Summary: These two collections of scary short stories were released in August, just in time to get in the library before Halloween. Only If You Dare has 13 stories, mostly about kids whose normal lives are disturbed by some supernatural aspect. They try to dismiss it at first, but eventually the nightmare comes true, the doll comes to life…well, you get the idea. Hide and Don’t Seek is a collection of 19 stories, with a little more variety in the format, including a poem, a story told all in texts, and a collection of letters from a summer camp that you might want to avoid sending your kids to. Both books have plenty of illustrations just in case your imagination isn’t overstimulated enough. Only If You Dare is 208 pages, Hide and Don’t Seek is 224; both recommended for grades 4-7.
Pros: Anyone who has worked in a library frequented by kids knows that these books will never be on the shelves. The demand for scary stories is huge, and these stories are truly creepy. Some kids’ horror is more funny than horrifying, but not these two collections. They are definitely scary without being too disturbing for the intended age group.
Cons: Horror is not and has never been my favorite genre, so reading 32 scary stories in a row…let’s just say I’ll be avoiding dolls and clowns for a while.
Summary: Hudi just wants to hang out with his imaginary friend Chunky and make people laugh, but his parents think it’s better for him to play sports. Not only are they concerned about his weight, but he had some health issues as a child that resulted in him losing part of a lung. Most of the chapters have sports titles: “Soccer”, “Football”, “Swimming” as he tries one after and other and not only fails, but often ends up in the emergency room with some sort of injury. in the last chapter “Theater”, he finds his true passion; his parents eventually come around and become his biggest cheerleaders. Includes an author’s note with additional autobiographical information and a couple of photos. 208 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: An engaging graphic memoir; kids struggling to find their own identities will relate to Hudi’s difficulties on the sports field and cheer for him as he discovers where he really belongs–on stage.
Cons: In his author’s note, Mercado says how he and his dad shared a passion for art. While this is alluded to very briefly in the story, it would have been an interesting dimension of their relationship to play up a little more.
Summary: Basketball is Sarah’s passion, and she’s concerned when she finds herself slowing down and missing shots. When her coach tells her that it may have to do with the ways her body is changing as she goes through puberty, Sarah decides to severely restrict her eating to reverse those changes. She’s supported in this decision at home, where her petite mother lives mostly on cookies and candy, has strict rules about food, and often forgets to grocery shop or make meals. Food takes on new importance when the boy she has a crush on asks her to be his partner in the upcoming Chef Junior competition. When Sarah collapses at a basketball game, her best friend confronts her and opens up a way for Sarah to finally get some help. Includes a note from the author telling of her own struggles with food and eating. 272 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Alyson Gerber addresses a real-world problem that many elementary and middle school kids are dealing with as she did in Braced and Focused. Like Starfish, this book does a great job showing the crazy messages about eating that abound in our society and creates a memorable narrator whose strength and resilience help her to navigate them.
Cons: The speed with which Sarah’s parents were ready to make major changes after just a single session with the school counselor seemed a little overly optimistic.
Summary: Every year, the residents of Wolver Hollow grow mustaches or wear fake ones on October 19. When Parker and Lucas get to fifth grade, they’re old enough to finally learn why. According to local legend, many years ago Wolver Hollow resident Bockius Beauregard was vaporized in an explosion, with only his mustache surviving. Every year the haunted mustache goes out looking for a hair-free lip to rest on. The two boys decide to investigate to find out if the tale is true, reluctantly including their classmate, ghost expert Samantha von Oppelstein. The three of them have a series of hair-raising adventures, but finally succeed in defeating the mustache. Or do they? 160 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This first of a three-part series is just the right blend of funny and scary for new chapter book readers. The cliffhanger ending will have kids eagerly seeking out book 2. Book 3 comes out in February.
Cons: I hope the boys will eventually feel comfortable enough with Samantha von Oppelstein to drop the von Oppelstein and simply call her Samantha.
Summary: Growing up in Mexico, Luz Jiménez learned the language and culture of her people, the Nahua. Although she dreamed of reading and becoming a teacher, this proved to be difficult. When she was young, indigenous children weren’t allowed to go to school; later the law changed, and they were required to go to Spanish-speaking schools, forbidden from speaking their native languages. When the Mexican Revolution came to her home, most of the men in Luz’s community were killed, including her father. She and her mother and sister moved to Mexico City, where Luz became an artist’s model. 20th-century artists were interested in portraying native people instead of the traditional light-skinned Spanish subjects. Through her work as a model, Luz also became a teacher, sharing her language and culture with others and becoming known as “the spirit of Mexico”. Includes notes from the author and artist, including a photograph and a list of illustrations that were inspired by other artists’ work who had painted Luz. Also a timeline, glossary, notes, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: Another excellent addition to the growing list of 2021 books about indigenous people. Despite Luz’s many difficulties, she maintained a positive spirit and contributed in many ways to Mexico’s history. Sure to receive some Pura Belpré consideration.
Cons: The illustrations that were inspired by other artists’ work were listed with page numbers; since there were no page numbers in the book, I wasn’t sure which page was being referenced.
Summary: Kitty O’Neil may have lost her hearing as a baby, but she never let it stop her from doing the most daring deeds she could find. From movie stunts to speed records for water skiing and boat racing, Kitty embraced any challenge. Her biggest goal was to break the women’s land-speed record of 308 miles per hour in the Motivator, her rocket-powered car. On December 6, 1976, Kitty drove across the Oregon desert, reaching a speed of 618 miles per hour. Her fans cheered wildly: “Kitty could not hear their cheering, but she could feel it in her bones.” Includes an author’s note with additional information about Kitty and her car; a list of her world records; and additional resources. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Focusing mostly on Kitty’s record-breaking drive, the story is exciting and incorporates facts about her early life. The author’s note provides additional context. This belongs on any list of books featuring people with disabilities.
Cons: It seems unfair that Kitty had to average two drives for the world record, so the official speed is 512 mph.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: Leah usually loves her summer visits to her aunt and uncle’s house in Chicago. But this year is different: her younger cousin T.J. has been traumatized by a shooting at his school and has stopped talking. Leah is determined to help him, but is at a loss as to how to do it until one night she sees T.J. sneaking out of the house and follows him. He goes to a neighborhood laundromat, where she hears him talking and laughing with Michelle, the owner’s daughter who’s about her age. Eventually, Leah and her new friend Vicki join them, and the four create a world called The Land of Lost Things, using items people have left behind at the laundromat. When Leah films their creations and puts it on YouTube, their new world suddenly goes viral. Unexpectedly, with a series of stops and starts, The Land of Lost Things proves to be the key to unlocking T.J.’s secret about what happened the day of the shooting and to help him to move forward with his healing. 304 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: It can’t be easy to write about a school shooting for an elementary audience, but J. S. Puller has found a way to talk about T.J.’s trauma without going into too many details about what actually happened that day. This is a book that could open up discussions on a wide range of topics, told by a narrator whom many readers will relate to.
Cons: I thought there was going to be some big reveal about Michelle’s younger brother who lately spends all his time in his room playing video games, but I was disappointed.
Summary: A storm comes to town that is unlike any that has ever been seen before, and a family is forced to stay inside. It feels strange to be indoors together for so long and soon tempers flare. Everyone is mad at each other and just wants to be alone. One night, though, a violent thunderstorm and power outage bring them all back together again, and after that things start to get better. There are still occasional fights, but each day the family bond gets stronger, until one day the storm is gone and the sun is shining again. When they head outside, there’s a lot of storm damage, but it’s clear from the last picture that the family will be working together to clean it up. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: While this story seems clearly to have been inspired by the pandemic lockdown, it could also be used to show how a family moves through different stages during any sort of difficult time. The family’s resilience in overcoming anger and learning to pull together during a tough time make this an excellent story for social and emotional learning.
Summary: “War spreads through the day like a whispered, swift disease.” The opening pages of this book show spiders, snakes, and a large black bird traveling through a landscape until they land on a uniformed man, alone in a room, studying a large map and selecting a knight’s helmet before he throws a torch on a huge pile of books. Planes and soldiers gather in armies before bombs are dropped on cities and tanks roll in. The final pages show a destroyed city and large spiders moving in with the sentence, “War is silence.” Originally published in Portugal. 64 pages; grades 4 and up.
Pros: The watercolor illustrations done grays, blacks, and military drabs provide haunting images of the hatred and destruction of war. Combined with spare but powerful text, this would be an effective way to begin a discussion of war at the upper elementary, middle school or even high school level.
Cons: I will definitely not be putting this in the picture book section of my library. It looks like a picture book, but I kept imagining some kindergartener bringing it home to be read as a bedtime story.
Summary: “If you are a boy named Isamu…at the market with your mother, it can be a crowded and noisy place. Maybe there is a quiet space that feels more like you.” Isamu prefers to observe the world by himself, wondering about everything he sees around him: the colors of the fruit at the market, the light through the paper lanterns near his home, the leaves that he finds in the forest. In the evening, his mother asks him how his day was. Isamu thinks how he was alone but not lonely, and how the forest and beach were like friends giving him gifts like sticks, pebbles and shells. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi and two photos of Isamu as a child and as an adult with one of his sculptures. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Introspective children will find a kindred spirit in Isamu Noguchi, and all readers can embrace Isamu’s wonder and appreciation for the natural world.
Cons: There aren’t many details about Isamu Noguchi or his art, nor are there any additional resources given.