Donors Choose for Summer Reading

As I’ve written here before, I am finishing up my second year at an elementary school in Springfield, Massachusetts. According to the Massachusetts Department of Education profile, 93% of the students at my school are low-income, 95% high needs, and for 30%, English is not their first language.

This is the first year the school library has been open in quite a few years, and these students love their new library. They often stop me in the hall to share with me how much they enjoyed their library book or to tell me how excited they are about their upcoming visit to the library. It’s been a joy to watch them develop as readers and to see some of them get hooked on a series or fall in love with a particular book.

I have two Donors Choose projects active right now to try to get funding so I can give every student in grades PreK-2 a new book at the end of the school year. In June I plan to share with them different summer reading programs, and I would like to kick off their summer reading with a new book.

Donors Choose is an organization that matches teachers’ projects with donors. I’ve had nine projects funded in the last two years, all for library books, and it has made a huge difference for my collection. I don’t usually ask for personal donations, but this summer reading project is particularly important to me.

If you’d like to make a donation, you can click here to give to the PreK and kindergarten students and here for grades 1 and 2 (click on the blue “Give” button when you get to the site). Thank you in advance, and I assure you your contribution will make some young child in Springfield very happy.

Bathe the Cat by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Grandma’s coming for a visit, and it’s time to get the house whipped into shape.  The narrator posts a list of chores on the refrigerator with magnetic letters: mop the floor, mow the lawn, feed the fishes, rock the baby, bathe the cat.  Bathe the cat?!  When the cat hears that, he springs into action, making a mess of the letters on the fridge and creating a new chore list.  Family members start vacuuming the lawn and mopping the baby.  But when the cat hears “mow the cat”, it’s time for another letter scramble.  Finally, things are so mixed up, the narrator just tells everyone what to do, and this time it’s the baby who gets bathed and the cat gets rocked.  48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  I could hear the sound of preschool children laughing as I read this zany book with all of its mixed-up chores.  The illustrations add to the high energy with neon pink, yellow, and orange, and lovingly depict a biracial two-dad family. 

Cons:  When Grandma appears on the last page, she looks like she wouldn’t miss a beat coming into a house with an unvacuumed rug, an unmowed lawn, and an unbathed baby, so I don’t know what all the fuss was about

Beak & Ally: Unlikely Friends by Norm Feuti

Published by HarperAlley

Beak & Ally #1: Unlikely Friends: Feuti, Norm, Feuti, Norm: 9780063021570: Books
Norm Feuti on Twitter: "A few pages from the first book in my new GN for  early readers, BEAK & ALLY: Unlikely Friends!🐊🍩 #BeakAndAlly #kidlit  #HarperAlley" / Twitter

Summary:  Ally is an alligator minding his own business when he hears, “Fee Boo, Fee Boo.”  A new bird has landed in the swamp, and that bird wants to be Ally’s new best friend.  Beak seems a bit lacking in social skills, and Ally says he wants to be left alone.  Soon, however, Ally receives an invitation for a nest-warming party and decides he’ll go for ten minutes.  On his way, he passes a sad-looking Beak, who informs him that the party has been canceled.  Ally discovers that the new nest has been taken over by a bird called a Long-Necked Party Pooper.  Annoyed by the Party Pooper’s bullying attitude, Ally reclaims the nest for Beak, whom he refers to as his friend.  That’s all Beak needs to hear to get busy planning out adventures for the two friends.  64 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This is a bit of a Throwback Thursday, since this book was published in 2021.  It kind of stayed under the radar with only one slightly sour review from Kirkus but was a 2022 Geisel honor book.  I found it charming and entertaining, a perfect beginning graphic novel for new readers.  Book #3 comes out in May, so there’s the 2022 connection.

Cons:  Although the title of the series is Beak and Ally, the alligator is never referred to by name in the story. The bird introduces himself as Beak, but the alligator calls him Fee Boo.

Black history book list

Just in time for Black History Month, I have created a list of 65 picture books about Black history, including biographies, nonfiction, and historical fiction, with links to my reviews. You can find the list here or go to “Book Lists” near the top of the blog home page. When you move your cursor over that, a menu of all the book lists I’ve created will appear and you can click on “Black History”. There are so many great books on this list, and I hope you will find something there that inspires you to share!

Awards 2022

I just watched the livestream of the ALA awards announcements. It’s a humbling experience, as there are always a bunch of books I’ve never heard of, much less read and reviewed. This is far from a complete list of all the awards given, but here are a few. I’ve linked to my reviews where applicable.

Caldecott Award


Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin


Wonder Walkers by Micha Archer

Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris

Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Newbery Award


The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera


Watercress by Jason Chin

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocha

A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger

Too Bright to See by Kyle Luyken

Coretta Scott King Award

Illustrator winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Illustrator honors

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We Wait for the Sun by Dovey Johnson Roundtree, illustrated by Raissa Figueroa

Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C. G. Esperanza

Author winner

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Author honors

Home Is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo

Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

The People Remember by Ibi Zoboi, illustrated by Loveis Wise

Five favorite biographies

Usually I include biographies with nonfiction, but there were enough great ones this year for them to get their own list. This is the final list for 2021. I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks before starting up with the 2022 books.

The People’s Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art by Cynthia Levinson, illustrated by Evan Turk

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

The People's Painter: How Ben Shahn Fought for Justice with Art: Levinson,  Cynthia, Turk, Evan: 9781419741302: Books

Ben Shahn’s art focused on social justice. If there is any justice, Evan Turk will get a Caldecott medal or honor for this amazing book.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood: Paulsen, Gary:  9780374314156: Books

2021 has been a year of tough losses in the children’s literature world, including the legendary Gary Paulsen. His courage at surviving a horrifying childhood and adolescence shines throughout this unusual memoir.

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust by Peter Sis

Published by Norton Young Readers

Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued:  Sís, Peter: 9781324015741: Books

Peter Sis’s folk art-style illustrations are deceptively simple until you look closer at all each one of them contains. A moving story told with spare prose that might be up for a Caldecott.

Nina: The Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books

Nina: A Story of Nina Simone - Kindle edition by Todd, Traci N., Robinson,  Christian. Children Kindle eBooks @

It was a toss-up for me which Christian Robinson book to put on my Caldecott list: Milo Imagines the World, or this stunning biography which incorporates scenes from the civil rights movement into the illustrations portraying Nina Simone’s life.

Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Candlewick Press

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain: Yelchin,  Eugene, Yelchin, Eugene: 9781536215526: Books

And here’s one that could be a Newbery contender: Eugene Yelchin’s memoir about growing up in the Soviet Union that seamlessly blends humor with the fear and poverty he experienced as a child.

Five (or six) favorite nonfiction

Always one of my favorite categories!

Survivor Tree by Marcie Colleen, illustrated by Aaron Becker and This Very Tree by Sean Rubin

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Henry Holt and Co.

Survivor Tree: Colleen, Marcie, Becker, Aaron: 9780316487672:  Books
This Very Tree: A Story of 9/11, Resilience, and Regrowth: Rubin, Sean:  9781250788504: Books

Both of these books may be considered for a Caldecott, and both movingly tell the story of the Survivor Tree in this year that we observed the 20th anniversary of 9/11. I couldn’t choose just one!

Rescuing Titanic: A True Story of Quiet Bravery in the North Atlantic by Flora Delargy

Published by Wide-Eyed Editions Rescuing Titanic: A true story of quiet bravery in the North  Atlantic (Hidden Histories): 9780711262782: Delargy, Flora: Books

I’m as surprised as you are to see this book on one of my favorites lists after I vowed to never read another Titanic book. But this one is more about the Carpathia, the ship that sped to the rescue and that is often just a footnote in the Titanic story. The “quiet bravery” of the subtitle is the emphasis and makes for an inspirational read.

Revolution In Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Published by Candlewick Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party's Promise to  the People: 9781536214185: Magoon, Kekla: Books

Already a National Book Award finalist, this history of the Black Panther Party is likely to win other awards in a few weeks. I loved how Kekla Magoon never shied away from all aspects of this history, yet also conveyed the vision of the people who were part of the movement and tied it to the work of Black Lives Matter.

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

I love this kind of visual information that makes abstract concepts easier to understand and raises awareness about global issues we may not think much about. An invaluable resource for social studies classes at many levels.

Escape at 10,000 Feet by Tom Sullivan

Published by Balzer + Bray

Unsolved Case Files: Escape at 10,000 Feet: D.B. Cooper and the Missing  Money (Unsolved Case Files, 1): Sullivan, Tom, Sullivan, Tom:  9780062991515: Books

Who doesn’t love a good unsolved mystery? The world has wondered what happened to D. B. Cooper since he parachuted into oblivion in 1971. This graphic presentation is well-researched, with various theories presented and debunked. It’s book 1 in the Unsolved Case Files series that now includes Jailbreak at Alcatraz.

Five small press favorites

Although I’ve always reviewed books published by small independent presses, this year I made a conscious decision to try and do one every week. This led me to some happy discoveries of unusual and interesting books.

Hear My Voice/Escucha Mi Voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States compiled by Warren Binford for Project Amplify

Published by Workman Publishing Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children  Detained at the Southern Border of the United States (English and Spanish  Edition): 9781523513482: Binford, Warren, Bochenek, Michael Garcia: Books

This book is part of the effort by Warren Binford and Project Amplify to shine a light on the horrific conditions of the Clint Border Patrol Station and the children being held there. The children’s stories are told in their own words, with illustrations by 17 Latinx artists.

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kara Kramer

Published by Enchanted Lion

Make Meatballs Sing: The Life and Art of Corita Kent: Burgess, Matthew,  Kramer, Kara: 9781592703166: Books

I enjoyed learning about Corita Kent’s life and art, which includes the Boston Gas tanks and the 1985 USPS Love stamp. But mostly I loved her word “plork”, meaning a combination of play and work, which so perfectly captured her spirit.

Nobody Owns the Moon by Tobhy Riddle

Published by Berbay Publishing

Nobody Owns the Moon: Riddle, Tohby: 9780994384195: Books

Sell your soul or save it? Clive Prendergast and his friend Humphrey had me thinking about the meaning of life long after I had closed this book.

The Capybaras by Alfred Soderguit

Published by Greystone Kids

The Capybaras: Soderguit, Alfredo, Soderguit, Alfredo: 9781771647823:  Books

The capybaras and chickens form an unlikely alliance against the humans in this slightly subversive book that will have you questioning the meaning of such concepts as “safe” and “dangerous”.

Escape: One Day We Had to Run by Ming & Wah, illustrated by Carmen Vela

Published by Lantana Publishing

Escape: One Day We Had to Run . . .: Chen, Ming, Chen, Wah, Vela, Carmen:  9781911373810: Books

Escape, cling, defy, swim: each verb is accompanied by an illustration and a compelling true story of escape that make this a difficult book to put down.

Five favorite early chapter books

The competition in this category was fierce, and I struggled to narrow the list to these five.

Too Small Tola by Atinuke

Published by Candlewick

Too Small Tola: Atinuke, Iwu, Onyinye: 9781536211276: Books

Three charming stories about Tola, the youngest in a family living in Lagos, Nigeria, who works hard to prove that she can keep up with her older siblings.

Billy Miller Makes a Wish by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow

Billy Miller Makes a Wish: Henkes, Kevin, Henkes, Kevin: 9780063042797: Books

Billy makes a birthday wish that something exciting will happen, then feels guilty when his wish comes true in unexpected ways. It’s just the sort of thing that might happen when you’re eight. I liked this sequel even better than the Newbery Honor original, The Year of Billy Miller.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old (Twig and Turtle, book 4) by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, illustrated by Paula Franco

Published by Pixel +Ink

Twig and Turtle 4: Make New Friends, But Keep the Old: Jacobson, Jennifer  Richard: 9781645950547: Books

I missed this series’ 2020 debut, but I’m glad I discovered Twig and Turtle this year and vicariously enjoyed their family’s experiences with tiny house living.

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by Anne Schwartz Books

Harry Versus the First 100 Days of School: Jenkins, Emily, Oswald, Pete:  9780525644712: Books

I like to think of a parent somewhere turning off the computer, putting aside the newspaper, and reading another chapter of this book to their seven-year-old so they can find out how Harry deals with his fear of guinea pigs, his worries about making friends, and the other everyday problems of first grade.

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Grow Love (A Ryan Hart Novel, 2): Watson, Renee: 9781432889494: Books

The first book about Ryan Hart, Ways to Make Sunshine, appeared on my end-of-the-year early chapter books list last year, and this one was every bit as good, with stories about Ryan’s summer between fourth and fifth grades. Her family faces some tough times, but good friends and a close-knit community help make it a happy summer for Ryan.