Gibberish by Young Vo

Published by Levine Querido

Summary:  Dat has sailed on a boat, flown on a plane, and today he is taking a school bus.  His mother warns him that when people speak it will sound like gibberish but tells him, “Just listen and do the best you can.”  As the day unfolds, that’s exactly what Dat does.  The world is gray, people look unfamiliar, and adults call him Dav or Dan.  But one girl keeps popping up unexpectedly, playing with him at recess, eating with him at lunch, and riding home with him on the bus.  By the time they get home, the two kids are friends who understand each other’s names and can introduce each other to their moms.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I love how this story builds empathy for non-English speaking kids thrown into American schools.  The illustrations are clever, incorporating a code that can be cracked if you study the endpapers, and showing how Julie gradually transitions in Dat’s eyes from a gray monster-like creature into a colorful human.

Cons:  The story sets the bar pretty high for finding success and a new friend on the first day of school.

Creepy Crayon! By Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Jasper Rabbit of Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear fame is back with a new reason to be scared: a purple crayon that seems to have all the answers.  Jasper’s been struggling with school (he’s failing all his subjects except art) but he discovers that when he writes his assignments with his new crayon friend, he gets straight A’s.  Jasper seems to feel like he’s losing his identity when his work is not his own and decides the crayon must be destroyed.  That’s not as easy as it looks, as the crayon turns out to have the ability to regenerate itself after being broken, melted, and thrown into the trash.  Flushing it down the toilet winds up being the most effective solution, and Jasper can enjoy whatever grades he gets, knowing that they’re the result of his own efforts.  (Creepy epilogue: the crayon travels through the sewer system and washes up on a beach where it’s discovered by Elliot Pelican.)  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Jasper’s many fans will welcome him back (and enjoy glimpses from the other two books) just in time for the spooky fall season.  With literal bathroom humor and just the right touches of creepiness, this is sure to be another hit with young readers.

Cons:  I wasn’t so clear on what made the crayon creepy. Wouldn’t most kids like having a crayon that gave them all the right answers?

Updated book lists

I’ve just finished adding books from the past year to my book lists. Some lists that may be of particular interest during the next couple of months include:

Back to School


Food and eating (Thanksgiving is November 24)

Hispanic Heritage (Hispanic Heritage month is from September 15 – October 15)

Indigenous Americans (Indigenous Peoples’ Day is October 10, and November is National Native American Heritage Month)

Kindness and community (Start the school year off on the right foot)

Labor Day (September 5 this year)

Persistence and grit (Stay on the right foot as the school year continues)

September 11 (9/11)

The Notebook Keeper A Story of Kindness from the Border/La guardiana de la libreta: Una historia de bondad desde la frontera by Stephen Briseño, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Published by Random House Studio

Summary:  Home is different now for Noemí.  Her papá is gone, and the streets are unsafe.  Her mamá tells her they have to go on a long journey.  After many days, joined by many others, they reach the border, but they’re not allowed to cross.  The man there says they have to find the notebook keeper so she can enter their names.  That’s how they meet Belinda, a kind woman who keeps track of everyone in camp, so they know when their number has been called to go across the border.  Weeks go by, and Noemí struggles with the wait and the living conditions, but she tries to be kind to the younger kids.  Then Belinda’s number is called, and it’s time to find a new notebook keeper.  She chooses “someone with generosity in their heart and kindness in their soul”: Noemí and her mamá.  Includes an author’s note, a photo of a real notebook keeper, and a list of sources.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A simple but powerful story of the difficulties of being a refugee and the importance of kindness in even the most trying times.  The beautiful illustrations help tell the story.

Cons:  It would have added some authenticity to have more Spanish words in the English version of the story.

In the Beautiful Country by Jane Kuo

Published by Quill Tree Books

Summary:  Ai Shi (or Anna) is excited to finally be moving from Taiwan to “the beautiful country” of America, where her father has already been living for months.  He moved there with a plan to go into business with a friend who owned an electronics store, but when he arrived, the man backed out of the deal.  So Ba bought a restaurant in L.A. County, and Ai Shi and her mother go to work there immediately upon arrival.  The long hours at the restaurant and the dingy apartment are a far cry from what Anna dreamed about, but worst of all is the racist bully at school and the two teenagers who keep vandalizing the restaurant.  A grocery store cashier takes the family under her wing, and Anna and her parents learn the value of kindness and forgiveness–lessons they apply to other new immigrant families as they finally begin to see a profit from the restaurant.  By the end of the story, Anna’s parents are no longer considering moving back to Taiwan, and Anna has learned enough from her year in America to begin to dream about “the beautiful country” again.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This debut novel-in-verse doesn’t shy away from the hardships of immigrating to America, but also shows how caring people and hard work can ultimately lead to success.  Details about the 1980’s and the relationship between China and Taiwan are well integrated into the narrative. Fans of Kelly Yang or Reem Faruqi will enjoy this.

Cons:  The back flap says that the book is based on the author’s experiences growing up in California in the 1980’s and working in her family’s restaurant.  I wish she had written an author’s note to tell more about that.

Pigeon & Cat by Edward Hemingway

Published by Christy Ottaviano

Summary:  Cat lives alone in a box in a vacant lot, only leaving home to scavenge for food.  If another cat tries to enter the lot, Cat hisses and shows his claws.  One day, he finds an egg, which, much to his surprise, hatches into a pigeon.  For the first time, Cat cares about another animal, feeding her and letting her sleep with him in his box.  Pigeon grows up and starts flying around the city.  Cat worries about her leaving the safety of the lot, but when Pigeon brings back bits of chalk, Cat passes the time by creating art on the walls around him.  One day, though, Pigeon doesn’t come back.  Cat is so heartbroken that he decides to venture out into the city to find her.  He’s so anxious to track down his friend that he starts to reach out to other animals for help.  He draws pictures around the city, hoping Pigeon will recognize them and find him.  One day, a flock of birds unexpectedly leads him back to his own lot where Pigeon is waiting for him.  Pigeon has opened up the lot to other strays, and it becomes a beautiful place that is welcoming to everyone.  40 pages; ages 4-8.  

Pros:  A heartwarming story about the transformative powers of love, friendship, art, and community.

Cons:  Too bad humans aren’t better at learning some of those lessons.

Rosie and the Pre-Loved Dress by Leanne Hatch

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Rosie falls in love with a dress while visiting the thrift store with her mom.  When she gets home with it, she discovers a name on the tag: Mila.  Imagining what Mila might be like, Rosie shows readers a lot about herself: she likes purple nail polish, mismatched socks, skateboarding, origami, and tortilla chips on her tuna sandwiches.  Rosie wears the dress every day until one day it feels too tight.  She considers other uses for it, like decorating her room or putting it on her stuffed giraffe, but ultimately decides to let it go.  Before she takes it back to the thrift shop, she adds her name to the tag.  The last few pages show Rosie falling in love with another thrifted item and another girl looking happy to discover the dress.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A sweet story about a girl with many interests and passions who also learns a lesson about passing on something she loves when it no longer is right for her.

Cons:  As the mother of a daughter who just returned from hiking 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one shirt, I can vouch for the fact that it’s good to change your clothes once in a while.