The Capybaras by Alfredo Soderguit

Published by Greystone Kids 

The Capybaras - Kindle edition by Soderguit, Alfredo, Soderguit, Alfredo.  Children Kindle eBooks @
The Capybaras: Soderguit, Alfredo, Soderguit, Alfredo: 9781771647823: Books

Summary:  The chicken coop is a “safe, agreeable place” where life is “comfortable”, but a picture of a human carrying off a chicken by her legs shows readers a slightly different story.  When the capybaras come to the coop, it causes quite a stir.  They’re big, wet, and hairy, but it’s hunting season, and they have no place to go.  So the chickens reluctantly grant them shelter, as long as they obey the rules to stay silent and to leave the chickens’ food and water alone.  But one day a chick and a young capybara start playing together.  When the “dangerous” capybaras protect the chick from the farm dog, everything changes, and the capybaras move into the coop with the chickens.  At the end of an unsuccessful hunting season, the hunters return to an empty chicken coop.  “No one ever knew what happened,” is the final sentence, followed by a spread showing the chickens roosting on the capybaras’ backs in the water, then having a serious conversation with a young lamb.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Originally published in Venezuela, this picture book is simple and fun enough for preschoolers, but could definitely be used to start some interesting conversations with older ones. The disconnect between the text and the illustrations questions the meaning of such words as “comfortable” and “dangerous”. Delightfully subversive.

Cons:  Made me really question not being vegan.

Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Dr. Fauci | Book by Kate Messner, Alexandra Bye | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster
Dr. Fauci | Book by Kate Messner, Alexandra Bye | Official Publisher Page |  Simon & Schuster

Summary:  From the time he was a boy growing up in Brooklyn, Anthony Fauci always had a curious mind.  His family encouraged that, telling him to always gather evidence and keep an open mind when solving a problem.  Although he wasn’t the biggest kid in the neighborhood, he learned to be competitive in sports, using speed to make up for what he lacked in stature.  In 1966, Anthony became Dr. Fauci when he graduated first in his class from Cornell Medical School.  Throughout his career, he studied new diseases like AIDS, West Nile virus, and, of course, COVID-19.  Keeping an open mind, working with scientists around the world to gather evidence and look for solutions, Dr. Fauci worked tirelessly on the problem of COVID-19.  The book ends on a positive note, with the vaccine rollout; Dr. Fauci is happy to get his vaccine, reunite with family, and get back to work on whatever problem comes along next.  Includes additional information on vaccines and their safety; Dr. Fauci’s five tips for future scientists; a timeline of his life; a recommended reading list; and several photos of Anthony Fauci growing up.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A much-needed picture book biography of Dr. Fauci, along with timely information about vaccine safety.  The information is straightforward, emphasizing the importance of hard work and critical thinking in the scientific world.

Cons:  Probably appropriate for the age group, but the tone of the book is consistently upbeat, with none of the political controversy around Dr. Fauci touched upon.

Monster Friends by Kaeti Vandorn

Published by Random House Graphics

Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827: Books
Monster Friends: (A Graphic Novel): Vandorn, Kaeti: 9781984896827: Books

Summary:  Reggie is spending his summer house sitting for relatives, living by himself after what seems to have been some unsettling events in his recent past.  He seems torn between enjoying his solitude and feeling lonely.  When gregarious Emily the rabbit shows up, he has a good time hanging out with her.  Emily’s got her own troubles with four sisters, one of whom makes fun of her for her vivid imagination.  As the summer progresses, Reggie starts to make more connections and to accept that he may not be as adventurous as the best friend he left behind.  By the end of the summer, he and Emily are good friends and he has decided on a new life path for himself.  272 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Younger graphic novel fans will love Reggie and his friends, all of them monsters with some surprising abilities.  The illustrations are adorable and the “be true to yourself” message that Reggie learns is a good one.

Cons:  I found the first chapter confusing.

All of Us by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Published by Philomel Books

All of Us by Kathryn Erskine: 9780593204696 | Books
All of Us: Erskine, Kathryn, Boiger, Alexandra: 9780593204696:  Books

Summary:  “Me…can be we. You…can come, too. They…can be ‘Hey!’ It’s all of us.”  This affirming book shows kids of different races and with a variety of physical attributes all playing together.  From hopscotch with the names of the continents in the boxes to sailing on a sea of words in various languages, differences and similarities are embraced and celebrated.  Religious practices and a variety of vocations are also touched upon.  The text circles back at the end: “All kinds of kids, thoughtful and free.  Sometimes in groups, sometimes…just me.”  32 pages; ages 2-8.

Pros:  An affirming book that celebrates all kinds of kids through both text and pictures.  It’s a quick read, but could engender longer discussions, and would make a good welcoming book at the beginning of any sort of kids’ gathering.

Cons:  Far be it from me to utter a disparaging word about such a rosy view of the world.

I Is for Immigrants by Selina Alko

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

I Is for Immigrants: Alko, Selina, Alko, Selina: 9781250237866:  Books
I Is for Immigrants | Selina Alko | Macmillan

Summary:  Each page of this alphabet book is a collage of immigration-related words that begin with the featured letter.  For instance, A is for ancestors, African dance, Abuelita, ambition, and aspire; the Z page shows zest, a ziti dinner, Zen, a zither, and a sleeping mother and child (“Zzzzzzzzz”).  An author’s note tells of her own immigrant experience.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This would make an excellent introduction to immigration, whether it’s for a preschool class or the start of a third- or fourth-grade social studies unit.  The colorful collage illustrations and words will get readers thinking about all the contributions immigrants have made to American culture.  Students could make their own collages as an extension activity.

Cons:  There’s not much context for the individual words, and younger kids will undoubtedly need some help with understanding some of them.

Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Julia Iredale

Published by Candlewick Amber and Clay (9781536201222): Schlitz, Laura Amy, Iredale,  Julia: Books
Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz, Julia Iredale, Hardcover | Barnes &  Noble®

Summary:  Rhaskos is a slave in ancient Greece, separated from his mother at an early age.  His mother is taken away to live in a household that includes Melisto, a girl whose wealthy father loves her, but whose mother despises her.  When Melisto joins a group of young girls serving the goddess Artemis, her life takes an unexpected turn and becomes entwined with Rhaskos’s.  Rhaskos’s mother finds a way for Melisto to obtain Rhaskos’s freedom…but it will take years and many strange turns that involve gods, goddesses, and the great philosopher Sokrates.  Includes exhibits of ancient Greek artifacts with museum-type descriptions interspersed throughout the book; each of these plays a role in the story.  Also, an author’s note with additional information about Greek words, verse, and history; and an extensive bibliography.  545 pages; grades 5-8.  ó

Pros and Cons:  I honestly don’t know where to begin with this book.  It truly is a masterpiece, written mostly in verse, but with some sections in prose, and an incredible attention to historical detail.  I can’t even fathom the research that must have gone into writing it, and I can’t imagine any other publisher besides Candlewick producing this.

Having said that, I feel like this is a book with very, very limited appeal.  Looking back over my 21 years of being a school librarian, I can think of two middle school girls who might have been interested in this book.  I had to really push myself to read it (it’s over 500 pages!), although it was pretty absorbing once I started.

Will this book receive Newbery consideration?  Absolutely, and there is no question that the writing and research of that caliber.  Do I hope it wins?  To be honest, no. Call me a simpleton, but I would rather see a book win that is going to appeal to a much greater audience of young readers.

Dear Librarian by Lydia M. Sigwarth, illustrated by Romina Galotta

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Dear Librarian: Sigwarth, Lydia M., Galotta, Romina: 9780374313906: Books
Dear Librarian | Lydia M. Sigwarth | Macmillan

Summary:  Lydia’s story is told in the form of a letter that begins “Dear Librarian”.  At the age of 5, she and her parents and six siblings left Colorado to move to Iowa.  Her dad was in search of a new job, and the family needed a new home.  For six months, they lived in different family members’ homes, which were too small, crowded, or full of beautiful objects not to be touched by the seven children.  During this time, Lydia discovered the public library, which became a haven, and the librarian, who always greeted her with a hug and made her feel welcome.  After six months, the family got their own home, but Lydia never forgot how the library made her feel, and she grew up to become a librarian herself.  Includes a letter from Lydia to the reader that recounts how she reunited with her librarian friend in 2018 on the NPR show This American Life, and photos of Lydia at age 5 and in 2018 with “her” librarian, Deb Stephenson.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A heartwarming and inspiring true story that would make a great first-day-of-school read for school librarians.

Cons:  I would have liked to see more back matter on the issue of homelessness.

No More Plastic! by Alma Fullerton

Published by Pajama Press

No More Plastic: Fullerton, Alma, Fullerton, Alma: 9781772781137: Books
No More Plastic | Pajama Press

Summary:  Isley loves everything about the ocean near her home until one day when a dead whale washes up on the beach.  When she learns that the whale starved to death because its stomach was filled with plastic, she becomes angry.  Turning her anger into action, Isley begins a campaign in her community to stop using plastic bags, straws, and other products.  At first people are enthusiastic, but eventually the convenience of plastic causes them to backslide.  Isley begins collecting the plastic she finds on the beach and uses it to create a giant whale sculpture.  The whale serves as a reminder to people in the community, who begin to make bigger changes like banning plastic grocery bags and installing filling stations for water bottles.  Includes an author’s note and a list of ideas for reducing plastics, both locally and globally.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An empowering story about a girl who finds a way to make a difference in her community, with information that may inspire kids to take action themselves.

Cons:  The writing felt a little stilted.

Horse Power: How Horses Change the World by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Horse Power: How Horses Changed the World: Thermes, Jennifer:  9781419749452: Books

Summary:  Horses first appeared on Earth fifty-six million years ago, and although the earliest ones lived in North America, they eventually died out.  They survived in Europe and Asia, though, and their domestication revolutionized societies there.  Eventually, horses found their way back to North America in Spanish ships, and became part of life for both European settlers and indigenous people.  Horses allowed people to travel faster and work harder, and were a key part of the Industrial Revolution.  At the end of the 19th century, though, they began to be replaced by cars, and today are used by humans mostly for sports, fun, and entertainment.  Includes an author’s note timeline, and list of sources.  48 pages; grades 2-7.  

Pros:  Anyone who has enjoyed a Jennifer Thermes book knows that maps are a key part of her illustrations, and this one is no exception.  Her maps and diagrams help show horses in local settings as well as how they have traveled around the world.  Horse lovers everywhere will enjoy this book and undoubtedly learn a lot from the text and illustrations.

Cons:  As with any nonfiction picture book that covers a huge topic and span of time, this one is necessarily a little brief on the details.  It’s a good introduction, but kids seeking more information will need to delve into other sources.

Best Day Ever! by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Leah Nixon

Published by Clarion Books Best Day Ever! eBook: Singer, Marilyn, Nixon, Leah: Kindle Store

Summary:  A dog narrates her best day ever: hanging out with her best friend (a boy in a wheelchair), digging, chasing a cat, and swimming.  But after she rolls in a dead fish, her boy tells her she stinks, they head home for a bath, and suddenly the day is not the best ever.  When she runs around after the bath and breaks a lamp, her boy yells at her, and it becomes the worst day ever.  But an evening apology and a game of fetch with her friend quickly restores the status back to best.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A dog’s live-for-the moment joy is beautifully captured here, and it’s nice to see a kid in a wheelchair being a part of a story that is not about disabilities.

Cons:  Rolling in a dead fish.