Yours in Books by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Gabriel Alborozo

Published by Cameron Kids

Yours in Books: Falatko, Julie, Alborozo, Gabriel: 9781951836207: Amazon.com:  Books
Yours in Books: Falatko, Julie, Alborozo, Gabriel: 9781951836207: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  Curmudgeonly Owl T. Fencepost just wants some peace and quiet–so he turns to books.  He sends a letter to the local bookshop requesting the title How to Soundproof Your Forest Dwelling.  Bessie Squirrel writes back that it’s out of stock, but suggests Yes, You Do Want to Live in the Woods: Why Life in the Trees Is the Bee’s Knees.  As Owl reluctantly befriends a group of young animals who keep visiting his house, Bessie keeps sending him helpful books about cooking, crafts, and other ideas for keeping the kids busy and happy.  The youngsters get wind of the correspondence and plan a party, inviting both Owl and Bessie without the other’s knowledge.  Bessie sends one more letter after the party, thanking Owl and asking him what he wants next.  The last page shows Owl in a hat and bow tie with the message, “Don’t send anything, please.  I am on my way.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A charming book told in letters with adorable animal illustrations, and a nice message of friendship that can transform even the most hardcore introvert.

Cons:  It wasn’t clear how the snail mail carrier delivered the books.

Dream Street by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Anne Schwartz Books

Dream Street: Walker, Tricia Elam, Holmes, Ekua: 9780525581109: Amazon.com:  Books
New children's book 'Dream Street' celebrates a childhood neighborhood : NPR

Summary:  “Welcome to Dream Street–the best street in the world!”  As we tour this street, we meet the neighbors, young and old, each one with a story to tell.  Mr. Sidney is a dapper dresser who has vowed never to wear a uniform again after retiring from a career with the post office.  Belle loves butterflies and wants to become a lepidopterist.  The five Phillips boys are all named after jazz musicians and keep their parents busy all day long.  And cousins Ede and Tari love to draw and write, dreaming of someday creating a picture book together.  The children all know that they can become whatever they want but are savoring every bit of their childhood on Dream Street.  Includes a brief note from the author and illustrator and a dedication to their mothers; also a list of the Phillips brothers’ namesakes.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I did not know that Tricia Elam Walker and Ekua Holmes are cousins until I read this book, which is based on their childhood in Roxbury, Massachusetts (they are Ede and Tari in the book).  The collage art is phenomenal and will undoubtedly receive consideration for both Caldecott and Coretta Scott King recognition.  This would make an excellent mentor text for writing about characters.

Cons:  This came out too late for me to include on my mock Caldecott slideshow.

Stuntboy In the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Stuntboy, in the Meantime: Reynolds, Jason, Raúl the Third: 9781534418165:  Amazon.com: Books
Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, Raúl the Third, Hardcover |  Barnes & Noble®

Summary:  Portico “Stuntboy” Reeves loves living in a castle, which is how he thinks of his apartment building.  He knows just about everyone in the building, including his neighbor and best friend Zola, and likes just about all of them, with the notable exception of bully Herbert Singletary the Worst.  When Portico’s parents announce they will soon be living in two apartments and start fighting over dividing up their possessions, Portico starts getting the frets, which is what he calls his anxiety.  He and Zola deal with this by imagining themselves as superheroes. Cartoon panels recap episodes of their favorite TV show, Super Space Warriors, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the Reeves parents’ fights.  When Portico finally figures out what’s going on with his family, he feels split in two, but his friends–including Herbert Singletary, who turns out to be not so bad after all–help him get through.  272 pages; grades 2-6.  

Pros:  I could scarcely contain my glee when I first heard about this collaboration between Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third, and I am happy to report my expectations were met.  The text and the art work together beautifully, and I’m sure this appealing and highly relatable book will not spend much time lounging on anybody’s library shelves.

Cons:  There’s clearly going to be a sequel, but the ending felt unnecessarily abrupt.

Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C. G. Esperanza

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Soul Food Sunday: Bingham, Winsome, Esperanza, Charles G., Bingham,  Winsome, Jones, Sullivan: 9781666510539: Amazon.com: Books
Soul Food Sunday – Kitchen Arts & Letters

Summary:  When a family gathers for Sunday dinner, the narrator heads out to the kitchen for cooking lessons from Granny.  Macaroni and cheese, greens, grilled meats: for each one she offers this refrain, “Unless [food] is on the table, it’s not Soul Food Sunday.”  After he follows her instructions, she tells him each dish is the best she’s seen in all her life.  While the food is being carried to the table, the boy remembers one thing they forgot, and works by himself to mix up a pitcher of iced tea.  Once again, Granny declares it the best of her life, adding “unless sweet tea is on the table, it’s not Soul Food Sunday.”  Includes notes from the author and illustrator and a mac ‘n’ cheese recipe.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A heartwarming story of food and family, with brilliantly colored illustrations that will get your mouth watering.  The repeated refrains in the text would make this a fun read-aloud.

Cons:  The text’s font is kind of small and sometimes is hard to see against the intense colors of the illustrations.

Nobody Owns the Moon by Tohby Riddle

Published by Berbay Publishing

Nobody Owns the Moon: Riddle, Tohby: 9780994384195: Amazon.com: Books
Nobody Owns the Moon | Book by Tohby Riddle | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster AU

Summary:  “The fox is one of the only wild creatures in the world that can successfully make a life for itself in cities.”  One such fox goes under the name of Clive Prendergast (his real name can only be pronounced by other foxes).  He lives in a one-room apartment and works in a factory, putting together the same two parts over and over without ever knowing what they’re for.  Clive pretty much keeps to himself, but he does have one friend: Humphrey, a donkey who is faring less well in the city, with no fixed address or steady job.  One day, Humphrey finds two tickets to the theater, and the friends get to enjoy the premiere of a play called Nobody Owns the Moon, including fancy hors d’oeuvres beforehand and free cake afterward.  As the two of them walk home together, they look at the lights and hear the sounds of the city, declaring, “This is our town!” before hugging each other and parting ways.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Cute animal tale or stinging indictment of capitalism?  One of the best decisions I made around the blog this year was to start reviewing more from small presses, which led me to some really original books like this one.  This could be shared with preschoolers or used with much older kids/people to start what could be a very interesting discussion.

Cons:  I simultaneously loved this book and was totally bummed out by it.

Art Is Everywhere: A Book About Andy Warhol by Jeff Mack

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Art Is Everywhere
Art Is Everywhere

Summary:  Andy Warhol narrates his story, starting with his job drawing shoes.  “All day long it was shoe, shoe, shoe, shoe, shoe, shoe, shoe.  I felt like a robot in a factory.  It was so cool.”  Soon he was drawing other everyday objects as art like Campbell’s soup cans (“Do you like soup? We all like soup”) and boxes of Brillo pads.  He made an eight-hour movie of the Empire State Building and prints of Marilyn Monroe (“Did I make her famous? Or did she make me famous?”).  He started a magazine and made a TV show.  At the end, he predicts the future of media where there will be things to watch, things to follow, and things to share.  Astute readers will realize that that future is already here.  Includes an author’s note with additional information that speculates on how Andy Warhol might be making art if he were still alive today.  48 pages; grades 2-5.  

Pros:  This unique biography really captures Andy Warhol’s art and voice, and would serve as an excellent introduction to use in an art class.  There’s humor and some interesting questions for readers to ponder, as well as references to Warhol’s accessible pop art that will undoubtedly pique kids’ curiosity to learn more.

Cons:  Since there’s not a lot of biographical information, a list of additional resources would have been helpful.

Happy Diwali! by Sanyukta Mathur and Courtney Pippin-Mathur illustrated by Courtney Pippin-Mathur

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Happy Diwali!: 9781250257468: Mathur, Sanyukta, Pippin-Mathur, Courtney,  Pippin-Mathur, Courtney: Books - Amazon.com

Summary:  A girl and her family prepare for Diwali by cleaning and decorating the house, cooking food, and dressing up.  Family and friends arrive for a full day of ceremonies, feasting, gift-giving, and more.  As night falls, everyone enjoys sparklers on the lawn before saying their goodbyes.  Includes additional information about Diwali, a glossary, and three recipes.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A good simple introduction to the holiday of Diwali with brightly-colored illustrations and a glossary to help out with words and phrases that may be unfamiliar.  The story is based on the authors’ experience, and they make it clear in the note at the end that there are a variety of ways to celebrate.

Cons:  It seems like a not-so-great editorial decision to release this book on November 16 when Diwali was the first week of November this year.

The Big Bath House by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Gracey Zhang

Published by Random House

The Big Bath House: Maclear, Kyo, Zhang, Gracey: 9780593181959: Amazon.com:  Books
The Big Bath House: Maclear, Kyo, Zhang, Gracey: 9780593181959: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  The author recalls her childhood visits to a Japanese bath house with her female relatives.  It begins at her grandmother’s (Baachan’s) house, where she and her mom and aunts gather and change into robes and wooden sandals.  They clomp down the street to the bath house, disrobe, then wash up before blissfully sinking into the steamy heat of the big bathtub.  Afterward, there are soft towels to wrap up in and sweet shaved ices to slurp before heading for home and bed.  Includes an author’s note telling of her summers spent in Japan and how her visits to the bath house made her more comfortable with all types of bodies.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A lyrical memoir showing readers a body-positive environment that brings together family members.  The whole experience feels luxurious, relaxing, and loving, with the illustrations capturing all of those feelings, as well as plenty of details of the Japanese setting.

Cons:  Given the current mad rush to censor, I’m sure this book will receive more than its share of challenges.

The Shape of Home by Rashin Kheiriyeh

Published by Levine Querido

The Shape of Home: Kheiriyeh, Rashin: 9781646140985: Amazon.com: Books
The Shape of Home - Rashin

Summary:  It’s the first day of school for Rashin, who has recently moved to the U.S. from Iran.  She tells readers about her morning, with an emphasis on shapes: the bear-shaped bottle of honey on the table, the round wheels on the cars, the unfamiliar shapes of letters in the classroom.  The teacher asks her new students to tell her where they’re from and starts off the discussion by sharing that she’s from Benin, a country that is shaped like a flashlight.  Other kids are from Japan, shaped like a seahorse; Italy, shaped like a boot; and India, shaped like a Hindu goddess.  When it’s Rashin’s turn, she compares Iran to a cat–a Persian cat–and amuses her classmates with her cat pose.  They decide the United States looks like a whale, and an illustration shows them all riding on its back.  “By the end of the day,” says Rashin, “my classroom is shaped like home.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect combination of a first-day-of-school book and a celebration of the diversity that immigrants bring to a group.  The countries are shown as the kids mention them, but you’ll want to have a world map handy to locate each one.

Cons:  Come to think of it, a world map would have been a nice addition at the end of the book.

Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine by K. A. Holt

Published by Chronicle Books

Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine: The Kids Under the Stairs: Holt, K.A.:  9781452183213: Amazon.com: Books
Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine: The Kids Under the Stairs: Holt, K.A.:  9781452183213: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  In this sequel to Ben Bee and the Teacher Griefer, Ben Y takes center stage as they deal with a brother’s death, uncertainty about gender, and a nasty vice principal who insists on enforcing a draconian dress code.  Ben’s refuge is the library where the group that became friends in book 1 gets together for the official purpose of creating a student newspaper but really to play Sandbox, a Minecraft-style game invented by Ben’s brother.  Ben frequently looks back on archived chats between them and their brother, and one day, their brother responds.  Is it a ghost, or has someone hacked into the account?  The answer proves difficult and brings up a lot of emotions, but Ben is fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family members who can offer much-needed support.  432 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I feel like K. A. Holt should be better-known, as I have had a fair amount of success book-talking her books to middle school kids.  Her novel-in-verse format, combined here with chats and the occasional drawing makes for a quick read, and many readers will sympathize with the struggles of the middle school characters.

Cons:  As some interesting revelations were made about Mr. Mann, the evil assistant principal, I was hoping to see him have more of a change of heart.