Summary: The first time Patti McGee saw a group of boys on skateboards, she mounted a board on her roller skate wheels, and took off down the tallest hill in her neighborhood. She was hooked, but the wheels kept falling off her board, and a real skateboard was expensive. When she heard about a new skateboarding team starting up, with a free board as part of the deal, she practiced even harder. Making the team inspired her to enter a competition, where she showed off her best trick: a handstand on a moving board that she held for six seconds. Her perfect score won her the championship and launched a skateboarding career. Includes a page answering the question “Where Is She Now?”, an author’s note, a photo of Patty performing her handstand, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Patti’s enthusiasm and determination (particularly on the page that shows her applying multiple band-aids to her bleeding arms and legs) will be an inspiration and introduce kids to a little-known sports star.
Summary: Shanti leaves her village (in India) to go to her new town (in the United States). in the village, she enjoys the food, language, and traditions; in town, she learns a new language, tries new foods, and makes new friends. It’s exciting to have new experiences, comforting to fall back on the old ones, and sometimes exhausting to travel between the two. Finally, she needs a rest, and she takes one in the in-between that bridges the two worlds. Refreshed, she realizes she can make any place feel like home, including that space between her two cultures. Includes an author’s note about her experiences that inspired Shanti’s story and a glossary of Bangla words. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: There are many books that tell kids’ immigration stories, but this one more than most captures the experience of living in two cultures, both the difficult and the valuable aspects.
Cons: One of my pet peeves: the glossary is on the back end papers, which means approximately 30% of it was covered up by the taped-on dust jacket of my library copy of the book.
Summary: “Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was outside…went inside.” All over the world, people stayed inside except for those who needed to be out of their homes. People inside worked, played, and worried. Why did people do this? “Mostly because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” While waiting it out, we remembered that spring would come…inside and outside (outside is shown with a gatefold page with unmasked people hugging and playing outside). Includes a two-page author’s note explaining more about the pandemic and how it inspired this book. 48 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Not surprisingly, books borne of the pandemic are starting to appear in 2021. This is the best I’ve seen so far, showing many scenes that we’ve experienced or seen on the news in the last year without ever specifically mentioning Covid. Students at my school will be returning April 5 after more than a year at home, and this book will be perfect to help share and process our pandemic stories.
Cons: “Everyone knew it was the right thing to do” seems like a bit of an oversimplification of what really happened in America.
Summary: When the crates containing the pieces of the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, there was one problem: the pedestal for the statue was only half-built, and there didn’t seem to be much interest in raising the $100,000 needed to complete it. Then Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant himself and owner of the New York World newspaper, wrote in his paper, “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give money. [The Statue of Liberty] is a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.” The “whole people of America”, including many children, rose to the occasion, sending the pennies and dollars that they could afford to build the pedestal. By August, the full amount had been raised from 120,000 donors, and on October 28, 1886, about a million people came to New York to celebrate the new statue. Includes a timeline, additional facts about the Statue of Liberty, a bibliography of books and websites, and two pages of photos and a map. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Excellent nonfiction, with just the right balance of engaging and informative, and the perfect amount of back matter–love all those photos!
Cons: It was a little anti-climactic to learn in the back matter that the original $100,000 price tag eventually jumped to $320,000 when construction began. Fortunately, additional donors and Congress footed the bill.
Summary: A young boy describes the journey from his home along the Mekong River to an undisclosed destination. He paddles a small boat through waves and rain showers, seeing animals big and small all around him. Some of the metaphors he uses may tip the reader off about where he is going: he gets to “write my name across the blackboard of a river”, and describes the sky as “a crayon box full of colors”. His travels conclude as he and his friends arrive for their first day of school. Includes additional information about the Mekong River and a note from Christopher Myers, creative director of the Make Me a World imprint. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would make a great back-to-school book; although the Vietnamese setting may be unfamiliar to kids, the boy’s anxieties and excitement are universal. The bold, colorful illustrations are beautiful, filled with both real and imagined animals.
Cons: I was going to say this could be a Caldecott contender until I realized the illustrator lives in Vietnam. Just had the same hope dashed about a Newbery for Too Small Tola by Atinuke. ALSC, please change the rule that winners have to be citizens or residents of the United States!
Summary: The package is sealed, addressed, and given an extra personal touch. Then it’s on its way: to the post office, to a building to be sorted, onto a truck to go to the airport. But on the way, the truck hits a pothole, and the package falls out. It sits in a puddle on the side of the road until a boy notices it and picks it up. He’s excited to see a drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge, because it turns out he and his mom are moving to San Francisco! Upon their arrival, they find the address on the package and deliver it to a kid who is about the same age as the boy. The boys talk, the moms talk, and a friendship is born. The last page shows the package recipient with a replica of the Empire State Building next to the battered box it came in; he’s getting ready to send a package of his own. Includes an author’s note that starts out, “If it wasn’t for the United States Postal Service, I might not be here today” and an illustrator’s note. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A celebration of both the Post Office and new friends, this book is spare with its text, but the illustrations do an amazing job of telling the story, showing each step on the package’s long and winding journey. The author’s note reminds readers of the importance of the USPS, and what they can do to support it.
Cons: It seemed like an almost impossible, although wonderful, coincidence that the boy who found the package was just about to move to California.
Summary: Zapped, wrapped, trapped, or poked: those are a few of the ways flies get eaten by other animals. Each method is accompanied by a cartoon illustration along with a few sentences of text describing how the fly is trapped and consumed. The last few pages give nutrition facts for flies, show their edible parts, and offer lists of books and websites, as well as a selected bibliography. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The emphasis on the gross-out factor, reinforced in the illustrations, will undoubtedly have readers flocking to this book like the proverbial flies to honey.
Cons: If flies are such easy prey, why are there still so many of them around?
Summary: In the pages before the title page, Louise packs a ball into a box with other doggy items, and she and her parents hold the box, with the caption, “Goodbye, Charlie.” The main story begins as a grief-stricken Louise rows a boat to a small island near her house. As she starts to enjoy the animals she sees there, colors return to the sepia-toned illustrations. Then a bear appears. Louis is afraid at first, but her fear turns to anger and she roars back at the bear. The bear seems as sad as Louise, and on subsequent visits to the island, the two become friends. As winter approaches, the bear settles down to sleep. “It’s not fair,” thinks Louise “when the things we love must end.” But sometimes an end is a beginning, and before spring, Louise has a new puppy named Milly. The two of them return to the island, but she doesn’t find the bear, and Louise wonders…was he ever there? 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: I’ve been avoiding this book since I read it was about the grief of losing a dog, but I’m glad I finally overcame my resistance. Caldecott winner Cordell does a masterful job of exploring grief and the healing powers of nature and time in ways that kids will relate to.
Cons: The ending may be a bit ambiguous for the younger set.
Summary: When Kate Kaird left Germany for America with her young son Jacob, she couldn’t have imagined what lay in store for her. She soon married John Walker, the keeper of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, and within a year they moved into the lighthouse to live. She spent the next 33 years there, taking over all the duties after John died when their daughter was only three years old. It took four years for her to get the title and salary of permanent lighthouse keeper, securing the job after two men passed it up as being too lonely. Kate kept the light clean and polished, rowed back and forth to Staten Island for visits and supplies, and rescued more than fifty people during her long career. Includes additional information with a photo and a list of sources; endpapers include a map of the lighthouse and the surrounding area. 40 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: Another great choice for Women’s History Month, this would also pair well with Sophie Blackall’s Hello, Lighthouse! The lengthy story gives plenty of details which are supplemented further with the author’s note. As always, Emily Arnold McCully’s illustrations are excellent and really capture the different seasons and types of weather experienced by the lighthouse dwellers.
Cons: The story is long enough that younger readers might get antsy during a read-aloud.
Summary: You can hug a pug, a bug, or a slug (ewww!), but don’t hug Doug. It’s just not his thing. The only hug he likes is a NOT squeezy one from his mom at bedtime. Don’t worry, Doug likes you, and he likes lots of other things, too: his rock collection, his sock collection, drawing with his chalk collection. And he’s really good with high-fives. Turns out Doug’s not the only one, so when considering a hug, be sure to ask first. 32 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: This lighthearted book about consent touches on quite a few topics: why not everyone likes hugs, the importance of asking before hugging, and that rejecting a hug isn’t the same as rejecting a person. There’s plenty of humor in both the text and illustrations, and Doug is a good-natured guide.
Cons: I’ve definitely made some of the mistakes described by Doug.