Grandad’s Pride by Harry Woodgate

Published by little bee books

Summary:  Grandad and Milly from Grandad’s Camper are back for another summer visit.  When Milly discovers Grandad’s old Pride flag in the attic, she gets to hear some reminiscences about how Grandad and the late Gramps traveled around the country in their camper, marching with groups that were calling for equality and respect and making new friends in the process.  When Grandad claims that his partying days are over, Milly convinces him to organize a Pride celebration in his village.  Before long, everyone is getting into the spirit, hanging flags and other decorations, creating book displays, and baking rainbow cakes.  On the big day, Grandad surprises Milly by leading the parade in the camper.  A sudden rainstorm fails to put a damper on the festivities, and the resultant rainbow makes Grandad think Gramps is with them in some way.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This upbeat story with its rainbow-hued illustrations makes a perfect addition to any Pride book list.

Cons:  Having a character say that each color of the Pride flag has a special meaning with no back matter to explain.

Show and Smell (Marshmallow Martians book 1) by Deanna Kent, illustrated by Neil Hooson

Published by Random House Graphic

Summary:  The Marshmallow Martians’ leader, G.L.O.W. (Galactic Learning Online Wizard), introduces them to P.E.E.P. (Polite Extraordinary Earth Portal), which can transport them down to Earth.  Due to a faulty transmission, the Martians believe that the Earth phrase “show and tell” is actually “show and smell,” and they plan a show and smell session for when they return from their trip to Earth.  An amusement park is chosen as the best place to collect smells, and the marshmallows collect odors from onions, shoes, burps, and a skunk.  Back on Planet Moop, the other marshmallows enjoy the show and smell presentation.  Includes instructions for drawing one of the characters (Snug). 72 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Pizza and Taco, Narwhal and Jelly, and other early comics will get a big kick out of the Marshmallow Martians’ antics.

Cons:  If the marshmallows live on Planet Moop, why are they called Martians and not Moopians?

Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Arigon Starr

Published by Kokila

Summary:  The story opens with a key moment of the 1911 World Series: Charles Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics pitching to John Meyers of the New York Giants, who hits a double, then goes on to score the winning run of Game One.  Both Charles and John were from Native Nations, and the book goes back to trace the stories of how each one got to play in the World Series.  Charles grew up on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota before being sent to an Indian boarding school in Philadelphia.  John’s childhood was spent on the Cahuila reservation in California.  Each endured poverty and racism as they pursued their love of baseball and eventually wound up in the major leagues.  Together, they played in nine World Series; Charles was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, and both were inducted into the American Indian Hall of Fame when it opened in 1972.  The book ends with a list of Native MLB players today, and the racism that’s still present with racist team mascots.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and list of sources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A fascinating look at two men who faced hardship and racism throughout their lives but rose above it to become excellent athletes who exemplified sportsmanship and teamwork.

Cons:  Kids I work with seem to have no interest in professional baseball these days.

The Guardian Test (Legends of Lotus Island, book 1) by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Kevin Hong

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  Plum has grown up on her grandparents’ small island farm, so when she unexpectedly gets an invitation to attend Guardian Academy, her life changes dramatically.  The Guardians are an elite group of shapeshifters who keep all the islands safe, and Plum joins the other kids who are trying to pass their first test–learning to transform.  With only a month to prepare, Plum is worried that she isn’t progressing as quickly as her classmates and is tempted when she learns that one of the other girls has found a shortcut to passing the test.  But her love of nature and abilities to communicate with animals and plants serve her well and she moves on with most of her classmates in an adventure to be continued when book 2 comes out in July.  160 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Kids not quite ready for Harry Potter will love this Thai-inspired fantasy about a magical school with some pretty intricate world-building.  The short chapters and illustrations keep things moving along, and readers will be eagerly anticipating Plum’s next adventure.

Cons:  The cover gave me a graphic novel vibe; kids might be surprised to discover that this is a chapter book.

Four Eyes by Rex Ogle, illustrated by Dave Valeza

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Rex’s transition to middle school is a rough one, with his best friend Drew abandoning him for the popular kids and his blurry vision giving him daily headaches and making school work tough.  He finally admits to his mom what’s going on, and the diagnosis that he needs glasses is a blow to both of them.  Rex worries (correctly) that the bullying at school will get worse, while his mom and stepdad can’t afford new glasses and are forced to call Rex’s real dad, who’s something of a bully himself.  As the year goes on, though, Rex makes a new friend who teaches him how to stand up for himself.  Sixth grade ends on a positive note, with the promise of a seventh grade sequel.  224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  The multitude of middle school graphic novel fans will enjoy this new entry that perfectly captures the angst of both family and friend relationships.  Nice to see a boy main character in this type of book.

Cons:  Having read Rex Ogle’s Free Lunch, I know that his family life was much more troubling than what is portrayed here.

Make Way: The Story of Robert McCloskey, Nancy Schön, and Some Very Famous Ducklings by Angela Burke Kunkel, illustrated by Claire Keane

Published by Random House Studio

Summary:  Robert “Bob” McCloskey spent his childhood in Hamilton, Ohio, his active mind and hands always creating.  Nancy Schön spent hers–many years later–in Newton, Massachusetts, where she found solace in working with clay in art class.  Bob moved to Massachusetts to study art, and eventually wrote the classic Make Way for Ducklings.  Nancy struggled with her art for years, receiving one rejection after another, before being inspired to create a sculpture of Bob’s ducklings.  It wasn’t an easy process, but she was finally ready to unveil her project to Bob, who gave it a hesitant seal of approval.  When he saw kids interacting with the ducks, he became more enthusiastic.  The statues were installed in October 1987, and you can visit them in the Boston Public Garden today.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography.  48 pages; ages K-4.

Pros:  A heartwarming story of two artists and the famous book and statues they created, with cozy illustrations that are reminiscent of Robert McCloskey’s books.  

Cons:  There’s a photo of several of the ducks (wearing rainbow sweaters for Pride) with the author’s note, but it would have been nice to include a photo of the entire family.

You Are Here: Connecting Flights edited by Ellen Oh

Published by Allida

Summary:  These twelve short stories are all written by different authors about different Asian Americans kids and their families, but the stories connect to one another.  Everyone is traveling through Chicago’s O’Hare airport on a busy, stormy Fourth of July weekend, with flights delayed and canceled.  Whether they’re traveling to see family, attend a basketball tournament, or move to another country, each protagonist experiences some form of racism or microaggression from a fellow traveler.  Characters from different stories appear throughout the book, often offering support or solidarity as the kids learn to stand up for themselves or their families.  In the final story, Soojin’s mother is ready to move back to Korea after the family store is vandalized with racial slurs, but she eventually sees how much Soojin loves America and how many Americans are kind and supportive, ending the book on a hopeful note.  Includes an editor’s note telling how the book was created and brief biographies of all the writers.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  After Ellen Oh edited the short story collection Flying Lessons, she learned that there wasn’t enough Asian American representation in that book which led to the creation of this one.  It’s a great collection, with thoughtful, interesting characters and situations in stories that can stand alone or be enjoyed as an ensemble.

Cons:  I started to find the similar situations and setting a bit monotonous; I preferred the greater variety of Flying Lessons

Can We Please Give the Police Department to the Grandmothers? by Junauda Petrus, illustrated by Kristen Uroda

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  If we give the police department to the grandmothers, they’ll patrol the streets in solar-powered cars like Corvettes, Jaguars, and Cadillacs, blasting “old school jams” from Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, and Anita Baker.  If you get into trouble, the grandmas will give you a hard look but then take you home and feed you, help you with your homework, practice yoga, and rub your back while you fall asleep.  Grandmothers (some of whom look like grandfathers) “see the pain in our bravado, the confusion in our anger, the depth behind our coldness,” and know how to change people through unconditional love. Includes a playlist on both sets of endpapers. 32 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  This book by writer and activist Junauda Petrus will bring a smile to your face but also make you think about what is lacking in our current society, particularly for young people of color.  Younger kids will enjoy it, but it could also be used as a text for older kids and adults to start a discussion about less harmful ways of policing.

Cons:  Some additional resources would have been useful.

Ancestory: The Mystery and Majesty of Ancient Cave Art by Hannah Salyer

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  All over the world, ancient rock paintings, drawings, and etchings have been discovered.  Who made them?  How did they create the artwork?  This book looks at the answers to some of those questions, showing some of the works and looking at the materials ancient people might have used to make them.  A gatefold spread shows an amazing cave painting illuminated only by the lamps of the people who are looking at it.  The art is part of our “ancestory”–the story of humanity that continues with our own lives.  Includes a site map showing where rock art can be found around the world; the story of the discovery of the Lascaux Caves; an author’s note; a glossary; a timeline; and resources for further investigation.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Budding archaeologists will find this book fascinating and will want to dive into the additional resources to learn more.  The illustrations are gorgeous, using light and dark to highlight the artwork.

Cons:  I was curious to know if the art shown in the illustrations was based on real art and, if so, I wish there had been some labels to tell where it could be found.

Fox Point’s Own Gemma Hopper by Brie Spangler

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Gemma’s dealing with a lot at the beginning of seventh grade:  her mom has recently abandoned the family, leaving Gemma to deal with taking care of her baseball star older brother, twin kid brothers, and her dad who spends most of his time working.  At six feet tall, she can’t hide out at school, and her best friend’s attempts to get in with the popular kids make her feel like a loser.  She loves baseball, but only gets to play when her brother needs batting practice.  Usually, she pitches what he wants, but one day, she’s so fed up that she does her own thing.  Her amazing pitches are captured on camera and go viral, catching the attention of the same scouts who discovered her brother.  Suddenly Gemma is in the spotlight, and she discovers that, while it can be scary, it’s a more exciting place to be than where she’s been hiding.  272 pages; ages 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will be rooting for Gemma as she deals with a family that doesn’t always appreciate her and the usual friend dramas of middle school.  Accepting that her mom is gone helps her to move on, and the last few pages are completely emotionally satisfying.

Cons:  I prefer full-color illustrations.