Nana, Nenek, & Nina by Liza Ferneyhough

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  Nina’s grandmothers live a world away: Nana is in England and Nenek is in Malaysia.  Nina and her family are in San Francisco, so they fly toward the rising sun to get to Nana and toward the setting sun for visits to Nenek.  Nina compares the two homes: there are different toys, languages, clothes, climates, and food.  When Nina’s at home, she misses her grandmothers; when she’s visiting one, she misses home.  But no matter what, Nana and Nenek love her visits and both are good at tucking her into bed each night.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A loving and kid-friendly description of what it’s like to grow up with families from two different cultures.  Both the text and the illustrations do a great job of comparing and contrasting.

Cons:  A map to show the three different locations would have been helpful.

Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten illustrated by Garry Meeches Sr. 

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  Maple and Quill love visiting N8hkumuhs (pronounced NOO-kuh-mus), their grandmother, and hearing her stories.  One story she tells is of Weeâchumun (corn), and how she and her sisters Beans and Squash helped new people who came to their land.  They sent dreams to the First People to alert them of the newcomers’ plight, and the people sent Ousamequin and Tisquantum to greet them and show them how to plant corn, beans, and squash.  When there was a successful harvest, the First People and the new people celebrated together with a three-day feast.  “Many Americans call it a day of thanksgiving,” concludes N8hkumuhs.  “Many of our people call it a day of mourning.” Includes a glossary and introduction at the beginning and additional information about the Wampanoag tribes, storytelling tradition, harvest feasts, and tradition of giving thanks at the end, as well as a recipe and a photo of the real Maple and Quill.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An excellent addition to Thanksgiving collections that gives the Wampanoag perspective and includes some good information in the back matter.  The illustrations beautifully portray various animals and the spirits of the Three Sisters.

Cons:  Kids might need some help with the transition between the opening scene with N8hkumuhs, Maple, and Quill and the main story. I was confused until I realized that the weeâchumun (corn) that N8hkumuhs mentioned was the same as Weeâchumun, the spirit of corn and the protagonist of N8hkumuhs’ story.

Flipping Forward Twisting Backward by Alma Fullerton

Published by Peachtree

Summary:  Claire can master any gymnastic skill she puts her mind to, but school is another matter.  Reading and writing are just about impossible for her, no matter how hard she tries, and she often acts out due to her frustration.  During one of her frequent trips to the vice-principal’s office, she makes a chance remark that leads him to believe that she may have a learning disability.  Her mother refuses to believe that anything’s wrong, fearing that a label will limit Claire’s chances for success in school, and it takes a near-crisis to convince her to let Claire get tested.  The last few pages see Claire flying through her gymnastics routine with a newfound optimism that things will improve in her academic life as well.  135 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This novel in verse is a quick read that sympathetically portrays a character with dyslexia.  It’s written in a font designed for children learning to read.  The short length and relatable characters and storyline would make it a great choice for an elementary book club. I’ve added it to my newly-updated list of book club suggestions for grades 2-4.

Cons:  The ending felt a bit rushed.

Everything In Its Place: A Story of Books and Belonging by Pauline David-Sax, illustrated by Charnelle Pinkney Barlow

Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Nicky prefers helping out in the library to joining the other kids at recess.  When Ms. Gilliam tells her she’s going to a week-long conference, Nicky starts to feel anxious about having to go outside for recess.  After school, she hangs out at her mom’s cafe, where one of her favorite customers is Maggie, a woman who is fearless about being herself and riding a motorcycle.  The weekend before the library conference, Maggie comes in with a group of women she calls her “motorcycle sisters”.  They don’t look like sisters, but they eat and laugh together in a way that Nicky admires.  On Monday, Nicky sits against the wall at recess reading a book of poetry that Maggie gave her.  A girl walks over to her and tells her that she loves poetry.  Nicky remembers something Maggie told her about taking a risk, and she replies, “Me too.”  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An understated story about taking risks and finding your people.  I love the illustrations which include elements of collage including library stuff.

Cons:  I wish the poem Nicky reads (“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver) had been included.  Also, Nicky’s question “Who needs recess when you can reshelve books?” hit a little too close to home.

I Want to Be a Vase by Julio Torres, illustrated by Julian Glander

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A cityscape of skyscrapers is shown, each with many square windows.  The illustrations zoom in on the one round window, eventually entering the apartment where “I have something to say.”  It’s the toilet plunger.  “I want to be a vase.”  The bathtub, toilet, and sink argue back that it’s impossible, but the plunger is determined.  It heads down the hall to the kitchen, where it rubber bands a bunch of flowers around its handle, and voila, it’s a vase!  The vacuum is horrified, but the pot is inspired to become a trash can.  The trash can, it turns out, wants to be a couch cushion.  Before long, everyone’s switching up identities.  When the hair dryer announces it wants to be a vacuum, the vacuum is horrified but comes around when it sees how much faster it can get its work done.  Even the book itself gets in on the act, asking readers on the last page if it can be a hat.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros: This book is definitely original, both in the story and the art, created by a former Saturday Night Live writer and a Disney/Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network animator.  Kids will love the humor and the illustrations, and it’s impossible to miss the “be who you are” message.

Cons:  I have enough trouble with kids balancing library books on their heads without the books themselves inviting readers to wear them like hats.

Updated book lists

I’ve just finished adding books from the past year to my book lists. Some lists that may be of particular interest during the next couple of months include:

Back to School


Food and eating (Thanksgiving is November 24)

Hispanic Heritage (Hispanic Heritage month is from September 15 – October 15)

Indigenous Americans (Indigenous Peoples’ Day is October 10, and November is National Native American Heritage Month)

Kindness and community (Start the school year off on the right foot)

Labor Day (September 5 this year)

Persistence and grit (Stay on the right foot as the school year continues)

September 11 (9/11)

Lou by Breanna Carzoo

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  “Hello!  My name is Lou, and I’m…a toilet.”  All day every day, dogs sniff, twist, twirl, lift, and then, “well, you know,” as a splashy yellow puddle is shown.  Sure, it’s useful, but sometimes Lou wonders if there’s more to life.  As Lou reflects on this, readers can see underground plumbing, a big red fire truck racing down the street, and gray smoke billowing out of a building.  When the firefighters’ dalmatian runs up, Lou’s sure about what’s next, but then there’s a surprise!  There’s a different kind of twist, twirl, and lift, and Lou discovers a new purpose as the firefighters use Lou’s water to put out the fire.  “How did I not see this before?  My name is Lou, and I’m…a superhero!”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Kids will be drawn in by the bathroom humor, but they’ll come away with a good lesson about finding one’s true calling and the joy of helping others.  The humor, adorable illustrations, and story are sure to make this a big hit with readers.

Cons:  I still don’t understand exactly how fire hydrants work.

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.