Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim (released April 6)

Published by Holiday House

Amazon.com: Amira's Picture Day (9780823440191): Faruqi, Reem, Azim,  Fahmida: Books

Summary:  Amira is excited when she sees the crescent moon in the sky; Ramadan has ended and Eid is the next day.  There will be a big celebration, and she’ll get to skip school.  But then she remembers that tomorrow is also picture day, and she’ll miss being in the photo with the rest of her class.  Her mother assures her that she’ll take plenty of pictures of Amira at the big celebration, but it’s not quite the same.  The next day, though, Amira dons her shalwar kameez, leaving the pink dress she was going to wear for picture day hanging in the closet.  As predicted, Amira and her family have a wonderful celebration, but on the way home, Amira is feeling sad about having missed picture day.  An abundance of leftover goody bags gives her an idea, and she is able to make it to school in time for the picture and to share some of Eid with her classmates.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Eid and a glossary.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The colorful illustrations and realistic story make a great introduction to Eid for those who don’t celebrate it, and a story that will be relatable for those who do.  

Cons:  The author’s note states that Muslims “do not know the exact date for Eid until they spot the new moon’s crescent”.  This confused me, because I was able to Google the date (the evening of May 12 until the evening of May 13) for 2021.

Most Days by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Baratta

Published by Tilbury House

Amazon.com: Most Days (9780884487272): Leannah, Michael, Baratta, Megan  Elizabeth: Books

Summary:  “Most days are ordinary days.”  We get up, brush our teeth, eat breakfast.  But if you stop and look, you will notice changes and wonders all around you.  The plant that had six leaves now has seven.  There’s a new spiderweb, and yesterday’s puddle is gone.  Fill your senses with the sounds of trucks rumbling and a saxophone playing, and the smell of freshly-baked bread.  When you go to bed, the day’s ordinary moments “glimmer in…memory like stars in the night sky.”  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful, lyrical meditation on the wonder of ordinary moments that encourages readers to slow down and be grateful each day.  The appealing illustrations reminded me a bit of Raina Telgemeier’s work.

Cons:  Doesn’t acknowledge the more painful parts that are often also part of an ordinary day.

We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frané Lissac (released April 20)

Published by Charlesbridge

Amazon.com: We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know  (9781623541927): Sorell, Traci, Lessac, Frane: Books
We Are Still Here! – Charlesbridge

Summary: From the team that brought you We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga comes this introduction to important terms in Native American history.  A group of kids from the Native Nations Community School puts together a series of presentations for Indigenous People’s Day.  There are a dozen reports on such topics as assimilation, relocation, tribal activism, and language revival.  Each presentation is a paragraph with bullet points that introduce the topic, and each one ends with Native Nations saying, “We are still here!”   Includes additional information on each presentation, including the locale and event shown in each illustration; a 5-page timeline covering 1870-2007; a glossary of terms and a list of sources; and an author’s note giving more information about the book and her personal connection to Native history (she’s a dual citizen of the Cherokee Nation and the United States).  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This is an amazing starting place for kids to learn Native American history.  Any one of the topics could be researched further and expanded upon.  The back matter, especially the timeline, really beefs up the historical information.  I love the folk art style illustrations.

Cons:  There are no dates given in any of the reports, so it’s a bit difficult to put the events into historical context without flipping back to the timeline.

The Pet Parade (Dear Beast, book 2) by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Kevan Atteberry (released February 2)

Published by Holiday House

Dear Beast

Summary:  Simon the cat has heard that Baxter the dog is going to be marching in the pet parade with their boy, Andy.  Simon has been in this parade with Andy in years past, and writes a letter to Baxter trying to convince him to back out.  Baxter refuses, and Simon launches a spy mission to determine what their costumes are going to be, enlisting the help of a skunk, a snail, a crow, a squirrel, and the pet goldfish, Gradually, Simon comes to understand that he and Baxter have different roles in Andy’s life, and that Baxter might actually be the better choice for the parade.  The parade concludes happily, and it looks like book 3 of this series is in the works.  Includes a “Doggy Dictionary” to help decipher Baxter’s misspelled words.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Butler has come up with a winning idea to tell an entire story through animals’ letters.  Early chapter books readers will find the format appealing, the writing humorous, and the colorful cartoon-style illustrations helpful in figuring out what’s going on in the story.

Cons:  Thank you to Holiday House for sending me this advance copy, but I wish I had read book 1 first, since I wasn’t completely able to figure out Andy’s, Simon’s, and Baxter’s situation from this book.  This seems like a weakness since kids don’t always read books in order. Also, some may object to Baxter’s frequent misspellings which may cause some struggles for beginning readers.

The Passover Guest by Susan Kusel, illustrated by Sean Rubin

Published by Neal Porter Books

The Passover Guest: Kusel, Susan, Rubin, Sean: 9780823445622: Amazon.com:  Books
Interrogating the Passover Guest: A Susan Kusel and Sean Rubin Interview -  A Fuse #8 Production

Summary:  Muriel is excited that Passover is approaching, but sobered by the knowledge that there probably won’t be much at her Seder dinner.  It’s 1933, and her father has lost his job.  As she walks home through the streets of Washington, DC, she spies a ragged man performing magic tricks in front of the Lincoln Memorial.  When she gives him the only penny she has, he tells her to hurry home where she’ll find a Seder dinner waiting.  When she gets home, though, the house is as empty as it has been for weeks.  Her parents are trying to decide whose dinner they might be able to share, when there’s a knock on the door.  It’s the man from the Lincoln Memorial, and in an instant a magical dinner has appeared.  Friends and neighbors join Muriel and her family for the meal, which goes far into the night.  Just before midnight, Muriel remembers the wine in Elijah’s cup.  When she looks, she sees that the cup is empty, and she realizes who the mysterious stranger was.  Includes notes from the author and artist and a note on the Passover holiday.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Based on a story by I. L. Peretz (also the basis for Uri Shulevitz’s 1973 book The Magician), this story blends magic with a real time and place (Washington, D.C. in the Great Depression), offering hope in difficult times.  The illustrations, based on Marc Chagall’s art, do an excellent job with the magic realism as well.  

Cons:  The magician is a little creepy looking in a scary clown kind of way.

The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen (released April 13)

Published by Candlewick

The Rock from the Sky: Klassen, Jon, Klassen, Jon: 9781536215625:  Amazon.com: Books
The Rock from the Sky: Klassen, Jon, Klassen, Jon: 9781536215625:  Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A turtle loves to stand in his favorite spot.  Meanwhile, the reader sees that a big rock is falling from the sky.  An armadillo joins the turtle, but gets a bad feeling, and finds another spot to stand.  There’s a series of miscommunications as the rock gets closer and the turtle goes back and forth between the two spots.  Story 1 ends with the rock landing; four more stories involving the turtle, the armadillo, the rock, and, occasionally, a snake, follow.  All stories are told with dialog between the turtle and the armadillo, each one in a different font to make them easily distinguishable.  96 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Fans of Jon Klassen’s “Hat” series are going to be delighted with this new entry.  I was laughing aloud, particularly at the first story.  Klassen is the master of simple facial expressions…you just know what those animals are thinking.  I’ve used his other stories for readers’ theater for first graders, and this book will definitely lend itself to that as well.

Cons:  96 pages makes for a long read-aloud.

It’s awards day!

Just watched the livestream of the announcements:

Caldecott

Honor books:

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham, illustrated by Yuko Shimuzo

Me and Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby

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

Newbery

Honor

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Boys’ Thai Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvart (two Newbery honors for her this year!)

Winner: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Check out the ALA announcement of these and the many other awards announced this morning at their website.

What do you think of the winners? Answer in the comments!

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

Published by Clarion Books

Just Like That: Schmidt, Gary D.: 9780544084773: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Meryl Lee is dealing with a huge loss in her life that has left her fighting against what she calls the Blank, the overwhelming grief she faces wherever she goes.  Her parents decide a change will be best for her, and send her to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls on the coast of Maine for her eighth grade year.  Around the same time, a boy named Matthew Coffin finds his way to town, trying to escape his past.  In the course of a very eventful year, the two of them become friends and make important discoveries about themselves and the people around them.  Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War era, many of the characters are affected by the events overseas.  Almost everyone is dealing with some sort of loss, but each of them finds a unique resilience to go on with life and to find the courage to love once again.  387 pages.

Pros:  Gary D. Schmidt may be in line for another Newbery, Printz, and/or National Book Award recognition for this beautiful novel that references both The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie and the Buckminister Boy.  

Cons:  If you’re a fan of The Wednesday Wars, prepare yourself for some devastating news in the first chapter.

How to Apologize by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka (released May 4)

Published by Candlewick

How to Apologize: LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: 9781536209440: Amazon.com:  Books
How to Apologize: LaRochelle, David, Wohnoutka, Mike: 9781536209440: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  Everyone makes mistakes, but what’s the best way to handle them?  From a parachuting bird crashing through a bathroom roof to an elephant driver rear-ending a mouse’s car, these animals show the good and not-so-good methods for saying you’re sorry.  It can be difficult, especially if you have to apologize to someone you don’t like, but a straightforward approach works best.  Don’t make excuses.  Be sincere.  A note can work.  And it’s never too late to apologize for something from the past.  Try to fix the situation if you can, but if you can’t, work to avoid making the same mistake in the future.  In the ideal apology situation, you will feel better, and so will the recipient of your apology.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The brilliance here is in the simplicity.  Apologizing can be difficult for all ages, and there’s nothing I dislike more than hearing a mumbled “sorry” from a kid who’s forced to apologize.  This really lays out the whole process in a way a human being of any age can understand, and lightens things up with the funny animal illustrations.

Cons:  It’s hard to believe this concept has not been better covered in children’s literature.

Small Press Saturday

As you may or may not know, I have a certain schedule I follow each week with my reviews: Middle grade Monday, Third Grade Thursday (for early chapter books…not enough to do one every Thursday, unfortunately), Factual Friday, and Storytime Sunday. This year, I’m introducing a new one: Small Press Saturday. In an effort to celebrate the creativity and courage of small presses who go up against the Big Five publishing industry, I will review a book published by an independent press each Saturday. My biggest challenge here will be getting my hands on the books, which aren’t always available at my local library. I’ve reached out to a number of small presses, but if any of you has any connections, please feel free to let me know.