Published by Candlewick
Summary: In this wordless picture book, a girl and her grandparent run Lowell’s General Store. Over their shop is an apartment. When the grandparent puts an “Apartment for Rent” sign in the window, a number of prospective tenants take a look, but are put off by dirty walls, cracked tiles, broken cabinets, and old furniture. Finally, a friendly couple rents the place, immediately rolling up their sleeves to clean and fix it up. Not only that, but they help out with the store, becoming friends with the owner and the girl. The girl lures a stray cat up to the apartment to become a pet. By the end, there’s a new sign on the store: “Lowell & Friends General Store”, accompanied by a rainbow flag. 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The author of Sidewalk Flowers has created another beautiful wordless story that celebrates community and friendship in the midst of an impoverished neighborhood. The dedication, “For trans activists of all ages”, the rainbow flag, and several possibly transgender or nonbinary characters make this an outstanding addition to LGBTQ+ collections as well.
Cons: A review I read mentioned a rainbow belt and hat in the illustrations as well, but I have yet to discover them. This isn’t a con, but the illustrations are so richly detailed that readers will want to go back over and over again to discover all the details.
Published by Beach Lane Books
Summary: When Frieda Caplan started working at the Seventh Street Produce Market, she saw piles of bananas, potatoes, apples, and tomatoes. Hoping to introduce a bit more variety, she started selling mushrooms. It took some convincing, but before long people began to buy them. Frieda went on to start her own produce company, where she loved trying new fruits and vegetables. Kiwis, jicama, blood oranges…Frieda would get a funny feeling in her elbows when she tried something that she thought others would enjoy. Thanks in part to Frieda and the produce company her daughters and granddaughters now run, there are more than ten times as many varieties of fruits and vegetables in supermarkets than there were in the 1960’s. Includes an author’s note giving more information about Frieda and her company. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The energetic writing and colorful illustrations of a great variety of fruits and vegetables capture Frieda’s enthusiasm for her work and may entice picky eaters to be a bit more adventurous.
Cons: I was hoping for a bit more information in the author’s note about the funny feeling in the elbows, but alas, there was no further explanation.
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers
Summary: Squirrel is sure Trouble has arrived when a bear moves in next door. She imagines all kinds of terrible things about Trouble as she sees him working in the yard and hears noises through their shared wall. But when her beloved pet mouse Chamomile disappears, she assumes the worst, and, armed with a teapot, rushes to Trouble’s door. When she discovers them knitting and eating cookies, she realizes she has been wrong to think she’s known about Trouble. Moral: like tea and cookies, friends can be different and still bring out the best in each other. 40 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: The illustrations do much of the storytelling here, and they are a lot of fun, delivering an important message for kids without hitting them over the head with it.
Cons: Not sure why the mouse meows.
Published by Neal Porter Books
Summary: The narrator is angry when her parents stop the car to gather watercress by the side of the road. It’s wet and muddy, and she’s afraid someone she knows will see her. Back home, she refuses to eat the watercress at dinnertime. Her mom goes to her room and gets a photo of her family in China: her as a young girl with her parents and younger brother. “During the Great Famine, we ate anything we could find, but it was still not enough.” The facing page shows the family again, only this time the younger brother is gone. The girl tries the watercress, and discovers it is “delicate and slightly bitter. Like Mom’s memories of home.” Notes from the author and illustrator explain the challenges of growing up as the child of immigrants, and how sometimes a parent’s difficult memories can make it hard for children to understand them. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Andrea Wang captures many layers of memories with her spare text, illuminated by Jason Chin’s beautiful watercolors (his illustrator’s note provides an even greater appreciation for his art). This would be an excellent mentor text for teaching narrative fiction.
Cons: Readers will have to make some inferences about what happened to the mom’s younger brother, which could be a bit challenging for younger kids.
Published by Candlewick
Summary: “Once, out in the country, someone knew right where to build a house. Inside it smelled of sunshine and new lumber. Outside smelled of meadow grass and sky.” As the years pass, one family after another lives there, and the house learns about babies and bedtimes and birthday parties. But one day, a family leaves, and no new family moves in. The years pass, the house becomes resigned to its fate, but it still can’t help wishing. Occasionally, a family comes along to look, but decides that the house is too small or too far from the city. The house has pretty much given up hope when a new family looks at it and seems to like it. But they go away again…only to return a few days later! They “fix what needs fixing and paint what needs painting”. They appreciate the house’s history. And they start to make new memories for the house. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would be perfect to pair with Virginia Lee Burton’s The Little House. The illustrations really capture the essence of this beautiful little house, and I was honestly on the edge of my seat wondering if a new family would ever move in.
Cons: “They fix what needs fixing and paint what needs painting.” Makes it sound so easy.
Published by Lee and Low Books
Summary: The isolation of the islands that make up Hawai’i means that they are home to plant and animal species that exist nowhere else on Earth. One of these is the Kamehameha butterfly, named for the king who united all of the islands. In 2009, a group of fifth grade students led a successful campaign to make this butterfly the state insect, hoping to bring attention to the endangered butterfly. Soon scientists from the state and the University of Hawai’i started working together to help save the Kamehameha. Citizen scientists helped collect data and photos. Since then, thousands of butterflies have been raised in captivity and released all around Hawai’i. Includes an afterword with a map and many photos; an illustrator’s note; and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Another excellent nonfiction book by the Sibert Medal winning team of Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore. Kids will be inspired by the way elementary students made a real difference in helping with an environmental issue. The collage illustrations enhance the text, which includes information on the formation of the Hawaiian islands, the butterfly’s life cycle, King Kamehameha, and how the scientists carried out their project.
Cons: Even with the pronunciation guides, I struggle with how to say some of the Hawaiian words.
Published by HarperCollins
Summary: “Some people have eyes like sapphire lagoons with lashes like lace trim on ballgowns,” a Chinese-American girl reflects. “Not me.” Her eyes “kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” Her eyes are like her mother’s, her grandmother’s, and her little sister’s. She reflects on how their eyes show their love and admiration as readers see the warm connections among all the girls and women in the family, and she concludes that all of their eyes are beautiful. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Both the text and illustrations are affirming of self-acceptance and family love, with the pictures showing beautiful spreads from Chinese folklore.
Cons: I would have liked to have learned more about the images in an illustrator’s note.
Published by Imprint
Summary: It’s the day of the Big Star Little Gala, and Stella wants her hair to look just right. But it’s twisting and turning, zigging and zagging, making loopity-loops and lots of curly Q’a. Stella’s Momma sends her off to visit her aunt on Mercury. Aunt Ofelia’s stay-smooth style isn’t quite right, so Stella goes to see Auntie Alma on Venus. Each planetary aunt has different ideas about her hair, but none satisfies Stella. Finally, Auntie Solana, the aunt over by the sun, has the best advice of all: just be yourself. So Stella does her own hair, enjoying its twists, turns, and curls, and that turns out to be the best hair-do for the big event. Includes two pages of information about the planets and why each one has its particular hairstyle. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The eye-popping art and be-yourself message are sure to resonate with anyone who’s ever had a bad hair day, and particularly celebrates Black hair.
Cons: I still miss Pluto.
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Summary: Newbery Honor poet Joyce Sidman explores different aspects of Earth in these poems addressed to the planet itself. There’s a sense of wonder, “How can we be here, climbing trees, walking paths, staring up at constellations…and also out in deepest space?” There are poems about volcanoes, earthquakes, jungles, and mountains. Taken together, the poems are a love letter to Earth, and a promise to take care of the planet. Includes six pages of additional information about each topic addressed; resources about climate change, ways kids can help, and citizen science projects; and a list of books for further reading. 68 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: This beautifully illustrated book of poems celebrates Earth and many aspects of earth science. The poems and illustrations are accessible to kids in primary grades, and the extensive back matter makes it useful for older kids to explore further.
Cons: Earth doesn’t seem to have any answers for all the questions.
Published by Beach Lane Books
Summary: Each page shows a large, colorful picture of a bird, a small picture of the bird using its beak, a sentence about how the bird uses its beak and a label identifying the bird. Beaks are used for straining, tossing, crushing, and a host of other activities. The final bird is a baby ruddy duckling who uses its beak, as do many birds, to break out of its egg. Includes a two-page spread showing silhouettes of each bird relative to a human, where it lives in the world, and what its diet is; also a bibliography. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Over 20 birds are profiled, and the illustrations are striking. Readers will be amazed at how many different uses there are for a beak.
Cons: The information is pretty minimal; this is probably more of a read-aloud or a book to browse than something that will help much with research.