Summary: Hudson the dog and Tallulah the cat may be neighbors, but they could not be more different. Hudson loves to dig, eat garbage, and play with other dogs at the dog park, while Tallulah prefers keeping clean and keeping to herself. But when the two of them spot a puddle full of birds, the chance to chase and play is irresistible for both animals. Soon they discover a few more pastimes they both enjoy, and by the end of the book, a friendship has been born. 40 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: The team that produced the Geisel Award winning You Are (Not) Small has created a new book for early readers told through the illustrations and simple dialogue. Kids will recognize and appreciate the dog-cat differences and enjoy being able to try out their new reading skills.
Cons: This felt like it would have worked better in the traditional early reader format rather than as a picture book.
Summary: Clarinet and Trumpet are best friends until Oboe comes along, and the two woodwinds start hanging out. Trumpet is sad and lonely until he befriends Trombone. Then it’s woodwinds versus brass, with each group adding more members, until cool Saxophone comes along. With his reed AND brass exterior, he has everyone wondering: which group will he join? Instead of siding with one or the other, he starts playing music; before long, everyone is united in one happy band. The spine of this book is filled with small beads, so it can be used as a rhythmic shaker. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A fun friendship story which also could serve as an introduction to band instruments.
Cons: Whoever thought the shaker was a good idea has clearly not spent a lot of time with young children.
Summary: Two groups of kids meet on the playground: three speak English and three speak Spanish. At first, the groups watch and listen to each other, unable to speak the others’ language. Gradually, they find things in common: jumping rope, dancing, and enjoying the playground equipment. By the end of the day, they’re playing together and learning words from a new language. Then it’s “¡Hasta mañana!” and “See you tomorrow!” as each group heads off in a different direction. Includes a glossary of Spanish and English words and an author’s note about the importance of learning languages, written in both English and Spanish. 32 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: A cute story about overcoming language barriers to friendship. The text is written in English and Spanish, which could help kids learn a few words in a new language.
Cons: There were a few pages of text around the jump rope scene that weren’t translated, or the translation was a little confusing.
Summary: “My grandmother came to visit. I had met her once before. She lived far away. Her hair was very white and very, very long.” This somewhat mysterious grandmother proposes that she and her grandchild play jaguars. And suddenly, they ARE jaguars, heading out into the night, where they hunt (“I didn’t want to eat a raw rabbit so I said I was allergic”), run, and travel to the Himalayas. Suddenly remembering school, the narrator says he has to get back soon. The grandmother gives him a long look with her jaguar eyes, but then they run back to the school. “Who knew how much school I had missed? But it was okay…my grandmother wrote me a note.” The final illustration shows the silhouette of a jaguar sitting in class and a teacher holding a piece of paper with a paw print on it. 44 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: This ambiguous tale is beautifully written and illustrated, leaving open the question of whether the jaguar adventures were real or imagined. As an aside, I only recently realized that Dave Eggers is a big deal in the world of adult literature as well as children’s (a line from April Ludgate in a Parks and Recreation episode tipped me off). This story would make a good mentor text for teaching similes and other figurative language.
Cons: Some kids (and adults) might not like the ambiguity.
Summary: International children’s advocate Warren Binford was shocked by his 2019 visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in Texas where he found over 350 children locked in a warehouse, a loading dock, and overcrowded cells. After Donald Trump and Mike Pence refused to acknowledge the truth about Clint, Warren and his colleagues went on social media to ask artists, writers, faith leaders, and anyone else to help these children tell their stories. Project Amplify has resulted in songs, plays, billboards, works of art, and now this book, which is a collection of the children’s stories in their own words. Illustrated by 17 Latinx artists, the text is in both English and Spanish, and lets the kids tell why they left their countries for the U.S. and the deplorable conditions they experienced once they got here. Includes a foreword by Michael Garcia Bochenek of Human Rights Watch and several pages about Project Amplify and the book, including thumbnail portraits of each artist and questions to ask children about the text. 96 pages; ages 8 and up.
Pros: An incredibly powerful book, made more so by the amazing illustrations (some realistic and some more fantastic), and the back matter.
Cons: It’s hard to recommend an age group for this book. While I think there are plenty of elementary kids who would learn a lot from it, it should definitely be read with some adult guidance.
Summary: Each two-page spread has a watercolor illustration of the tree in its natural habitat with animals that live in or near it, a free-verse poem, and several paragraphs of information about the tree. The “wisdom” aspect of trees is emphasized, showing the remarkable ways trees defend themselves, maintain Earth’s balance, and even communicate with each other. Includes an author’s note; additional information about each tree in the book and the future of forests; how to help forests; glossary; and sources. 48 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This gorgeous science book has some pretty mind-blowing information about trees that scientists are just beginning to discover. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for trees, and it will undoubtedly have the same effect on younger readers.
Cons: It will take a pretty dedicated tree enthusiast to get through the entire book. But the good news is, if this tree book doesn’t grab you, there are a couple dozen more to choose from this year.
Summary: A ruby throated hummingbird narrates a year in his life, starting on May 15 when he hatches out of an egg. A few weeks later, he’s ready to fly, and spends the summer sipping nectar and fighting/playing with the other hummingbirds. August 22: “I’m hearing a lot of chatter about a big trip soon.” In September, he heads to Mexico, where he stays until the end of February. By May 4, he’s back home again, and thinking about finding a mate. Includes additional information about hummingbirds on both the front and back endpapers, as well as a glossary and a list of sources and recommended reading. 40 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Paul Meisel and Holiday House have teamed up for a number of I Like to Read books, and this series feels like it could appeal to the same audience. There’s just a sentence or two of text on each page, and the diary format makes it engaging and fun. Yet there’s plenty of back matter that could make this a great research resource for older kids. There are three other books in this series, which started in 2018.
Cons: As you may recall, I’m not a big fan of using the endpapers for additional information. Fortunately, the book I got from the library didn’t have a dust jacket, so nothing was covered up.
Summary: A butterfly tells readers that “everyone knows that butterflies are pretty.” If that’s as much as you want to know about butterflies, you’re warned not to read any further. But, of course, who can resist? Keep going, and you’ll learn that butterflies can be drab, noisy, and eat rotten food or poop. Some are stinky, sneaky, and all are shape-shifters, turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly. They taste with their feet and drink other animals’ tears. Butterflies are gross, they are amazing, AND they are beautiful…just like humans! Includes additional information about the butterfly species in the book. 36 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: This is a fun approach that is a nice counterbalance to more traditional butterfly books. I used to teach in a school where there was a second grade field trip to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA, and there were always one or two kids who were completely freaked out by butterflies. They might enjoy having their phobias validated by this book.
Cons: Honestly, I was hoping for something a little bit grosser.
Summary: At the start of this book, “Yes” belongs to the dog, while “No” is the domain of the cat, as they are asked questions from their offstage guardian: Are you awake? Did you sleep well? Are you both excited for the day? Sent outside to play, the dog is a whirlwind of activity, digging and chewing everything in sight, while the cat perches in a tree. The owner, seeing the destruction in the yard, sends them farther afield, and they head off. Several wordless pages show the pair traveling together, then gazing at the scenery as they sit side by side. When it’s time to come inside and get ready for bed, it’s the dog who starts saying no, but he finally admits to being ready for sleep, as the cat heads out a window into the night. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Reminiscent of Cooper’s Caldecott book Big Cat, Little Cat, this fun book is sure to spark debate between dog people and cat people. The illustrations and sparse text perfectly capture each animal’s personality.
Cons: It doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of Big Cat, Little Cat.
Summary: Teenagers lurk in the shadow of Mrs. Lucy’s garage. Before she can stop them, they’ve spray-painted it with graffiti. The next morning, she paints over the words, chasing the kids away when they start to play ball near her house. They move on, but they don’t let Tasha join them. Disheartened, Tasha offers to help Mrs. Lucy, and the two of them finish the job, then have a snack together. That night, the cycle repeats itself, with Mrs. Lucy and Tasha doing clean-up together in the morning. On the third night, Mrs. Lucy hides in the bushes by her garage, determined to catch the culprit. This time, though, there’s only one kid–Tasha. “I just–I just wanted to come over again,” she stammers when Mrs. Lucy catches her. They make plans to work together in the morning. 32 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: An unusual and thought-provoking story with intriguing illustration by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young.
Cons: Kids may need to brush up their inferencing skills to understand what is going on in the story.