Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Ann Lowe learned her first lessons about sewing and design from her grandmother, who had been an enslaved seamstress, and her mother, who owned a dress shop.  Ann’s work ethic showed itself early; when her mother died, young Ann put aside her grief and finished the dresses that had been ordered for New Year’s Eve.  A year later, she got a job in Tampa, Florida, sewing for a wealthy family.  Her ambitions took her to New York City, where she found success despite the racism she encountered there.  Jacqueline Bouvier hired Ann and her assistants to design and sew her gown and bridesmaid’s dresses for her wedding to Senator John F. Kennedy.  When a leaky ceiling flooded Ann’s workroom and destroyed all the dresses ten days before the wedding, she and her seamstresses recreated every one.  Ann capped her career by opening her own store with her own label on Madison Avenue.  Includes an author’s note with two photos, quotations, and a bibliography.  56 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  I loved Fancy Party Gowns by Deborah Blumenthal (2017), but I love this book at least as much.  There’s a bit more detail about Ann’s career, the writing style is engaging, and the illustrations are stunning.

Cons:  At 56 pages, it’s a bit long for a picture book.

Strong by Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Rob Kearney was a strong kid who excelled at football and cheerleading, but his favorite sport was weightlifting.  It made him feel like a superhero.  At the age of 17, Rob learned about the Strongman competition and decided to become a weightlifting champion.  Competition events involved lifting heavy logs, stones, and tires, so Rob got to work, running, swimming, and lifting the heaviest weights he could.  Rob loved wearing bright, colorful clothing, but other competitors wore plain, dark colors, so Rob did, too.  When he came in last at his first competition, he felt as dark and gloomy as his clothes.  Falling in love with Joey, a fellow weightlifter, encouraged Rob to be himself, and before long he was dressing exactly the way he wanted to.  Joey’s support and encouragement helped Rob in other ways, and he eventually won the North American Strongman championship.  Includes a letter to readers from Rob, additional resources, and descriptions of all the Strongman events.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The empowering be-yourself message will especially speak to LGBQT+ readers, as Rob defies stereotypes with his rainbow mohawk and unconventional clothing in a sport that is often associated with more traditional masculinity.  The colorful illustrations bring the weightlifting events to life.

Cons:  Although Joey offers to wear the same colorful clothes as Rob, he’s shown on the last page in blue pants and a plain white t-shirt.

Yuck, You Suck! Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp Suck by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Eugenia Nobati

Published by Millbrook Press

Summary:  Thirteen animals are profiled in this poetry collection, from the tiny mosquito to the elephant.  Some animals, like the vampire bat, have a reputation for sucking but actually lap up blood from the animals they bite (is that better?).  The first poem introduces the concept of sucking, and the final one connects the animals to humans, who start their lives sucking milk.  Includes additional information about animals that suck, a list of additional resources, anatomical terms for body parts that suck, a glossary, and a bit more information on each animal.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Eek, You Reek! (about stinky animals) comes a book that is sure to catch the eye of many elementary students.  Most of the poems have catchy rhymes (although there’s a haiku thrown in, for the honeybee), and kids will get a kick out of the bug-eyed creatures in the illustrations.

Cons:  There’s a certain bloody gross-out factor inherent in the subject matter. You may not want to read this book before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and perhaps not too soon after either.

The Talk by Alicia D. Williams, illustrated by Briana Mukodiri Uchendu

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Summary:  A young boy tells of his happy life with his parents, grandparents, and three best friends.  He is clearly loved by all and enjoys being a kid while also dreaming of what he’ll do when he grows up.  As he gets older, his parents and grandparents start to tell him things like not to hang out in groups of four or more and to be quiet and keep his hands out of his pockets in the store.  One day, he’s heading out to meet his friends in his new college hoodie when his parents stop him.  It’s time to have The Talk. The book doesn’t share what they tell him, but two pages of illustrations show young Black men and women experiencing racism from white adults, including a police officer.  At the end, he’s embraced by his parents and grandparents, reminding him he’s done nothing wrong.  “This is me and my friends,” he concludes. “We want to hang and run, joke and laugh…race and soar, skate and flip, be chill and wild…and just be us.”  40 pages; all ages.

Pros:  This book amazed me in the way the text and illustrations worked together to capture the young boy’s joy, but to also show hints of what his parents and grandparents worry about and their bittersweet emotions watching him grow up.  The way the actual talk was presented was brilliant, with a realistically empowering finale.

Cons:  Obviously, that this book needs to even exist.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  A girl misses her mother, Mommy, when she goes on a week-long trip.  Her other mother, Mama, stays home with her and helps make things easier with special treats like a movie night and goodies at the local café.  A phone call and a snuggle with Mama help, but things aren’t really right until Saturday when Mommy finally returns to a welcome banner and a bouquet of flowers that the girl has picked herself.  It takes a few minutes to reconnect, but finally things feel right again: “Mama and Mommy and me in the middle.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A great discussion starter about missing people; the girl has several classmates who are missing family members and pets.  The illustrations are beautiful–clearly this is a family who values fashion and style–and the representation of a biracial family with two moms makes a valuable addition to kids’ literature.

Cons:  Some additional resources would have made this even more valuable for a social emotional learning book.

Moonlight by Stephen Savage

Published by Neal Porter Books

Summary:  “Something is on the move.”  Hiding, hopping, swirling, drifting, each page gives an action with blue, black, and white illustrations that show moonlight but not the moon.  The light ends up in a child’s bedroom, where she sits up and looks out the window to see the full moon.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  I will definitely be sharing this book with my pre-K classes during the week they learn about what’s in the sky.  The lush nighttime illustrations and brief text filled with action words would make a great pairing with The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Pearle.

Cons:  The cover and title page make it look like Moon Light, but it’s actually Moonlight.  Just in case you’re searching in Amazon or Titlewave.

A Journey Under the Sea by Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  The narrator takes readers on a dive into the ocean at the tip of South Africa.  Underwater, they observe all kinds of animals including a seal, an octopus, a cuttlefish, and a couple of different sharks.  On the way back, they see tiny snail eggs and a whale, which likes to snack on the sea snails, an example of how ocean animals are all connected.  Includes a note from the authors and additional information about each photo in the book.  56 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A gorgeous picture book from the creators of The Octopus Teacher, now streaming on Netflix. Their joy and enthusiasm for diving and exploring the ocean really shines through in both the photos and the text.  From the eye-catching cover to the farewell from the dolphins, kids will be captivated by this journey.

Cons:  There’s just a little bit of information about each animal, so some additional resources would have been nice.

Song In the City by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Jenin Mohammmed

Published by Amistad Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Emmalene is blind, but as she walks with her grandmother to church, she hears the song of the city: the pitter-patter of water falling, the sizzle-sizzle of a hot dog cooking, the honky-honk of a car.  She keeps trying to get her grandmother to stop and listen, but Grandma Jean is in too much of a hurry.  At church, Grandma enjoys the music of the choir, but Emmalene gets frustrated that she can’t hear the other music that Emmalene hears.  Finally, she puts her hand over her grandmother’s eyes, so that Grandma is forced to use only her ears.  Finally. Grandma hears the song of the city, and with tears in her eyes, hugs her granddaughter, and they listen together.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A story that will encourage kids to listen mindfully to the sounds around them.  Emmalene is a happy and independent girl who finds her way through the city with a cane.  The illustrations are a riot of colors, and the ones that show Grandma listening without using her eyes (black with streaks of color) capture the moment perfectly.

Cons:  Grandma is annoyingly stubborn about listening to her wise granddaughter.

If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders from Around the World by Hillary Homzie, illustrated by Udayana Lugo

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  If you were a princess, what would you do?  These real-life princesses are smart and brave, standing up for human and animal rights, competing in sports, and earning advanced degrees in various arts and sciences.  Since ancient times, princesses have studied the stars, led others into battle, and made important discoveries and inventions.  You may not be a princess, but you can be inspired by royalty to stand up for yourself and others and to dazzle the world. Includes a paragraph of additional information about each princess and a list of works cited.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Cinderella, step aside to make way for these amazing real-life princesses from all over the world.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had requests for princess books, and I can’t wait to have this one on hand to teach kids some unexpected princess facts.

Cons:  Forced me to rethink my anti-royalist tendencies.

Digestion: The Musical by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Digestion: The Musical unfolds in three acts, featuring Your Body, L’il Candy, Gum, and the Baby Carrot Singers.  Starting from the moment the brain gets the signal to open the mouth and let in L’il Candy, the story continues down the esophagus and into the stomach, where Candy meets up with Gum (has he really been stuck there for years? “Nah, that’s a myth.”).  She’s consistently dismissed as junk food by the heart, lungs, gallbladder, and even the seemingly useless appendix.  But Candy persists and is eventually shown to have a nutritional core that can be used by the body.  The final number [two], “Let’s Get This Potty Started”, will leave audiences with a smile on their faces.  Includes a glossary and a literal appendix, which it turns out, is actually useful for storing good bacteria. 76 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  I laughed, I cried, I gasped aloud at this fascinating and hilarious mix of fiction and nonfiction that’s presented in both horizontal and vertical spreads.  You’ll probably want to supplement this with other material, but the basic facts are here and likely to stick in kids’ heads due to the high entertainment factor of the presentation.

Cons:  It’s tough to let yourself get too attached to a protagonist that you know is about to be pulverized by the digestive system.