin Beto arrives. It’s fun to have so many people in the house, talking, laughing, cooking, and playing. But it’s also crowded and noisy, and sometimes it seems like too much. Then one morning, Mom tells Alex that Celia and Abuela are getting an apartment together, and Cousin Beto is moving out too. Things are quiet again, but not for long…a new baby sibling is on the way! 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The story celebrates family and Cuban culture, while realistically portraying the ups and downs of going from a family of three to a family of nine in a matter of weeks. I loved the bright, bold illustrations featuring all kinds of patterns and colors.
Cons: I would have liked to know more about what brought all the relatives from Cuba.
Published by Scholastic Press (Released November 10)
Summary: When Hazel finds an abandoned pet tortoise, she discovers that the two of them are alike in some ways. Both want to hide when they are scared, and Hazel finds herself feeling anxious about almost every aspect of middle school. She’s shy and wants nothing more than to blend in, but her best friend Tori wants to perform in the talent show and make new friends. When Hazel finds a notebook belonging to Tori’s older brother Ben, she’s horrified to discover that it contains pages for many of the girls at school with other boys’ comments about their appearance. The notebook, combined with a dress code targeting girls and a new friend, Dion, who’s being bullied by other boys, finally forces Hazel to stick her neck out and speak up about the injustices and sexism she sees all around her. Hazel is amazed to learn what power her voice has; while her school still has problems, she and her friends are able to bring about real change with their activism. 256 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Another great addition to the growing list of 2020 books that address feminism, dress codes, and toxic masculinity. Many readers will recognize themselves in Hazel and her friends and may be inspired to speak up about issues they see in their own schools and communities.
Cons: While Hazel’s dad is pretty cool, it would have been nice to see some other men helping out the girls and women. The principal seemed like a real dud.
Summary: Drew has always loved to draw and is excited to become part of a kids’ art club. Her doodles come to life, and she considers the characters she’s created to be some of her closest friends. As she becomes friends with the kids in the club, her doodles also get to interact with their creations. One night, Drew creates a new doodle called Leviathan, or Levi for short. Before long, Levi has turned into a monster and become a threat to the other doodles. Drew’s new friends try to help defeat Levi with their own creations, but it soon becomes clear that only Drew has the power to destroy Levi…or maybe to transform him. She discovers a unique solution, and there’s a promise of more adventures ahead for the entire art club. Includes an author’s note; an annotated history of the doodles that tells how the author created the doodles that appear in Drew’s drawings; and instructions on how to draw a doodle. 288 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Aspiring artists will be inspired by all the kids’ artwork and will also enjoy the magical world in which their drawings come to life. Looks as though there will definitely be a sequel to look forward to.
Cons: The story bogged down somewhat when Levi came on the scene, and I had trouble distinguishing the different kids’ personalities and drawings as they each tried to help Drew.
Summary: Daniela’s next-door neighbor and best friend Evelyn is moving away. The girls get together and play one last time as Evelyn’s parents finish packing, and their mothers hug goodbye. Even though the girls promise to call every day and have a sleepover in the summer, Daniela knows that things won’t be the same after today. There are plenty of tears as the del Rey family drives away. Daniela’s mother assures her that she’ll make other friends, but Daniela knows that Evelyn will always have a special place in her heart as her first best friend. The last page shows a picture of an older Daniela happily looking through a box of letters and photos from Evelyn. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This quiet story by Newbery medalist Meg Medina perfectly captures the emotions of two close friends who have to say goodbye. It both celebrates their friendship and shows their sadness in ways that will resonate with many readers.
Cons: Their neighbor, grouchy Mr. Miller, looks pretty darn scary.
Summary: When Henry arrives at Riverview in September of 1939, he is six years old, and has been deaf from an illness since the age of 3. His parents have been advised to institutionalize him, and after he failed the admissions test for the state school for the deaf (he refused to blow out candles when an administrator tried to communicate that instruction to him), he’s been placed at the Riverview Home for the Feebleminded. Unable to communicate or to understand what is happening to him, Henry tries to make friends and survive his days there, witnessing the abuse that other boys suffer for minor infractions. His family tries to visit him once a year, but is not always able to afford the bus fare. After World War II starts, a conscientious objector named Victor is assigned to Riverview, and befriends Henry. Victor reaches out to Henry’s family, and is instrumental in convincing them that their son belongs at home. Henry’s older sister learns about sign language, and after five years at Riverview, Henry is finally able to come home again and begin to learn to read, write, and speak. Includes notes on the poetic forms used in this novel in verse; a lengthy author’s note about the boy in her husband’s family who inspired this story, as well as poems written by another family member about this boy. 272 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Both Henry’s story and Victor’s were fascinating, and the intersection of their lives was a great relief after the first part of the story at Riverview. Helen Frost’s poetry brings the story to life, and the back matter makes it even more poignant.
Cons: I would have been interested in learning more about how Victor became a conscientious objector. It sounded pretty simple from the story, but as a Quaker, I know this is not always an easy process.