The Queen of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary:  From the team that brought you The King of Kindergarten comes this companion about MJ Malone, the Queen of Kindergarten.  She’s got a new dress, freshly braided hair, and a sparkly tiara.  Before she sets out for her first day, her mother reminds her that queens are caring, kind, and helpful.  MJ remembers those lessons when she gets to school, helping a girl who is homesick, promising to share her lunch with a boy (“sharing is my jam!”), and enthusiastically participating in every part of school.  That night she reports about her day to her parents, and her mother tells her she’s earned the right to keep the tiara.  32 pages; ages 3-5.

Pros:  It’s never too early to be thinking ahead to first-day-of-school read-alouds, and this book is perfect for those getting ready for kindergarten.  MJ’s enthusiasm and kindness are sure to inspire kids to try their best on their first day of school, and the illustrations make everything look like fun.

Cons:  Art, music, and gym all on the first day of school?  Sounds exhausting.

Who’s Looking? How Animals See the World by Carol Matas, illustrated by Cornelia Li

Published by Orca Book Publishers

Summary:  As two sisters walk through various landscapes, the text and illustrations show how they are seen by different animals.  The first pages show how the younger sister saw the world as a baby and how the nearsighted older sister sees it without her glasses.  Other animals see fewer or more colors than humans, can see things from a greater distance, or have 360-degree vision.  Animals are shown on land, in the water, and flying in the sky.  The author’s note tells how a walk with her grandson inspired the book.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s very cool to see the world as other animals see it, and the illustrations bring this to life, particularly the ones that contrast what the animal sees with what the humans are seeing.  Kids are sure to find this fascinating.

Cons:  Some concepts, like seeing more colors than humans, were a little tricky to show in the illustrations.

Miss Quinces by Kat Fajardo

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Sue (or Suyapa to her family) just wants to draw, go to camp, and hang out with her friends all summer, but her family has other plans: the annual trip to visit relatives back in Honduras.  When they get there, Sue is horrified to learn that her mother has been secretly planning her quinceañera, an event Sue has made clear she does not want.  She reluctantly agrees if her mother lets her go to camp when they get back in the US.  Sue’s abuela encourages Sue by telling her how she kept her sense of style for her own quinceañera.  When Sue finds out her mother forgot to sign her up for camp, the deal is off.  But then abuela passes away, and Sue begins to realize how important her extended family is to her and decides to respect her grandmother by having the quinceañera after all.  She manages to pull off an event that honors her grandmother, keeps the family traditions, and includes her own special flair.  Includes a four-page note with photos about quinceañeras.  252 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Here’s another great graphic novel for Raina fans that shows a loving Latine family with a girl struggling to figure out exactly where she belongs. 

Cons:  I would definitely get this for an elementary library, but a 15-year-old protagonist seems a little old for that audience.

Answers in the Pages by David Levithan

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Donovan is a fifth-grade student whose mother challenges the book his teacher assigns, The Adventurers, because she sees the two main characters as being gay.  Gideon and Roberto are two fifth-grade boys whose friendship turns into something more romantic.  Rick and Oliver are the two main characters in The Adventurers, who, along with their friend Melody, are trying to stop an evil genius from stealing the Doomsday Code.  Each story unfolds in alternating chapters until they come together at an important meeting of the school board to decide the fate of the book.  Includes a three-page author’s note acknowledging the work of other authors who write books about LGBTQIA+ characters (many of whom have characters named for them in the story) as well as the work of those defending challenged books.  176 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This book could hardly be more timely, and I appreciate David Levithan’s nuanced writing about this issue. I liked how Donovan’s mother was able to change her position after an honest conversation with her son.  I totally did not see how the stories were coming together at the end and was delighted by that twist.

Cons:  I was reading this book kind of quickly, and it took me a while to figure out the structure with the three alternating stories.

Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Dave Murray

Published by Groundwood Books

Summary: The first page defines iridescence as “the rainbow-like shimmer seen on some bird feathers, fish scales, insect bodies and more.”  Each two-page spread after that shows a brilliantly-colored illustration of the iridescent animal with a rhyming couplet and a paragraph of additional information.  The final two pages show all the animals.  Includes additional information about iridescence (including the recent discovery of a dinosaur with iridescent feathers) and a list of sources.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The gorgeous illustrations are sure to catch kids’ eyes, and the brief but informative text will have them looking for iridescent animals wherever they go.

Cons:  Apparently there are no iridescent mammals.

Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness by Maria Gianferrari, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Can you be like a dog?  Dogs are always in the present, not the past or the future. They stretch when they wake up, then greet the day and the people they love.   Dogs feel their feelings, then let them go.  They play every day, and sniff deeply wherever they go.  And at the end of the day, dogs notice the night, feel their fatigue, and drop and dream.  Includes lists of ways to use each of your senses on a mindfulness walk and a mindful breathing exercise.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A delightful way to teach mindfulness that kids will easily understand and relate to, with Pete Oswald’s fun dog illustrations providing the visuals.

Cons:  Not everyone lives in a climate where they’ll be able to find the things listed on the mindfulness walk.

Lily Leads the Way by Margi Preus illustrated by Matt Myers

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Lily is a little sailboat who is excited to be greeting a visiting fleet of tall ships.  To get to the harbor, she needs the lift bridge to raise itself and let her through.  She calls out to the bridge, but bigger, louder ships get ahead of her.  She finally makes it through and meets up with the tall ships: a sloop, a schooner, a brig, and a barque.  But none of them has any way to alert the bridge that it needs to let them through again, and it’s up to Lily to find a solution to their dilemma.  Includes an author’s note about lift bridges and her personal experience with sailboats and bridges.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Budding engineers will enjoy seeing all the different types of bridges and ships, and all kinds of kids will appreciate that Lily is the heroine of the story, despite her small size.

Cons:  Some of those big ships were kind of obnoxious.

The First Cat In Space Ate Pizza by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  When scientists on Earth discover that a pack of evil rats is eating away at the moon, they realize they only have three days to fix the problem.  The solution?  Send a microchipped cat to the moon to devour the rats.  Thus begins a series of adventures that involve the Moon Queen, a toenail-clipping robot, and a lot of pizza.  This story started out as a collaboration between former high school classmates Barnett and Harris during the 2020 lockdown, and their original videos can be seen on YouTube.  By the end of the book, the rats seem to have been eliminated, but there is sure to be at least one sequel.  316 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  As I’ve shown again and again, I have pretty lowbrow literary tastes, so this was a lot of fun for me, and I laughed out loud more than once.  Definitely plan to buy multiple copies for any elementary school library. Dog Man fans, rejoice.

Cons:  Don’t forget to fasten your seatbelt. It’s a wild ride.

Growing Pangs by Kathryn Ormsbee, illustrated by Molly Brooks

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Kathryn Ormsbee’s memoir begins the summer before sixth grade when Katie and her best friend Kacey are going off to camp for a week.  Katie feels like a bit of an oddball as a homeschooled kid with red hair, crooked teeth, and a secret about the obsessive thoughts she sometimes has when she’s feeling anxious.  Camp turns out to be good, though, except that Kacey starts acting cold when Katie makes a new friend.  Katie hopes that things will get better when their homeschool co-op starts up again, but the two friends seem to be moving in different directions.  On top of that, Katie learns she has to have dental surgery and her obsessive thoughts are getting worse.  A chance to act in a local theater production and a couple of new friends help the situation, but things really start to improve when she’s forced to tell her parents about her anxiety.  The last page sees Katie about to walk into a therapist’s office where she feels hopeful that she can get some help.  Includes an author’s notes with photos from her childhood and an artist’s note showing how she developed the art.  250 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another one for Raina fans that even deals with some similar topics (dental difficulties, anxiety).  Katie is a character many kids will relate to as she navigates the ups and downs of friendships and the beginnings of puberty.  I loved how the artist portrayed Katie’s OCD thoughts with buzzing bees, and I also loved the support that Katie’s parents showed when they finally found out what was going on with her.

Cons:  I was so curious to know how the therapist appointment went.  I hope we get a sequel.