Summary: Shanti leaves her village (in India) to go to her new town (in the United States). in the village, she enjoys the food, language, and traditions; in town, she learns a new language, tries new foods, and makes new friends. It’s exciting to have new experiences, comforting to fall back on the old ones, and sometimes exhausting to travel between the two. Finally, she needs a rest, and she takes one in the in-between that bridges the two worlds. Refreshed, she realizes she can make any place feel like home, including that space between her two cultures. Includes an author’s note about her experiences that inspired Shanti’s story and a glossary of Bangla words. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: There are many books that tell kids’ immigration stories, but this one more than most captures the experience of living in two cultures, both the difficult and the valuable aspects.
Cons: One of my pet peeves: the glossary is on the back end papers, which means approximately 30% of it was covered up by the taped-on dust jacket of my library copy of the book.
Summary: These two books provide a starting point for learning more about climate change and actions kids can take, both now and as they begin their careers. Our World Out of Balance has 17 chapters that address various areas of environmental concern, such as global warming, plastics in the ocean, and extreme weather. In addition to facts, there are sidebars on how kids can help address these problems. Design Like Nature looks at ways people can study nature to inspire designs that will help the environment. Both books include additional resources, an index, and a glossary. Design Like Nature, 48 pages; Our World Out of Balance, 72 pages; both, grades 3-7.
Pros: As environmental problems worsen around the world, it’s important to raise awareness with kids as to what the issues are and what can be done to solve them. Both books take the problems seriously, but also offer a note of optimism that there are solutions.
Cons: The illustrations in Design Like Nature are mostly stock photos that don’t always do a great job supporting the text.
Summary: “Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was outside…went inside.” All over the world, people stayed inside except for those who needed to be out of their homes. People inside worked, played, and worried. Why did people do this? “Mostly because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” While waiting it out, we remembered that spring would come…inside and outside (outside is shown with a gatefold page with unmasked people hugging and playing outside). Includes a two-page author’s note explaining more about the pandemic and how it inspired this book. 48 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Not surprisingly, books borne of the pandemic are starting to appear in 2021. This is the best I’ve seen so far, showing many scenes that we’ve experienced or seen on the news in the last year without ever specifically mentioning Covid. Students at my school will be returning April 5 after more than a year at home, and this book will be perfect to help share and process our pandemic stories.
Cons: “Everyone knew it was the right thing to do” seems like a bit of an oversimplification of what really happened in America.
Summary: When the crates containing the pieces of the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, there was one problem: the pedestal for the statue was only half-built, and there didn’t seem to be much interest in raising the $100,000 needed to complete it. Then Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant himself and owner of the New York World newspaper, wrote in his paper, “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give money. [The Statue of Liberty] is a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.” The “whole people of America”, including many children, rose to the occasion, sending the pennies and dollars that they could afford to build the pedestal. By August, the full amount had been raised from 120,000 donors, and on October 28, 1886, about a million people came to New York to celebrate the new statue. Includes a timeline, additional facts about the Statue of Liberty, a bibliography of books and websites, and two pages of photos and a map. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Excellent nonfiction, with just the right balance of engaging and informative, and the perfect amount of back matter–love all those photos!
Cons: It was a little anti-climactic to learn in the back matter that the original $100,000 price tag eventually jumped to $320,000 when construction began. Fortunately, additional donors and Congress footed the bill.
Summary: Eleven-year-old Ellie has been bullied about her size for many years–by her classmates, her brother, and her mother, who is pushing her to have bariatric surgery. Things get worse when her best friend moves away the summer before sixth grade, and Ellie has to face middle school alone. Fortunately, a new girl next door becomes a friend, and Ellie’s sympathetic dad takes her to a therapist who helps her explore her emotions and learn to stand up for herself. It’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do for Ellie’s family, but by the end she is feeling empowered to confront some of the bullies and to stop hiding who she really is. Includes a brief author’s note explaining how she based Ellie’s bullying on her own experiences. 256 pages; grades 4-8.
Pros: I inhaled this novel in verse in a single sitting and can’t wait to share it with students at my school. I commend Nancy Paulsen (mentioned in the author’s acknowledgements) for seeing this as a middle grade book instead of YA. I think it will be a story that many fifth, sixth and seventh graders will take to heart and that will be invaluable to them as they navigate middle school and body image issues.
Cons: As much as I loved the verse format, I think its brevity made some of the work done in therapy seem a little quick and easy.
Summary: A young boy describes the journey from his home along the Mekong River to an undisclosed destination. He paddles a small boat through waves and rain showers, seeing animals big and small all around him. Some of the metaphors he uses may tip the reader off about where he is going: he gets to “write my name across the blackboard of a river”, and describes the sky as “a crayon box full of colors”. His travels conclude as he and his friends arrive for their first day of school. Includes additional information about the Mekong River and a note from Christopher Myers, creative director of the Make Me a World imprint. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would make a great back-to-school book; although the Vietnamese setting may be unfamiliar to kids, the boy’s anxieties and excitement are universal. The bold, colorful illustrations are beautiful, filled with both real and imagined animals.
Cons: I was going to say this could be a Caldecott contender until I realized the illustrator lives in Vietnam. Just had the same hope dashed about a Newbery for Too Small Tola by Atinuke. ALSC, please change the rule that winners have to be citizens or residents of the United States!
Summary: Kids from all over the United States and Canada come together for the Dance for Mother Earth Powwow in Ann Arbor Michigan in this anthology of short stories by different Native authors. Whether the kids are regulars on the powwow circuit or attending for the first time, they appreciate being part of their community as they dance, help out in the vendor booths, and hang out with friends and family. The sixteen stories are bookended by poems: “What Is a Powwow?” serves as an introduction and “Circles” concludes the book, followed by a glossary of words from each poem or story (in different Native languages); notes and acknowledgements from each writer; and brief biographies of all the contributors. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Since starting this blog in 2015, I’ve struggled to find books about contemporary Native life, so I’m delighted with this collection about many kids’ experiences by so many different authors. The stories are both funny and touching and would make excellent additions to any upper elementary or middle school ELA curriculum. I actually attended the Ann Arbor powwow in 1987, and reading this book made me want to go back.
Cons: The stories were interconnected, so characters from one story often showed up in another, but there were so many I had trouble keeping track (except for the dog wearing the Ancestor Approved t-shirt–I always recognized him).
Summary: The package is sealed, addressed, and given an extra personal touch. Then it’s on its way: to the post office, to a building to be sorted, onto a truck to go to the airport. But on the way, the truck hits a pothole, and the package falls out. It sits in a puddle on the side of the road until a boy notices it and picks it up. He’s excited to see a drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge, because it turns out he and his mom are moving to San Francisco! Upon their arrival, they find the address on the package and deliver it to a kid who is about the same age as the boy. The boys talk, the moms talk, and a friendship is born. The last page shows the package recipient with a replica of the Empire State Building next to the battered box it came in; he’s getting ready to send a package of his own. Includes an author’s note that starts out, “If it wasn’t for the United States Postal Service, I might not be here today” and an illustrator’s note. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A celebration of both the Post Office and new friends, this book is spare with its text, but the illustrations do an amazing job of telling the story, showing each step on the package’s long and winding journey. The author’s note reminds readers of the importance of the USPS, and what they can do to support it.
Cons: It seemed like an almost impossible, although wonderful, coincidence that the boy who found the package was just about to move to California.
Summary: Zapped, wrapped, trapped, or poked: those are a few of the ways flies get eaten by other animals. Each method is accompanied by a cartoon illustration along with a few sentences of text describing how the fly is trapped and consumed. The last few pages give nutrition facts for flies, show their edible parts, and offer lists of books and websites, as well as a selected bibliography. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The emphasis on the gross-out factor, reinforced in the illustrations, will undoubtedly have readers flocking to this book like the proverbial flies to honey.
Cons: If flies are such easy prey, why are there still so many of them around?
Summary: Twelve children from around the world are profiled, each one having started an initiative to help the planet. Each two-page spread shows kids at work, with a brief paragraph describing the young person and their activity. Captions in the illustrations give additional information. The last few pages offer ten things kids can do to help save the planet; ten things they can do to make their voices heard; and a list of seven websites with additional information. 32 pages; grades 1-5.
Pros: Readers will be inspired by these kid activists who have already done amazing things to help make the world a better place. There’s a lot to see in each illustration, and the information is brief enough for the younger grades.
Cons: In the back matter, the author states that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “found that the world is already 34 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than two hundred years ago.” Was a decimal point left out?