Summary: Annabelle’s not super excited about starting sixth grade. It’s her last year at the Lab School, where she knows her other classmates a little too well after six years in school together. But this year begins to look different when a new student named Bailey walks into the classroom. Bailey is nonbinary, and Annabelle is fascinated by them. The two become friends, and Annabelle finds herself hoping it will turn into something more. When Annabelle brings Bailey home, she’s dismayed by her parents’ cool reaction to them. Later, her parents reveal that her dad is a trans man, and Annabelle’s world turns upside down. With the help of Bailey and their parents, Annabelle and her family start to become part of the LGBTQ+ community, allowing them to learn more about themselves and to live more genuine lives. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Newbery honoree Kyle Lukoff has created another heartwarming story that explores the lives of LGBTQ+ kids and their families and friends. Bailey and Annabelle have to deal with a classmate (aptly named Dixon), his mother, and a wishy-washy principal who work to keep any LGBTQ+ discussion out of the classroom, and readers will get some insights on how to deal with that issue.
Cons: Bailey and their parents seemed a little too good to be true, and sometimes seemed to exist just to educate Annabelle and her family.
Summary: Jen and her family continue the story started in Stepping Stones. She and her mom have settled into the routine of life on Peapod Farm with her mother’s boyfriend Walter. Walter’s daughters Andy and Reese visit on the weekends. Fall brings the beginning of middle school and a job for Andy and Jen helping to set up a haunted hayride at a neighboring farm. The owner’s nephew Eddie is also working there, and even though he and Jen have a lot of common interests, Andy has a crush on him. Jen doesn’t understand all the fuss made about romance and runs into even more issues with this when she becomes friends at school with a boy named Ollie. Like it or not, romance is part of middle school life, and Jen has to learn to both deal with it and to speak up for herself and what she wants in her own life. Includes several pages at the end in which Lucy shares incidents from her childhood that influenced this book. 208 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Another fun graphic novel about a middle school girl that does a great job capturing family and friendship dynamics. The fall setting makes this a perfect back-to-school book.
Cons: While I would no longer describe Walter as verbally abusive (as I did in my review of book 1), he still presents as an insensitive dunderhead.
Summary: 11-year-old Dawn has recently been sexually assaulted by her 22-year-old cousin. When the story opens, she has just told her mother and sibling Billie. Everyone has different reactions. Dawn sometimes feels like she has left her body and is looking down on herself; she also misses the close relationship she had with her cousin and is struggling to come to terms with what he has done to her. Billie is angry and says they want to kill their cousin. Dawn’s mother is sad, angry, and glad that Dawn has told her what happened; she also signs herself up for a self-defense class. When Mom tells her mother and the cousin’s parents what has happened, they don’t believe her and say that Dawn is just trying to get attention. Dawn is fortunate to have caring and understanding people in her life who are determined to end the legacy of abuse that has also affected them. By the end of the story, Dawn has started to find people and resources to help her heal. Includes several pages of resources and discussion questions at the beginning and end for kids who have experienced sexual abuse or know someone who has. 96 pages; grades 3-8.
Pros and cons: Although this was a difficult book to read and review, I recognize it is an important resource for kids who have experienced sexual abuse and the family members, counselors, and others who are trying to help them. The story is told in a format similar to a journal, with a font that looks like handwriting and art created from collage and Spirograph drawings (more on those in the back matter). The story itself shows a wide range of emotions and reactions to the abuse, and the resources and discussion questions add another empathetic layer.
Summary: Although Sai comes from an impoverished background, she’s managed to hide it and secure a coveted position as mapmaker Paiyoon’s assistant. When Paiyoon is invited by the Queen to join an expedition that may lead to the discovery of the legendary Sunderlands, he invites Sai, who hopes to use the opportunity to improve her fortunes when she returns home. On board, Sai meets a cast of fascinating characters including the mysterious Rian, whose rags-to-riches story Sai hopes to emulate, and a stowaway named Boo. As they approach the part of the world rumored to hold both the Sunderlands and dragons, life on board starts to fall apart. Storms, near-mutiny, and a close encounter with a dragon leave Sai and Boo stranded on a desert island. But fortunes change, and a series of surprises lead Sai to some startling discoveries about both her past and her present and to the realization that she can be herself and still have the future she dreams of. 369 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: This absorbing fantasy will have readers turning pages to find out what happens to the many fascinating and well-drawn characters who make the voyage along with Sai. Christina Soontornvart picked up two Newbery honors in 2021, and with multiple starred reviews, this book is sure to be a contender.
Cons: I read in the reviews that this story is based on Soontornvart’s Thai heritage. I would have enjoyed an author’s note explaining that influence in greater detail.
Summary: A young boy and his parents leave their home in the city to drive to his grandparents’ more rural house. As soon as they arrive, he and his dog head off into the woods to explore. They’re delighted to find a lake with a dock, and the boy dives in. Down, down he goes into the water, where he comes face to face with a fish. The last page shows him and his dog stretched out on the dock in the sun. 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A magical wordless picture book that emphasizes the importance of slowing down…both to enjoy nature in the story and to take in all the details in each illustration. The pictures are mostly black and white with touches of blue and gold. Most of the story feels realistic, but the underwater scenes have hints of fantasy to them.
Cons: I was thinking that this book should be considered for a Caldecott until I realized that the author-illustrator lives in South Korea.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: A boy struggles between forces of light and darkness in his life, starting with his feelings when his father leaves each day for work and when his mother gets sick and has to go away on his seventh birthday. His father tells him to always “leave room for that rainbow to find you. Broken is beautiful.” The boy discovers the rainbow through music, but the magical feeling doesn’t last long. He’s tempted into trouble by a group of friends known as the South Side Bandits, and before long they’re taking joy rides on the ice cream truck. One day they decide to break into the rec center. While his friends are trashing the place, the boy discovers a piano and sits down to play. “The sounds became music, and the music changed into colors. The rainbow had found him. And then that feeling lasted forever.” Includes an author’s note citing the influences of Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and Quincy Jones on this story. 48 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: Bryan Collier’s beautiful collage illustrations illuminate this story of a boy trying to find his way through difficult times. I’m excited that I may actually get to meet Bryan Collier today at the Eric Carle Museum’s Collage Day!
Cons: I found the story a little confusing, and I think that younger kids would definitely need some guidance to understand what’s going on.
Summary: Yoshi is a young, injured sea turtle when she is rescued by fishermen and sent to an aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa. She thrives there, growing and swimming in a giant tank for twenty years, until she starts to display some restlessness. The scientists want to return her to the wild, but they’re worried that she won’t be able to survive. They attach a tracking device to her shell before releasing her back into the ocean. At first her travels seem random, but eventually she starts heading east. In February 2020, more than two years after her release, Yoshi completed a 25,000-mile journey to reach the Australian waters where she was born. Includes a labeled map with additional information about Yoshi’s journey, a labeled diagram of a sea turtle, and additional information about turtles, their habitat, and tracking devices. 64 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: The beautiful watercolor illustrations do an amazing job of portraying Yoshi and her ocean environment. I liked how the repeated refrain “Hello from Yoshi. I am here” showed how the tracking device helped scientists follow her journey. There’s a ton of excellent back matter which makes this a great research book.
Cons: I found Yoshi’s lengthy journey a bit monotonous at times. Maybe she did too.
Summary: Catalina’s a bit disappointed to receive a sewing kit from her Tía Abuela for her birthday. Usually Tía, a former telenovela star who is also named Catalina, gives more exciting gifts. For their first sewing lesson, Tía shows Cat how to fix her torn cat sweatshirt. Later, Cat realizes the sweatshirt can temporarily transform her into a cat. It turns out the sewing kit has magic in it that can change ordinary clothing into disguises. Becoming a cat comes in handy when a ruby goes missing from one of Tía’s most famous gowns on display at the local library. Cat and her frenemy Pablo combine forces to solve the mystery. This is the first of a four-part series, simultaneously released with book 2 (there’s a preview at the end of this book). Books 3 and 4 will be out later this year. 114 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: There’s a lot going on in this early chapter book: magic, a mystery, and a few lessons about perseverance. The illustrations and larger font make it an appealing choice for younger kids.
Cons: The mystery didn’t start until about halfway through the book and wrapped up pretty quickly. I hope Pablo gets a bigger role in book 2.
Summary: “City summer, steamy sidewalks/concrete crumbles, sirens screech.” Walking through the city with his owner, this dachshund is truly a hot dog! Finally, he goes on strike, lying down in the middle of a busy street. His owner scoops him up, hails a taxi, and heads to the train. Before he knows it, the dog is cooling off on “an island…wild and long and low.” The two have a refreshing afternoon there before heading back to the city where dusk has brought a welcome coolness. Time for dinner and then “ready to leap into a deep ocean sleep” where he dreams about the seal he met on the beach. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: An idyllic summer book where the illustrations perfectly capture the sweltering heat of the summer and the cool relief of a trip to the beach. The words and illustrations transition from short phrases and hot colors to longer descriptions and cooler colors. Not to be ruled out for Caldecott recognition.
Cons: These two take a day trip from what appears to be New York City on a sweltering summer day to an island that appears to be populated only by seals, so we must definitely classify the story as a fantasy.
Summary: Kip Tiernan learned about helping others as a child growing up during the Great Depression. Her grandmother used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and would feed anyone who came to the door for a meal. In the 1960’s Kip gave up her advertising business to help the poor. While working in shelters, she saw that women had to disguise themselves as men to get a meal and a bed. Noticing how many homeless women there were on the streets, she became determined to find a way to help them. In 1974, she opened Rosie’s Place, the first homeless shelter in the country just for women. Over the years she expanded the services offered there to help women become self-sufficient. The book concludes with a story of Kip riding on a bus many years after starting Rosie’s Place. The bus driver pulled over to thank her, stating that he would not have had food to eat as a child if it hadn’t been for her. Includes additional information about Kip Tiernan and a list of quotations from her. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: An inspiring story of a woman who worked tirelessly to provide the services she envisioned, and who truly saw the humanity of every individual.
Cons: The story is a bit long to use as a read-aloud for younger kids.