Big and Small and In-Between by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  The three sections of this book describe things that are big, small, and in-between, but they are not necessarily the first things you think about for each concept.  Big: “The SUN and its SHINE when it asks you to rise, the DONUT your brother got because you picked last and only got the hole.”  In-between things include “the TEETER-TOTTER not when it’s up or when it’s down but when two smiles meet in the middle,” and an example of small is “the PLIP of a raindrop and the PUDDLE where it falls for a butterfly to sip.”  Chapter 4 is “Everything”, and consists of a foldout page that reads, “the bluest SKY, the bittiest BUG, and you in the middle of it all.”  98 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This beautifully illustrated concept book could serve as inspiration for kids to expand on what they think of as big, small, and in-between.

Cons:  The 3-D foldout papers that begin each chapter will likely not last long in a library book.

Maddie and Mabel by Kari Allen, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

Published by Kind World Publishing

Summary:  Maddie and Mabel are two sisters who (usually) love to play together.  Their story is told in five chapters, each of which could stand alone, but which also tie together.  In one of the chapters, Mabel gets tired of Maddie’s bossiness and the two have a fight.  Maddie shows readers how to apologize and before long the sisters are happily back together.  A few pages at the end offer suggestions for discussion.  Book 2 is due out in October.  80 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This beginning chapter book reminds me of Laurel Snyder’s Charlie and Mouse series.  There are no adults around, so the two girls have to work things out on their own.  Each page has just a few sentences, but the stories are emotionally satisfying despite their brevity.

Cons:  Those older siblings sure can be bossy. And those younger ones can be a pain in the neck.

Hilde on the Record: Memoir of a Kid Crime Reporter by Hilde Lysiak

Published by Chicago Review Press

Summary:  Readers familiar with the Hilde Cracks the Case series will already be acquainted with Hilde Lysiak, who wrote this memoir at the age of 14.  The daughter of a New York Daily News reporter, she started tagging along with her dad when she was 4.  When the family moved to suburban Pennsylvania, Hilde knew enough about journalism to start her own newspaper.  She started off with human interest stories, but was soon reporting on more serious issues, including a local murder that she got an exclusive on (and also described how police were trying to cover up the crime).  Hilde and her somewhat unconventional family were targeted by social media critics, and she has dealt with depression and an eating disorder.  Ultimately, she opted to discontinue her journalism career, but has continued to speak out about the importance of a free press.  163 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This book came to me via interlibrary loan right before I came down with Covid, and it was a perfect read while I was home.  Hilde is an engaging writer who doesn’t shy away from difficult times she’s had, and I found her determination and hard work inspiring.  I also admired her family’s do-your-own-thing approach to raising their kids, which seems to have been successful.

Cons:  I was a little sad to learn that Hilde has discontinued her journalism career and look forward to hearing about what she does next.

The World Belonged to Us by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: Jacqueline Woodson looks back on her childhood summers in Brooklyn where kids played freely on the streets all day long.  Children of all ages and races gathered for playground games, frolicking through the water from an open fire hydrant, and enjoying treats from the ice cream truck.  People were kind, the older kids helping younger ones who got hurt, and everyone pooling their money for ice cream.  When suppertime came, mothers called their children home in a variety of languages, and the kids made plans for the next day as they left.  Jacqueline ran home, already excited about tomorrow “and the many tomorrows to come.  Not just in Brooklyn, not just in the summer…but everywhere I’d ever go and always.”  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Turns out Jacqueline Woodson and I were born the same year, so I really grooved with the 1970’s vibe which is perfectly portrayed by Leo Espinosa.  This would make an excellent mentor text for memoir writing.  Anyone who has ever pondered the question, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?” will feel like they’ve arrived with the Brooklyn streets portrayed here.

Cons: Could lead readers to some unfortunate fashion choices like plaid bell bottoms and white tube socks.

The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Ellis Earl lives in grinding poverty in 1967 Mississippi, sharing his three-room shack with his mother, eight siblings, and 3-year-old niece.  He dreams of being a lawyer or teacher one day and is fortunate to have a supportive teacher, Mr. Foster, who does what he can to keep his students fed and in school.  When Mr. Foster gives him a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ellis Earl is delighted to meet a character even worse off than he is who succeeds in turning things around for himself and his family.  Mr. Foster also introduces Ellis Earl to the larger world, first by taking him to his church on Easter and then by inviting some of the class to Jackson to greet Senator Robert Kennedy, who is coming to the Mississippi delta to see firsthand the poverty there.  That trip shows Ellis Earl and his classmates life beyond their small town, but also provides a sobering introduction to hatred and racism.  Through luck and determination Ellis Earl finds his own “golden ticket” that begins to change his and his family’s fortunes.  Includes an author’s note about how her own experiences growing up in Mississippi influenced this book.  310 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I loved Ellis Earl and his family, who are all portrayed as flawed but loveable characters, there for each other through some pretty terrible times.  The historical information is deftly woven into the story, as are the parallels between Ellis Earl’s story and Charlie Bucket’s.

Cons:  While I do love a happy ending and was delighted with this one, it had a couple of unlikely events occurring in the same month to turn things around for the family.

Armadillo Antics by Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson, illustrated by Nathalie Beauvois

Published by Brown Books Kids

Summary:  As the sun goes down in the desert, the armadillo emerges.  “Armadillo, armadillo, armadillo, run.  Romp and play till the night is done.”  As the night goes on the armadillo, leaps, digs, eats, and finally returns to its burrow where it settles down to sleep as a new day begins.  Includes a page of armadillo facts.  32 pages; ages 2-6.

Pros:  Michael Sampson collaborated with the late Bill Martin, Jr. on many picture books including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  The beautiful illustrations of this one are reminiscent of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert, who illustrated some of Martin’s best-loved books.

Cons:  In general, I find that books published posthumously aren’t quite the caliber of the ones published when the author was alive.

The Adventures of Dr. Sloth: Rebecca Cliffe and Her Quest to Protect Sloths by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Millbrook Press

Summary:  Wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas teams with Dr. Rebecca Cliffe (a.k.a. Dr. Sloth or Becky) to introduce kids to sloths, including different sloth species, their habitats, diets, behavior, and babies.  Readers learn about dangers to sloth, which mostly come from their interactions with the human world.  Becky’s work is described, from her childhood interest in nature and biology to the groundbreaking techniques she has used to observe sloths, becoming one of the first scientists to study these animals in-depth.  The organization she founded, Sloth Conservation Foundation, focuses on saving sloths in the wild, and readers get some tips on how they can help.  Includes a glossary and additional resources.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  I’m a big Suzi Eszterhas fan because her books are so appealing to young readers.  Her wildlife photography is amazing, and she tends to write about animals with a lot of kid appeal.  This book is no exception, and I look forward to adding it to my library.

Cons:  Can’t wait for the first kid to learn the fascinating facts about sloths’ elimination:  they only pee and poop once a week and lose about 30 percent of their body weight when they do.

Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun by Hena Khan, illustrated by Wastana Haikal

Published by Salaam Reads

Summary:  Zara lives on a street with several other kids, including her brother Zayd who will grow up to star in his own series.  Before her neighbor Mr. Chapman moved away, he called Zara “Queen of the Neighborhood” and said she ruled with grace and fairness.  A new family moves into Mr. Chapman’s house, and the two kids become part of the neighborhood. Naomi, who is Zara’s age, has enough good ideas for Zara to feel threatened in her role as queen.  Inspired by her uncle’s Guinness Book of World Records, Zara decides to try to set a world record in an attempt to shine the spotlight on herself once again.  As a solo effort, the plan is a failure, but when she starts including her friends, both old and new, it’s a runaway success.  Book 2 will be out in October. 133 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  The author cites Beverly Cleary’s Ramona stories as an inspiration, and this book does have that feel to it, with a strong-willed protagonist and a close-knit family and neighborhood.  Unlike Klickitat Street, there’s some diversity in the neighborhood, including Zara’s Pakistani American family.  The plentiful illustrations will appeal to early chapter book readers.

Cons:  As much as I love books like these, I struggle to sell them to kids, who seem to almost always opt for graphic novels instead.

Luli and the Language of Tea by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  While a group of parents attends ESL classes, their children stay in the playroom next door.  Since they speak different languages, the kids end up playing alone a lot.  But Luli has an idea.  Today she’s brought a thermos, a teapot, and a stack of cups.  She sets up a table, then calls “Chá!’ the Chinese word for tea.  The word is similar in many other languages (and other languages have a word that is similar to the English “tea”).  Each child is shown saying the word for tea in their own language, and soon, they’re gathered around the table.  Lili pulls out another box and practices a new English word, “Cookie?”  The playroom is no longer quiet.  Includes an author’s note about tea, and several pages about immigrants from each continent that include maps and information about how tea is served in different countries.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A perfect book to share for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May.  The kids are super cute, and it’s interesting to see how both the words and the customs for tea transcend different languages and cultures.

Cons:  Ten young children sharing tea in small cups (and even transferring some from one cup to another) without spilling a drop? Seems a tiny bit unrealistic.  

Mushroom Rain by Laura Zimmerman, illustrated by Jamie Green

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Summary:  Mushrooms can suddenly pop up anywhere, especially after a rain.  With a wide variety of colors and scents, the mushrooms are often used as food, including by humans.  The mushrooms may seem to disappear, but they continue to grow underground, the largest stretching for miles after growing for thousands of years.  Mushrooms reproduce by spores, which can even seed clouds and produce the rain that encourages the growth of new mushrooms.  Includes four pages of information about mushrooms, including a craft and additional resources.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fascinating look at something many of us may take for granted, with gorgeous close-up illustrations of a wide variety of mushrooms.

Cons:  Is it just me, or are mushrooms just a little bit creepy?