Summary: The history of the Black Panther Party is divided into three parts: Kindling (1619-1965), Blaze (1966-1982), and Embers (1983-present). Packed with photos and original sources, the story is sympathetic to the Party, but does not shy away from differences among the members which eventually led to its dissolution (and were at least in part caused by the FBI COINTELPRO project to destroy them). There’s an emphasis on the young people and women who contributed so much to all aspects of the group, from the armed oversight of police to the social programs for Black communities. The final section ties the Black Panther Party to Black Lives Matter and invites young people to start their own revolution. Includes an author’s note, a list of key people, a timeline, a glossary, further reading, 32 pages of source notes, an 11-page bibliography, and an index. 400 pages; grades 7-12.
Pros: This is a bit above the age group I usually review for, but I’ve been fascinated by the Black Panther Party since I read One Crazy Summer by Rita Garcia-Williams and realized how much misinformation I had about the group. This book is incredibly well-researched, yet also highly readable and accessible, and was chosen as a National Book Award Finalist. The final section makes it relevant and inspiring for today’s young readers. I hope it will win some awards: Printz, Sibert, and Coretta Scott King all come to mind.
Cons: This book is seriously hefty, weighing in at three pounds or approximately twice as much as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Summary: Ariel’s 18-year-old sister Leah is in love with Indian-American Raj, causing a huge rift in their Jewish family. When the couple elopes to New York City and cuts off contact with the family, Ariel feels caught in the middle. It’s 1967, and both the family and the larger world seem consumed with prejudice, divided along lines of love and hate. Ariel’s new teacher, Miss Field, provides some bright spots when she diagnoses Ariel with a learning disability called dysgraphia and tries to provide help beyond her parents’ admonitions to just try harder. Ariel’s friend Jane is also supportive, using the detective skills she’s learned from Nancy Drew books to try to track down Leah. When Ariel and Jane sneak off to New York to try to find the couple, a chain of unexpected consequences is unleashed that ultimately leads to a tenuous reconciliation with the family. So many new experiences help Ariel to find her voice, both by speaking out and writing poetry, and she is amazed to learn the powers she has within her. 384 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Newbery honoree Hiranandani gracefully handles many different issues in an unusual second-person voice. The themes of overcoming prejudice, finding your own voice, and kids sometimes understanding things better than the adults in their lives will all resonate with young readers.
Cons: I’m not sure how I feel about the second-person voice.
Summary: In the 1940’s, young people danced in groups divided by race and ethnicity. Millie danced to jazz in her Italian neighborhood, while Pedro danced to Latin songs in his Puerto Rican community. But then a band called Machito and His Afro-Cubans started mixing things up, using jazz trumpets and saxophones with Latin maracas and congas to make what they called Latin jazz. In 1948, New York City’s Palladium Ballroom broke the rules by opening its doors to everyone and hiring Machito to play for them. It brought together Millie and Pedro, who danced a new dance called the mambo–and danced it so well that they became the best at the Palladium, the best in New York City, and finally, the best in the United States. Includes an author’s note with more information on Machito, the Palladium, and the dancers mentioned in the text; also a list of resources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: The realistic oil painting illustrations and the brief text capture the movement and energy of the dancers, as well as the different groups that came together at the Palladium. The back matter adds good informational value.
Summary: Look: you might see a bushy tail or a flash of orange. Listen: a soft pad of paws. A fox travels through the snow, hunting for food to take back to its den, where three cubs wait. As the cubs get bigger, they go out on hunting expeditions, too. On one trip, the fox is hit by a car and dies by the side of the road. The cubs return home and are seen walking by the fox’s body as it slowly starts to decompose. Birds and insects feed on the body, and insects lay their eggs there. “Life is everywhere. Death is not just an end but a beginning.” Includes additional information on death, decomposition, and the cycle of life. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This beautiful book looks at death and decomposition from a scientific viewpoint, part of the cycle that allows new life to grow and flourish. It doesn’t deal with grief (the young foxes seem unfazed by the death of their parent) but shows readers the natural process of death.
Cons: Readers who may not have picked up on the foreshadowing of the “circle of life” subtitle may be shocked and dismayed by the death of the fox. This is definitely a book to share and discuss one-on-one.
Summary: When Sonny Rollins needs a place to practice his music that won’t disturb the neighbors, he heads for the bridge. Climbing the steps to the walkway, he finds a place where he can blow his saxophone as loud as he wants. Subway cars, tugboats, and seagulls add their distinctive voices to the song Sonny plays from New York City’s Williamsburg Bridge. Includes additional information about Sonny Rollins and the Williamsburg Bridge, as well as a collection of quotes from interviews with Sonny, now 91 years old. 32 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This would be a great resource for music teachers to introduce Sonny Rollins’s music. The brief poetic text makes a quick but compelling read-aloud, there’s lots more information at the end, and the illustrations gorgeously capture the feeling of music on the bridge.
Cons: There’s not much biographical information in the main story; the back matter provides more, but more research will be needed for a full picture of Sonny Rollins’s life and career.
Summary: Isaac’s house is the only one on the block decorated in blue and white instead of red and green as he and his best friend (and neighbor) Teresa count down the days until Chanukah and Christmas. Then one night a rock is thrown through the window of Isaac’s house. The family is scared but determined not to let their fear make them hide their faith. The next night, they light the menorah again. When Teresa sees the lit candles, she draws a picture of the menorah with the words “For Isaac,” and hangs it in her front window. Before long, others in town show the same support. Their drawings get on the news, and a few weeks later, there are 10,000 menorah pictures hanging in windows all over. Includes an author’s note with additional information about the 1993 real-life event in Billings, Montana that inspired this story. 32 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This brief but moving story tells of the power of good triumphing over evil, a perfect theme for the holiday season. The illustrations are filled with cozy comfort that’s in contrast to the broken glass on the cover.
Cons: Most reviewers recommend this for ages 4 and up, but I think the story would be better appreciated by an older audience, especially if you’re reading it to a group.
Summary: In 1984, when Waka was 12 years old, her mother decided that she didn’t know as much Japanese as she should and arranged for her to spend five months in Japan living with her grandmother, Obaasama. Not surprisingly, Waka was completely opposed to the idea, which meant missing the end of sixth grade, summer vacation, and the beginning of seventh grade and attending school in Japan for most of that time. She went from being a straight-A student in America to being near the bottom of the class in Japan and had to learn how to navigate the unfamiliar social structure of her classmates. By the end of the five months, though, her language skills had improved dramatically, and she had learned the importance of true friendship. While she came to understand and love Obaasama, she never really was able to communicate with her, and that left a deep sadness at the end of her visit. Ultimately, though, Waka comes to appreciate both of her cultures and to be grateful that she had the opportunity to spend the time in Japan learning about her heritage there. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: This book came out in January, and it’s taken me all year to get around to reading it. I’m not sure I ever would have (see the cons) if it hadn’t been for the fact that it’s currently #3 on the Goodreads mock Newbery list, and Betsy Bird included it in her fall Newbery predictions. I found the story funnier than I thought it would be, but also poignant, especially at the end. It really captures the immigrant experience of having a foot in each culture and makes a great case for the benefits of travel.
Cons: Something about the cover didn’t appeal to me and led me to believe that this was a much sadder book than it actually is.
Summary: Maddie’s heartbroken when her mom tells her they can’t keep a stray dog in their apartment. She decides to take him to Animal Rescue Friends, where she meets a girl her age named Bell and decides to volunteer. Bell has a little trouble letting go of control, but eventually the two learn to work together and become friends. A reformed troublemaker named Noah joins the group when he rescues a cat. Over the course of five stories, the kids work together to take care of all kinds of animals and help them find new homes. Includes 20+ pages about comics and how to create them. 160 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: If you’re a teacher who worked through the pandemic, you’re probably familiar with Epic!, a website where kids can read books online. Apparently, they’ve started publishing some of their original works as paper books, including this one, billed as Book 1. True to the Epic! spirit, it’s a high-interest graphic novel about kids helping animals, so sure to appeal to all kinds of readers.
Cons: Animal Rescue Friends appears to have one adult working there, with 11-year-old volunteers making up the remainder of the staff; this may not present an accurate picture of how animal shelters actually work.
Summary: Alex and his dad are moving back to his grandparents’ house to modernize their Filipino market and try to expand the business. Alex’s passion is making slime, and he is thrilled to find other kids at his new middle school who share this hobby, including a girl who becomes his main rival in a slime war. Slime is strictly forbidden at school, so all their endeavors have to be done sneakily to avoid getting caught with the contraband substance. Meanwhile, Alex’s dad, a former athletic star, is pressuring Alex to play soccer, a sport that he both dislikes and fears. Something else Alex fears is speaking up for himself, but as the stakes get higher at school and at home, he learns the importance of advocating for himself and for what he believes is right. 288 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: The short chapters, eye-catching cover, and highly relatable situations make this an appealing choice for all kinds of readers. It would make an excellent book club selection.
Cons: Although there were several lists of slime ingredients, no amounts were given. A few recipes at the end would have been nice.
Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Summary: “From land to land, brave travelers arrive with hopes, dreams, skills, and determination.” The lyrical text and illustrations of this book celebrate the immigrants who have come to the United States, and the Statue of Liberty that welcomes them. The gifts that people bring in terms of skills, languages, and cultures are recognized, as are the harder truths that people have not always been made to feel welcome. “The long, bitter story of the US” is also acknowledged, including “stealing land from Native people, bringing enslaved captives all the way from Africa, and then seizing a huge part of Mexico.” The final image, though, is of Lady Liberty’s torch, and the book concludes on this hopeful note. Includes notes from the author and illustrator about their personal experiences of immigration. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would make an excellent introduction to immigration, with poet Margarita Engle’s text and Raúl Colón’s colored pencil illustrations depicting so many different nationalities coming to the US. While some hard truths are acknowledged, the tone is basically hopeful and celebratory.
Cons: A list of additional resources would have made this even more useful for older kids.