Published by Candlewick
Summary: Isaac’s excited to be at Grandpop’s house, but he’s a little less certain about sleeping over. “I’m not sleepy,” he says as bedtime approaches. “Then stay awake,” replies Grandpop, “But it’s time to put the house to bed.” They move slowly and quietly around the house, turning off lights and pulling shades. When Isaac hears noises, Grandpop patiently explains what’s causing them: Snuffles the dog, the swingset creaking in the wind, the house making sleepy sounds. Finally, Isaac and Grandpop snuggle in a chair to read a bedtime story. Grandpop invites Isaac to tell him what’s happening in the pictures, then promptly falls asleep in the chair. Isaac takes one more good-night tour around the house, then settles himself in. The last picture shows the two of them and Snuffles snoring. 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A cute and reassuring bedtime story that could start a new nighttime routine of putting the house to sleep. More power to Grandpop; after a whole day with his grandson, he still has enough patience to take the time to make bedtime relaxed and happy.
Cons: “Snuffles” seems like kind of a sad name for a dog.
Published by Balzer + Bray
Summary: This illustrated poem recounts the history of African Americans, beginning with their capture in Africa and continuing through enslavement, emancipation, the Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement, the Hip-Hop era, the election of Barack Obama, and the Black Lives Matter movement. There are mentions and depictions of many famous Black writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and artists. Each section embodies one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa and concludes by naming it. Includes a two-page author’s note with additional information about Kwanzaa and her connection to it, a four-page timeline with additional information about the events in the book, and a list for further reading. 64 pages; grades 1 and up.
Pros: This amazing book traces the history of African Americans with concise but beautiful language that will inspire readers to dig more deeply into the events and people named. The vibrant illustrations portray what’s going on in the text realistically but with a touch of imaginative fantasy. There aren’t nearly enough Kwanzaa books, and this one would make an excellent resource; it could be read all at once or spread out over the seven days of the holiday.
Cons: Some reviewers recommended this for ages 4-8. It’s a long book with lots of information, which I think would be more appreciated by older readers of any age.
Published by Crown Books
Summary: From the time he was a child, James Banning dreamed about flying, pursuing that dream during trips to the library and on a visit to see a real flying machine in 1911. As an adult, he became a car mechanic, but was always looking for an opportunity to learn to fly. He finally got a pilot’s license, then set his sights on becoming the first Black person to fly across the United States. Teaming up with mechanic Thomas Cox Allen, he set off in a dilapidated plane with a 14-year-old engine. That engine died quite a few times along the way, but on October 9, 1932, the two men flew their plane around the Statue of Liberty. That night they celebrated with some of the stars of Harlem, having become stars themselves with their achievement. Includes an author’s note and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: A little-known aviation pioneer gets his due in this beautifully illustrated book that celebrates James Banning’s life and accomplishments. Although Floyd Cooper passed away in July, his work continues to inspire and will hopefully receive some award recognition.
Cons: It’s a long book if you’re planning to read it out loud. Also, I was wondering why the British spelling “aeroplane” was used throughout the book.
Published by Candlewick
Summary: Brother Edik discovers Beatryce in the barn, cradling the monastery’s ornery goat Answelica. Beatryce is sick and bloodied, and when she wakes up, the only thing she can remember is her name Soon Brother Edik has discovered a disturbing fact about Beatryce: she knows how to read and write, something unthinkable for a girl. He disguises her as a small monk and is determined to keep her safe, aided by Answelica and a local boy named Jack Dory. When the king’s men come looking for the girl, the four are forced on a dangerous journey, during which Beatryce’s memory gradually returns and she learns who she is and how she is part of a prophecy to “unseat the king and bring about a great change.” Through the powers of storytelling and love, this prophecy eventually comes true, and a happy ending is in store, at least for those characters the reader has come to care about the most. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: This book has the feel of a medieval fairy tale, beautifully illuminated with illustrations by Caldecott illustrator Sophie Blackall. The characters are memorable, with a timeless feel to the story and the setting. Seems like a shoo-in for another Newbery medal or honor for Kate DiCamillo.
Cons: Why not color illustrations? I know they’re more expensive, but I’m sure this book is already a big seller.
Published by Etch/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Summary: In this spinoff from the Click series, best friends Liz and Chanda are trying to make some money. When their lemonade stand fails, Liz’s older sister hands over her dog-sitting job to the two girls. They’re thrilled to get to hang out at the owner’s fancy home, raiding her closet and posting photos of themselves in luxurious surroundings. When the popular girls see the pictures, they want a piece of the action. Liz and Chanda invite one of the girls over, but she brings three more; in the ensuing chaos, an expensive lamp gets broken. As the girls try to make amends, they learn some important lessons about responsibility and friendship and are able to bring about a satisfying conclusion for everyone. Includes six pages of Q&A with the book’s creators and four pages showing how the illustrations were created. 216 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: There ought to be a name for the Raina Telgemeier/Victoria Jamieson/Shannon Hale/Jennifer Holm genre of graphic novels. Whatever that name is, this book will have great appeal to fans of it. It’s a realistic friendship story about irresponsibility and learning to make amends for it. Hoping to see more books about Liz and Chanda.
Cons: Chanda’s parents were kind of insufferable with their favoritism toward their older daughter.
Published by Amicus Ink
Summary: In this follow-up to A Tiny Brown Monkey on the Big Blue Earth, a little round panda munches bamboo on a hill covered with mist. A path leads from the hill to a river where people board a boat and travel down the river to a big city. Lights blink from tall buildings that shine into the sky of the big blue earth. Endpapers show the panda sitting in the Sichuan Province of China at the center of a map with the Yangtzee River, Indian Ocean, country of China, and continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa all labeled. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: We’ve seen books before that start at a certain geographic point and slowly move out into space. This one starts with a cute panda and moves to different locations in China with beautiful illustrations that warrant close examination. This would be a great introduction to maps for younger kids.
Cons: Except for the endpapers there was no back matter.
Published by Dial Books
Summary: Bug’s house has always shown signs of being haunted, and when Uncle Roderick passes away, it seems as though there is one more ghost, this one with a message for Bug. Bug is also struggling with the idea of starting middle school with an identity that never feels quite right. Moira, Bug’s best friend, is suddenly interested in clothes, makeup, and new friends, but none of that feels right to Bug. Possibly guided by the spirit of Uncle Roderick, Bug makes a surprising discovery–he is a transgender boy. It seems as though Uncle Roderick suspected that this might be the case and has guided Bug to learn his true identity so he can start middle school as himself, taking on Uncle Roderick’s middle name, Thomas, for his own. 192 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: I reviewed Alex Gino’s George (now called Melissa’s Story) back in 2015, and I believe that’s the last time I’ve read a middle grade novel with a transgender main character. So it’s an understatement to say the need is there, and Kyle Luyken has done a beautiful job with this story that will be embraced by any kid struggling with identity. It’s also a bit of a spooky ghost story, which is always fun, and which adds an interesting dimension to Bug’s slow realization of who he is. Currently #16 on the Goodreads Newbery list.
Cons: I was hoping for at least one middle school girl character who wasn’t interested in clothes, makeup, and hairstyles.
Published by Candlewick
Summary: A couple tells their child the many different meanings of saying Black Lives Matter. It can be whispered, screamed, sung, or sobbed to celebrate the lives of Black people, to remember what was done to them in the past, and to protest wrongs still being done to them. The rhyming text highlights words with different fonts and shapes. The illustrations show the baby growing up until the last page, “We see you, Black-child-magic, your radiant Black shine/We hear your Black Lives Matter, and we know we’ll be all right,” shows him in a cap and gown holding a diploma triumphantly in the air. 32 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: The many different facets of the Black Lives Matter movement are addressed here with beautiful watercolor pencil and collage illustrations filled with colors and shapes. The rhyming text flows smoothly and is well-integrated into the illustrations.
Cons: I’d love to see this considered for the Coretta Scott King Award, but the author is Australian, so I don’t think that it qualifies.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: Bob is a lazy–but hungry–alligator who hopes that birds will fly into his mouth when he calls to them. When that plan fails, he notices how much birds like birdseed, and decides to open a seed restaurant on his nose. Chez Bob attracts its first customer the very next day. The bird promises to tell all its friends, so Bob decides not to eat it. Pretty soon, Chez Bob is super popular, and Bob finds himself enjoying the community with a book club, a basketball team (he’s the coach), and a sunset cruise. When a storm comes up, Bob invites his new friends to take shelter in his mouth. He can hear them laughing, playing, and cleaning his teeth. It’s official: these birds have gone from “the birds he was going to eat” to “the birds he was absolutely, without a doubt, definitely not going to eat.” 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Bob Shea (who, according to the back flap, insists that the book’s title has nothing to do with his first and last names) has created another goofy book which, like Who Wet My Pants? is also an unexpectedly sweet friendship story. The cover is sure to catch the eye of young readers and they won’t be the least disappointed by what’s inside.
Cons: It’s not clear what Bob will be eating once he befriends the birds.
Published by Philomel Books
Summary: This short chapter book is part of the series inspired by Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted books. Persistence is definitely a theme, as the story follows Florence from her childhood, growing up in a large family to college, to her struggles to pay her way through college, to her determination to become the world’s fastest woman. Despite challenges and setbacks, she finally emerged victorious in the 1988 Summer Olympics, where she won three gold medals and one silver. She was also well-known for her distinctive fashion designs that she wore on the track. Sadly, the book ends with Flo-Jo’s death in 1998 at the age of 38 from an epileptic seizure in her sleep. Includes a list of 8 ways you can persist and references. 80 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Normally, I’m not a fan of celebrity-authored children’s literature, so I’ve pretty much steered clear of Chelsea Clinton’s books. But when I saw the award-winning authors writing these biographies, I finally broke down and read one. It’s very well done, with plenty of information for both research and inspiration. The length and illustrations make it an accessible choice for younger elementary kids, and I plan to add many of these books to my library.
Cons: I’m not sure I knew about Florence Griffith Joyner’s death, but if I did I had forgotten and was shocked when I got to that part of the book.