Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

Black Brother, Black Brother

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Gr. 4-7. Donte and his brother Trey attend the same elite, private middle school. But, when they first started, most of their classmates didn’t recognize that they were brothers. Trey takes after their white dad, with light skin. Donte takes after their black mom, with dark skin. Trey is loved by everyone. Donte is, at best, tolerated, and, on the bad days, Donte is bullied by his peers and feared by his teachers. After getting sent to the principal for something he didn’t do, Donte gets frustrated and throws his backpack. Donte was just mad, didn’t hurt anyone, and didn’t intend to hurt anyone–but his principal called the police anyway. Suddenly, Donte is in jail, is suspended from school, and has a court date.

Donte is frustrated, alone, and confused. He decides to confront the school’s bully–“King” Alan on Alan’s turf–fencing. Donte discovers that a past Olympic fencer works at the local Boys and Girls Club. After some convincing, Donte has a fencing coach, and eventually a team, that teach him how to fence, how to be part of a team, and how to live with and fight against the racism he is surrounded by.

A good story that will appeal to sports fans. (with a great introduction to fencing). Donte’s character development is well written, though it does follow predictable patterns. I hope there might be more in this universe someday, as I wouldn’t mind hearing from Donte’s teammates or even from his brother’s perspective.

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Brown Boy Joy by Thomishia Booker (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Brown boys are beautiful, amazing, and happy. Features brown boys finding joy in everyday activities. Recently featured on Netflix’s Bookmarks.

An adorable, simple, and necessary read. Features a black boy in a wheelchair as well as different family makeups, including two moms. Great addition to any collection.

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Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj
Gr. 4-5. Karina’s biggest worries are what photo she will pick for the upcoming photography competition and if Chris, the boy next door, is as much of a jerk as the kids he hangs out with. When Karina’s grandfather moves in and starts tutoring Chris in math, Karina and Chris slowly become friends. Suddenly, Karina’s quiet world is turned upside down when Karina, her grandfather, and Chris are violently attacked. This hate crime puts Karina’s grandfather in the hospital, and both Karina and Chris are trying to wrap their heads around what happened and what they can do next.

This was good. Dually narrated by Karina and Chris, there was merit to both of their voices, though I personally liked Karina’s voice a bit more. I was always a bit hesitant with Chris–I like hearing his thoughts as he grows, but there was also a lot of pity sent his way for also surviving the attack. While he was there, Chris is white. If he had happened to have been walking alone that day, nothing would have happened to him. He was also a victim, but it’s different. I wish that element had been fleshed out a bit more.

The overall message is a good one, even if I wish this had been a bit more nuanced. Will be recommending.

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Grandmother School by Rina Singh (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. In Phangane, a remote village in India, grandchildren walk their grandmothers to a special grandmother school. As children, these grandmothers watched their brothers go to school. As mothers, they sent their own children-sons and daughters-to school. Now, as grandmothers, they are finally learning to read and write themselves.

Wow! Told from the perspective of a granddaughter, this beautiful book tells the story of real women in India who are grasping their chance to learn to read. Great choice for an elementary read aloud.

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Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood by Tony Hillery (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Young Nevaeh’s school is across from an abandoned lot, or, as she calls it, the haunted garden. This haunted garden is filled with trash, until the day a visitor, adult Tony Hillery, comes to their school and decides to help. Soon, with the help of the students and the community, the haunted garden is a real garden filled with beautiful plants and growing food.

An inspirational true story in an easy-to-read picture book format. Great choice for preschoolers interested in gardening or as a tool to inspire young kids to participate in a community gardening initiative.

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Hello, New House by Jane Smith (picture book)
Gr. PreS. Callie and her family move from their old home in the city to their new home by the beach. While some of her belongings are familiar (old bed, old blankie, old towel), a lot of things are new (new sounds, new shadows, new weather). Could there also be a new friend?

Simple story to ease a child into moving away from home. Though if you aren’t moving to a house on the beach, maybe this will give kids unrealistic expectations? (Perhaps I’m just jealous.) Features a diverse family.

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Jack and the Beanstalk by Carly Gledhill (board book)
Gr. PreS. Simplified retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. In this version, Jack is retrieving items the giant stole from his family. (Jack is not a thief stealing items from the giant.)

I appreciate that this series of fairy tale board books features diverse characters, though these may have worked better as picture books. The illustrations are quite detailed and small in board book format. The choice to have this story take place in a city is original, but I also question the author’s motive (Jack appears to be black and now lives in a city–is he pictured in a city because he is black?). The story is a good introduction to the fairy tale, though its simplicity leaves a lot of things unanswered (like how the giant was able to steal Jack’s items without a beanstalk, but cutting down the beanstalk makes the giant go away forever). 


Move by Elizabeth Verdick (board book)
Baby. Babies move in many different ways! This short board book contains alternating pages, half with brightly colored descriptions and half with black and white photographs of diverse babies. Most descriptions include actions that are easy to do with a baby (push, scoot, climb, bounce). Physically, this board book is smaller than usual, though it would still work well in a virtual storytime setting. My copy is in both English and Spanish, making this title more accessible. Includes movement tips for caregivers on the last few pages.

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Ruby’s Birds by Elizabeth Verdick (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Ruby’s neighbor, Eva, introduces her to bird watching in Central Park. Ruby learns how to stay quiet and still, move carefully, and pay attention looking for tiny movements in the leaves. Later, Ruby teaches her family the tricks she has learned, and they spot a rare bird together.

A great book to pair with the free Merlin Bird ID app during a STEM storytime. Includes back matter about how to find birds in your neighborhood or city as well as information on birds you might have seen in the book and that you might also find near your home.

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Sharko and Hippo by Elliott Kalan (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Sharko and Hippo are excited for a fun day of fishing! But every time Sharko asks Hippo for an item, Hippo gives him something else–instead of a boat, Hippo hands Sharko a goat. Instead of a pole, a peel and a pail. Instead of keys to the car, Sharko receives cheese from a star.

Filled with humor and a bantering that is a little reminiscent of Elephant & Piggie, this funny book would work well as a conversation starter about wordplay, rhymes, and starting letters. And in the end, all of Hippo’s mistaken items were intentional–in an effort to help save those fish they would have otherwise caught.

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The Three Little Yogis and the Wolf Who Lost His Breath: A Fairy Tale to Help You Feel Better by Susan Verde (picture book)
Gr. K-1. In this reimagining of the Three Little Pigs, a wolf has lost his huff and puff. The wolf spots a calm little pig doing yoga by a straw hut. All the wolf wants to do is blow the hut down. When the pig hears the wolf’s wheezing, she offers to help him get his huff and puff back through breathing exercises. The wolf continues practicing breathing and yoga poses as he meets each of the three little pigs, all eager to help.

A great fit for a yoga storytime or any storytime focused on mindfulness and emotions with perhaps a nicer, more thoughtful message than the original tale. Nice inclusion of a pig with gender-neutral pronouns as well.

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Unicorns Are the Worst! by Alex Willan (picture book)
Gr. PreS. Unicorns are the worst! At least, that is what Goblin thinks. Goblin spends their days in pursuit of serious magic, collecting magical ingredients and creating spells. Goblin is not happy when unicorns move in next door with their glitter and tea parties. Why are unicorns so well loved while goblins are so underappreciated?

Funny story perfect for fans of unicorns, magic, humor, and new friendships. Bright illustrations will draw in young readers and also make this a good book to share virtually.

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