Summary: Clara spends a summer on the Standing Rock reservation with her unci (grandmother) and cousin Juniper. Both live there, as does Uncle Louie, who frequently comes to visit. They set up a tipi where they learn traditions, spend time with family, and add spirit pictures of the cousins to the other artwork that decorate the walls. Clara watches unci make a beautiful beaded dress, which turns out to be a gift for Clara when her parents come to pick her up. Plans are made to return in the fall so that Clara can dance in the powwow wearing her new dress. Includes a two-page author’s note with photos, providing additional information about the tipi.. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: There’s a lot of information about Lakota culture and contemporary life on the reservation packed into this story. Clara’s family seems warm and loving, and her summer is lots of fun while also connecting her with her heritage.
Cons: The text is small, and the story is long, making this perhaps a better choice for older elementary kids.
Summary: Ever since a bully called him fat in fourth grade, Will has been extremely self-conscious about his body. He dresses in baggy clothes and often eats when he is depressed. When he meets new kid and cool skateboarder Markus, he hopes to make a new friend. In a desperate attempt to slim down, Will cuts way back on his eating, eventually fainting at school due to lack of food. This crisis leads to some honest conversations with his parents and with Markus, and Will begins to get the help that he needs. Although not every day is a good way, talking to a therapist and getting support from Markus and his parents helps Will to begin to accept himself and focus on good health rather than his weight. 368 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: This novel-in-verse is formatted to look like Will’s journal and sketchbook (he’s a talented artist) and makes for a quick read despite the 300+ page length. It’s great to see a middle grade novel tackling issues of eating disorders and body dysmorphia in boys, and Will’s honest voice and expressive drawings will quickly draw readers in.
Cons: I was bummed that Markus moved away at the end.
Summary: Ellie Engle has always been content to be in the background, enjoying her comic books and supporting her best friend (and secret crush) Abby, who prefers being in the spotlight. When a freak earthquake gives Ellie necromancy superpowers, she desperately wants to hide them. But after accidentally bringing the frog she’s supposed to dissect in science class back to life, her secret is out, and she becomes an unwilling celebrity. Her fame leads her to discover who her true friends are, a list that, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to include Abby. When Ellie discovers that an old family friend has a similar superpower, she starts to learn how to control that power and use it for good. She may not want to be in the spotlight, but Ellie begins to find a way to negotiate her new life as a superhero. 288 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Ellie’s voice has plenty of humor, and readers will relate to her journey of self-discovery, not only as a reluctant superhero, but as a queer Black girl just beginning to figure out who she is.
Summary: Jackie Ormes loved drawing from an early age and captured her dreams of adventure through her art. After high school, she took a job as a freelance reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper, and eventually created the cartoon character Torchy Brown, a fashionable nightclub star who moved from the South to Harlem. Torchy made people laugh but also addressed issues like racism and segregation. When Jackie and her husband moved to Chicago, Torchy’s run ended, and Jackie had the opportunity to formally study art for the first time in her life. Several years later, she returned to the world of comics with Patty-Jo, a six-year-old girl who spoke out about current events, and who would become Jackie’s most famous creation. Includes additional information about Jackie Ormes and Patty-Jo, including a photo of the Patty-Jo doll, described as “America’s first upscale Black play doll,” an author’s note, and a list of selected sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: A fun and insightful look at cartoonist Jackie Ormes’s life, with illustrations inspired by Jackie’s work, and an emphasis on the theme of the perseverance that led to her success. Kids will relate to Jackie’s love of art and her determination to be successful and make a difference.
Cons: The story ends shortly after World War II, and Jackie died in 1985; like another recent biography of Ormes, this doesn’t tell much about the second half of her life.
Summary: After New York City’s elevated railroad became obsolete, a group of neighbors saw the possibility of turning the tracks into a park. They held a competition to generate ideas and chose a proposal that created a space inspired by the old railroad. The short section that was built was immediately popular, drawing both locals and tourists, and resulted in the “High Line effect” with new businesses opening nearby. An unfortunate downside was the gentrification that made it difficult for the original residents to afford the new neighborhood, and when similar parks were built in other cities, efforts were made to mitigate this effect. Today, the High Line continues to thrive in New York City and in other places around the world that were inspired by the original. Includes an author’s note, a timeline, a selected bibliography, and endpapers showing places in the park. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: You’ll want to head for NYC after reading this fascinating introduction to the High Line and the similar parks it’s inspired, with colorful watercolor illustrations that capture the construction process and the beautiful finished result. I liked that the author included the issue of gentrification that has been addressed but not completely remedied.
Summary: Readers are invited to find patterns in nature, beginning with simple ones like spots (a ladybug and a guinea fowl feather) and stripes (a skunk and a sunflower seed). The patterns become increasingly complex, moving on to mirror and radial symmetry, branching, and collective motion. Each type is accompanied by one or two illustrations that show the pattern in nature. The final spread of a flower garden invites the reader to look for the different patterns that have just been introduced. 36 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A simple but thorough introduction to patterns that will have kids recognizing them in everyday life. The beautiful graphics make this an eye-catching addition to STEM collections.
Cons: I know the Oxford comma is optional, but I would have made the title Wings, Waves, & Webs.
Summary: Dazzle the unicorn is purchased by a woman who’s expecting her first grandchild, but when she finds out the baby is a boy, she winds up selling Dazzle at a yard sale. He’s purchased by Annie the librarian, who runs a program called Book Buddies, where kids can check stuffed animals out of the library for two weeks. Although Dazzle’s greatest wish is to be part of a family, he finds that he enjoys visiting kids for short periods and hanging out with his library family in between. When new girl Maya brings him home, he learns some important lessons about friendship and comes to have a greater appreciation for his new life, realizing that maybe his wish has come true in an unexpected fashion. 66 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: Although I am virtually positive that I read the first book in this series last year, it somehow didn’t make it onto my blog, so here’s my review of book #3. It’s a cute illustrated early chapter book series with loveable stuffed animals who get to interact with a variety of kids and is sure to appeal to early elementary readers.
Cons: The early days of Dazzle’s life were kind of heartbreaking.
Summary: Before making contact with Europeans, indigenous people had technologies to assist them with communication, transportation, agriculture, health care, and more. While these innovations were designed to help people, they were created in ways that didn’t hurt the environment. As their lands were increasingly taken over, they often hid these technologies, but today, as the author says, they are often hidden in plain sight: when we eat maple sugar, paddle a kayak, or marvel at astronomical wonders. The text is divided into eleven chapters, with a final chapter that looks at how indigenous knowledge can help create a sustainable future. Each chapter has activities to let kids try some samples of the technologies written about. Includes a map showing cultural areas and peoples referenced, a glossary, a list of contemporary indigenous science organizations, a bibliography, source notes, and an index. 272 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: This meticulously researched, engagingly written book provides a fascinating look at indigenous technology, some of which we can see around us today. Anyone curious about indigenous history or creating a sustainable future will find something of interest here, and the activities make this an excellent text to use for STEM curriculum.
Cons: The book is pretty text heavy, with some black and white photos. I felt like color photos and a more engaging layout would have made it more appealing to a wider audience.
Summary: Maribel tells about her first year in the U.S. after moving from the Philippines with her mother. Papa is still back home, and Maribel misses both him and her home. English is confusing, and the cold, snowy weather feels unfamiliar. But as the year goes on, there’s the promise of a new friend and exciting new experiences like learning to ride a bike, swimming at the beach, and trick-or-treating. By the time the snow falls again, it’s time for Papa to join them, and final pages see the family celebrating Christmas together. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Maribel tells her story in verse with slightly muted illustrations showing her experiences. The ups and downs of the immigrant experiences are well expressed, and readers will enjoy sharing the year with Maribel.
Cons: I was curious to know if this is based on a real-life family, but there was no author’s note.
Summary: Johannes is a wild dog who lives in a park populated by other animal friends: a brave and loyal seagull, a group of bright raccoons who are proud of their opposable thumbs, a squirrel who sees more with one eye than most animals do with two, and three wise bison. Johannes can run fast–he estimates that he sometimes surpasses the speed of sound, maybe the speed of light–and he becomes the Eyes of the park, keeping the bison informed about what is going on. A couple of misadventures including a dognapping and the rescue of a human child bring Johannes to the attention of the park staff, and he begins to fear for his freedom. To take his mind off of that worry, he begins to formulate a seemingly impossible plan: to free the bison, assisted by a herd of goats that has recently been transported to the island. All the animals get in on the escape, and all goes off with a minimum of hitches until the crucial moment of boarding the escape boat, when the bison decide they don’t want to be free. Johannes is invited to escape instead, forcing him to decide between his island family and the chance to start a new life of guaranteed freedom. 256 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: I’m not a big animal fantasy reader, but this book has gotten three starred reviews, so I couldn’t ignore it. I forced myself to start reading and was immediately charmed and engaged by Johannes’s voice, which is simultaneously innocent, wise, and funny. It would be a great choice for an elementary read-aloud or book club, and I certainly hope it will receive some Newbery consideration. The writing is so, so good, and Shawn Harris’s paintings of Johannes perfectly capture his spirit and island home.
Cons: I had my fingers crossed that the constantly maligned ducks would have a moment of redemption during the escape, but they remained the butt of all the other animals’ jokes.