Summary: It’s a beautiful, bustling morning in Happy County, and the animals are ready for a busy new day. Community helpers are around to take care of the county, a job that includes chasing down a herd of playful porcupines. There are street signs around to help everyone find their way, with explanations of what the different signs mean. Cars, trains, and airplanes move the animals around the county, and allow readers to explore roads, airports, and waterways. As the sun sets at the end of the day, the porcupines are back at Pauly and Polly’s Porcupine Playland, and the Happy County residents are ready for a relaxing evening. 48 pages; ages 3-6.
Pros: Fans of Richard Scarry’s Busytown will enjoy this series (this is book 3) which, like Scarry’s books, is a visual feast of quirky characters engaged in interesting activities. There’s also an educational element in each book; in this case, it’s teaching about signs and directions. Fun for the whole family.
Cons: The characters are introduced on the front endpapers, which of course means I couldn’t see them all in my library book. By now, I’m sure you know how I feel about that.
Summary: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu narrates this graphic history of vaccines from the early 18th century. After losing a brother to smallpox and becoming scarred by the disease herself, she was determined to protect her children from it. Living in the Ottoman Empire with her family, she heard of a procedure that involved introducing some matter from a pox sore into a cut on a person’s arm. She decided to have the procedure done on her son, and when she returned to England, on her daughter. Princess Caroline, future Queen of England, got wind of this, and began her own series of experiments which eventually popularized the procedure in Great Britain. From there, Lady Montagu continues the story of vaccines against various diseases: measles, mumps, polio, and, of course Covid. The narrative ends in November of 2020 as Covid vaccines are being developed and tested: “The world holds its breath…and hopes.” Includes a timeline; additional information on Mary Wortley Montagu; a lengthy bibliography; an author’s note; and an index. 144 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: I looked for an interview of Don Brown to see if he began work on this book before or after Covid, but couldn’t find one. Either way, this book could hardly be more timely. It does a great job of explaining the science in an understandable way, coming down firmly on the side of vaccination while acknowledging those who fear it with a certain degree of sympathy. (Although I did love page 67 showing 19th-century British anti-vaxers saying things like, “I heard the doctors are wrong!” and “I don’t like the government telling me what to do!”). The back matter makes this an excellent research tool.
Cons: This book is billed as #3 of 3 in the Big Ideas That Changed the World series. I do hope that doesn’t mean it’s the last one.
Summary: When the narrator’s town is occupied, his brother and father are taken away, and a curfew is imposed each night. He witnesses tanks rolling down his street and soldiers shooting at someone who breaks curfew. He and his friends can gather in the park for an hour each day. One day, he gets an idea that he shares with his friends. Back home, he makes a star-shaped kite, and that night, he flies it from his rooftop. Soon other kites are flying in the sky. But not for long: soldiers fire on the kites and shoot them down. That night the boy tells his mother and sister a story about what the kite saw as it flew high above their city. Includes a two-sentence author’s note stating that the story was inspired by Palestinian children but could take place any place that children love to fly kites and are threatened by war. 32 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: A timely story of hope during a grim time. The drab illustrations through most of the story contrast with the colorful ones when the boy and his friends gather in the park and fly their kites. This could lead to some thoughtful discussions with upper elementary and middle school kids.
Cons: Most recommendations I saw started at ages 4 and 5. I’d be hesitant to put it in the picture book collection for preschool and primary ages.
Summary: A girl shares her day at the pool with poetic second-person narration: “Your friends circle up/Dunk and splash/Bump and crash/Laugh and laugh/Duck–and up!” Her mom and younger brother are peripheral characters as she imagines a magical undersea world. A brief thunderstorm clears the pool, but after it passes, the girl is off again. There’s no end to the fun in sight, as the last page shows everyone floating on a giant inflatable ring. 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: An energetic summer slice-of-life, with both the text and illustrations celebrating the fun of a day at the pool.
Summary: Ever have one of those dreams where you suddenly realize you’re only wearing your underwear (or worse)? Jeff the bear’s about to leave his house, and he can’t figure out what’s wrong. He ate breakfast, he watered his plant, he took a bath, he tried on his gift from his grandma…. Readers will notice right away what the gift was, but off Jeff goes into the forest, where bug-eyed animals ask “Why is that bear wearing underwear?” as he walks away. Jeff tries to move forward confidently, but can’t help feeling that something is amiss. Finally, he goes to his best friend, Anders the rabbit, who tells him what’s up, then addresses all the animals in the forest about it. A little reverse psychology takes care of everything, and Anders tells him, “Good friends are like good underwear, Jeff. They’re reliable and they’re supportive.” 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Put this book on display before a first grade class comes into the library, and if it’s still there when they’re lined up to leave, start checking for pulses. Would pair well with Who Wet My Pants? in a “bears in compromising positions” story hour.
Summary: Ryan Hart is back in a story that mostly takes place during the summer between fourth and fifth grades. Her mom is pregnant and money is tight, so the family has a low-key summer highlighted by visits to the library, a day at the amusement park, and a three-day church camp for Ryan and her older brother Ray. Ryan enjoys hanging out with her best friends KiKi and Amanda, but isn’t as happy when Amanda’s new friend Red joins them. When she asks her grandmother what to do, Grandma tells her that she’s like a rose who sometimes has to use her thornier nature to protect herself. This advice serves Ryan well when she and her friends get into trouble for a camp prank that backfires and Red refuses to take responsibility. By the end of the book, Ryan is enjoying (for the most part) fifth grade and gets to welcome her new baby sister…Rose. 192 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This sequel is every bit as good as the first. While Watson doesn’t shy away from some of the difficulties the Harts are facing, the perspective is all Ryan’s and focuses on her warm, loving family and the fun she has with her friends. I would love to see some Newbery recognition for a book like this that is geared toward younger kids.
Cons: I can’t find any word on book 3, but surely we’ll get to hear more about fifth grade?
Summary: Readers learn about insects’ body parts as a young artist works on creating one. First comes the head, followed by the thorax and the abdomen. Decisions are made about a skeleton, legs, and wings. Then the senses are considered: eyes, ears, a mouth, and antennae. Decorations like hair and horns are the final touch before the insect is given a place to live and a snack, at which point the artist declares the work done. Includes a two-page labeled illustration of an insect, a glossary, and instructions for building an insect model. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: An engaging way to learn about insects, with large, colorful illustrations and text that reads like a conversation between the narrator and the artist. A perfect example of blending art and science.
Summary: When she was two years old, illustrator Robbi Behr’s family bought a piece of land in Coffee Point, Alaska to start a commercial salmon fishing business. She and her sister and brother return every summer to keep the business gong. This story is told from the viewpoint of Robbi (and her author husband Matt Swanson)’s oldest daughter who gets to be part of the fishing crew for the first time. Starting with the bush plane ride that gets them there, readers learn each step of the salmon fishing process that is hard work but ultimately rewarding. The last four pages are a note from Behr that gives the history of her family’s connection to Coffee Point, including photos and additional scientific information. 48 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: I really loved this book for both the beautiful illustrations of Alaska and the fascinating true story of this family’s summers there. I can’t wait to share this story with kids at my school to give them a glimpse of an unusual way to spend the summer.
Cons: I only know Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr from their excellent The Real McCoys series and have somehow missed their other picture books.
Summary: Nat is nervous about moving to New Jersey, away from her California home and her best friend Chloe. Her dad signs her up for a wheelchair track team, but at the first practice she sees a flyer for the activity she really wants to try: a production of Wicked for middle school kids. Although she’s never acted, she loves singing and musical theater, and, against her parents’ wishes, decides to audition. To her delight, she gets a part in the chorus and finds her tribe with the theater kids, including Malik, her first crush. When a fire at the theater threatens to put an end to the play, Nat is unwilling to let go of her dream of performing on stage. She and the other kids rally to put the show together, and Nat gets her chance–both literally and figuratively–to fly. Includes a note from the authors about how they met and collaborated. 288 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Attention all middle school theater kids: here is a book about you that will have you on your feet by the last page, applauding Nat’s courage and determination to succeed. Readers will build empathy for what it is like to be in a wheelchair, and may let go of some limiting beliefs about people with physical disabilities. Be sure to look for YouTube videos of some of the performances of co-author and Tony Award-winning disabled actress Ali Stroker.
Cons: Due to my mediocre knowledge of musical theater, I didn’t get the references of all the chapter titles (which are lyrics from various musical songs).
Summary: Hudson the dog and Tallulah the cat may be neighbors, but they could not be more different. Hudson loves to dig, eat garbage, and play with other dogs at the dog park, while Tallulah prefers keeping clean and keeping to herself. But when the two of them spot a puddle full of birds, the chance to chase and play is irresistible for both animals. Soon they discover a few more pastimes they both enjoy, and by the end of the book, a friendship has been born. 40 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: The team that produced the Geisel Award winning You Are (Not) Small has created a new book for early readers told through the illustrations and simple dialogue. Kids will recognize and appreciate the dog-cat differences and enjoy being able to try out their new reading skills.
Cons: This felt like it would have worked better in the traditional early reader format rather than as a picture book.