Saturday at the Food Pantry by Diane O’Neill, illustrated by Brizida Magro

Published by Albert Whitman and Company

Saturday at the Food Pantry: O'Neill, Diane, Magro, Brizida: 9780807572368: Books
Saturday at the Food Pantry: O'Neill, Diane, Magro, Brizida: 9780807572368: Books

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.

The Longest Storm by Dan Yaccarino

Published by mineditionUS

The Longest Storm: Yaccarino, Dan: 9781662650475: Books
Weathering the Storm Together by Dan Yaccarino | Nerdy Book Club

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.  

Cons:  The ending felt a little abrupt.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School by Alexandra Alessandri, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Isabel and her Colores Go to School (English and Spanish Edition):  Alessandri, Alexandra, Dawson, Courtney: 9781534110632: Books
Isabel and her Colores Go to School (English and Spanish Edition):  Alessandri, Alexandra, Dawson, Courtney: 9781534110632: Books

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.

What Are Your Words? A Book About Pronouns by Katherine Locke, illustrated by Anne Passchier

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

What Are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns: Locke, Katherine, Passchier,  Anne: 9780316542067: Books
Andy Passchier Illustrates Children's Book 'What Are Your Words?' | Arts &  Culture | Ideastream Public Media

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.

Watch Me: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration by Doyin Richards, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Watch Me: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration: Richards, Doyin, Cepeda,  Joe: 9781250266514: Books
Watch Me | Doyin Richards | Macmillan

Summary:  Growing up in Sierra Leone, Joe had big dreams.  He decided he needed to go to America to follow them.  Family and friends told him people in America would laugh at his accent and be afraid of his dark skin, but Joe said, “Watch me,” and moved to America.  People did, in fact, make fun of his accent and sometimes told him to go back to Africa.  Joe was homesick, but he persisted.  Sometimes he felt he had to work twice as hard to prove himself, but in the end he kept going and became a doctor.  How does the narrator know all this?  Dr. Joe was his dad.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This inspiring narrative tells Dr. Joe’s story, but also asks a lot of questions of the reader: do you know people like Joe?  Do you see them at your school?  Did they come by plane or boat?  Maybe you did, too?  The text is simple, but it is sure to provoke discussion and encourage kids to make connections between Joe and themselves or people around them.

Cons:  I wanted to know a lot more about Dr. Joe, but there was no additional information.

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village by Jackie McCann, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers 

If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village: McCann,  Jackie, Cushley, Aaron: 9780593310700: Books
If the World Were 100 People: A Visual Guide to Our Global Village: McCann,  Jackie, Cushley, Aaron: 9780593310700: Books

Summary:  It’s hard to envision 8 billion people (the current population of Earth), so what if that number is reduced to 100?  60 people live in Asia, 5 in North America.  11 don’t have enough to eat (although enough food is wasted each day to feed them), and 29 don’t have access to clean water.  26 are under 14, and 8 are over 65.  And, as you may have already heard, 10 people have 85% of the world’s wealth.  Each of these facts is accompanied with an infographic that helps readers see the information.  The final two pages attempt to answer the question, “What are the big questions?” as we move into a future that will likely see 10 billion people on the planet by 2050.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I love information like this, and really, who doesn’t?  It makes demographics so much more accessible, with the fun illustrations adding another level of access.  I learned some surprising facts, as I’m sure most readers would. This could be used for social studies into middle school or even high school.   

Cons:  No back matter.

Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali

Published by Kokila

Laxmi's Mooch by Shelly Anand: 9781984815651 | Books
Laxmi's Mooch: Anand, Shelly, Ali, Nabi H.: 9781984815651: Books

Summary:  When the kids play a farm animal game at school, Laxmi wants to be a chicken, but Zoe says she should be a cat because she has whiskers.  Laxmi’s never noticed the hairs above her lip, but after that she becomes self-conscious about them, as well as the ones on her arms, legs, and in between her eyebrows.  When she tells her parents about the incident, they immediately assure her that all the women in the family (including her mother) have a mooch, and that everyone has hair on their bodies to keep them warm.  The next day at recess, Laxmi says that she wants to be a tiger, because of her whiskers, and suggests that Zoe can use her golden whiskers to be a lion.  Zoe denies having whiskers, but a trip to the bathroom mirror proves otherwise.  Noah wants whiskers, but doesn’t have them, so Zoe draws some on his face, and then proceeds to decorate everyone in her class–even the teacher–with a mooch.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A great story about self-acceptance, with Laxmi’s parents rocking their role of helping their child feel good about herself.  

Cons:  Mooch or no, it seems way more fun to pretend to be a cat than a chicken.

Listen by Gabi Snyder, illustrated by Stephanie Groegin

Published by Simon and Schuster

Listen: Snyder, Gabi, Graegin, Stephanie: 9781534461895: Books
Listen: Snyder, Gabi, Graegin, Stephanie: 9781534461895: Books

Summary:  The world is full of noise, but if you stop, close your eyes, and listen, you can hear each individual sound.  You can also listen to words: some are quick and snappy, others are long and leisurely.  Words can be filled with joy or painful to hear.  Sometimes if you listen carefully, you can hear the feelings of the person who is speaking the words.  Even when it’s night and time for bed, there are still plenty of sounds around that you can listen for before falling asleep.  Includes additional information about listening with definitions of terms like “startle response” and “bottom-up response”.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent resource to teach a variety of listening, focusing, and mindfulness skills, all presented in a child-friendly way.  I loved the illustrations, which I realized were done by the creator of one of my favorite wordless picture books, Little Fox in the Forest

Cons:  A list of additional resources would have been nice,

Bird Boy by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Bird Boy (An Inclusive Children's Book): Burgess, Matthew, Maydani,  Shahrzad: 9781984893772: Books
Bird Boy (An Inclusive Children's Book): Burgess, Matthew, Maydani,  Shahrzad: 9781984893772: Books

Summary:  Nico is nervous on his first day of school, and the reactions of the other kids don’t help much.  At recess, Nico’s not into sports or gossiping with friends, preferring to sit still and watch bugs crawling across the asphalt and the birds that gather around him.  When kids start calling him Bird Boy, Nico knows they’re making fun of him, but he embraces the name, imagining himself as an eagle, or a penguin, or a hummingbird.  Slowly, he makes a couple of friends, as some of the kids start to notice Nico’s kindness and vivid imagination.  At recess, playing on the swings with his new friends, Nico sometimes feels like he really can fly.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful book with a great “be yourself” message that will appeal to introverts and others who sometimes feel like they don’t fit into the mainstream.

Cons:  It seemed like a teacher or other adult could have provided some intervention with the name calling instead of letting Nico deal with it on his own.

All of Us by Kathryn Erskine, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Published by Philomel Books

All of Us by Kathryn Erskine: 9780593204696 | Books
All of Us: Erskine, Kathryn, Boiger, Alexandra: 9780593204696:  Books

Summary:  “Me…can be we. You…can come, too. They…can be ‘Hey!’ It’s all of us.”  This affirming book shows kids of different races and with a variety of physical attributes all playing together.  From hopscotch with the names of the continents in the boxes to sailing on a sea of words in various languages, differences and similarities are embraced and celebrated.  Religious practices and a variety of vocations are also touched upon.  The text circles back at the end: “All kinds of kids, thoughtful and free.  Sometimes in groups, sometimes…just me.”  32 pages; ages 2-8.

Pros:  An affirming book that celebrates all kinds of kids through both text and pictures.  It’s a quick read, but could engender longer discussions, and would make a good welcoming book at the beginning of any sort of kids’ gathering.

Cons:  Far be it from me to utter a disparaging word about such a rosy view of the world.