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”.

The Little House of Hope by Terry Catasús Jennings, illustrated by Raúl Colón

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  Esperanza, Manolo, Mami, and Papi look hard to find a new home when they arrive in the U.S. from Cuba.  The house they find is small and needs some work, but everyone pitches in to fix it up.  It’s not easy to find the time because all four members of the family are working hard to earn money and learn English.  Eventually things get easier, and they’re able to share their home with two other families who have recently immigrated from Cuba and Mexico.  Over the years, more families come and go, and Esperanza always creates special artwork for them to take for their new homes.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A positive look at the experience of immigrating to the United States, showing families who are able to get ahead through hard work and sharing.  Raúl Colón’s beautifully colored illustrations add just the right touch.  Thanks to Terry Catasús Jennings, who sent me a signed copy of this book (which unfortunately got a bit mangled by the U.S. postal service).

Cons:  Immigrant kids today may find their experiences are not as rosy as the ones pictured here. The back flap mentions that this story is based on the author’s experiences moving to the U.S. in 1961.  I wish she had included a note with more information about that and how times have changed since then.

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun

Published by Floris Books

Summary:  A young boy and his parents leave their home in the city to drive to his grandparents’ more rural house.  As soon as they arrive, he and his dog head off into the woods to explore.  They’re delighted to find a lake with a dock, and the boy dives in.  Down, down he goes into the water, where he comes face to face with a fish.  The last page shows him and his dog stretched out on the dock in the sun.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A magical wordless picture book that emphasizes the importance of slowing down…both to enjoy nature in the story and to take in all the details in each illustration.  The pictures are mostly black and white with touches of blue and gold.  Most of the story feels realistic, but the underwater scenes have hints of fantasy to them.

Cons:  I was thinking that this book should be considered for a Caldecott until I realized that the author-illustrator lives in South Korea.

Music Is a Rainbow by Bryan Collier

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A boy struggles between forces of light and darkness in his life, starting with his feelings when his father leaves each day for work and when his mother gets sick and has to go away on his seventh birthday.  His father tells him to always “leave room for that rainbow to find you.  Broken is beautiful.”  The boy discovers the rainbow through music, but the magical feeling doesn’t last long.  He’s tempted into trouble by a group of friends known as the South Side Bandits, and before long they’re taking joy rides on the ice cream truck.  One day they decide to break into the rec center.  While his friends are trashing the place, the boy discovers a piano and sits down to play.  “The sounds became music, and the music changed into colors.  The rainbow had found him.  And then that feeling lasted forever.”  Includes an author’s note citing the influences of Maya Angelou, Robert Frost, and Quincy Jones on this story.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Bryan Collier’s beautiful collage illustrations illuminate this story of a boy trying to find his way through difficult times.  I’m excited that I may actually get to meet Bryan Collier today at the Eric Carle Museum’s Collage Day!

Cons:  I found the story a little confusing, and I think that younger kids would definitely need some guidance to understand what’s going on.

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.

Hot Dog by Doug Salati

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  “City summer, steamy sidewalks/concrete crumbles, sirens screech.”  Walking through the city with his owner, this dachshund is truly a hot dog!  Finally, he goes on strike, lying down in the middle of a busy street.  His owner scoops him up, hails a taxi, and heads to the train.  Before he knows it, the dog is cooling off on “an island…wild and long and low.”  The two have a refreshing afternoon there before heading back to the city where dusk has brought a welcome coolness.  Time for dinner and then “ready to leap into a deep ocean sleep” where he dreams about the seal he met on the beach.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  An idyllic summer book where the illustrations perfectly capture the sweltering heat of the summer and the cool relief of a trip to the beach.  The words and illustrations transition from short phrases and hot colors to longer descriptions and cooler colors.  Not to be ruled out for Caldecott recognition.

Cons:  These two take a day trip from what appears to be New York City on a sweltering summer day to an island that appears to be populated only by seals, so we must definitely classify the story as a fantasy.

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.

Tisha and the Blossoms by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Every time Tisha tries to slow down and enjoy something, someone tells her to hurry up: catch the bus to school, go to an assembly, get to lunch, clean up at the end of the day.  When Mom picks her up and says they have to catch another bus, Tisha finally rebels against all the hurrying.  Her mother suggests they walk home instead. As they do, they notice everything around them.  At home, when her father says he has to hurry up and get dinner Mom suggests a picnic.  They eat under a tree, savoring the food and the blossoms that blow off the branches.  “I think my favorite days,” says Tisha, “are full of blossoms and a bit of slowing down!”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A story of mindfulness and slowing down that both kids and adults will relate to and embrace.  The illustrations are gorgeous, especially the big, colorful flowers. 

Cons:  A little more information about mindfulness at the end would have been nice.

Little Houses by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summary:  A girl visiting her grandparents ponders what she sees at the beach with a sense of wonder.  She and her grandmother collect shells, which her grandmother calls little houses.  That makes her wonder about what used to live there, which leads her to think of everything under the sea.  Her grandfather says, “The world is so big and there is so much to know.  And someday you’ll know it all.”  She thinks about all the things she would like to know.  One thing she does know is that she’ll take home all the shells–the little houses–back to her house and keep them on a shelf with all her favorite things.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another beautiful collaboration by the husband and wife team of Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek.  The text and illustrations help foster a sense of wonder and curiosity in young children, and make a perfect story for a summer day.

Cons:  I’m always happy to see a new book by Kevin Henkes, but sometimes I miss Lilly and the rest of the mice.