Summary: It started with Ibram X. Kendi’s book Stamped from the Beginning. Then Jason Reynolds did a “remix” for teens: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, and now there is this version for elementary kids. In keeping with Reynolds’ assertion that Stamped isn’t a history book, Cherry-Paul writes that her book talks about history but is “directly connected to our lives as we live them right this minute.” She suggests using rope as a metaphor when learning about race: a rope can lift climbers, join people together, or be used as a weapon. In 24 chapters she traces the history of racism in America from 1415 to the present. Throughout the narrative there are boxes inviting readers to pause and think more deeply about an idea that’s been introduced and how it relates to them. The final section, “An Antiracist Future” calls kids to lead their generation in learning all they can about the “tree of racism” and to finally be the ones to chop it down. Includes a timeline, glossary, and lists for further reading. 176 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Every bit as compelling as Jason Reynolds’ book, written at a level that will be accessible to kids as young as eight or nine. Essential reading for kids, teachers, and parents.
Cons: Similar to my “Con” for the Reynolds book, this felt like a whirlwind tour through history; readers will only get a taste of many different interesting people and events. Hopefully, they’ll be inspired to use the reading lists to learn more.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: “There’s a time each and every day when the inside feels too small for Sam…” That’s when it’s time for a strollercoaster ride. Faster than you can say “toddler meltdown”, Sam’s dad picks her up, straps her in her stroller, and is off. It’s a wild, high-energy run around the neighborhood, through streets and parks, over bridges, and through tunnels. Finally, “the breeze slows, the wheels squeak, the brakes squawk,” and the ride is over. And just in time, as both Sam and Dad crash on the couch for an afternoon nap. 32 pages; ages 2-7.
Pros: So much energy in the words and the cram-packed psychedelic illustrations from Raúl the Third and Elaine Bay, whom I think we can all agree should get some Caldecott recognition.
Cons: I would have gone with stroller coaster, not strollercoaster. Maybe stroller-coaster?
Summary: The sun is 4.6 billion years old, and the planets have decided to throw a birthday party. They consider the guest list (if they invite Pluto, will they have to include the other dwarf planets? Can a moon be counted as a plus-one if a planet has over 70 moons?) and what to give as a gift, finally settling on a testimonial from each one of them. When the big day arrives, each one has a touching message, and as a surprise, the mysterious voice of Planet X is heard, wishing the sun a happy birthday from a great distance. The sun is pretty reserved, but she declares the party “Stellar”, while looking both beaming and radiant. Includes a list of websites, with the note that scientists are constantly learning new facts about the solar system, so the web can provide the most up-to-date information. 40 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: A great combination of a fun story and lots of facts about the planets that would make a good companion to Adam Rex’s Pluto Gets the Call. I liked the acknowledgement that science changes so fast that books can go out of date quickly.
Summary: A girl and a boy (siblings?) decide to go on a wonder walk, which consists of walking outside and wondering. Is the sun the world’s light bulb? Do mountains have bones? Is rain the day’s tears? And finally, Is the moon the world’s night-light? They head for bed with the refrain, “I wonder. Me too.” 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: This would make a great writing or discussion prompt, as kids think of what they wonder about. The collage art is incredible and definitely should get some Caldecott consideration.
Cons: Most of the questions were in a similar format. It would have been nice to switch it up a little since there is so much to wonder about in the world.
Summary: Mickey’s pretty miserable with his life since his parents divorced and each found a new partner, and his sister’s dating a bully who makes Mickey’s life miserable. So when he sees an ad inside a pack of his favorite bubble gum for an “anti-book” he decides he has nothing to lose by ordering it. The book comes with some pretty simple instructions: “To erase it, write it.” Mickey starts writing the things he wants to erase: his parents, his sister, her boyfriend, just about everything about school…he wears down a pencil filling the Anti-Book. When he wakes up the next morning, though, he discovers he has, in fact, erased his world. Can he bring it all back? Trying to erase what he wrote creates further havoc, and Mickey has to travel through his new alternate world with some unusual companions to figure out how he can save everyone…including himself. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: This book reminded me a little of The Phantom Tollbooth, with a character traveling into a new world to learn some important lessons about himself. The world building is fun and clever, and Mickey makes some discoveries that will resonate with a lot of kids his age. A conversation with his sister in the final few pages about his uncertainty about his sexuality will undoubtedly resonate with some readers as well.
Cons: I’m not a big fan of The Phantom Tollbooth, so while I can appreciate this book it’s not going to become a personal favorite .
Summary: Grandfather loves birds and enjoys sharing his passion with his grandchildren, especially Milo, who notices everything but only speaks when he has something to say. As Grandfather gets older, he can no longer see the birds, but his family and a favorite nurse find ways to help him still enjoy them. Finally there comes a day when the grandchildren arrive home from school to find that Grandfather is no longer there. Milo runs outside in time to see an eagle soaring close to their yard. He doesn’t speak, but the whole family watches as the eagle flies away into the sky. Endpapers include sketches of the birds mentioned in the story. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Newbery medalist Maclachlan has created a beautiful story of love, loss, and hope, with characters that are amazingly well-developed for such a brief story.
Cons: It would have been nice to see the birds on the endpapers in color.
Summary: A young girl discovers a treefrog in the garden outside her new home. As the two travel through the seasons together, she makes discoveries about both the frog and herself. It’s summer when she moves in. Some kids come to play, but they’re too noisy for both her and the frog. When school starts, she meets a boy who feels like more of a kindred spirit, and she brings him to meet the frog. The two friends enjoy winter, and in the spring, their patience is rewarded when they see the treefrog once again. Each page offers some treefrog facts as well as a poem and illustration. Includes a page of questions and answers that gives more treefrog information. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This delightful picture book functions as both a friendship story and a nonfiction book about treefrogs…and is narrated with Joyce Sidman’s simple but beautiful poetry.
Cons: No additional resources for further research.
Summary: As a child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn had two passions: art and justice. These continued after he and his family immigrated to America when he was 8 years old. Lacking the funds to attend college, Ben apprenticed himself to a lithographer and studied art at night. He worried that the art that he learned about in school was different from what he wanted to paint: stories. In 1927, outraged by the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, Ben created 23 paintings to tell their stories. Later he was hired by the U.S. government to document the poverty of the Great Depression through photographs and paintings. He continued to create stories with his art through the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War until his death in 1969. Includes notes from the author and illustrator; a photo of Ben Shahn; a timeline of his life; and a bibliography and source notes. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: An engagingly written story of Ben Shahn’s life, focusing on both his art and his passion for justice. His work influenced the illustrations of Evan Turk, whom I think we can all agree should finally get some Caldecott recognition.
Summary: Jo Jo Makoons has plenty to worry about in first grade: her at-home best friend Mimi needs to get vaccinated (and a kid in school told Jo Jo cats deflate like a balloon when they get shots), and her at-school best friend Fern seems like she doesn’t want to be best friends anymore. Jo Jo’s struggling a bit in school, too, and her somewhat clueless teacher doesn’t always pick up on what’s going on around him in the classroom. Jo Jo has her own way of handling her problems, but in the end she figures out what to do with both of her best friends and gets some of the recognition she craves at school. Includes a glossary of Ojibwe and Michif words, an author’s note with additional information about the Ojibwe people, and a note from author Cynthia Leitich Smith introducing the series. 80 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: Although it’s still too rare a phenomenon, it is nice to see a few books this year with Indigenous characters in everyday settings and humorous situations (shout-out to HarperCollins’ Heartdrum imprint and Cynthia Leitich Smith for being a driving force behind this). Readers not quite ready for Smith’s Ancestor Approved will enjoy meeting spunky Jo Jo and learning about her life on the Ojibwe reservation.
Cons: Fern seemed like a great friend, and I didn’t really get why Jo Jo was worried about losing her.
I’m starting a little experiment: opening a Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you’re not familiar with this site, suffice it to say I have joined thousands of other educators selling products they’ve created to make other teachers’ lives a bit easier. You can visit my store to see the three products I have for sale. All were inspired by my experiences running first grade book clubs. TPT requires you to start with a free product, so I have a book club for Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack. The other two products include discussion questions and activities for three books each: one is a general set of books for early readers and the other one has a summer theme. All are books I have reviewed on this blog.
I hope you will check it out, and even more, I hope you will let me know what you think of my products and if there are others you would like to see in my store. It turns out there is a lot to learn about Teachers Pay Teachers, and I feel like I’m still at the beginning of that learning curve. You can send me feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, thank you for any input you can offer!