The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! By Mo Willems and The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This book is published by Hyperion Books for Children

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And this book is published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Image result for king of kindergarten amazon

Summary:  Well, teachers, we’re halfway through July, and it’s not too early to be thinking about your first-day-of-school reading choices, is it?  Mo Willems has created a new pigeon book that has the pigeon resisting the first day of school: he already knows everything, he’s not really a morning guy, and most of all he’s afraid of the unknown.  But when he learns that going to school involves riding on a bus, he’s all in. The King of Kindergarten relates what his first day of school will be like, riding in a big yellow carriage to the doors of the fortress, sitting at the round table, and displaying courage by asking a classmate to play at recess.  A report of a nice teacher, new friends, and a fun recess ends the day, with anticipation of another fun day for His Royal Highness up ahead. 40 pages (Pigeon) and 32 page (King); ages 4-8.

Pros:  Two upbeat books that address kids’ concern with humor and compassion.  Either one would be a good choice for the first day of preschool or kindergarten, and the pigeon would fly in first or second grade as well.

Cons:  Parents might want to exercise caution on calling their child the king or queen of kindergarten…there’s enough entitlement out there already.

If you’d like to buy The Pigeon Has to Go to School on Amazon, click here.

If you’d like to buy The King of Kindergarten, click here.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

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Summary:  After Genesis’s family gets evicted from their Detroit apartment–again–her father mysteriously finds them a rental in swanky, mostly white Farmington Hills.  Genesis loves the fancy new house, but is apprehensive about going to school, where even the few kids of color are lighter skinned than she is. She is extremely self-conscious about her skin color, due to her father’s negative, often drunken, comments about her taking after him,, and this leads her to try everything from steel wool to bleach to lighten it.  Slowly, though, Genesis begins to make friends and to discover her talent and passion for music. When her family is threatened with eviction yet again, Genesis is afraid she’ll lose the opportunity to perform in her school’s talent show. But ultimately, it’s the talent show performance that finally wakes her father up to the damage he’s doing to his family and the reasons he is doing it.  While the ending isn’t neat or completely happy, it is hopeful for both Genesis and her parents. 384 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A powerful debut novel.  As in New Kid, a sympathetic narrator shows readers what it’s like to be a person of color in a wealthy, predominantly white environment.  Any middle school reader will identify with Genesis’s struggles between wanting to fit in and being true to herself. I sailed through this in about two days, leaving a Kleenex-strewn couch in my wake.  A contender for some awards, for sure.

Cons:  The family’s sudden move from impoverished Detroit neighborhoods to upscale Farmington Hills seemed unrealistic.

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When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita and It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni

Published by Lee and Low Books

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Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Aidan is concerned about the new baby that’s coming to his house.  Suppose his parents don’t recognize the new baby’s correct gender? That’s what happened to Aidan.  His parents thought he was a girl, and it took a few years to convince them that he was really a boy.  Finally, his mom reassures him: “We made some mistakes, but you helped us fix them. And you taught us how important it is to love someone for exactly who they are.  This baby is so lucky to have you, and so are we.” The gender of the baby is never revealed, by they are fortunate to have such a loving and accepting family. Families who may be struggling with acceptance could benefit from It Feels Good to Be Yourself, which defines the terms transgender, cisgender, and non-binary, giving examples of kids who describe themselves in each of these ways.  The conclusion here: “Your feelings about your gender are real. Listen to your heart. No matter what your gender identity is, you are okay exactly the way you are.”  32 pages (Aidan) and 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Love and acceptance is good for everyone, and these two books help create more of it for kids and families who may be working through issues of gender identity.  

Cons:  There’s a certain free-to-be-you-and-me earnestness, particularly with It Feels Good to Be Yourself, which may feel dated when different gender identities become more a part of the culture.

If you would like to buy When Aidan Became a Brother, click here.

If you would like to buy It Feels Good to Be Yourself, click here.


How to Read a Book by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  You start with a book.  And a comfortable place to read.  “Once you’re comfy, peel its gentle skin like you would a clementine.”  Kwame Alexander’s poem encourages readers to celebrate each book, savoring every morsel they get from it, while Melissa Sweet’s collage illustrations provide a neon-colored background with children reading, all sorts of fonts, and shapes cut from an actual book (Bambi, to be exact).  The final pages: “Now sleep. Dream. Hope. (You never reach…The End).”  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A lovely introduction to the joys of reading in Kwame Alexander’s poetic voice, eye-poppingly illustrated by Melissa Sweet with beautiful collages that reminded me why I’m still bitter that she didn’t win a Caldecott for 2016’s Some Writer

Cons:  Although this has gotten multiple starred reviews, and I can appreciate the artistry of both the text and the illustrations, I can’t help wondering if it will be appreciated by the preschool crowd.  Given the choice, I would probably read Kate Messner’s How to Read A Story as a similar introduction for this age.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution. by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Published by Random House

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Summary:  Narrated by the building that became Stonewall, this story begins in the 1840’s when the original structure was created to stable horses.  There’s a brief history of the building’s other incarnations and the evolution of Greenwich Village before reaching the 1960’s when the Stonewall Inn became a club for gay men and women, as well as for “teenagers, transgender people, drag queens, veterans, businesspeople, students, people of different colors, religions, and cultures”.  The club was raided regularly, and each time some of its clientele would be arrested, while the rest would quietly go home. But on the night of June 28, 1969, the angry crowd confronted the police, who were driven inside Stonewall until they could call in reinforcements. In the 50 years since that night, people have celebrated June 28 as the beginning of the movement for LGBQT+ rights.  Includes additional history and photos of the Stonewall Inn; an interview with activist and Stonewall Uprising participant Martin Boyce; a glossary; and a list for further reading. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to the Stonewall Uprising that emphasizes the importance of inclusivity through the story as well as with the gorgeous illustrations.  Using the building as a narrator is a perfect way to relate the entire history of the place, placing the night of June 28, 1969 in context.

Cons:  A few reviews I saw felt there was not enough inclusion of trans people in this telling; since I’m not familiar with the history, I can’t say if this is true or not.

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Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Jingwen is struggling with his family’s move to Australia (a.k.a., Mars) from an unnamed Asian country where his parents both worked as bakers.  After his father’s death (yes, another 2019 middle grade novel about dealing with the loss of a family member), Jingwen’s mother decided to follow Dad’s dream to pursue a better life in Australia.  His younger brother Yanghao embraces the new language, while Jingwen resists learning it, weighted down by guilt over his perceived role in his father’s death. When he and Yanghao secretly make a cake one night while his mother works the late shift, he feels happier than he has in months, and decides he will make all the cakes his father dreamed of featuring in the bakery he wanted to open, Pie in the Sky.  Nights of secret baking and eating form the backdrop of the story as Jingwen slowly adjusts to his new home and comes to terms with his grief. 384 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Despite Jingwen’s loneliness and grief, this story actually has a lot of humor in it.  Comic-style illustrations appear on every page, and Yanghao provides almost constant comic relief. Jingwen is able to often realized the absurdities of many of the situations he’s in, and his narration is funny in a way that tweens and young teens will appreciate.  At the same time, native English speakers will gain a deeper understanding of what life is like for ELL students, and those who are struggling with the language will feel a kinship with Jingwen.

Cons:  Jingwen received no ELL instruction, and seemed to be in a sink-or-swim situation at school.  I find it hard to believe that 21st-century Australia doesn’t do better for kids.

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Comics: Easy As ABC!: The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids by Ivan Brunetti

Published by TOON Books

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Image result for easy as abc comics ivan

Summary:  Budding cartoonists will enjoy this drawing book that gives how-to’s on drawing people and animals, as well as creating perspective and communicating emotions through body language and facial expressions.  A few prompts are given to encourage readers to create their own stories. Advice is offered from some heavy-hitters in the comic world, including Roz Chast, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, and Art Spiegelman. There’s a section at the end for parents, teachers, and librarians on reading comics to kids (I believe this is standard in many of the TOON books).  52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fun and accessible for many elementary-age kids, this is a good basic introduction to get graphic novel fans busy on their own creations.

Cons:  Each section is pretty brief; serious artists will outgrow this fairly quickly.

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