The Chance to Fly by Ali Stroker and Stacy Davidowitz

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Chance to Fly: Stroker, Ali: 9781419743931: Books

Summary:  Nat is nervous about moving to New Jersey, away from her California home and her best friend Chloe.  Her dad signs her up for a wheelchair track team, but at the first practice she sees a flyer for the activity she really wants to try: a production of Wicked for middle school kids.  Although she’s never acted, she loves singing and musical theater, and, against her parents’ wishes, decides to audition.  To her delight, she gets a part in the chorus and finds her tribe with the theater kids, including Malik, her first crush.  When a fire at the theater threatens to put an end to the play, Nat is unwilling to let go of her dream of performing on stage.  She and the other kids rally to put the show together, and Nat gets her chance–both literally and figuratively–to fly.  Includes a note from the authors about how they met and collaborated.  288 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Attention all middle school theater kids: here is a book about you that will have you on your feet by the last page, applauding Nat’s courage and determination to succeed.  Readers will build empathy for what it is like to be in a wheelchair, and may let go of some limiting beliefs about people with physical disabilities.  Be sure to look for YouTube videos of some of the performances of co-author and Tony Award-winning disabled actress Ali Stroker.

Cons:  Due to my mediocre knowledge of musical theater, I didn’t get the references of all the chapter titles (which are lyrics from various musical songs).

Ten books to read on Zoom

Like many of you, I’ve been reading to kids on Zoom this year. I discovered that my favorite way to share books is by turning them into Google slideshows. I’ve done about 200 books, so I’ve had a chance to perfect the process! There’s been a lot of trial and error, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned if you want to contact me ( It’s a strange feeling to read this way, though, as often the kids are muted, and I can’t see all–or sometimes any–of their faces.

I’ve found that the books that the kids and I have enjoyed the most are the ones that are most interactive. There’s a bit of a learning curve to figure out how to read the book and also be able to see the kids, but it’s worth it to be able to have a conversation with your students. (I know many teachers use more than one screen to facilitate this, but so far I’ve just been on my laptop.) I’ve put together this list of the ten books that have worked the best for me and have brought me some much-needed joy in this crazy year of remote education.

Journey by Aaron Becker

Published by Candlewick Journey (Aaron Becker's Wordless Trilogy) (9780763660536):  Becker, Aaron, Becker, Aaron: Books

I’m starting with the one book I haven’t actually tried on Zoom yet. I have it in my plans to do in a couple of weeks. Creating a story for this amazing wordless book has always been a popular activity. I start by having the kids come up with names for the girl, the boy, and the bird. I’m hoping to either write or type the story as the kids make it up, then go back and read it again with their words. I’ll be trying this out with second grade.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

Published by Candlewick

Du Iz Tak? (E. B. White Read-Aloud Award. Picture Books): Ellis, Carson,  Ellis, Carson: 9780763665302: Books

I’ve never felt an inclination to read this book in person, but it was perfect for Zoom. Together we puzzled out the insects’ language, and Zoom made it easier to see the illustrations up close and to flip back to past pages to see how different words had been used. Second grade.

Take Away the A by Michal Escoffier

Published by Enchanted Lion Press

Take Away the A: Escoffier, Michaël, Di Giacomo, Kris: 9781592701568:  Books

I inserted my own slides to have the kids guess before showing the illustrations. So before the first page, I had a slide that said “Take the A away from BEAST” with all the letters in black except for two red A’s. The kids would figure out that it would be “best”, then I’d go to the next slide which had the word and the illustration. I got some positive teacher feedback on this one. Second grade.

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do by by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies

Published by Charlesbridge

Clothesline Clues to Jobs People Do: Heling, Kathryn, Hembrook, Deborah,  Davies, Andy Robert: 9781580892520: Books

This cute book has rhyming text and a picture of different workers’ clothes on a clothesline. Kids guess who those clothes belong to, then you turn the page to see if they’re right. This team has also created similar books about sports and the first day of school. Kindergarten.

A Children’s Zoo by Tana Hoban

Published by Greenwillow Books

A Children's Zoo: Hoban, Tana, Hoban, Tana: 9780688052027: Books

An oldie but a goodie that I’ve used for years. Each page has a photo of a zoo animal and three words that describe it. I give the three words and the kids have to guess the animal before I show the picture. I didn’t use Google Slides for this one, just held up the book to the camera, but if I had it to do again, I would. You could insert slides with the three word between the illustrations. If you have time, kids can make up their own when you’re done reading. First and second grades.

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest by Steve Jenkins

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Biggest, Strongest, Fastest: Jenkins, Steve: 0046442861366:  Books

One of my all-time favorites, this book also required me to insert slides with the record for each animal (e.g., the strongest animal for its size), then have the kids guess before going to the slide with the book page (ant). Kids and teachers loved this; my assistant principal observed this lesson and said she was shouting the answers to her computer screen (fortunately, she was muted). First and second grades.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Published by Candlewick I Want My Hat Back (9780763655983): Klassen, Jon, Klassen, Jon:  Books

I’m happy to report that yes, readers’ theater is possible on Zoom. I typed up a script from this book and color-coded the different parts to help kids recognize their lines, then shared my screen so everyone could read from it. The book also has color-coded lines, and I read it before we did the play. It was a big hit with second graders!

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine, illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth

Published by Millbrook Press

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons: Levine, Sara, Spookytooth, T.S:  9780761384649: Books

Another book that allows kids to guess before you turn the page. What kind of animal would you be if you had extra long leg bones and short arm bones? (A kangaroo or a rabbit). I got some positive teacher feedback on this one, as they had just completed a science unit on animal body parts. First grade.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Published by HarperCollins Sideways Stories from Wayside School: Louis Sachar, Adam  McCauley, Julie Brincklo: Books

One of my readers’ theater go-to books. I got the scripts from Aaron Shepard long ago, which I have edited and added to over the years Again, I created a color-coded script, and did four of the chapters with third grade enrichment groups.

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Published by Neal Porter Books

Small in the City: Smith, Sydney: 9780823442614: Books

This is a great book for inferencing and predicting. Zoom allowed the kids to get a close look at the illustrations which are key to figuring out what is going on in the story. First and second grades.

I still have seven more weeks of school, so I could use some more ideas! Feel free to share your best Zoom books in the comments.

It’s awards day!

Just watched the livestream of the announcements:


Honor books:

A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha and Irene Latham, illustrated by Yuko Shimuzo

Me and Mama by Cozbi A. Cabrera

Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby

Winner: We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade



All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Boys’ Thai Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvart (two Newbery honors for her this year!)

Winner: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Check out the ALA announcement of these and the many other awards announced this morning at their website.

What do you think of the winners? Answer in the comments!

Small Press Saturday

As you may or may not know, I have a certain schedule I follow each week with my reviews: Middle grade Monday, Third Grade Thursday (for early chapter books…not enough to do one every Thursday, unfortunately), Factual Friday, and Storytime Sunday. This year, I’m introducing a new one: Small Press Saturday. In an effort to celebrate the creativity and courage of small presses who go up against the Big Five publishing industry, I will review a book published by an independent press each Saturday. My biggest challenge here will be getting my hands on the books, which aren’t always available at my local library. I’ve reached out to a number of small presses, but if any of you has any connections, please feel free to let me know.

Another list of six: favorite nonfiction books

Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

Published by Neal Porter Books

Your Place in the Universe: Chin, Jason: 9780823446230: Books

I notice that Jason Chin has made it onto three of my last five favorite nonfiction book lists, so guess I’m a bit of a fan. His illustrations are awe-inspiring, and I loved the comparisons in this book that made enormous numbers and sizes a little more understandable.

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Candlewick

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA: Davies, Nicola, Sutton, Emily: 9781536212723: Books

Explaining DNA and genetics in a way that’s accessible to readers as young as kindergarten is no easy feat, but Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton pulled it off. Watson and Crick would be proud.

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak-Lowy, Todd:  9781419741111: Books

I thought I knew a fair amount about nonviolent activism–I’m a Quaker, for Pete’s sake–but I learned so much from reading this book. 2020 had its share of activism and books about activism, but this was the one I found most inspiring.

The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Fabled Life of Aesop: The extraordinary journey and collected tales of  the world's greatest storyteller: Lendler, Ian, Zagarenski, Pamela:  9781328585523: Books

I’m sure Aesop never imagined he’d be part of the Common Core, but there he is. As a school librarian, I am grateful for this comprehensive introduction to his life and fables, and I also appreciated the sly observations on what it means to have power. Pamela Zagarenski has a couple of Caldecott honors to her name, so don’t count her out this year.

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots (9781984816269): Rex, Michael,  Rex, Michael: Books

Who knew that when I was playing Kick the Can with Michael Rex and the rest of our neighbors in 1970’s suburban New Jersey that in 2020 I’d be reviewing his book? Well done, Michael, I loved your take on facts vs. opinions. Librarians everywhere should thank you for this book.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick Press

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team -  Kindle edition by Soontornvat, Christina. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

I guess none of us should be surprised that this drama we watched unfold a couple of years ago would be made into a gripping nonfiction tale. Christina Soontornvat added so much context with her sidebars on Thailand, caves, and Buddhism, as well as her personal connection to the story that readers get much more than just a survival story.

Five more favorite picture books

These were some of my personal favorites this year. As I look at the list, it seems to reflect 2020: lots of emphasis on the joys and sorrows of family and home.

Golden Threads by Suzanne Del Rizzo, illustrated by Miki Sato

Published by Owlkids

Golden Threads: Rizzo, Suzanne Del, Sato, Miki: 9781771473606:  Books

I loved this little fox and the friendship he finds with two different girls; also the concept of wabi-sabi that is explored in the story: finding beauty in things that are imperfect.

The Camping Trip by Jennifer Mann

Published by Candlewick

Camping Trip: 9781406393507: Books

This story perfectly captured a weekend camping trip: swimming, hiking, s’mores, homesickness. The illustrations reminded me a little bit of G. Brian Karas, upon whom I shall heap praise a bit further down.

Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Books

Another excellent introduction to the great outdoors, this one a wordless book celebrating a father-son bond created during their shared hike. This could easily have been on my Caldecott contender list.

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Clarion Almost Time (9780544785816): Schmidt, Gary D., Stickney,  Elizabeth, Karas, Mr. G. Brian: Books

A quiet story about waiting: for a tooth to fall out and for the maple sap to start running. This one also celebrates the father-son bond. And I am a sucker for G. Brian Karas illustrations.

Saturdays Are for Stella by Candy Wellins, illustrated by Charlie Eve Ryan

Published by Page Street Kids

Saturdays Are For Stella: Wellins, Candy, Eve Ryan, Charlie: 9781624149214: Books

With so many families experiencing loss this year, this book is a comforting read about the circle of life, and how joys and sorrows can balance each other out.

Five Newbery Predictions

My five-year record is slightly better for Newbery than Caldecott: five out of 25 predictions. I love the title of my post in 2018: “Five books I’d like to get a Newbery–and why I am probably wrong about just about all of them” (I should have left out the “just about”). With all these lists, I always enjoy hearing your ideas in the comments!

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender

Published by Scholastic

King and the Dragonflies: Callender, Kacen: 9781338129335: Books

Having already won a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and the National Book Award, King and the Dragonflies is likely to pick up a few more awards in January, including possibly the Newbery. It wasn’t a top favorite of mine, but I understand the book’s importance (middle grade novel with a gay black male protagonist), and I’d be remiss not to put it on my predictions list.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros

Published by Quill Tree Books

Efrén Divided: Cisneros, Ernesto: 9780062881687: Books

Ernesto Cisneros really hit one out of the park with his debut novel. Efrén is such a likeable, believable character, and his situation (undocumented parents, mom deported) is one all American kids should be aware of. I know this won’t influence the Newbery committee, but I love that cover! Also a likely contender for the Pura Belpré award.

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Published by Dial Books

When Stars Are Scattered: Jamieson, Victoria, Mohamed, Omar, Jamieson,  Victoria, Geddy, Iman: 9780525553908: Books

The graphic memoir of two Somali brothers who spent much of their childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp…okay, I’ll admit it’s a long shot (especially when a graphic novel won the Newbery last year), but if I had to pick a favorite book from 2020, this would probably be it. And it was a National Book Award finalist, so one never knows.

We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

We Dream Of Space: 9780063057807: Books

Erin Entrada Kelly masterfully weaves together the three third-person voices of siblings Bird, Fitch, and Cash during the weeks leading up to the 1986 Challenger explosion. Kelly won the 2018 Newbery for Hello, Universe; personally I enjoyed We Dream of Space even more.

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

A Game of Fox & Squirrels: Reese, Jenn: 9781250243010: Books

There were quite a few books dealing with child abuse this year, and if I’m being completely honest, probably Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a more likely winner. But there was something about Jenn Reese’s book that really won me over. Her approach to the subject was so unique, and the way she let the horror unfold, so subtle, that I’m choosing her for a place on my list.

12 books of Christmas

Starting the day after Christmas, I’ll be posting my year-end lists of Caldecott and Newbery predictions and my favorite books in different categories. I found myself with an higher-than-usual number of books at the end of the year that I had wanted to review, but didn’t get to before time ran out. That number turned out to be twelve, so as a little Christmas gift, here is a list of my final dozen books for 2020.

Tani’s New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America by Tanitoluwa Adewumi, illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Published by Thomas Nelson

Tani's New Home: A Refugee Finds Hope and Kindness in America: Adewumi,  Tanitoluwa, Dawson, Courtney: 9781400218288: Books

The true story of Tani Adewumi, who moved to New York City as a Nigerian refugee at the age of 6. He discovered chess, and practiced it for hours in a homeless shelter. In less than a year, he was the New York State Chess Champion. I haven’t had a chance to see this book. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, is a Christian publisher, so I’m not sure if there is any religious content to the story. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5 by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Louisa Uribe

Published by HarperCollins

Dear Earth…From Your Friends in Room 5: Dealey, Erin, Uribe, Luisa:  9780062915320: Books

The kids in room 5 begin a correspondence with Earth, learning different ways to help the planet like recycling and energy conservation. Rhyming text, letter writing, and environmental tips make this an appealing choice for Earth Day or any time of year. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Saving Stella: A Dog’s Dramatic Escape from War by Bassel Abou Fakher and Deborah Blumenthal, illustrated by Nadine Kaadan

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Saving Stella: A Dog's Dramatic Escape from War: Fakher, Bassel Abou,  Blumenthal, Deborah, Kaadan, Nadine: 9781547601332: Books

When Bassel was forced to flee Syria, he had to leave his beloved dog Stella behind. After settling in a new home in Belgium, he worked with friends back in Syria to create a daring plan to rescue Stella. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Rabbit, Raven, Deer by Sue Farrell Holler, illustrated by Jennifer Faria

Published by Pajama Press

Raven, Rabbit, Deer: Farrell Holler, Sue, Faria, Jennifer: 9781772781366: Books

There’s a copy of this book traveling to my library right now, but I haven’t gotten a chance to see it. A boy and his grandfather enjoy a winter’s day together, finding animal tracks and identifying the animals in both English and Ojibwemowin. Sounds like a cozy winter choice. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

When You Trap a Tiger: Keller, Tae: 9781524715717: Books

When Lily and her family move in with her sick grandmother, Lily meets a tiger straight out of the Korean folklore she’s grown up on. This book won a Boston Globe/Horn Book honor and received five starred reviews. Personally, I couldn’t really get into it and only read about the first third back in the beginning of the year. Everyone else loved it, though, and it could definitely be a contender for more awards. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrations by Ashley Lukashevsky

Published by Kokila

Antiracist Baby Board Book: Kendi, Ibram X., Lukashevsky, Ashley:  9780593110416: Books

Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist is #15 on Amazon’s list of 2020’s bestsellers. Here he offers nine tips for being (or raising) an antiracist baby, with a note to parents and teachers at the end. Available as both a board book and a regular picture book. 32 pages; ages 0-4.

Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang, illustrated by Heidi Doll

Published by Reycraft Books

Woodpecker Girl: Chiang, I-Tsun, Liu, Chingyen: 9781478869559:  Books

A girl with cerebral palsy tells how she learned to paint with a brush strapped to her forehead. An amazing gallery of her work is included. Told in the first person, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges she faces and the discouragement she feels, but also expresses her joy at sharing with others through her art. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

Published by Greenwillow Books

Everything Comes Next: Collected and New Poems: Nye, Naomi Shihab:  9780063013452: Books

I just got this book on December 23, so haven’t had a chance to read it. These 100 poems by Young People’s Poet Laureate Nye start with a section of poems on childhood, both her own and others. She also explores her Palestinian heritage and the need for peace, as well as an appreciation for the diversity of people in the world. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Unstoppable by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laura Park

Published by Chronicle Books

Unstoppable: (Family Read-Aloud book, Silly Book About Cooperation) -  Kindle edition by Rex, Adam, Park, Laura. Children Kindle eBooks @ Amazon .com.

A crow being pursued by a hungry cat and a crab who dreams of flying work together to help one another. When they add a turtle and a bear, they become UNSTOPPABLE! At least until they see a bulldozer digging up the lakefront to build a mall. Then it’s off to see the President of the United States…and Congress…and things really get zany as only Adam Rex can imagine them. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust by Uri Shulevitz

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chance: Escape from the Holocaust: Memories of a Refugee Childhood  (9780374313715): Shulevitz, Uri: Books -

Caldecott Medalist Uri Shulevitz’s memoir covers his childhood from his days in Warsaw at the start of World War II to his family’s harrowing experiences in the Soviet Union during the war and their postwar years in Paris before emigrating to Paris when he was 14. Although it’s a thick book, the print is large and filled with Shulevitz’s illustrations, making it a quick and engaging read. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Mariona Cabassa

Published by Barefoot Books

A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India: Sriram, Meera, Cabassa, Mariona:  9781646860616: Books

Another one I haven’t gotten to see, but I love the brilliant colors of the cover (and pictures I’ve seen of the illustrations). A girl shops in an Indian market to find the perfect gift for her mother. 32 pages; ages 4-7.

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire by Michael O. Tunnell

Published by Charlesbridge

Desert Diary: Japanese American Kids Behind Barbed Wire: Tunnell, Michael  O.: 9781580897891: Books

When Mae Yanagi was eight years old, she and her family were forced to move to Topaz Camp in Utah for the duration of World War II. She and her third-grade classmates created a diary of their daily lives in camp, filled with mundane details about school and family life, as well as descriptions of the difficulties of camp life. Michael Tunnell tells their story with plenty of photographs and excerpts from the diary. 144 pages; grades 4-7.

Donors Choose

As I wrote about in March, my position as the K-8 district librarian for the Hampden-Wilbraham school district was eliminated for the 2020-2021 school year. I was fortunate to get hired a few months later as the librarian for the Rebecca Johnson Elementary School in Springfield. It’s been an exciting challenge for me, because the school hasn’t had a librarian or new books for quite a few years, but the principal is committed to having an excellent library and has been generous with funding.

Springfield schools are remote through April 8, and I’ve been working hard to bring the library back to life so that students will be excited to visit when they return. Rebecca Johnson is one of the largest schools in Springfield, with almost 800 students, and is located in one of the lowest-income parts of the city.

Following the example of other teachers and librarians I’ve met in my new job, I’ve started two Donors Choose projects. Hooked on Books is to get funding for some of the books that I know will be in high demand by our students, and Bring Dr. Seuss to Our Library! will allow me to purchase a new set of books by Dr. Seuss, who is especially beloved by our students since he grew up in Springfield.

As readers of this blog, you know how much I love to promote books to kids, and I am excited to start reading and book talking the new books to Rebecca Johnson students. I admit to feeling quite uncomfortable asking for money, so please do not feel under any obligation to donate! I appreciate the support of all those who read and follow this blog, and thank you for reading and considering my requests.

Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz

Published by Dial Books

Every Little Letter: Underwood, Deborah, Ruiz, Joy Hwang: 9780525554028: Books
Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood

Summary:  The letters are pretty happy living in their walled city, even though they are all H’s.  One little h, though, is a bit more adventurous.  When she finds a hole in the wall, she discovers an i, and together they make a friendly “hi”.  A big H seals up the hole, so the small h starts sending letters on paper airplanes flown over the wall.  Soon other small letters start participating, and more and more words are formed (and tic-tac-toe games become more interesting).  When the big letters put an end to things again, the h uses the two letters she has left to come up with a plan.  Finally, even the big letters start to cautiously reach out to one another.  “How do you tear down walls? With words at first. Then brick by brick.” 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I thought this was going to be just another alphabet book, but there’s a deeper message, focusing on appreciating others’ differences and learning to live together.  Of course, the letter part is fun, too, seeing how the letters get together to form words.  Beginning readers will enjoy exercising their new skills and will come away with a positive message as well.

Cons:  Those are some cranky uppercase letters.