Summary: 11-year-old Dawn has recently been sexually assaulted by her 22-year-old cousin. When the story opens, she has just told her mother and sibling Billie. Everyone has different reactions. Dawn sometimes feels like she has left her body and is looking down on herself; she also misses the close relationship she had with her cousin and is struggling to come to terms with what he has done to her. Billie is angry and says they want to kill their cousin. Dawn’s mother is sad, angry, and glad that Dawn has told her what happened; she also signs herself up for a self-defense class. When Mom tells her mother and the cousin’s parents what has happened, they don’t believe her and say that Dawn is just trying to get attention. Dawn is fortunate to have caring and understanding people in her life who are determined to end the legacy of abuse that has also affected them. By the end of the story, Dawn has started to find people and resources to help her heal. Includes several pages of resources and discussion questions at the beginning and end for kids who have experienced sexual abuse or know someone who has. 96 pages; grades 3-8.
Pros and cons: Although this was a difficult book to read and review, I recognize it is an important resource for kids who have experienced sexual abuse and the family members, counselors, and others who are trying to help them. The story is told in a format similar to a journal, with a font that looks like handwriting and art created from collage and Spirograph drawings (more on those in the back matter). The story itself shows a wide range of emotions and reactions to the abuse, and the resources and discussion questions add another empathetic layer.
Summary: Every time Tisha tries to slow down and enjoy something, someone tells her to hurry up: catch the bus to school, go to an assembly, get to lunch, clean up at the end of the day. When Mom picks her up and says they have to catch another bus, Tisha finally rebels against all the hurrying. Her mother suggests they walk home instead. As they do, they notice everything around them. At home, when her father says he has to hurry up and get dinner Mom suggests a picnic. They eat under a tree, savoring the food and the blossoms that blow off the branches. “I think my favorite days,” says Tisha, “are full of blossoms and a bit of slowing down!” 32 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A story of mindfulness and slowing down that both kids and adults will relate to and embrace. The illustrations are gorgeous, especially the big, colorful flowers.
Cons: A little more information about mindfulness at the end would have been nice.
Summary: Can you be like a dog? Dogs are always in the present, not the past or the future. They stretch when they wake up, then greet the day and the people they love. Dogs feel their feelings, then let them go. They play every day, and sniff deeply wherever they go. And at the end of the day, dogs notice the night, feel their fatigue, and drop and dream. Includes lists of ways to use each of your senses on a mindfulness walk and a mindful breathing exercise. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A delightful way to teach mindfulness that kids will easily understand and relate to, with Pete Oswald’s fun dog illustrations providing the visuals.
Cons: Not everyone lives in a climate where they’ll be able to find the things listed on the mindfulness walk.
Summary: Yoomi is a dedicated taekwondo student looking forward to earning her yellow belt. On the day of the test, she and the other white belt kids kick and punch with no problem. When it comes to breaking a board, though, Yoomi is afraid of getting hurt and stops just short of the board. Her teacher assures her she can try again, but Yoomi becomes so anxious about not being able to break the board that she stops going to class. Her grandmother doesn’t try to force her to go but tells Yoomi that she is going to stop trying to learn how to use the computer to call her sister in Korea. Yoomi encourages her to keep trying, and eventually Grandma succeeds. Yoomi gets the point and returns to class the next day, where she finally breaks the board and gets her yellow belt. Includes additional information about taekwondo. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This story of persistence is populated with adorable animals. Grandma wisely shows rather than tells, and Yoomi shows courage in continuing to try something that is difficult for her.
Cons: Master Cho is a scarily large rabbit…approximately the same size as one of the adult judges, a tiger, yet the mouse adult judge fits into the palm of the tiger’s hand (paw).
Summary: The book starts off with a series of questions: Are some things more for girls and some for boys? Who made those rules? What happens if we don’t follow them? The text and pictures then show differences in sex and explain what gender identity is. Different families and gender roles are portrayed, with an emphasis on treating others with respect and love, no matter how they identify or choose to raise a family. A few people are profiled, like the Army’s first male nurse (Edward T. Lyon), the first openly transgender state senator (Sarah McBride of Delaware), and the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshokova). The final page asks, “Won’t it be nice to live in a world where we can all just be ourselves?”. Includes two pages of fun facts about gender and clothing. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The authors do an excellent job of presenting a complicated subject in a way that young children will understand. Elise Gravel’s illustrations are fun and help to further illuminate the topics covered. An outstanding resource all around (although I wish it had a list of additional resources).
Cons: I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the cultural warriors get this into their book-banning crosshairs.
Summary: Bernadette’s oldest friend is Rodney, a tortoise is older than she is, older than her dad, even older than her Great-Aunt Clara. Bernadette loves to play games with Rodney, to bring him to school for show and tell, and to read to him before bedtime. Rodney has always been slow, but he gradually gets slower until one day he dies. Bernadette brings her grief with her to school, where it feels like the other kids don’t really care. Like Rodney, she sits on a rock at recess, drawing deeper into her shell. Then one day, a boy named Amar climbs onto the rock with her, acknowledging her sadness about Rodney and remembering some good things that he remembers about the tortoise. Amar used to have a budgie named Samuel, so he’s not unfamiliar with loss. Bernadette responds by inviting Amar over for a game of Crokinole, something she used to enjoy with Rodney. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This gentle tale of love and loss will resonate with anyone who has ever experienced grief.
Cons: I had never heard of Crokinole and had to use my context clues to figure out what it is.
Summary: When the food supply dwindles at Molly’s house, her mother tells her they’re going to the food pantry on Saturday. “Everybody needs help sometimes,” says Mom, lifting her chin a little higher. Waiting in line, Molly says hi to Caitlin, a girl from her class, but Caitlin turns away. When Molly walks over to her, Caitlin says she doesn’t want anyone to know she and her grandmother are there. Molly convinces Caitlin to draw pictures with her while they wait in line, and they cheer people up with their creations. Inside, Molly and Mom fill their cart, and they walk out with Caitlin and her grandmother, who turn out to be neighbors. They decide to eat lunch together, the adults sharing stories of job loss and illness, and the two girls remembering how their drawings made people happy. Includes a note about food insecurity from Kate Maher, CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A realistic look at what it’s like to shop at the food pantry with important messages addressing the stigma that kids might pick up on from adults.
Cons: There are too few books that address issues faced by low-income families.
Summary: A storm comes to town that is unlike any that has ever been seen before, and a family is forced to stay inside. It feels strange to be indoors together for so long and soon tempers flare. Everyone is mad at each other and just wants to be alone. One night, though, a violent thunderstorm and power outage bring them all back together again, and after that things start to get better. There are still occasional fights, but each day the family bond gets stronger, until one day the storm is gone and the sun is shining again. When they head outside, there’s a lot of storm damage, but it’s clear from the last picture that the family will be working together to clean it up. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: While this story seems clearly to have been inspired by the pandemic lockdown, it could also be used to show how a family moves through different stages during any sort of difficult time. The family’s resilience in overcoming anger and learning to pull together during a tough time make this an excellent story for social and emotional learning.
Summary: Isabel’s got the typical first-day-of-school jitters, but she has an additional worry: she doesn’t speak much English. She begs not to go; her mother is understanding but insistent, offering her this advice: “Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.” Things are tough at first, and when a girl named Sarah offers to be her friend, Isabel doesn’t understand and shakes her head. In the afternoon, though, there’s time to draw, and Isabel loves using all the colors. Remembering Mami’s advice, she draws two faces and shows them to Sarah, along with the word “Amigas”. The rest of the class enthusiastically admires Isabel’s picture, and Isabel ends up thinking that maybe school won’t be so bad after all. The story is told in both English and Spanish and includes two pages of Spanish to English translations for the words used in the story. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A perfect back-to-school book for ELL students, particularly those who speak Spanish. The story captures the worries of learning a new language and fitting in, with a realistically hopeful ending.
Cons: I hope Isabel can get some good ELL services at school.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: Ari is excited that Uncle Lior is coming for a visit. Uncle Lior uses they/them pronouns, and they always ask Ari, “What are your words?” Usually Ari knows right away; it may be “Happy! Creative! Funny! He/him” or “Thoughtful! Athletic! Silly! She/her.” Today, though, nothing quite seems to fit. Ari worries about it as the day progresses, with more introductions (including pronouns) around the neighborhood, finishing up with a barbecue and fireworks. As the first ones burst across the sky, Ari suddenly discovers the words for today: “Impatient! Excited! Colorful! They/them.” Uncle Lior tells them, “That’s definitely you, Ari.” 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This book will be a valuable resource to anyone working with transgender, nonbinary, or gender fluid kids and will help others to understand the importance of pronouns. The illustrations are cheerful and colorful; I especially liked the endpapers that showed a variety of people and pronouns.
Cons: The story was definitely secondary to the lessons being taught.