Big by Vashti Harrison

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  At first the little girl with a big heart, big laugh, and big dreams loves being big.  “What a big girl you are!” adults say happily.  But as she gets older, being big is no longer considered a good thing.  “Don’t you think you’re too big for that?” a teacher scolds when she gets stuck in a swing, surrounded by classmates who moo and call out other hurtful comments.  She tries to blend in, trading her pink ballet costume for a gray one and becoming part of the scenery on stage.  She grows bigger and bigger on each page until she is crammed, curled up and crying, on the two-page spread.  Her tears turn into words: gray words like “too big” and “big cow” are mixed with pink words like “beautiful” and “creative.”  Finally, she gathers up the pink words for herself and hands the gray ones back to the people who said them.  Those people don’t always understand, but the girl is good, as she dances in her pink tutu off the final page.  Includes an author’s note sharing her own experiences that inspired this book.  60 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An important book that addresses anti-fat bias and gives girls, especially Black girls, some tools for self-love and acceptance. The beautiful illustrations are a perfect complement to the text.

Cons:  I have mixed feelings about gatefold pages like the one in this book.  They are cool, but just don’t hold up well to repeated library use. The Knuffle Bunnies have been driving me crazy this year.

A Year of Good News: 52 Good News Stories from Around the World by Martin Smatana

Published by Boxer Books

Summary:  Martin Smatana began collecting good news stories during the pandemic, illustrating them with textile collages created from cast-off clothing.  Whether local, (a man who drove his 85-year-old grandmother 40,000 miles so she could see mountains and the ocean for the first time) or international (the eradication of polio in Africa), these 52 stories and pictures are designed to lift the spirits of those weighted down by all the less positive news in the world.  Includes a QR code that takes you to a website with additional good news stories.  112 pages; ages 7 and up.

Pros:  These happy stories and whimsical illustrations will lift anyone’s spirits and send readers on a search for more news that is positive.

Cons:  While I appreciated the human-interest stories, I would have liked to have seen a few more stories with broader scope like the polio one.

From Here to There: A First Book of Maps by Vivian French, illustrated by Ya-Ling Huang

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  When Zane sends Anna an invitation to his house with a map included, she’s annoyed that his house is in the middle of the map and hers is at the edge.  Dad suggests drawing her own map, but when Anna tries to include Grandma’s house, she runs out of paper.  Dad introduces her to the concept of a bird’s-eye view.  Once that map is completed, she draws one of her cat’s favorite places in the house, and Dad shows her a different kind of map he’s drawn: a family tree.  The next day, Anna and Dad follow Zane’s map to get to his house for the playdate.  Includes information about making your own map and an index with six terms.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Since maps are part of our kindergarten curriculum, I know there aren’t a lot of good introductory books for younger kids.  This book does a great job of expertly weaving map terms like scale and point of view into the story and encouraging readers to try to create their own maps.

Cons:  Introducing the family tree seemed a little confusing when all the other maps were about places.

Harmony & Echo: The Mermaid Ballet by Brigette Barrager

Published by Random House Studio

Summary:  Harmony and Echo are mermaid best friends who love collecting sea glass, reading fairy tales, and daydreaming.  But while Harmony is a carefree young mermaid who loves to have fun, Echo is more anxious, often worrying about details of her life.  The upcoming ballet performance has her stressed, so Harmony comes up with a solution: if Echo is feeling nervous during the show, she should reach over and squeeze Harmony’s hand.  On the big night, Echo begins to worry, but once she starts dancing, she’s fine.  The two mermaids hold hands for their final bows and agree to use the hand squeeze in the future as their secret way to calm Echo’s fears.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  There can never be enough mermaid books, and the cover alone will have it flying off the library shelves.  Brigette Barrager is the Uni the Unicorn illustrator and works her magic with the underwater scenes and mer-world.

Cons:  Echo might want to seek out a mer-therapist to complement the hand-squeezing technique.

Becoming Charley by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Loveis Wise

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  While the other caterpillars keep their heads down and eat milkweed the way they’re supposed to, Charley likes to look up at the trees and the clouds and the stars.  The caterpillars are taught to focus on the orange and black patterns that will one day make them into monarch butterflies, but Charley often gets distracted by the beautiful things all around him.  He’s excited when it’s time to form his chrysalis but once inside, he’s unsure of what to do.  Orange and black, right?  But Charley can’t help remembering the blues and yellows of the birds and sun.  As summer moves on, the other butterflies start to emerge, but Charley’s chrysalis remains unchanged.  “I’m not surprised,” says one of the older butterflies.  Then, finally, here comes Charley, but instead of black and orange he’s a unique, colorful montage of all the things he has ever loved.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The beautiful illustrations show the colorful world that Charley loves, and the story celebrates those who don’t always quite fit in or follow the rules.

Cons:  I love the message, but I thought it could have been delivered with a lighter touch, like Kelly DiPucchio did in Gaston, one of my favorite books to read to kids.

Danbi’s Favorite Day by Anna Kim

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In this follow-up to Danbi Leads the School Parade, Danbi is excited to celebrate Children’s Day.  “Back in Korea,” Danbi tells her friends when she invites them to the celebration, “it’s the day when all your wishes come true.”  But Danbi’s parents, who have to work at their deli, can’t host a big party. Her mother reminds her that Children’s Day is “about celebrating the children on Earth who will one day lead the world.”  They compromise with a party behind the deli, and all the children arrive on the big day.  There’s dancing and drawing with sidewalk chalk until a sudden storm sends everyone inside.  Danbi is sure the party is ruined, but her parents give the kids permission to eat whatever they want from the deli, and that, combined with her mother’s special rainbow cake, makes Children’s Day a true celebration of children.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The story and illustrations convey the joyful energy Danbi seems to bring to all aspects of her life and can serve as a good introduction to the Children’s Day holiday.

Cons:  No additional information about Children’s Day.

A Girl Can Build Anything by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo and Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Keisha Morris

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Girls and women in these pages learn to build increasingly larger, more complex objects.  First, it’s a box or birdhouse, then they move on to designing a trellis, a table, and a treehouse for a new playground.  There can be setbacks when projects don’t go as planned, but taking a break and starting again can get you where you want to go.  By the end, a team of women has created a new building at the entrance of the playground.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The cheery text and illustrations provide an empowering introduction to get girls (and boys) excited about learning to use tools and building their own projects.  

Cons:  That it still seems like something of a novelty for girls and women to be using tools and building things.

The Book of Turtles by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Matt Patterson

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Naturalist Sy Montgomery writes engagingly about turtles, starting with descriptions of their anatomy and evolution.  She describes turtle species who hold the records for most colorful, stinkiest, fastest, largest, and more.  There are celebrity turtle profiles and information on how turtles communicate.  Turtles, protected by their shells, have survived for more than 200 million years, but now many species are endangered due to human activities.  The final few pages tell readers different ways they can help them survive.  Includes a glossary, bibliography, and list of resources.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Montgomery has a knack for focusing on facts and information that will be of most interest to readers.  The acrylic paintings look almost like photos and show incredible details of a wide variety of turtles.  Kids who already love turtles will be thrilled, and others may become fans after reading this book.

Cons:  I wish this book had been around during my daughter’s decade-long obsession with turtles.

Papá’s Magical Water-Jug Clock by Jesús Trejo, illustrated by Eliza Kinkz

Published by Minerva

Summary:  Jesús is excited to be spending Saturday helping Papá with his landscaping job.  It’s hot work, and Jesús is put in charge of the water jug, which Papá tells him is like a magical clock–when the jug is empty, it’s time to go home.  Jesús enjoys sharing water with the customers’ pets and splashing some on his face to cool off.  In no time at all, the jug is empty, and Jesús is ready to go home.  Unfortunately, it’s only 10:30 and there are 11 more customers waiting!  Papá straightens his son out about the “magic”, then sends him to the house to refill the jug.  Lesson learned, Jesús works hard for the rest of the day, realizing that the real magic is the teamwork between him and Papá.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A charming memory recounted by comedian Jesús Trejo.  The comic style illustrations perfectly complement the funny text (be sure to check out the cartoon landscapers on the endpapers), which also shows the heartwarming bond between father and son.  

Cons:  I wish there had been more information about the real Jesús and his Papá.

A Bed of Stars by Jessica Love

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  The narrator has trouble falling asleep, feeling tiny when thinking of the vastness of the universe.  Dad announces one morning that the two of them are going camping, and they pack the pick-up truck and drive off to the desert.  Once there, they jump in the dunes, observe beetles and birds, build a campfire, and watch the sun set.  When it’s time to sleep in the bed of the pick-up, Dad explains that stars are made of the energy, just like the beetles, the birds, and the two of them.  They start to name the stars after people they know, and before long, both are asleep.  In the morning, they pack up and drive home, where they discover that Mom has been busy in their absence, painting glow-in-the-dark stars all over the child’s bedroom walls and ceiling.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The watercolor paintings capture the beauty of the desert, and the simple story shows the love between parents and child and the safety that provides.

Cons:  Campfires are better after sunset, not before.