More Than Peach: Changing the World…One Crayon at a Time by Bellen Woodard, illustrated by Fanny Liem

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  When Bellen Woodard noticed that her classmates were using the term “skin-colored” when asking for a peach crayon, she felt confused.  Her mom suggested she hand them the brown crayon instead, but that didn’t feel right either.  She decided to ask them what color they wanted because skin “can be any number of beautiful colors”.  Her friends appreciated the reminder, so she kept going, changing the language in her classroom, her school, and, eventually, the larger world.  The last five pages tell the history of Bellen’s More than Peach Project and give kids steps for creating their own campaigns.  40 pages; grades K-3.  

Pros:  This inspiring story tells how one young girl made a difference in her community and beyond and gives readers good advice, from one kid to another, about how they can become activists.

Cons:  I liked the part of the back matter written in Bellen’s voice, but the page giving her history read like it was written by a proud parent.

What Is Math? by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

Published by Christy Ottaviano Books

Summary:  Rhyming text and lively illustrations show the many ways that math is used in everyday life from cooking to making change to building a house.  Many mathematical concepts are introduced including counting, measuring, comparing, geometry, money, and patterns.  The illustrations show lots of busy children using math in a variety of activities which may better answer the question of how math is used than what math is.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A spirited introduction to math for preschool and early elementary kids.  It would be fun to spend some time brainstorming about how math is used before reading this book.  There are not enough math picture books in the world, and this is a good addition to that limited collection.

Cons:  I wanted to weep when I reached the last page and discovered there was no back matter.

High Score by Destiny Howell

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  DJ’s trying to make a fresh start after transferring to a new middle school, but when his former best friend Conor shows up, he starts to slip back into his old ways.  In his first few days of school, Conor manages to antagonize Lucky, the kid who runs the school with his enormous stash of Starcade tickets, the middle school currency.  Lucky threatens to turn Conor into a social pariah unless he and DJ can come with 100,000 tickets in two weeks.  It’s an impossible task, but DJ and Conor have pulled off some pretty amazing feats in the past.  They need a team, though, and DJ recruits a couple of unlikely new friends with unique skills.  A huge Starcade birthday party, a nasty manager who’s a stickler for the rules, dumpsters full of tickets surrounded by a barbed wire fence…what could possibly go wrong?  297 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Gordon Korman and Varian Johnson will enjoy this funny, fast-paced story that features four interesting middle school characters outsmarting just about everyone as they pull off a magnificent stunt.

Cons:  Pay close attention or you may get confused by all the plot twists and turns.

The Notebook Keeper A Story of Kindness from the Border/La guardiana de la libreta: Una historia de bondad desde la frontera by Stephen Briseño, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Published by Random House Studio

Summary:  Home is different now for Noemí.  Her papá is gone, and the streets are unsafe.  Her mamá tells her they have to go on a long journey.  After many days, joined by many others, they reach the border, but they’re not allowed to cross.  The man there says they have to find the notebook keeper so she can enter their names.  That’s how they meet Belinda, a kind woman who keeps track of everyone in camp, so they know when their number has been called to go across the border.  Weeks go by, and Noemí struggles with the wait and the living conditions, but she tries to be kind to the younger kids.  Then Belinda’s number is called, and it’s time to find a new notebook keeper.  She chooses “someone with generosity in their heart and kindness in their soul”: Noemí and her mamá.  Includes an author’s note, a photo of a real notebook keeper, and a list of sources.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A simple but powerful story of the difficulties of being a refugee and the importance of kindness in even the most trying times.  The beautiful illustrations help tell the story.

Cons:  It would have added some authenticity to have more Spanish words in the English version of the story.

Rewilding: Bringing Wildlife Back Where It Belongs by David A. Steen, illustrated by Chiara Fedele

Published by Neon Squid

Summary:  Humans have done much to damage or eliminate the populations of so many animals; rewilding seeks to reverse some of that damage by introducing animals raised in captivity to the wild or relocating a wild animal population.  This book looks at dozens of animals, giving each a two-page spread with information about a rewilding project (including successes and failures) and plenty of illustrations.  Other pages address wider questions like why animals go extinct and how scientists measure the success of a rewilding project.  Includes information on what kids can do, a glossary, and an index.  80 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  It’s refreshing to find a book that offers at least some glimmers of hope and optimism amidst our current global crises.  The writing and the illustrations are engaging, and the last couple pages offer readers some concrete actions to take.

Cons:  Each story was so interesting that two pages didn’t seem enough to cover it.

Berry Song by Michaela Goade

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A girl learns from her grandmother how to find food in nature: herring eggs and seaweed from the ocean and most of all, berries from the forest.  They list them as they go: blueberry, cranberry, soapberry, cloudberry. They sing and give thanks–gunalchéesh in the Tlingit language–to the Earth for providing food.  Back at home, the whole family pitches in to make a feast from the berries: huckleberry pie, strawberry crisp, jellies, and jams.  Seasons come and go, and on the last page the girl is leading her younger sister to the forest to teach her about gathering berries.  Includes a two-page author’s note about her Tlingit heritage and giving further information about each part of Grandmother’s wisdom: we speak to the land and the land speaks to us; we take care of the land and the land takes care of us; we are part of the land the and the land is part of us.  The berries are shown in photos with their Tlingit names and on the endpapers with both Tlingit and English identification.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Caldecott medalist Michaela Goade will surely be considered for more awards to honor this gorgeous book that celebrates her Tlingit heritage and stewardship of the Earth.

Cons:  After the mouthwatering descriptions of foods made from all the different berries, I would have enjoyed a recipe.

Lumberjackula by Mat Heagerty, illustrated by Sam Owen

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Jack’s ready to pick a secondary school, but he’s torn between following in his lumberjack mom’s bootsteps or choosing the eerier path of his vampire dad.  He tries out both of their alma maters, but neither feels like a great fit.  When he accidentally stumbles upon a school for dancers, it seems perfect for his talents, but he’s afraid he’ll disappoint his parents.  Finally, a wise teenage manatee rescues Jack from a near-drowning and gives him some good advice about being himself.  He finally gets up the courage to tell his parents what he wants, and they proudly cheer him on to become a great dancer.  152 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Elementary kids will happily snap up this quirky graphic novel with lots of fun characters and a good “be yourself” message.

Cons:  There wasn’t a lot of suspense since it was pretty evident early on what Jack’s decision was going to be.

How Old Is Mr. Tortoise? by Dev Petty illustrated by Ruth Chan

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Mr. Tortoise knows it’s his birthday, he knows he wants to eat cake with his friends, but he doesn’t know how old he is.  His friends try to help him calculate by counting sections of his shell, quizzing him about his early memories, and looking at a photo of him on a previous birthday.  They’re finally able to arrive at a number that seems accurate: 115.  It’s too many candles to put on the cake, so Mr. Tortoise decides to light one for every friend who’s there to help him celebrate.  He blows out the candles and makes a wish…for more cake.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  This comic-inspired picture book is a happy celebration of birthdays, friendship, cake, and creative problem-solving.

Cons:  I’m not convinced that 115 is the Mr. Tortoise’s correct age.


The Secret Battle of Evan Pao by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Evan and his mother and sister have recently relocated from California to a small town in Virginia.  His dad was involved in a financial scandal that led to his arrest, and the family is trying to start over.  Things are different in Virginia, where Evan’s sixth-grade teacher leads Battlefield Day every year to teach about the U.S. Civil War.  There’s plenty of Confederacy pride among his classmates, particularly Brady, a bully who makes racist comments to Evan.  Evan surprises many–even himself–when he learns that Chinese Americans fought in the Civil War, and this discovery helps him feel more a part of the community.  He still has to deal with Brady, though, a relationship that becomes more fraught after Brady is accused of firing a rifle shot into the Pao house.  When Evan’s dog goes missing, though, Brady proves to be a surprising ally, and both boys discover that people are not always what they seem.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A compelling story that is told from many different points of view in a way that reminded me of some of Gordon Korman’s books.  The many interesting issues and characters (including Evan, who is sensitive to the point of having an almost psychic ability to tell when someone is lying) would make this a great choice for a book club or class discussion.

Cons:  I was hoping for some more resolution around the storyline with Evan’s dad
.