I Am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James and All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

I Am Every Good Thing - Kindle edition by Barnes, Derrick, James, Gordon  C.. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
I Am Every Good Thing: Barnes, Derrick, James, Gordon C.: 9780525518778:  Amazon.com: Books

All Because You Matter Published by Orchard Books

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles
All Because You Matter by Tami Charles, Bryan Collier, Hardcover | Barnes &  Noble®

Summary:  Two books celebrating black children, especially black boys, with pictures by Caldecott-winning illustrators.  I Am Every Good Thing (by the team that brought us the multi-award winning Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut) is told in the first person by a boy who shares all the good things he is: powerful, good, creative, a gentleman and a scholar.  He falls off his skateboard, but gets right back on again. He’s funny, full of energy, and athletic.  But he’s also afraid sometimes, and “will not answer to any name that is not my own.”  He concludes with, “And without a shadow of a doubt, I am worthy to be loved.” 32 pages; ages 4-8.

All Because You Matter is narrated by a parent talking to her child, and takes the child from before he was born, when “you were dreamed of, like a knapsack full of wishes, carried on the backs of your ancestors as they created empires, pyramids, legacies.”  Then come first steps, first words, and first books.  There are predictions of troubles ahead, whether it’s classmates giggling at an unfamiliar name, a low grade on a test, or the sight of people on TV who “take a breath, take a stand, take a knee…as another name is called: Trayvon, Tamir, Philandro, and you wonder if they, or you, will ever matter.”  Throughout the book, the boy is assured that he matters, and the conclusion is, “You mattered. They mattered. We matter…and always will.” Includes notes from the author and the illustrator.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Two beautiful and important picture books that reinforce the message to all children, but especially to black children (boys in particular) that they are capable, worthy, and loved.  I am sure these will both be considered for multiple awards, both for their messages and their beautiful illustrations.

Sometimes if I can’t find any “Cons” for a book, I make up something silly, but that seems inappropriate in this case, so I’m just going with “Pros” for these two books.

If you would like to buy I Am Every Good Thing, click here.

If you would like to buy All Because You matter, click here.

Fancy Friends (Bunbun & Bonbon) by Jess Keating and Fish Feud (Squidding Around) by Kevin Sherry

Published by Graphix (Scholastic)

Amazon.com: Fancy Friends: A Graphic Novel (Bunbun & Bonbon #1) (1)  (9781338646825): Keating, Jess, Keating, Jess: Books
Fish Feud! (Squidding Around #1) - Kindle edition by Sherry, Kevin, Sherry,  Kevin. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Two new graphic series exploring friendships.  Bunbun the bunny doesn’t have a friend until he meets Bonbon, a bonbon (candy).  The two of them discover their mutual love of fancy music, fancy food, and fancy friends and decide to throw a fancy garden party.  By the end they are celebrating the beginning of a best friendship.  In Fish Feud, Squizzard is a squid who likes to be the class clown, but his shark friend Toothy doesn’t always appreciate his jokes and bossiness.  When Squizzard takes things too far, he has to figure out a way to apologize and win back Toothy’s friendship.  64 pages and grades 1-3 (Bunbun); 96 pages and grades 2-5 (Squidding)

Pros:  Watch as these new series openers from Scholastic Graphix fly off your shelves.  They’re cute, funny, and graphic…what’s not to like? Bunbun is simpler in both language and illustrations, while Squidding is more of a real chapter book and includes bits of information about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Cons:  While fun, these aren’t quite the graphic masterpieces that some of the Graphix series are (e.g., Bone, Amulet, Baby-Sitters Club).

If you would like to buy Bunbun on Amazon, click here. For Squidding Around, click here.

The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers

 Published by Tundra Books

The Barnabus Project: Fan, Terry, Fan, Eric, Fan, Devin: 9780735263260:  Amazon.com: Books
The Barnabus Project | Quill and Quire

Summary:  Barnabus is a part-elephant, part-mouse creature who lives in a bell jar in the basement of Perfect Pets.  He was created to be a Perfect Pet, but instead joined others in the part of the factory called Failed Experiments.  He’s comfortable and well-fed there, but sometimes wonders about the outside world.  When he and the others learn they are about to be recycled, they start planning their escape.  With Barnabus leading the way, they manage to break out of their jars and travel through the labyrinth of pipes that ultimately take them to the great outdoors.  The final few pages see them living happily in a park, sometimes facing hardships, but working together to create a happy–and free–life for themselves.  72 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  As one of the Fan Brother biggest–well, fans, I was delighted to see a new book by them (there are now three brothers on the team: Terry, Eric, and newcomer Devin).  Their wildly imaginative landscapes and animals could easily be turned into a Pixar film, and kids are sure to fall in love with the “Failed Experiments” that are adorable hybrids of different real animals.

Cons:  The somewhat creepy premise of animals living in bell jars until they’re recycled as well as the 72-page length may make this a picture book better suited to older readers.

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

Sometimes People March by Tessa Allen

Published by Balzer + Bray

Sometimes People March - Kindle edition by Allen, Tessa, Allen, Tessa.  Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Tessa Allen on Sometimes People March | The TeachingBooks Blog

Summary:  “Sometimes ants march. Sometimes bands march. Sometimes people march.” People march to stand up for freedom or against injustice, to support people they love, or when they notice the need for change.  They might resist by speaking out, writing a song or letter, standing up, or taking a knee.  Just like ants are stronger together and bands are louder together, people march to amplify and strengthen their voices.  Includes two pages entitled “Movements, Marches & Key Figures in the Art” that tell the historical events that correspond to the illustrations.  32 pages; ages 4-9

Pros:  Although the text is spare, it conveys a lot of information about marching, which is complemented by the charming illustrations of diverse individuals and crowds standing up and speaking up for what they believe.  The real-life connections listed in the back make this a good starting place for additional research.

Cons:  I was surprised there weren’t any anti-war protests depicted, particularly Vietnam.

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

Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) by Kathleen Gros

Published by Quill Tree Books

Amazon.com: Jo: An Adaptation of Little Women (Sort Of) (9780062875976):  Gros, Kathleen, Gros, Kathleen: Books

Summary:  Jo uses her blog to chronicle her life during eighth grade, as well as the lives of her sisters Amy, Beth, and Meg.  Amy’s excited about fifth-grade art; Beth’s recovering from leukemia and pursuing her musical interests through piano and band; and Meg is tutoring two neighbor children and crushing on a boy named Jon.  Marmee keeps them all in line while their father is overseas.  New neighbor Laurie has a crush on Jo, but Jo is more interested in Freddie, the girl editor of the school newspaper they both work on.  Everyone gets a chance to let their talents shine at the middle school’s end-of-year showcase, and happy endings abound for all.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Seems like the world will always embrace one more version of Little Women, and this one is as warm and life-affirming as a hug from Marmee.  Fans of Raina Telgemeier, as well as last year’s Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy will love this graphic novel adaptation.

Cons:  I wonder how Bronson Alcott would feel about having his counterpart involved in a secret overseas military mission.

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

The Campaign by Leila Sales, illustrated by Kim Balacuit

Published by Harry N. Abrams

The Campaign: Sales, Leila, Balacuit, Kim: 9781419739743: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Maddie Polansky’s pretty sure seventh grade will suck, with art class offering the only bright spot on an otherwise dismal daily schedule.  So when she hears that unopposed mayoral candidate Lucinda Burghart is planning to cut the school’s arts funding, she feels desperate enough to try to do something about it.  After learning that the only qualification to run is to be a registered voter, she starts asking around.  To her surprise, Janet, her 23-year-old babysitter, agrees.  Janet is struggling to find work and figures she has nothing to lose.  There’s one obstacle after another, though, beginning with the required 350 signatures to get on the ballot. Although Maddie considers herself the most unpopular kid in the class, she realizes she needs allies and finds ways to convince other kids who are passionate about the arts to join Janet’s campaign.  They all have plenty to learn as they make their way through the fall, and, as we all know, there can be some interesting surprises on Election Day.  Includes a six-page author’s note with ideas and websites for getting involved in community activism and politics.  304 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Woven into this fun, slightly snarky middle school tale is a wealth of information about civics and elections, and a pretty heartwarming message encouraging kids to become activists.  The illustrations on almost every page keep things moving along at a good clip, and it’s nice to see some of the stereotypical middle school mean girls turn into human beings as the story progresses.

Cons:  Maddie’s parents, clueless almost to the point of negligence, never move beyond ridiculous one-dimensional characters.

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

Picture Book by Dog by Michael Relth

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Picture Book by Dog: Relth, Michael: 9780316458863: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Dog has created his first picture book, telling the story of how he was living on the streets before being taken to the shelter by caring people.  Even though he was warm, dry, and well-fed there, he still wanted a friend, and was delighted when a girl adopted him.  She taught him important doggy lessons, like what to chew, where to poo, and how walk on a leash and sit.  Now they are good friends, and Dog thinks ahead to a time when he’ll be an old and happy dog, having lived a sweet life filled with happy memories of his friend.  Ends with a note from Dog: “I know LOTS of dogs who could use a home and a good friend like you!”  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Kids will love the adorable and funny Dog, who writes in rhyming text and draws great crayon illustrations showing all aspects of his life (his diagram of where to poo and not to poo inside and outside the house is sure to get some giggles).  The ending will tug most heartstrings and will undoubtedly go a long way to accomplishing the author’s intention for readers to adopt a pet. Pair it with Can I Be Your Dog? for a fun dog-tells-the-story.

Cons:  Dog starts out addressing the reader (“You”), then when his girl shows up at the shelter, switches over to telling his story to her.

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

The Great Bunk Bed Battle (Fox Tails) by Tina Kügler and A Magic Spark (Fairylight Friends) by Jessica Young, illustrated by Marie Vanderbemden

Published by Scholastic

Amazon.com: The Great Bunk Bed Battle: An Acorn Book (Fox Tails #1) (1)  (9781338561685): Kügler, Tina: Books
A MAGIC SPARK | Kirkus Reviews

Summary:  Two new series have been added to Scholastic’s Acorn imprint for beginning readers.  In The Great Bunk Bed Battle, Fritz and Franny are supposed to be going to sleep, but debate the merits of the top bunk vs. the bottom bunk.  After trying to convince their dog Fred to join one or the other, they wind up with a surprising solution for all three.  A Magic Spark features three fairy friends, Ruby, Iris, and Pip, who go to school together and work to figure out what each one’s special magic is.  Each book ends with a page showing how to draw a character and offering a discussion question.  48 pages and 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Once again, the Acorn imprint has come up with new series that are fun, imaginative, and just right for early readers.  The foxes are funny, the fairies will appeal to the fairy/princess fans, and everyone will enjoy the cartoon-style format.

A fun aside about author Jessica Young: We have her Haggis and Tank series in our library, and one of our second grade students told us the book was inappropriate. Turns out she was referring to the spine label: we use F for fiction, followed by the first three letters of the author’s last name.

Cons:  I like how Scholastic’s Branches books have two different levels, and it seems like that’s needed here.  Fox Tails has 48 pages and three sections (kind of like chapters, but not exactly), while A Magic Spark has 64 pages, five real chapters, and quite a bit more text on each page. 

If you would like to buy The Great Bunk Bed Battle on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy A Magic Spark on Amazon, click here.

Becoming a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Becoming a Good Creature: Montgomery, Sy, Green, Rebecca: 9780358252108:  Amazon.com: Books
Becoming a Good Creature - Kindle edition by Montgomery, Sy, Green, Rebecca.  Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Summary:  Based on her 2018 YA/adult book How to Be a Good Creature, Sy Montgomery shares with readers the lessons she has learned from animals.  Her earliest teacher was her childhood dog Molly, who helped her discover how to observe animals.  She used those skills to study emus, gorillas, tigers, sharks, and more all over the world.  Animals taught her to be patient, to forgive, and to not be afraid.  A pig named Christopher Hogwood helped Sy and her husband create a unique kind of family.  Even animals that aren’t always loved–hyenas, a tarantula, and a weasel–helped her to become more open-minded and understanding.  The last lesson, “Trust tomorrow” tells how a border collie puppy who was blind in one eye reminded her that, even when things seem like they’re ending, there’s promise in a new day.  Includes a brief thank-you note to the animals from the author with photos of her with a few of the animals from the book.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Animal lovers will enjoy reading these brief but intimate stories about Montgomery’s many animal adventures.  Social-emotional or spiritual teachers could use any of these stories to introduce a lesson.

Cons:  The photos at the end left me wanting to see more.

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

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Skunk and Badger (Skunk and Badger 1): Timberlake, Amy, Klassen, Jon:  9781643750057: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Badger is satisfied living by himself in his aunt’s brownstone: doing Important Rock Work, eating cold cereal, and ignoring Aunt Lula’s letters.  So he’s surprised one day when Skunk shows up on his doorstep, informing him that he’s been sent by Aunt Lula to be Badger’s roommate.  Skunk disrupts Badger’s routine in ways that are both good (cooking breakfast, making Badger laugh), and not so good (taking over Badger’s box room, bringing dozens of chickens to the house).  At first Badger is desperate to get back to his solitary lifestyle, but slowly the good begins to outweigh the bad.  When Badger goes too far and alienates Skunk and his chickens, he realizes he’s made a big mistake and has to learn how to apologize and repair their burgeoning friendship.  136 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An endearing friendship story for those who cut their reading teeth on Frog and Toad books.  The Jon Klassen illustrations are a great addition–that cover picture perfectly captures both animals’ personalities..

Cons:  I had high hopes for this book with its multiple starred reviews and the Klassen illustrations, but it never really took off for me.  It’s quirky to the point that I wonder if it will have wide kid appeal.

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