Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Summary: A young girl discovers a treefrog in the garden outside her new home. As the two travel through the seasons together, she makes discoveries about both the frog and herself. It’s summer when she moves in. Some kids come to play, but they’re too noisy for both her and the frog. When school starts, she meets a boy who feels like more of a kindred spirit, and she brings him to meet the frog. The two friends enjoy winter, and in the spring, their patience is rewarded when they see the treefrog once again. Each page offers some treefrog facts as well as a poem and illustration. Includes a page of questions and answers that gives more treefrog information. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This delightful picture book functions as both a friendship story and a nonfiction book about treefrogs…and is narrated with Joyce Sidman’s simple but beautiful poetry.
Cons: No additional resources for further research.
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Summary: As a child growing up in Lithuania, Ben Shahn had two passions: art and justice. These continued after he and his family immigrated to America when he was 8 years old. Lacking the funds to attend college, Ben apprenticed himself to a lithographer and studied art at night. He worried that the art that he learned about in school was different from what he wanted to paint: stories. In 1927, outraged by the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, Ben created 23 paintings to tell their stories. Later he was hired by the U.S. government to document the poverty of the Great Depression through photographs and paintings. He continued to create stories with his art through the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War until his death in 1969. Includes notes from the author and illustrator; a photo of Ben Shahn; a timeline of his life; and a bibliography and source notes. 48 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: An engagingly written story of Ben Shahn’s life, focusing on both his art and his passion for justice. His work influenced the illustrations of Evan Turk, whom I think we can all agree should finally get some Caldecott recognition.
Cons: None of Shahn’s art was included.
Published by Heartdrum
Summary: Jo Jo Makoons has plenty to worry about in first grade: her at-home best friend Mimi needs to get vaccinated (and a kid in school told Jo Jo cats deflate like a balloon when they get shots), and her at-school best friend Fern seems like she doesn’t want to be best friends anymore. Jo Jo’s struggling a bit in school, too, and her somewhat clueless teacher doesn’t always pick up on what’s going on around him in the classroom. Jo Jo has her own way of handling her problems, but in the end she figures out what to do with both of her best friends and gets some of the recognition she craves at school. Includes a glossary of Ojibwe and Michif words, an author’s note with additional information about the Ojibwe people, and a note from author Cynthia Leitich Smith introducing the series. 80 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: Although it’s still too rare a phenomenon, it is nice to see a few books this year with Indigenous characters in everyday settings and humorous situations (shout-out to HarperCollins’ Heartdrum imprint and Cynthia Leitich Smith for being a driving force behind this). Readers not quite ready for Smith’s Ancestor Approved will enjoy meeting spunky Jo Jo and learning about her life on the Ojibwe reservation.
Cons: Fern seemed like a great friend, and I didn’t really get why Jo Jo was worried about losing her.
I’m starting a little experiment: opening a Teachers Pay Teachers store. If you’re not familiar with this site, suffice it to say I have joined thousands of other educators selling products they’ve created to make other teachers’ lives a bit easier. You can visit my store to see the three products I have for sale. All were inspired by my experiences running first grade book clubs. TPT requires you to start with a free product, so I have a book club for Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack. The other two products include discussion questions and activities for three books each: one is a general set of books for early readers and the other one has a summer theme. All are books I have reviewed on this blog.
I hope you will check it out, and even more, I hope you will let me know what you think of my products and if there are others you would like to see in my store. It turns out there is a lot to learn about Teachers Pay Teachers, and I feel like I’m still at the beginning of that learning curve. You can send me feedback at email@example.com. As always, thank you for any input you can offer!
Published by Crown Books for Young Readers
Summary: A great white shark makes the case that he is the greatest. Or is he? Turns out, there are other sharks that are bigger, smaller, faster, and every other superlative he tries to be. By the end, he’s ready to change his name to the just-okay white shark or the not-so-great white shark. But then a little fish comes along and tells him there’s always going to be someone who is bigger, faster, smarter, or whatever than you are, and it’s best being happy to be you. That makes the great white happy, and he concludes by flashing his 300-tooth-grin…the greatest smile in the book. Includes thumbnails of all sharks mentioned with additional information and “More Books to Sink Your Teeth Into”. 48 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: It’s a no-brainer that any book featuring sharks is going to be hugely popular, and the funny premise of this one, combined with Laurie Keller’s humorous illustrations will only add to that. Don’t be misled by all the jokester sharks, though…there is also plenty of information to fill your hammerhead shark-size-brain.
Cons: I thought the pages with a labelled diagram of the great white shark and the shark facts in the middle of the book kind of interrupted the story; they seemed more like back matter.
Published by Millbrook Press
Summary: Prasit Nemmin and his friends could only play soccer a couple of times a month, since the sandbar they played on in their island village of Koh Panyee, Thailand was underwater the rest of the time. Watching the World Cup on TV made them want to play every day, inspiring their plan to build a floating field. Using cast-off wood and old barrels, they were able to build a platform that could stay afloat on top of buoys. They practiced just about every day, and their persistence paid off with a third-place win at a local tournament. Includes a two-page author’s note with photos and maps, and a note from Prasit about how and why he and his friends built the field back in 1986. His love of soccer endures, and his son has played on the national champion Panyee Football Club. Also includes some soccer words in Thai and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: A great read for soccer fans and anyone who enjoys a good underdog story, with an emphasis on the importance of teamwork and persistence. The back matter adds extra dimensions to the story.
Cons: It looked like a huge nuisance to have to go into the water any time the ball went out of bounds.
Published by Balzer + Bray
Summary: Amari’s had a tough year after her beloved older brother has gone missing and she’s had to put up with constant bullying from being the only poor Black girl at her elite private school. So when she receives a mysterious invitation to a summer camp at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she thinks she may have found a way to solve her school problems and, more importantly, find her brother. Things take an unexpected turn when Amari learns she possesses a powerful magic that’s looked upon with suspicion by almost everyone at the Bureau. Fortunately, she finds a few friends and allies who help her to channel her powers and help her uncover what’s happened to her brother. Some unexpected twists toward the end leave things hanging enough for readers to be breathlessly anticipating book 2. 408 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Harry Potter and Rick Riordan fans will love this new series opener about another unlikely outsider who discovers her stronger-than-average magical powers at a school specializing in the supernatural.
Cons: Fantasy’s always kind of a slog for me, so I’m probably not be the best person to promote this book. Judging from the starred reviews in professional journals and on Amazon, though, I would say this series is a hit with fans of the genre.
Published by Candlewick
Summary: A young artist creates a bird: tiny hollow bones, feathers, a rapidly-beating heart. But a statue of a bird isn’t a bird, so the artist stands at the window and lets her creation go. As it rises into the air, the bird comes to life and flies off, disappearing into the sky without ever looking back. “And feel your slowly beating heart fill with a kind of sadness, a kind of happiness. For this is when you will know that you have really made a bird.” 32 pages; ages 4-10.
Pros: With its beautifully written spare text and gorgeous illustrations, this haunting meditation on the creative process perfectly captures the bittersweet nature of letting a creation go out into the world.
Cons: The central message may be a bit over the heads of the intended audience.
Published by Greenwillow Books
Summary: “When the world gets too big and too loud and too busy, I like to look at all pieces of it one at a time.” The child narrator proceeds to do that, imagining museum exhibits for a Museum of Islands, a Museum of Bushes, a Museum of Hiding Places, and more. In each one, they slowly savor the different objects that could be on display, wondering about various aspects of each one. After they’re done spending time in their museums, they are ready to go back into the busy, big, and sometimes noisy world. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: An author’s note reads “If you like to be in a quiet place sometimes [even if it’s only in your mind], or if there is a lot that you wonder about, or if you like to make things, I made this book for you.” It’s a book to invite wonder and slowing down and noticing things. The illustrations (described by Perkins as being “the most fun ever”) to create could definitely be considered for a Caldecott.
Cons: Personally, I prefer more of a story, so, while I could admire and appreciate this book, I didn’t really love it.
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: On September 29, 1909, Wilbur Wright flew for six and a half minutes around the Statue of Liberty, the first time either of the Wright Brothers had flown over a body of water. His feat was witnessed by a large crowd of New Yorkers, including 10-year-old Juan Trippe, whose conversation with his father bookends the main narrative of this story; Trippe would grow up to found Pan Am Airways. The story is supplemented by extensive back matter, including an author’s note with additional information about the Wright Brothers and their New York flights (a few days later, Wilbur took a longer flight down the Hudson River). There’s also a list of facts about other aspects of the story, an illustrator’s note, and a bibliography. Front end papers show a newspaper article reporting the event, and back papers show a map of the flight. 40 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: This veteran author-illustrator team has created a picture book that perfectly captures the tension and excitement of Wilbur Wright’s flight, while also conveying the peacefulness of flying. The extensive back matter adds a lot of information, and is written in a way that is accessible to younger readers.
Cons: I wish the back matter had included a few photos.