Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Outside In - Kindle edition by Underwood, Deborah, Derby, Cindy. Children  Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Outside In — Cindy Derby

Summary:  “Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us.”  But now, even when we’re outside, we can be inside, like when we’re riding in a car.  It’s easy to forget about Outside, but it has a way of reminding us it’s there, by sending sunlight streaming through a window or filling the air with chirps, rustles, and tapping on the roof.  The food we eat, the water we drink, and the materials that make our clothing and furniture all come from Outside.  Answer the call, as the girl in this story does, and make your way outside.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This gorgeously illustrated ode to nature should find a place in every library and classroom.  It would make a great jumping-off point to talk about the importance of getting outside, and all the parts of our world that come from nature.  The illustrations, which I learned from the verso page are “watercolor and powdered graphite on cold press paper” should definitely get considered for some awards.

Cons:  The idea of Outside as a separate being may be a bit hard for younger kids to grasp.

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

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

We Dream of Space: Kelly, Erin Entrada: 9780062747303: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Bird, Fitch, and Cash are siblings in the seventh grade (Bird and Fitch are twins, and Cash was held back a year), but their orbits rarely intersect.  Bird is a good student, passionate about space exploration, who longs for her family to be closer.  Fitch loves hanging out at the arcade playing video games, but struggles with his anger.  Cash is feeling like he’s not good at anything after failing seventh grade the first time and getting cut from the basketball team.  The story is told over the course of the weeks leading up to the Challenger launch in January, 1986. Each sibling’s story is told in alternating chapters, showing their perspective about this event and the other happenings in school and at home.  The Challenger explosion shakes all their worlds, especially Bird’s.  She starts to doubt herself and to give up on bringing the family together, and the boys finally begin to notice  her contributions to their home.  There’s not a definitively happy ending, but the three siblings discover a newfound appreciation for each other and a commitment to provide support for one another. Includes an author’s note and additional resources on the Challenger. 400 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Erin Entrada Kelly may add to her Newbery collection with this beautifully written book about three kids trying to figure out their lives against the backdrop of the Challenger disaster.  Their family, which appears okay from the outside, is pretty dysfunctional with selfish parents who fight constantly and don’t seem to be too concerned with the fairly serious problems their kids are dealing with.  The short chapters and three different perspectives keep things rolling along and will draw reluctant readers in quickly.

Cons:  It was painful to read pretty much any interaction between the two parents.

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

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth - Kindle edition by  Hudson, Wade, Willis Hudson, Cheryl. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Seventeen authors and illustrators have contributed a story, poem, letter, or essay with the theme of “The Talk”: what they’ve said to their children or what their parents said to them about race.  They are black, indigenous, immigrants or the children of immigrants, Puerto Rican, and white.  They’ve experienced racism, prejudice, or privilege, depending on their background.  They communicate to their children pride, humility, and/or the rules for navigating a world that doesn’t always accept them for who they are.  Includes thumbnail portraits and information about all the writers.  160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I found this collection very moving, and gratifying that there are so many talented people of color and different backgrounds writing with such honesty for kids and young adults today.  A book like this would never have existed in my own white suburban childhood, and I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on with people who lived just a few miles from me.  I personally found Adam Gidwitz’s talk with his daughter about white privilege particularly eye-opening.  Any of these talks could serve as a stand-alone work, and would serve as an excellent catalyst for discussion in a middle school classroom.

Cons:  The experiences of these talented and creative people in America is infuriating.

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

10 picture books that teach persistence and grit

I think it goes without saying that these characteristics will be essential for students and teachers in the 2020-2021 school year!

When Sophie Thinks She Can’t by Molly Bang

Published by Blue Sky Press

When Sophie Thinks She Can't...: . . . Really, Really Smart: Bang, Molly,  Bang, Molly: 9781338152982: Amazon.com: Books

Sophie’s teacher shows her how having a growth mindset can help her solve problems instead of giving up. Buy it on Amazon.

Jabari Jumps and Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Published by Candlewick

Jabari Jumps: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9780763678388: Amazon.com:  Books
Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163: Amazon.com:  Books

Jabari’s dad and little sister help him find the courage to jump off the high dive and to persist in his efforts to design and build a flying machine. Jabari Tries will be released September 8. Buy it on Amazon.

Golden Threads by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Published by Owlkids

Golden Threads: Rizzo, Suzanne Del, Sato, Miki: 9781771473606: Amazon.com:  Books

When a battered stuffed fox washes up at Kiko’s house, she and her father repair him like they do broken china, with golden threads. Broken does not mean imperfect, and the fox leads Kiko and her dad to new friendships. Buy it on Amazon.

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Published by Schwartz and Wade

The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read: Hubbard, Rita  Lorraine, Mora, Oge: 9781524768287: Amazon.com: Books

Born into slavery in 1848, Mary Walker worked hard her entire life. At age 114, she decided to put her energy into learning to read, and was eventually certified as the oldest student in America. Buy it on Amazon.

More-Igami by Dori Kleber

Published by Candlewick Press

Amazon.com: More-igami (9780763668198): Kleber, Dori, Karas, G. Brian: Books

Joey loves to fold, so when he learns about origami, it seems like it’s right up his alley. It’s not as easy as it looks, though, and he needs persistence to figure out how to do it. Buy it on Amazon.

Truman by Jean Reidy

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Truman: Reidy, Jean, Cummins, Lucy Ruth: 9781534416642: Amazon.com: Books

When Sarah leaves for her first day of school, her pet turtle Truman can’t understand where she’s gone. He decides to go find her, doggedly seeking a way out of his tank and to the front door. Buy it on Amazon.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again): Santat, Dan, Santat,  Dan: 9781626726826: Amazon.com: Books

Humpty Dumpty got put back together again, but his new fear of heights proves crippling. His determination to overcome his phobia results in a transformation and one of the best picture book endings ever. Buy it on Amazon.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Published by Kids Can Press

The Most Magnificent Thing: Spires, Ashley, Spires, Ashley: 8601411239502:  Amazon.com: Books

It’s not as easy as it seems to make “the most magnificent thing”. This girl and her dog must keep going when their first attempts fail to create what they want. Buy it on Amazon.

Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson

Published by Random House Children’s Books

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah: Thompson, Laurie  Ann, Qualls, Sean: 0884547302700: Amazon.com: Books

Born in Ghana without the use of his right leg, Emmanuel learned to persist in school and sports. In 2006, he rode a bicycle from one end of Ghana to the other to raise awareness about people with disabilities. Buy it on Amazon.

Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick

Published by Simon and Schuster

Small Walt - Kindle edition by Verdick, Elizabeth, Rosenthal, Marc.  Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Small Walt and Gus team up to clear the streets, holding their own with the bigger, more powerful snowplows. Buy it on Amazon.

Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Amazon.com: Monster and Boy (Monster and Boy (1)) (9781250217837): Barnaby,  Hannah, Syed, Anoosha: Books
Monster and Boy | Hannah Barnaby | Macmillan

Summary:  A monster who lives under a boy’s bed loves the boy.  When he hears the boy’s mother tell him there’s no such thing as monsters, he decides to reveal himself.  After Mom leaves, he comes out and introduces himself.  He sees that the boy is about to scream, so he panics and does the first thing he thinks of…swallows the boy.  There seems to be no way of getting the boy out again, but finally they both fall asleep.  When they awaken, the boy is out of the monster, but he’s tiny.  Can he get back to his full size again?  Many adventures await as the two of them try to figure out how to do this.  144 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun, quirky early chapter book with plenty of illustrations, and even some bathroom humor (although maybe not what you’re expecting).  This is sure to find lots of fans, and they can look forward to a second book in March.

Cons:  Although the author (sort of) explains this, I didn’t like that the boy and the monster didn’t have names.

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

Letters from Bear by Gauthier David, illustrated by Marie Caudry

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Letters from Bear: David, Gauthier, Caudry, Marie: 9780802855367 ...
Let's Talk Picture Books: LETTERS FROM BEAR

Summary:  Bear is sad that his friend Bird has migrated south for the winter.  He plans to write her a letter each day, but by day two, he’s decided to travel to be with her.  Each letter describes a different adventure, with an illustration to go with it.  Bear journeys to the top of a volcano, the desert, a cave filled with drawings, and the sea.  He meets a mermaid and several friendly animals, and witnesses all kinds of marvels.  When he finally arrives at his destination, he learns that Bird missed him, too, and has headed back north so they can be together.  The other birds have an idea: they build a giant nest and carry it back with Bear inside.  The last page shows Bear and Bird embracing, reunited at last.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A dreamy and imaginative book which could be used as a mentor text for letter-writing.  The illustrations are filled with enchanting details, and could be used as inspiring writing prompts.

Cons:  There’s no way ten birds could carry a bear in a nest all that distance.

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

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz

Published by Dial Books

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley & Jamila): Goerz ...
Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer (Shirley & Jamila): Goerz ...

Summary:  Jamila wants to spend the summer playing basketball, but her mother plans to sign her up for science camp.  A chance encounter with a slightly odd girl named Shirley at a yard sale changes the course of her vacation.  Shirley and her mother come to visit the next day, and the moms agree to let them spend their days together on the basketball court.  Shirley seems to spend her days reading, but she gradually reveals her amazing powers of observation to Jamila.  One day an 8-year-old boy named Oliver comes to the court to ask Shirley for help.  It turns out she has a reputation as the neighborhood detective, and his gecko has been stolen from the local pool.  Shirley gets to work, with Jamila tagging along.  Solving the case almost ends their budding friendship, but in the end, each one sees how she needs the other.  Shirley pulls a grand reveal to all involved in the case, as she unmasks the culprit, but also manages to plant seeds of friendships with the kids involved in the case.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A clever graphic mystery with a bit of a nod to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Shirley has Sherlock’s astute powers of observation and lack of social skills, while Jamila serves as a Watson-like narrator and assistant.  The characters are well-developed, and most readers will have to wait for Shirley’s grand reveal to figure out who stole the gecko.  I also liked that both characters have just turned 10, as most middle grade novels seem to feature slightly older characters.  This seems like a perfect series opener, so we can keep our fingers crossed there will be more mysterious fun to come.


Cons:  I was hoping all the kids would become friends at the end, but Jamila and Shirley seemed like they were moving on.

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

What Lane by Torrey Maldonado

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

What Lane? - Kindle edition by Maldonado, Torrey. Children Kindle ...

Summary:  Stephen wears a bracelet that reads “What lane?”, a basketball reference to staying in your lane, which is something he doesn’t want to do.  He’s curious about the world, and eager to move between all different lanes.  But then he starts to see that it’s not that easy for him as a biracial kid who tends to hang out with the white kids. He begins to notice that he’s often treated differently by adults, often coming under suspicion in a way his white friends aren’t.  A new group of black friends give him a new perspective, and all his friends come to his rescue when he’s the victim of bullying by a new kid in town.  Stephen has some hard truths to learn, but he’s also fortunate to have good support from his white mom, black dad, and good friends.  144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A quick read that’s a great reluctant reader pick and an excellent catalyst for conversations about racism.  Stephen’s voice rings true, and most of the kids in his circle are trying to do the right thing.  A definite awards contender for 2020.

Cons:  There was a lot packed into 144 pages. The plot felt at times like it was driven by the agenda, without as much of an opportunity to develop the storyline and the characters as a longer book would have offered.

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

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Published by Roaring Brook Press

We Are Water Protectors - Kindle edition by Lindstrom, Carole ...
We Are Water Protectors | Carole Lindstrom | Macmillan

Summary:  The Ojibwe narrator has been taught by her Nokomis (grandmother) that water is sacred, “the first medicine”.  A prophecy tells of a black snake that will destroy the land, poisoning the water and killing plants and animals.  Now it seems as though that prophecy has come true, and the girl wants to fight the black snake and save the water.  She’s fighting for the plants and animals that can’t protect themselves and for Mother Earth herself.  The last page shows the protest at Standing Rock: “We are water protectors.  WE STAND!  The black snake is in for the fight of its life.”  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes with more information about Standing Rock; a glossary of six words from various indigenous languages from the text; and an “Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge” to sign.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A brief but powerful message about the importance of protecting water and other natural resources.  The illustrations are amazing; some of them would make beautiful posters all on their own.

Cons:  Despite the determination of this girl and others like her, the author’s note reports that the Dakota Access Pipeline (the construction of which was being protested at Standing Rock) has been given the green light, and that leaks were reported even before construction was completed.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.

10 picture books about kindness and community

This year, for so many reasons, kids need to feel the safety of the classroom community more than ever. And, of course, whether your students are Zooming or social distancing, creating community will be extra challenging. Here are some books to help you get started.

The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates and Juniper Bates

Published by Simon and Schuster

The Big Umbrella: Bates, Amy June, Bates, Juniper, Bates, Amy June ...

This umbrella is big enough to cover everyone. A quick read, great illustrations, and a diverse cast of characters get the conversation on inclusion rolling. Buy it on Amazon.

The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo

Published by Tilbury House Publishers

The Buddy Bench - Kindle edition by Brozo, Patty, Deas, Mike ...

What happens when kids are being left out at recess? This class has a solution: build a buddy bench. When you see someone sitting on the bench, you know they’re looking for a friend. Buy it on Amazon.

The Cool Bean by John Jory

Published by HarperCollins

The Cool Bean - Kindle edition by John, Jory, Oswald, Pete ...

In this school, the cool kids are also kind, and the bean who’s been feeling kind of uncool appreciates it. Buy it on Amazon.

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh by Supriya Kelkar

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh - Kindle edition by Kelkar ...

Harpreet dresses according to his moods, and a new school has him wearing white every day, trying to fade into the background. But a new friendship helps him start dressing in all the colors of the rainbow again. Buy it on Amazon.

I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet

Published by Schwartz & Wade

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness ...

The girl in this wordless story has to figure out what to do when she sees new girl Vanessa getting picked on. The whole school ends up coming together to put an end to the bullying. Buy it on Amazon.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Be Kind - Kindle edition by Zietlow Miller, Pat, Hill, Jen ...

After her friendly overtures are rebuffed, a girl reflects on what it means to be kind. Buy it on Amazon.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

All Are Welcome: Penfold, Alexandra, Kaufman, Suzanne ...

Rhyming text and busy illustrations show a diverse classroom of children and families coming together to form a community. Buy it on Amazon.

Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds

Published by Orchard Books

Say Something: Reynolds, Peter H., Reynolds, Peter H ...

“Some people find it easier to say something than others. But everyone has something to say.” Encourages extroverts and introverts alike to express themselves in a variety of ways. Look for Reynolds’ newest book Be You! Buy it on Amazon.

You Matter by Christian Reynolds

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

You Matter | Book by Christian Robinson | Official Publisher Page ...

Even when you feel small, insignificant, or lost, you matter. A quick and reassuring read for every member of the group. Buy it on Amazon.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

The Day You Begin - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline, López ...

Four kids feel a little strange on the first day of school, but as time goes on, they start to connect and feel okay about what makes them unique. Buy it on Amazon.