Summary: Misty is excited to hear in her first ballet class that they will be performing Coppélia. She listens carefully to her teacher’s retelling of the story, and decides she wants the role of Swanilda. She’s concerned that another girl named Cat might be a rival, but Cat decides to audition for Coppélia. When the cast is announced, both Misty and Cat get the parts they wanted. They work hard to prepare, inspiring each other, and by the time the big night arrives, both are ready to deliver a flawless performance. Both girls are front and center for the final curtain call, smiling happily and wondering what their next ballet will be. 32 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: Aspiring dancers will enjoy this story featuring a young Misty Copeland, and will learn the basics of the story of Coppélia. The illustrations enhance the story and demonstrate some of the ballet steps mentioned.
Cons: Readers may be disappointed when they’re not selected for a starring role in their first year of ballet like Misty is. And speaking of Misty, I would have enjoyed some back matter connecting this story to the real Misty Copeland.
Summary: Four children tell of their experiences surviving a tornado, blizzard, wildfire, and hurricane. While the danger is present, they either hunker down at home or are evacuated to a safe place where they enjoy time with their families: playing cards in the basement until the tornado passes, cooking over the fireplace through the blizzard, camping while the wildfire burns, and staying with cousins during a hurricane. Afterward, they help clean up and get back to their lives. “Nature is strong and powerful. But, I am strong and powerful, too…And when the storm passes, as it always does, I am the calm, too.” Includes additional information about the four types of events. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A reassuring book for kids who have faced or are about to face a natural disaster, focusing on resilience and offering child-friendly information about each event.
Cons: Makes surviving a catastrophic event look fun and cozy, and only portrays families with nice houses and cars who have the financial means to be this resilient.
Summary: Inspired by her international travels, Sophie Blackall set out to create a book that she could share with kids around the globe. It’s written as a letter to an alien: “Dear Visitor from Outer Space, If you come to Earth, here’s what you need to know.” The writer then launches into descriptions of many different aspects of Earth and its inhabitants: the land, the sea, countries and cities, animals, and people: what they wear, what they eat, jobs they do, the differences between kids and adults. He concludes: “There are lots of things we don’t know. We don’t know where we were before we were born or where we go when we die. But right this minute, we are here together on this beautiful planet. If you come to Earth, you can stay in my room. Love, Quinn.” Includes an author’s note, telling about the inspiration for the book and the real-life kids who are pictured in it, including Quinn. 80 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Can Sophie Blackall win a third Caldecott medal in five years? I loved everything about this book, and think kids will enjoy poring over the pages looking at all the details on each spread.
Cons: At 80 pages, and with the aforementioned detailed pages begging for extra time, this could be tough to do as a read-aloud.
Summary: Maestro Mouse is your guide through this musical romp starring the animal kingdom. Each page includes a poem or two about the featured animal, concluding with a sign held by Maestro Mouse offering a lesson that can be derived from the poem. Sharp-eyed readers will also spot letters in each picture that, when put together, spell out a word. The animals and words come together in the final gatefold page that shows all the animals playing music in an orchestra. Includes an author’s note from Dan Brown (yes, that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and many other books for adults) and endpapers showing and identifying the different musical instruments. Also includes an app that can be downloaded to listen to musical accompaniment throughout the story. 44 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: A fun introduction to both animals and musical instruments. I did not download the app, but it sounds like an enjoyable way to experience the music introduced in the book. The hidden letters and coded words will please those who like puzzles.
Cons: Poems, a series of (didactic) lessons, musical instruments, hidden letters, word scrambles, and an app that plays music…felt like a bit too much to unpack for one picture book.
Summary: Sent to America to live with her aunt and uncle, the narrator is struggling to adjust to her new life, missing her family and friends back home. One day her aunt takes her on a walk and tells a story from ancient Persia about a group of people forced to leave their home. They arrive by boat in India, ragged and exhausted, only to be told by the king that they can’t stay. His land is too crowded, and there is no room for these strangers who don’t speak his language. He fills a cup to the brim with milk to demonstrate this. One of the refugees takes some sugar from his pack and adds it to the milk. The milk has become sweeter without causing the cup to overflow; the king understands the message that in the same way the Persians will bring happiness to his country, and he welcomes them. The girl learns from her aunt’s story, and begins to see the beauty in her new country, carrying a packet of sugar to remind her to bring sweetness wherever she goes. 48 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: With spare prose and gorgeous illustrations, this book delivers its message about immigration without preaching. It’s also a great example of the timelessness of folklore and how ancient stories can still be relevant today.
Cons: I would have liked some additional information about the history of the folktale.
Summary: Manon Rhéaume grew up playing backyard hockey with her brothers in Quebec. When she was five, her dad recruited her to be goalie on the team he coached. She did well and continued to push herself to succeed, becoming the first girl to play in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament at age 11. At the age of 20, she was invited to participate in a training camp for the new Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team. She worked hard enough and played well enough to get to play in a couple of preseason games in 1992 and 1993, and remains the only woman to have played in a game in any of the four major North American sports leagues. Includes an afterword by Manon Rhéaume, a timeline, and fun facts about Manon. 40 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: Here in New England, one can never have enough hockey books in the library, and hockey books about women are rare indeed. This one has a very complete story and large colorful illustrations that will appeal to kids in all elementary grades.
Cons: It wasn’t clear from the story or the afterword how much Manon had played in the NHL. I had to go to the timeline for my answer (two preseason games).
Summary: When you fall asleep chewing a wad of gum, you’re going to wake up in the morning with it stuck in your hair. Everyone has a solution: scissors, butter, grass clippings, noodles and bacon…before long your hair is one big mess. Your pet rabbit tries to eat the grass, and the cat decides to join the rabbit. When the police and firefighters show up, it’s time to put an end to things. “STOP!” you yell. “GET OUT! Please.” That’s enough to send everyone packing, including the gum, who jumps out of your hair saying, “Jeez. Rude.” So now you know how to get rid of gum in your hair, and not a moment too soon. It’s time for school. And Picture Day. 56 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: I’m a big Adam Rex fan (looks like this is the eighth book I’ve reviewed that he’s written and/or illustrated), because his wacky stories and illustrations are so popular with kids. This one will definitely get a lot of laughs, with its catch rhyming text and increasingly out-of-control storyline and illustrations.
Cons: Everyone knows to use peanut butter for gum in hair, not butter.
Summary: Every page of this oversized book shows the same cutaway of a large house with animal inhabitants ranging from a family of mice to a bear (ignore the ominous fact that the mice are sandwiched between an owl above them, and foxes below). A few sentences tell the story of their day: a young rabbit is having a birthday party; a bear is sick in bed; Mom Fox is about to have a baby. These events play out as the day goes on, but sharp-eyed readers will notice other details in the illustrations. Three pigs hide from a wolf, as a blonde girl (perhaps named Goldilocks?) breaks into the foxes’ home while they’re away and eats and sleeps there. By the last page, most inhabitants (except the owl) are settling down for the evening and the story concludes, “And what a day it has been for everyone!” 32 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: The activity isn’t quite as manic as a Richard Scarry book, but the many different animals and their activities will bring his work to mind. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the illustrations, particularly the fairy tale characters and other side stories that aren’t written about in the text. Probably not a great book for a group read-aloud, but a perfect one to pore over one-on-one.
Cons: The book’s oversized format (14 inches tall, and almost a foot wide) may make it hard to fit on the library’s shelves.
Summary: Emily Dickinson’s life story is told from beginning to end, with her poetry woven into almost every page. Her internal life is explored, how she loved books and sought answers when confronted with deaths of people near her. As she grew older, she withdrew more, focusing on her writing and only interacting with a few people who were close to her. Following her death in 1886, her sister Vinnie found hundreds of poems tucked away around her house, and the world began to discover the poet Emily Dickinson. Includes additional information about Emily’s poetry; how to discover the world of poetry; a few books by and about Emily; and notes from the author and illustrator. 52 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: This gorgeously illustrated biography is an excellent introduction to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and gives readers some glimpses into Dickinson’s life and why she chose to live the way she did. The back matter provides additional inspiration for aspiring poets.
Cons: As someone who has wished for a good elementary biography of Emily Dickinson (she’s a hot topic for third graders when they get to their unit on famous Massachusetts people), I was disappointed that this book didn’t include much of the factual biographical information (when she was born, where she lived, etc.) that kids are seeking for reports. A timeline would have been helpful and not taken away from the lyrical nature of the writing.
Summary: Growing up in a segregated neighborhood in Washington, D.C., Elgin Baylor didn’t have much opportunity to learn how to play basketball. So he taught himself. When he got to high school and college, coaches were amazed at his style of play, so different from what they were accustomed to. In 1958, Elgin was drafted by the Minnesota Lakers. His pro ball career coincided with events in the civil rights movement. Elgin himself took a stand after experiencing discrimination at hotels and restaurants when his team played in West Virginia. He refused to suit up with the team, disappointing fans who had come to see him play, but using his status to make a statement. A few weeks later, the NBA commissioner ruled that teams would no longer stay in hotels or eat in restaurants that practiced discrimination. The following year, in 1959, Elgin was chosen as NBA Rookie of the Year. Includes an author’s note describing how Elgin Baylor changed basketball and influenced players like Julius Irving, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James, as well as a list of additional resources, and a timeline of both Baylor’s life and events in the civil rights movement. 40 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: Basketball fans will enjoy this look at a lesser-known player who changed the game and influenced some other players they may have heard of. Frank Morrison’s action-shot illustrations are amazing and should be looked at by the Coretta Scott King and/or Caldecott committees.
Cons: Some sources recommend this book for preschoolers or kindergarteners, but with the civil rights events woven in and extensive back matter, it’s a better book for older elementary kids.