Out of this World: Star-Studded Haiku by Sally M. Walker, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  This collection of haiku looks at different aspects of the universe including constellations, astronomers, stars, the sun, all the planets (even Pluto!), moons, comets, and asteroids.  Each poem is supported with mixed media art to show various spacescapes.  Includes additional information for each section, a glossary, a reading list, and a list of online resources.  48 pages; grades 2-6.  

Pros:  This book will appeal to many different types of readers: poets (a great intro to haiku), scientists, and artists.  The illustrations are awe-inspiring and will fire up kids’ imaginations about the wonders of space.

Cons:  I wish someone had come up with a slightly more imaginative title than the hackneyed “Out of This World”.

Star Child: A Biographical Constellation of Octavia Estelle Butler by Ibi Zoboi

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  This biography of science fiction writer Octavia Butler is told through a collection of poetry, photographs, and quotations from Butler.  Starting with her early life as a solitary child growing up in 1950’s Pasadena, readers get to see how Octavia’s struggles in school, her introverted nature, and her love of books combined to lead to her a life as a writer.  She was fascinated by science fiction, although almost all of the writers and heroes of the stories were white men.  After years of rejection, she finally began selling her stories and eventually wrote books that earned her Nebula and Hugo awards as well as a MacArthur fellowship.  Includes a final chapter on Ibi Zoboi’s connection to Octavia Butler (they shared a birthday and met in person several times, including a science fiction writing workshop) and a list of Butler’s books.  128 pages; grades 7-12.

Pros:  This unique biography is a pretty quick read but gives an intimate look at Octavia Butler’s life and writing.  Readers who are not familiar with Butler’s work (like me) may be motivated to seek it out after getting this introduction.

Cons:  I saw some recommendations for this book starting in fifth grade, but I think it would be better appreciated by middle school and high school students, since Butler’s books are for young adults and adults.

Yoshi and the Ocean: A Sea Turtle’s Incredible Journey Home by Lindsay Moore

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summary:  Yoshi is a young, injured sea turtle when she is rescued by fishermen and sent to an aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa.  She thrives there, growing and swimming in a giant tank for twenty years, until she starts to display some restlessness.  The scientists want to return her to the wild, but they’re worried that she won’t be able to survive.  They attach a tracking device to her shell before releasing her back into the ocean.  At first her travels seem random, but eventually she starts heading east.  In February 2020, more than two years after her release, Yoshi completed a 25,000-mile journey to reach the Australian waters where she was born.  Includes a labeled map with additional information about Yoshi’s journey, a labeled diagram of a sea turtle, and additional information about turtles, their habitat, and tracking devices.  64 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  The beautiful watercolor illustrations do an amazing job of portraying Yoshi and her ocean environment.  I liked how the repeated refrain “Hello from Yoshi.  I am here” showed how the tracking device helped scientists follow her journey.  There’s a ton of excellent back matter which makes this a great research book.

Cons:  I found Yoshi’s lengthy journey a bit monotonous at times.  Maybe she did too.

Sanctuary: Kip Tiernan and Rosie’s Place, the Nation’s First Shelter for Women by Christine McDonnell, illustrated by Victoria Tentler-Krylov

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Kip Tiernan learned about helping others as a child growing up during the Great Depression.  Her grandmother used to keep a pot of soup on the stove and would feed anyone who came to the door for a meal.  In the 1960’s Kip gave up her advertising business to help the poor.  While working in shelters, she saw that women had to disguise themselves as men to get a meal and a bed.  Noticing how many homeless women there were on the streets, she became determined to find a way to help them.  In 1974, she opened Rosie’s Place, the first homeless shelter in the country just for women.  Over the years she expanded the services offered there to help women become self-sufficient.  The book concludes with a story of Kip riding on a bus many years after starting Rosie’s Place.  The bus driver pulled over to thank her, stating that he would not have had food to eat as a child if it hadn’t been for her.  Includes additional information about Kip Tiernan and a list of quotations from her.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring story of a woman who worked tirelessly to provide the services she envisioned, and who truly saw the humanity of every individual.

Cons:  The story is a bit long to use as a read-aloud for younger kids.

Because of You, John Lewis: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Keith Henry Brown

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Tybre Faw grew up learning Black history and was particularly inspired by John Lewis.  In 2018, at the age of ten, he convinced his grandmothers to take him to Selma to be part of the commemoration of 1965’s Bloody Sunday.  Tybre met John on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the two became friends.  They walked together again in 2019 and in 2020 when John Lewis had been diagnosed with cancer.  Lewis died a few months later, and Tybre was invited to recite one of the senator’s favorite poems, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley at the memorial service.  Includes additional information about both John Lewis and Tybre Faw, a timeline of Lewis’s life, a list of sources and resources for further reading, photos from both the 1960’s and the interactions between John and Tybre, and the text of “Invictus”.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I marvel at the way this book is written, using beautiful poetry and watercolor illustrations to weave together the lives of both John Lewis and Tyre Faw, and showing the intersection between the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements.  The back matter adds a lot and gives resources for further exploration.

Cons:  I found it a little difficult to figure out when and at what age Tybre met John; it would have been helpful to me to have those dates included in the timeline.


Rethink the Internet: How to Make the Digital World a Lot Less Sucky by Trisha Prabhu

Published by Philomel Books

Summary: After experiencing cyberbullying in middle school, Trisha Prabhu has dedicated herself to stopping online hate.  She offers several stories here of kids’ experiences with the Internet and social media, both bad and good.  Yes, people can post cruel messages online, but they also can use the wide reach of social media to make the world a better place.  At the end of each chapter is an Internet Challenge for kids to practice the skills they’ve learned.  Includes a Digital Citizen Code for kids to sign and a section for educators that has a recap of each chapter and challenge along with lists of skills taught and discussion questions.  175 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent resource for those working with upper elementary and middle school kids to communicate the perils and promises of online life.  The stories are engaging, and the resources at the end will help teachers, parents, and others who work with kids get the most out of them.

Cons:  The tone sometimes made me feel like the author, who is only 21 years old, was trying a little too hard to sound middle-school cool.

The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights by Archie Bongiovanni, illustrated by A. Andrews and The National Parks: Preserving America’s Wild Places by Falynn Koch

Published by First Second

Summary: These two entries into the History Comics series tell the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that helped bring gay rights into the national spotlight and the history of the National Parks System that helped preserve natural wonders and historical artifacts in the United States.  In The Stonewall Riots, Natalia’s abuela takes teen Natalia and her friends Jax and Rashad back in time to the night of the first protest.  Abuela had a girlfriend at the time, and the three kids, all part of the LGBTQIA+ community, get some lessons about the people and events of that time.  The National Parks features two narrators, a bigfoot and an eagle, who look at the patchwork history of the National Parks System, going all the way back to the early 19th century.  Each book starts with a foreword and includes an author’s note with additional information and resources at the end.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Both books make history accessible through the graphic format and the fun narrators (abuela and Bigfoot).  The additional resources at the end make these a good introduction that could lead to further research.

Cons:  I thought this format worked better for a specific incident (Stonewall Riots) than a longer period of time (National Parks).  I could see kids losing interest in such a sprawling history that included so many different people and places.

Free At Last: A Juneteenth Poem written by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic

Published by Union Square Kids

Summary:  This free verse poem begins with the news arriving in Galveston, Texas: the war is over, and “all who live in bondage here shall from now until be free.”  The words and oil paintings depict Black people’s reactions.  Some head for their shacks, which they now declare home; some go to another farm to work “for a pittance and a little plot of space.”  Others pray, dance, or head farther away.  The last few pages depict their descendants celebrating that freedom, right up to the present day.  An author’s note tells how she was introduced to Juneteenth in the 1980’s and wrote this poem, originally published in 2004, and how Juneteenth has gained wider recognition, eventually becoming a national holiday in 2021.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The beautiful words and pictures in this book make it an excellent addition to Juneteenth literature, and a perfect way to observe the holiday.

Cons:  It would have been interesting to get more information about the fate of the different people portrayed in the book, and how their decisions to stay close to home or travel affected their futures.

My Big Book of Outdoors by Tim Hopgood

Published by Candlewick Studio

Summary:  Each of the four seasons is explored with poetry, crafts, and science and nature information.  For instance, here is a sample of the section on spring includes: poems called “Splish-Splash!” and “Rainbow, Rainbow”; what you might find under a rock (illustrated); how to make a chocolate nest; constructing a bug hotel; different types of eggs and feathers; and how to tell a frog and a toad apart.  Everything is illustrated with collage-style illustrations.  128 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A delightful mishmash of seasonal facts, poetry, and crafts with plenty of big, bold, colorful illustrations.  Parents and preschool teachers will find lots of ideas here, but the craft instructions and scientific information are simple and straightforward enough for early elementary kids to enjoy on their own.

Cons:  It’s kind of a big book to haul along on your outdoor explorations.

Who’s Looking? How Animals See the World by Carol Matas, illustrated by Cornelia Li

Published by Orca Book Publishers

Summary:  As two sisters walk through various landscapes, the text and illustrations show how they are seen by different animals.  The first pages show how the younger sister saw the world as a baby and how the nearsighted older sister sees it without her glasses.  Other animals see fewer or more colors than humans, can see things from a greater distance, or have 360-degree vision.  Animals are shown on land, in the water, and flying in the sky.  The author’s note tells how a walk with her grandson inspired the book.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It’s very cool to see the world as other animals see it, and the illustrations bring this to life, particularly the ones that contrast what the animal sees with what the humans are seeing.  Kids are sure to find this fascinating.

Cons:  Some concepts, like seeing more colors than humans, were a little tricky to show in the illustrations.