Because of You, John Lewis: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Tybre Faw grew up learning Black history and was particularly inspired by John Lewis.  In 2018, at the age of ten, he convinced his grandmothers to take him to Selma to be part of the commemoration of 1965’s Bloody Sunday.  Tybre met John on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the two became friends.  They walked together again in 2019 and in 2020 when John Lewis had been diagnosed with cancer.  Lewis died a few months later, and Tybre was invited to recite one of the senator’s favorite poems, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley at the memorial service.  Includes additional information about both John Lewis and Tybre Faw, a timeline of Lewis’s life, a list of sources and resources for further reading, photos from both the 1960’s and the interactions between John and Tybre, and the text of “Invictus”.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I marvel at the way this book is written, using beautiful poetry and watercolor illustrations to weave together the lives of both John Lewis and Tyre Faw, and showing the intersection between the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.  The back matter adds a lot and gives resources for further exploration.

Cons:  I found it a little difficult to figure out when and at what age Tybre met John; it would have been helpful to me to have those dates included in the timeline.

Tisha and the Blossoms by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Every time Tisha tries to slow down and enjoy something, someone tells her to hurry up: catch the bus to school, go to an assembly, get to lunch, clean up at the end of the day.  When Mom picks her up and says they have to catch another bus, Tisha finally rebels against all the hurrying.  Her mother suggests they walk home instead. As they do, they notice everything around them.  At home, when her father says he has to hurry up and get dinner Mom suggests a picnic.  They eat under a tree, savoring the food and the blossoms that blow off the branches.  “I think my favorite days,” says Tisha, “are full of blossoms and a bit of slowing down!”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A story of mindfulness and slowing down that both kids and adults will relate to and embrace.  The illustrations are gorgeous, especially the big, colorful flowers. 

Cons:  A little more information about mindfulness at the end would have been nice.

Little Houses by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summary:  A girl visiting her grandparents ponders what she sees at the beach with a sense of wonder.  She and her grandmother collect shells, which her grandmother calls little houses.  That makes her wonder about what used to live there, which leads her to think of everything under the sea.  Her grandfather says, “The world is so big and there is so much to know.  And someday you’ll know it all.”  She thinks about all the things she would like to know.  One thing she does know is that she’ll take home all the shells–the little houses–back to her house and keep them on a shelf with all her favorite things.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another beautiful collaboration by the husband and wife team of Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek.  The text and illustrations help foster a sense of wonder and curiosity in young children, and make a perfect story for a summer day.

Cons:  I’m always happy to see a new book by Kevin Henkes, but sometimes I miss Lilly and the rest of the mice.

Rethink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky by Trisha Prabhu

Published by Philomel Books

Summary: After experiencing cyberbullying in middle school, Trisha Prabhu has dedicated herself to stopping online hate.  She offers several stories here of kids’ experiences with the Internet and social media, both bad and good.  Yes, people can post cruel messages online, but they also can use the wide reach of social media to make the world a better place.  At the end of each chapter is an Internet Challenge for kids to practice the skills they’ve learned.  Includes a Digital Citizen Code for kids to sign and a section for educators that has a recap of each chapter and challenge along with lists of skills taught and discussion questions.  175 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent resource for those working with upper elementary and middle school kids to communicate the perils and promises of online life.  The stories are engaging, and the resources at the end will help teachers, parents, and others who work with kids get the most out of them.

Cons:  The tone sometimes made me feel like the author, who is only 21 years old, was trying a little too hard to sound middle-school cool.

The Rainbow Parade by Emily Neilson

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  Emily is traveling with her two moms to the Rainbow Parade.  They see all kinds of people on the train and in the crowds lining the streets, wearing “whatever makes them feel most like themselves.” They wait and wait.  Finally the parade starts, with people marching, juggling, singing, dancing, and chanting.  When they see a banner that says LGBTQ+ Families, Emily’s moms hop over the fence to join them.  Emily feels shy, but her mothers assure her that pride takes practice, and this is the perfect way to get that practice.  Marching with the families is lots of fun, and Emily enjoys seeing families that are similar to her own.  On the train ride home, she declares that she is going to practice pride all year long.  Includes three photos and a note explaining that this story is based on the author’s childhood.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another excellent book for Pride month (or any month) that captures the fun and “be yourself” spirit of a Pride parade while also showing that it can be a little intimidating sometimes to show that pride.

Cons:  I wish there had been a longer author’s note and some resources at the end.

The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights by Archie Bongiovanni, illustrated by A. Andrews and The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places by Falynn Koch

Published by First Second

Summary: These two entries into the History Comics series tell the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that helped bring gay rights into the national spotlight and the history of the National Parks System that helped preserve natural wonders and historical artifacts in the United States.  In The Stonewall Riots, Natalia’s abuela takes teen Natalia and her friends Jax and Rashad back in time to the night of the first protest.  Abuela had a girlfriend at the time, and the three kids, all part of the LGBTQIA+ community, get some lessons about the people and events of that time.  The National Parks features two narrators, a bigfoot and an eagle, who look at the patchwork history of the National Parks System, going all the way back to the early 19th century.  Each book starts with a foreword and includes an author’s note with additional information and resources at the end.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both books make history accessible through the graphic format and the fun narrators (abuela and Bigfoot).  The additional resources at the end make these a good introduction that could lead to further research.

Cons:  I thought this format worked better for a specific incident (Stonewall Riots) than a longer period of time (National Parks).  I could see kids losing interest in such a sprawling history that included so many different people and places.

I’m Not Missing by Kashelle Gourley, illustrated by Skylar Hogan

Published by little bee books

Summary:  A dog explains why he left home to become a “lone wolf”.  Trying to be a good boy all the time, getting dressed up in silly costumes, pooping in public with everyone watching…he’s definitely better off on his own.  But then he sees his owner out walking a new dog. They’re playing, sharing treats, and taking selfies.  It turns out she’s only dog sitting, but the jealousy serves a purpose.  Pretty soon he’s back on the couch, dressed in a pullover sweater, and enjoying some scratches behind the ears.  After all, “relationships are all about compromise.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I could definitely relate to the dog’s struggles between needing people and wanting to be a lone wolf, and I’m guessing others–both kids and adults–will as well.  There’s plenty of sly humor, and a reassuring message about taking a break but returning to those you love.

Cons:  Some of the humor may be a little over the heads of the intended audience.

In the Key of Us by Mariama J. Lockington

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Summary:  Andi and Zora are two of the only Black girls at the prestigious Harmony Music Camp, and they get off to a bad start as bunkmates.  Andi has recently lost her mother in a car accident and carries a guilty secret around her death.  Zora is trying to live up to her parents’ expectations but is starting to think that dance may be her passion more than music.  Andi loves playing the trumpet, but her method of playing mostly by ear doesn’t work very well for the classical style of the camp orchestra, and Zora is assigned to be her mentor.  A friendship slowly grows, and Zora starts to wonder if they might be more than friends.  A climactic scene in which both girls get lost in the woods reveals Andi’s secret about her mom and allows the girls to reveal their feelings for each other.  There are still some issues to be worked out, but both girls head for home feeling a little more confident about who they are.  Includes an author’s note about growing up queer and Black.  354 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A lovely summer romance (with a single kiss and some hand holding) that will resonate with any kid who has ever felt like they don’t belong.  The story is told in alternating voices of the girls, so readers get to gradually see what is going on with each character, both from her own point of view and from others’ perspectives.  Each section ends with a moving poem written in the voice of the camp itself.

Cons:  Death, self-harm, coming to terms with sexuality, bullying, racism: there are a lot of heavy topics dealt with in this book.  To me, though, the author handled them with a deft enough touch to make this an enjoyable summer read.

Free At Last: A Juneteenth Poem written by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic

Published by Union Square Kids

Summary:  This free verse poem begins with the news arriving in Galveston, Texas: the war is over, and “all who live in bondage here shall from now until be free.”  The words and oil paintings depict Black people’s reactions.  Some head for their shacks, which they now declare home; some go to another farm to work “for a pittance and a little plot of space.”  Others pray, dance, or head farther away.  The last few pages depict their descendants celebrating that freedom, right up to the present day.  An author’s note tells how she was introduced to Juneteenth in the 1980’s and wrote this poem, originally published in 2004, and how Juneteenth has gained wider recognition, eventually becoming a national holiday in 2021.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The beautiful words and pictures in this book make it an excellent addition to Juneteenth literature, and a perfect way to observe the holiday.

Cons:  It would have been interesting to get more information about the fate of the different people portrayed in the book, and how their decisions to stay close to home or travel affected their futures.

My Big Book of Outdoors by Tim Hopgood

Published by Candlewick Studio

Summary:  Each of the four seasons is explored with poetry, crafts, and science and nature information.  For instance, here is a sample of the section on spring includes: poems called “Splish-Splash!” and “Rainbow, Rainbow”; what you might find under a rock (illustrated); how to make a chocolate nest; constructing a bug hotel; different types of eggs and feathers; and how to tell a frog and a toad apart.  Everything is illustrated with collage-style illustrations.  128 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A delightful mishmash of seasonal facts, poetry, and crafts with plenty of big, bold, colorful illustrations.  Parents and preschool teachers will find lots of ideas here, but the craft instructions and scientific information are simple and straightforward enough for early elementary kids to enjoy on their own.

Cons:  It’s kind of a big book to haul along on your outdoor explorations.