Published by Scholastic Press (Released November 10)
Summary: When Hazel finds an abandoned pet tortoise, she discovers that the two of them are alike in some ways. Both want to hide when they are scared, and Hazel finds herself feeling anxious about almost every aspect of middle school. She’s shy and wants nothing more than to blend in, but her best friend Tori wants to perform in the talent show and make new friends. When Hazel finds a notebook belonging to Tori’s older brother Ben, she’s horrified to discover that it contains pages for many of the girls at school with other boys’ comments about their appearance. The notebook, combined with a dress code targeting girls and a new friend, Dion, who’s being bullied by other boys, finally forces Hazel to stick her neck out and speak up about the injustices and sexism she sees all around her. Hazel is amazed to learn what power her voice has; while her school still has problems, she and her friends are able to bring about real change with their activism. 256 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Another great addition to the growing list of 2020 books that address feminism, dress codes, and toxic masculinity. Many readers will recognize themselves in Hazel and her friends and may be inspired to speak up about issues they see in their own schools and communities.
Cons: While Hazel’s dad is pretty cool, it would have been nice to see some other men helping out the girls and women. The principal seemed like a real dud.
Summary: Drew has always loved to draw and is excited to become part of a kids’ art club. Her doodles come to life, and she considers the characters she’s created to be some of her closest friends. As she becomes friends with the kids in the club, her doodles also get to interact with their creations. One night, Drew creates a new doodle called Leviathan, or Levi for short. Before long, Levi has turned into a monster and become a threat to the other doodles. Drew’s new friends try to help defeat Levi with their own creations, but it soon becomes clear that only Drew has the power to destroy Levi…or maybe to transform him. She discovers a unique solution, and there’s a promise of more adventures ahead for the entire art club. Includes an author’s note; an annotated history of the doodles that tells how the author created the doodles that appear in Drew’s drawings; and instructions on how to draw a doodle. 288 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Aspiring artists will be inspired by all the kids’ artwork and will also enjoy the magical world in which their drawings come to life. Looks as though there will definitely be a sequel to look forward to.
Cons: The story bogged down somewhat when Levi came on the scene, and I had trouble distinguishing the different kids’ personalities and drawings as they each tried to help Drew.
Summary: Daniela’s next-door neighbor and best friend Evelyn is moving away. The girls get together and play one last time as Evelyn’s parents finish packing, and their mothers hug goodbye. Even though the girls promise to call every day and have a sleepover in the summer, Daniela knows that things won’t be the same after today. There are plenty of tears as the del Rey family drives away. Daniela’s mother assures her that she’ll make other friends, but Daniela knows that Evelyn will always have a special place in her heart as her first best friend. The last page shows a picture of an older Daniela happily looking through a box of letters and photos from Evelyn. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This quiet story by Newbery medalist Meg Medina perfectly captures the emotions of two close friends who have to say goodbye. It both celebrates their friendship and shows their sadness in ways that will resonate with many readers.
Cons: Their neighbor, grouchy Mr. Miller, looks pretty darn scary.
Summary: When Henry arrives at Riverview in September of 1939, he is six years old, and has been deaf from an illness since the age of 3. His parents have been advised to institutionalize him, and after he failed the admissions test for the state school for the deaf (he refused to blow out candles when an administrator tried to communicate that instruction to him), he’s been placed at the Riverview Home for the Feebleminded. Unable to communicate or to understand what is happening to him, Henry tries to make friends and survive his days there, witnessing the abuse that other boys suffer for minor infractions. His family tries to visit him once a year, but is not always able to afford the bus fare. After World War II starts, a conscientious objector named Victor is assigned to Riverview, and befriends Henry. Victor reaches out to Henry’s family, and is instrumental in convincing them that their son belongs at home. Henry’s older sister learns about sign language, and after five years at Riverview, Henry is finally able to come home again and begin to learn to read, write, and speak. Includes notes on the poetic forms used in this novel in verse; a lengthy author’s note about the boy in her husband’s family who inspired this story, as well as poems written by another family member about this boy. 272 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Both Henry’s story and Victor’s were fascinating, and the intersection of their lives was a great relief after the first part of the story at Riverview. Helen Frost’s poetry brings the story to life, and the back matter makes it even more poignant.
Cons: I would have been interested in learning more about how Victor became a conscientious objector. It sounded pretty simple from the story, but as a Quaker, I know this is not always an easy process.
Summary: A polar bear is sleeping in the snow…which is shown as a blank white page. He wakes up, and his nose appears, then his eyes, and finally the whole bear is visible. Where is he going? Not to play with (or eat) the seals, not to hunker in a cave, and not to meet a man (there’s a big growl for that one). It turns out the polar bear is going to the sea, where he dives in, playing among the fish and seaweed, then is silhouetted against the sun. When he’s done, he climbs back onto the snow. Where is he going now? Who knows? 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: This simple tale with its beautiful cut-paper illustrations will appeal to the very young, but has enough slightly snarky humor to engage older readers as well.
Cons: I guess we will never know where that polar bear is going.
Summary: Peter was born to a wealthy family in Berlin, German in 1930. All that changed when Hitler rose to power, and his Jewish family had to escape, first to Belgium, and then to France. In the summer of 1942, Peter’s parents sent him to summer camp. While he was there, they were arrested and taken away. He got two postcards from them, then never heard from them again. He spent the next two years living in children’s homes and a boarding school, using his German language skills to spy on the Nazis. When rumors started circulating that the Germans knew one of the school’s students was a spy, a group of French resistance fighters arranged for Peter’s escape. On May 22, 1944, he managed to cross the border into Switzerland, where he spent the next two years before joining his aunt and grandmother in the U.S. Includes an epilogue with photos; notes with additional information about each two-page spread; a bibliography, and an index. 40 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: A good choice for upper elementary students interested in the Holocaust and World War II history. Although it’s revealed in the epilogue that Peter’s parents both died in Auschwitz, the focus of the narrative is mostly on Peter’s courage and survival skills. The extensive bibliography will guide readers to more resources, and the book list gives recommendations for appropriate age groups for each.
Cons: The story was so brief that I felt like I never really got to know Peter or any of his family members. Half the book is back matter, so Peter’s story, covering over a decade, is told in 20 illustrated pages.
Published by Scholastic Press (Released September 15)
Summary: Mia Tang from Front Desk is back, along with her friends and family from the Calavista Motel. Mia’s family is enjoying owning the motel that they purchased at the end of book 1, but still have to work hard and pinch pennies. Meanwhile, Mia’s best friend Lupe is worried about the impending vote on Proposition 187, which will prohibit undocumented kids like her from going to school anymore. And Mia’s former enemy Jason Yao is trying to prove that he’s not like his parents and is worthy of the girls’ friendship. When Lupe’s parents run into trouble with the law and Mia and her friends experience racism at school, Mia must once again use her talents for writing and leadership to try to help her friends. Includes an author’s note on her childhood experiences with Proposition 187, and how current immigration policies closely resemble it. 288 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: I don’t often read sequels, but I am so glad I made an exception for this book, which proved to be every bit as good as the first one. I know from experience that Front Desk is a popular book club choice; Three Keys also has a lot of timely discussion topics presented in a kid-friendly manner. I’ll keep hoping for some Newbery love for Kelly Yang.
Cons: As much as I would enjoy using this in a book club, I think readers would benefit from starting with Front Desk to get the background for book 2.
Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summary: The Democratic nominees for President and Vice President are profiled in these two picture books. Each one traces the candidate’s life from childhood, emphasizing their hard work, integrity, and quest for justice. Biden’s is a straightforward account of his life, while Harris’s is narrated by a mother to her young daughter who has been told that girls can’t grow up to be President. Published before she was chosen as Biden’s running mate, Harris’s story ends with her dropping out of the primary. Joey includes photos, sources for quotations, a timeline, a bibliography, and a list of “Bidenisms”; Kamala Harris includes a timeline and list of sources. 48 pp. and 40 pp.; grades K-5.
Pros: These books may come in handy as November 3 approaches and students are looking for more information on the candidates (I did try, in the interest of being nonpartisan, to find Trump and Pence picture book biographies, but was unsuccessful). Readers will get ample biographical information, as well as some insights into both Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s characters.
Cons: One might expect a book written by the candidate’s wife (Biden) to read like a piece of campaign literature, and one would be right. I wish the editors had worked a little harder to tone down the fawning rhetoric, letting Biden’s life speak for itself. Also, the device of having the mother tell her daughter the story of Harris’s life seemed unnecessary, particularly the last page, where the girl tells her mother she’s going to call the kid who said she can’t be President a doofus.
Summary: These thirty brief poems celebrate all different things you might see in the air: the sun, butterflies, leaves, birds, and more. Each poem is just four lines: “Sunflower, standing/taller than me,/what do you see/ that I can’t see?” and is accompanied by an illustration. Most pages contain two related poems (sunflowers and honeybees) that can be shown in the same picture. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A good first poetry book, with short rhyming poems that describe everyday topics. The illustrations show a diverse group of kids enjoying the outdoors.
Cons: This felt like a celebration of nature, yet a few of the subjects (kites, balloons, helicopters, paragliding, and fireworks) were about human-made objects.
Summary: 12-year-old Henry is sick of being treated like a baby by his grandmother, mother, and older sister. His well-planned act of rebellion is to secretly fly from his home in Perth, Australia to visit his dad in Singapore. As the journey unfolds, Henry slowly reveals events from the last year, including his creation of an online comic “Fly on the Wall” that skewers his classmates. But he also has the chance to reflect on his less than stellar behavior, and the fact that he may have misinterpreted the intentions of both his family and his former best friend. By the end of his trip, Henry is trying to be a better person and begins to make amends with some of the people in his life, opening up possibilities for closer connections with friends and family when he returns home. 336 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Filled with comic book style illustrations, this is a book that may appeal to Wimpy Kid fans, but winds up having more depth. Henry isn’t always the most likeable protagonist, but his thought processes ring true for a 12-year-old, and he is capable of real remorse for his actions. There’s plenty of humor and some lighthearted moments, too, including a fun revelation about who his real nemesis is.
Cons: I read an advanced reader copy, so didn’t get to fully enjoy the illustrations.