Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review Tuesday

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

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The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha (picture book)
Gr. 2-4. While many were fleeing war torn Aleppo, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel stayed behind, working as an emergency responder. In addition to saving human lives, he soon realized that the cats of the city also needed help. Abandoned when their families fled or were killed, the pets were desperate and hungry. Alijaeel used the little resources available to create a sanctuary for lost animals and a spot of joy in the city.

A moving, beautiful, true story showing the strength and kindness of people around the world.

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Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (teen)
Gr. 8+. Camino Rios loves the summers she spends with her father when he visits the Dominican Republic. They both spend hours at the beach, enjoying the water and talking about Camino’s dreams to go to college in the United States and become a doctor.

Yahaira Rios doesn’t see her father as often as she would like. They used to be close, particularly when practicing for Yahaira’s highly competitive chess tournaments. But a few months ago, Yahaira discovered a marriage certificate in her dad’s papers–a marriage certificate between her father and a woman who isn’t Yahaira’s mother.

Their worlds collide when their father’s plane crashes on its way to the Dominican Republic. While mourning their father and comforting their loved ones, Camino and Yahaira learn about each other–their father’s other daughter. Emotions soar as the girls re-examine their world through the lens of the very complicated man that they both loved.

Elizabeth Acevedo is brilliant. The emotions depicted in her verse carry an amazing story–from both girls’ mourning to their fears for the future and their confusion, hurt, and hope when they discover one another. The connections to a very real plane crash make this all the more meaningful. A must read!

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The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (teen)
Gr. 8+. Nishat’s parents tell her that Muslim girls simply aren’t lesbians–so liking girls isn’t an option. Nishat is angry about hiding who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her family. Nishat is struggling to figure out how to make her parents come to terms with her sexuality, but things become much more complicated when Flavia moves back into town. Flavia and Nishat knew each other when they were young, but now that they are older, something more than friendship sparks between them.

Flavia is cousins (and friends) with Nishat’s sworn enemy though, and the two girls struggle to have a conversation. Nishat is trying to come up with a way to make things work when Flavia decides to create a henna business for a school competition. Flavia is appropriating Nishat’s culture for profit, and Flavia doesn’t see the problem. Soon, a budding romance turns into a business war filled with sabotage and anger.

I loved the representation in this book, including Nishat’s struggles with her identity and her family. The nuances of Nishat’s relationship with her sister and her friends, as well as her feelings for Flavia, carry the book. I did struggle with the discussion (or lack thereof) of cultural appropriation. Nishat is rightfully upset about Flavia making a business around something that is attached to a culture she doesn’t belong to, but Nishat never fully explains her feelings. This issue is wrapped up with a little bow when Flavia apologizes–but the apology also doesn’t make it feel like Flavia completely understands (she makes no effort to actually correct the problem).

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How to They/Them: A Visual Guide to Nonbinary Pronouns and the World of Gender Fluidity by Stuart Getty (nonfiction)
Gr. 6+. Learn about the differences between sex assigned at birth, gender identity, and sexual orientation in a fun, humorous guide.

This book was delightful! The book is designed in a way that is appealing to look at and makes you want to keep reading. The text is humorous and disarming–not here to preach but here to teach and engage (though preaching is sometimes needed when talking about pronouns). While the guide feels simple, its content is deep and centered in the idea that everyone deserves the freedom to be themselves.

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I’m Not a Girl by Maddox Lyons (picture book)
Gr. PreS-2. Nobody understands that Hannah is not a girl. His parents get frustrated when Hannah doesn’t wear cute, frilly outfits. His friend tells him he is a tomboy. But with courage, Hannah talks to his parents and gets them to understand who he really is.

Based on the author’s own story, this own voices picture book is a simple, but great choice to begin a conversation about gender identity with a child. Add this to your library shelves!

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King and the Dragonflies by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha (picture book)
Gr. 5-8. Teenage boys don’t suddenly die of heart attacks–but that is exactly what happened to King’s older brother. King is convinced that Khalid is now a dragonfly, and King regularly visits the nearby swamp to feel closer to his brother. But while he desperately misses his brother, King is also a little confused and a little mad–a few months before he died, Khalid told King he shouldn’t hang around with another local boy, Sandy Sanders. Because Sandy was gay, and “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”.

King listened to his brother and stopped talking to his best friend. Now, Sandy is missing, and King discovers not just Sandy’s hiding place, but the reason Sandy ran away in the first place. King isn’t sure what to do anymore–about the secrets he holds, what he is learning about his own identity, or his growing feelings for his best friend.

Heartbreaking, poignant, and sweet. I spent the whole book wanting to give King (and Sandy) big hugs. Author Callender does an amazing job creating this small town world, digging into King’s fears and emotions, and the added complexity of being both black and queer (particularly in a small town in the south). Lovely, quiet, and impactful.

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The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Dayeon longs to be a haenyeo “mermaid” just like her grandmother. Generations of Korean women–mostly in their 50s-80s–dive off the cost of Jeju Island, with no breathing equipment, as deep as twenty meters, looking for various sea creatures they catch and cook or sell. Dayeon is nervous about diving so deep and being able to hold her breath as long as she needs to.

A physically beautiful book that uses brilliant color to show the world above and below the ocean (including the changing time of day). The illustrations are paired with a unique story based on the real women who dive twenty days a month, hunting for octopuses, sea cucumbers, abalone, seaweed, snails, sea urchins, and more.

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Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki (picture book)
Gr. K-2. Neighbors come together to feed their community, preparing a plethora of dishes using ingredients they have on hand or were donated. You can hear the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, and even with little text, you get a feel for these characters in the nuances of the illustrations. Tamaki’s illustrations reflect real people living and giving back. Unique endpapers are always a delight, and these feature visual recipes for vegetable soup and apple crumble.

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Pies from Nowhere: How Georgia Gilmore Sustained the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Dee Romito (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. Georgia Gilmore had already been boycotting the Montgomery buses when Rosa Parks was arrested. Now that the movement was much larger, Georgia wanted to do her part. She organized a group of secret bakers–women who made delicious foods that Georgia sold to local businesses and families to raise money for the cars and gas needed to sustain the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

A wonderful picture book biography that partners well with a book about Rosa Parks or completes an elementary storytime about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gilmore is a fantastic, lesser known activist with a fantastic story (paired with beautiful illustrations).

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Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math by Rajani LaRocca (picture book)
Gr. K-1. In ancient India, Bhagat travels to the city hoping to change his family’s fortune by being selected as a singer for the rajah. He takes his family’s fortune with him–one rupee and a chain of seven golden rings. But the innkeeper wants a ring for each night Bhagat stays there, and every broken link costs one rupee. How can Bhagat break the chain, pay for his room, and never give away more than he has to?

A fun story mixing the feel of a fairy tale with math. A great choice for an elementary classroom or a storytime where kids stop reading when Bhagat is faced with his math problem and try to figure out a solution themselves.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth (picture book)
Gr. K-2. Anjali is so excited for her new bicycle. She immediately rides it to the carnival with her friends, and they are all excited to buy matching license plates with their names on them. But none of the premade plates have Anjali’s name. An older boy starts making fun of her name, and other kids join in. Anjali runs home determined that she wants to change her name for good, until her parents teach her that her name was chosen especially for her.

While I don’t have the cultural attachment to my name, this book hit home because I was also one of those kids who never had a nameplate or keychain or gift store item that had my name on it. A lovely story that will speak to kids from many backgrounds.

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford (biography)
Gr. 3-5. Henry Brown faced countless atrocities as a slave. After watching as his family was sold far away, Brown felt that nothing else was left for him. He looked for a way to escape, but instead of running from place to place on the Underground Railroad, he packed himself in a box and shipped himself to freedom.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s beautiful poetry frames this story. Each poem is just six lines–each line representing a side of a box. Brown’s words and writings are scattered throughout, allowing his voice to shine through. The story continues after Brown’s box is delivered to a free Northern state, following his journey abroad to escape the Fugitive Slave Act. Wood’s mixed media illustrations make the reader want to keep turning the pages.

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Dave the Unicorn: Team Spirit by Pip Bird
Gr. 2-4. Mira has finally gotten used to Dave, her rather unusual unicorn best friend forever. Now it is time to return to Unicorn School for Field Day! Mira isn’t convinced that Dave is the most athletic unicorn, but she is determined to help her team achieve victory so they can go on the Magical Rainbow Quest.

But from the very beginning of the day, everything goes wrong. None of her teammate’s alarm clocks go off. Their rainbow track suits go missing. Banana peels randomly appear on the field, and their equipment is swapped out for candy substitutes. The school staff seem to think Mira is just making excuses, but she is convinced that someone is sabotaging them.

Dave the Unicorn is a funny, lighthearted series that will appeal to kids who like the humor of Diary of a Wimpy Kid but might not be ready for middle school drama (or kids who are looking for a more text-heavy Dog Man readalike). When you think about the magical unicorn universe too much you are left with a lot of questions and some plot holes, but this series will be well loved by its intended audience.

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Dear Justyce by Nic Stone (teen)
Gr. 7+. Quan is in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. He isn’t too surprised he ended up there. After all, while he and his childhood friend, Justyce, weren’t that different, Justyce was always on a path to success at an Ivy League school while Quan was just doing whatever was needed to keep it together and take care of his mom and his siblings. Quan–feeling more than a little ridiculous–starts writing letters to Justyce, inspired by Justyce’s letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Just like Dear Martin, this is an outstanding book. It depicts the corrupt justice system, particularly in its treatment of black kids and teens. The story unravels through flashbacks and Quan’s letters to Justyce, as well as new scenes from Justyce’s point of view. Nic Stone’s reasoning for writing this story–after hearing from black teens about how Justyce’s story isn’t their story–makes this even more poignant.

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Finish the Fight! by Veronica Chambers (nonfiction)
Gr. 5-8. What names do you associate with women fighting for the right to vote? Susan B. Anthony? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? There were thousands of other women who often aren’t highlighted, but who fought, spoke up, marched, and led protests that led to women earning the right to vote.

Finish the Fight highlights the Haudenosaunee women who lived on the land of the Seneca Falls convention long before the town of Seneca was built–women who led a matrilineal society, who owned their own property, who led their clan. Finish the Fight shares the stories of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Elizabeth Piper Ensley, Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Jovita Idar, and more women who were instrumental in helping women gain the right to vote in territories, states, and across the United States. Finish the Fight also talks about the women whose fight for the vote continued long after the 19th amendment was passed–women like Susette La Flesche Tibbles and Litikala-Sa, who continued to fight for Native American voting rights and more.

An excellent compilation, highlighting women who aren’t often mentioned in history textbooks. Filled with more names to research on your own and detailed backmatter, this book would be a wonderful classroom companion. It also feels particularly hopeful that the very last entry in the backmatter–a comparison of 1920 vs. 2020 of Women by the Numbers–is no longer accurate, just a few months after publication. While there were, and still are, zero women U.S. Presidents, that Vice President tally can finally be changed to 1.

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The Hanukkah Magic of Nate Gadol by Arthur A. Levine (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Meet Nate Gadol, a magical Hanukkah hero who brings luck and generosity to those in need. Nate can’t make something from nothing, but he can help things stretch. Have just one piece of chocolate for a whole family? Nate can make that piece stretch for everyone. Need a little oil to last eight days and nights? Nate is there to help.

Nate takes a particular interest in the Glaser family, new immigrants to the United States determined to help their neighbors, even if that means that their Hanukkah might be a bit meager. Nate manages to help a struggling Santa, stretching Christmas joy to keep a sled flying high, in exchange for some presents that might make Hanukkah seem a bit more magical for everyone.

A beautiful new folk tale that will be a wonderful addition to Hanukkah collections for years to come.

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The Magnificent Makers: Riding Sound Waves by Theanne Griffith (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Best friends and classmates Violet and Pablo are on a field trip to the City Science Museum! They can’t wait to explore the new exhibit all about the senses. When they get to the museum, they are excited to be partnered with Henry, a quiet boy in their class who is a little different than other kids. Henry has a sensory processing disorder. He struggles with loud noises and sometimes has a hard time paying attention in class.

Just like at school, Violet and Pablo discover a riddle that leads them to the Maker Maze. This time, Henry joins them, and the three work against the clock to complete three challenges in 120 maker minutes–learning even more about their senses and making sure they can beat the clock so that they can return to the maze for more science fun in the future.

Another Maker Maze book! This series does an excellent job combining science and friendship. The addition of a main character with a sensory processing disorder is a welcome addition. The eardrum challenge is particularly fun, especially since readers could replicate it at home. Looking forward to more!

My Furry Foster Family by Debbi Michiko Florence (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Another wonderful addition in the My Furry Foster Family series. I love the simplicity, appeal, and diversity of this series. All of our young readers want more animal books, and this is a great introduction to a variety of pets (and fostering animals!). The everyday diversity in Kaita and her family plus small details, like taking your shoes off in the house, make this even more of a winner for me. Will be recommending to many young readers, though the books are already flying off the shelves.

Kingston the Great Dane: The Takano house has a new (GIANT) foster pet: Great Dane Kingston! Kingston looks a bit more like a cow than a dog, and he definitely doesn’t realize how big he is. He loves to copy everything the family dachshund does–like crawl under kitchen chairs, jump onto Kaita’s bed, and sit on Dad’s lap. Will the Takano family be able to find the perfect home for such a large dog?

Murray the Ferret: The Takano house has a new foster pet: an adorable, cuddly ferret! Kaita has done a ton of research, so she knows that ferrets can be fast and sneaky, but Murray is just adorable, floppy, and very friendly. But when things around their house start to go missing, Kaita realizes all the missing items can’t be due to bad luck…

Roo the Rabbit: The Takano house has a new foster pet: their first rabbit! Roo is absolutely adorable with his fluffy, floppy ears and always curious personality. Kaita can’t wait to cuddle with her new bunny–but Roo is super shy, and he doesn’t like to be pet. Will Kaita be able to teach him how to trust people, so they can find him his own forever home?

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The Next President: The Unexpected Beginnings and Unwritten Future of America’s Presidents by Kate Messner (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-5. We know the name of the current President of the United States. We might, if the timing is right, know the name of the next President. But we don’t often think too far past that point. Did you know that when George Washington became the first president, there were nine future presidents living their lives? Some of them may have already been thinking about becoming president themselves, but three of those future presidents were still kids. Of course, this trend continues through to today. When John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president, the next ten (eleven, as we now know) presidents were alive too. Some were in politics, another running a peanut farm, another was hosting television, a few were in their teens, and another was just born.

This book takes a fascinating approach to U.S. presidential history, always thinking towards the future. While we make general comments to kids that they could be anything they want when they grow up–even president!–the reality is that, most likely, at least ten future presidents are alive today, and at least three of them are kids. Those kids might be running for student government–but they might also be coding or dancing or reading this very book.

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Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park
Gr. 4-6. Hanna has spent much of her life moving from place to place since her mom died. Wherever they go, no one looks like Hanna, and the townspeople eventually push Hanna and her father out of town. Hanna is half-Chinese, half-white. While everyone seems willing to accept her white father into their community, they are always weary of his Asian daughter. Hanna desperately wants to go to school and complete her education, become a dressmaker at her father’s clothing store, and make a friend. These dreams seem impossible as Hanna deals with the racism and prejudice in her new town in Dakota territory. Hanna starts school, but the rest of the townspeople pull their children from the classroom. Hanna’s father is adamant that he doesn’t want Hanna to work in his shop (and he doesn’t really want to sell dresses either). And every time Hanna almost makes a friend, their parents quickly whisk them out of Hanna’s life.

Hanna’s perseverance and endless strength make this book a winner. Author Linda Sue Park was inspired by the Little House books, and this is a great book to hand to readers who enjoy historical fiction and to families looking for those Laura Ingalls Wilder titles. It doesn’t hide the racism of the era, while also allowing readers to catch a glimpse of Native American people in a more natural and kind light than other books that take place in that time. I’m glad I read this one before awards season, as I think it will have a lot of stickers on the cover in just a few months.

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Score for Imagination by Jonathan Eig (nonfiction)
Gr. 2-3. Lola loves practicing soccer with her mom every Saturday. But Lola doesn’t just love the time with her mom–she also really wants to get better at soccer. She knows she isn’t very good, and the boys in her third grade class won’t let Lola and the other girls play. How can Lola convince everyone that playing as a team will make them all better?

A fun addition to the Lola Jones book series. Lola learns all about imagination, friendship, and teamwork in a sports-focused book that will appeal to young readers.

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Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low
Gr. 3-4. Sherlock Sam loves Sherlock Holmes and solving mysteries around Singapore. Sherlock invents a robot to steal his favorite cookies from the top shelf. (The fact that the robot is named Watson was an accidental coincidence.) When Auntie Kim Lian’s family Peranakan recipe book disappears, Sam is determined to retrace her steps and find the family heirloom–after all, no cookbook means no more delicious ayam buah keluak! Soon he is leading his friends all across the city, from the bakery to the local antique shop, the library, a cooking studio, and a new restaurant.

A fun mystery series great for readers looking for something a little bit more advanced than first chapter books. This book was originally published in Singapore, and various Singaporean words and dishes are sprinkled throughout. While the volume of words in another language feels higher than in similar stories, since most of the new words are types of food, the story will still be easy for young non-Singaporean readers to follow. A glossary in the back helps introduce some of these terms to readers.

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This is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (biography)
Gr. 4-7. The words of a grown-up Ruby Bridges, the first black child integrated into an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. In a letter to today’s kids and teens, Bridges reflects on her childhood experiences and compares the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter protests happening today.

Bridges’ moving words are paired with equally moving black and white photographs, both from her childhood and from people protesting today. The juxtaposition is sometimes eerie, with the reader having to pay close attention to the captions to know the difference in date. An excellent, intimate reminder that the fight for racial equality is not new, and it is not over.

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While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Hedgehog and Tortoise are best friends who aren’t allowed to hug. But they still know ways to show their love for one another–from making silly faces and writing letters to dancing, painting, and just being near each other.

This book is particularly useful in COVID times, when hugging another person could make them sick, but I like that this book doesn’t particularly address the pandemic. There are kids with autoimmune diseases who haven’t been able to hug their friends, or sometimes even their family members, for a long time. Other kids (and grown ups) don’t like hugs. There is a lot of emphasis right now on the loss of human touch, but for some people, this isn’t new. I like that this book normalizes that without only focusing on the pandemic.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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Are You Afraid of the Light? by Richard Fairgray (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. Dash is bringing his best friend Lily along for his family’s summer vacation to the weird and creepy Black Sand Beach. There isn’t much to show off, however–the sand is black and magnetic, the house is a shack on stilts, and Dash’s relatives are very odd. Everything is strange, particularly the broken light house that occasionally flickers to life, calling to Dash. Soon, Dash and his friends discover ghosts haunting the lighthouse, mind-controlling zombie “cows”, and journals that make it seem like they have all done this before–even though they have no memory of being here for years.

So creepy! This series will appeal to young horror fans looking for something new. The characters are a bit two-dimensional, but the mystery will keep the reader engaged and constantly guessing what will happen next.

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Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. In 1993, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, five-year-old Michel stays late after school to play soccer with his friends. Michel sees a group of trucks stop near their field, but he doesn’t think anything of it–until the gunshots. Suddenly, Michel and his friends are forced into vehicles, drugged, and thrust into a terrifying world of violence as they are turned into child soldiers.

Michel’s story is horrifying, but a necessary read because of its truth. I appreciate that this was adapted into a graphic novel to make it more accessible for kids around the world. While Michel’s story ends up all right–or as okay as it can–it shows the stark horror of the lives of many kids who never return home to their families. Back matter provides more information about Michel, child soldiers around the world, and ways to help.

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Dave the Unicorn: Welcome to Unicorn School by Pip Bird
Gr. 2-4. Mira is SO EXCITED to start Unicorn School. Just like her mom and older sister, Mira will meet her unicorn best friend, go on magical quests, ride on her unicorn, and have a wonderful, magic-filled summer. All of her new classmates get paired with majestic, prancing unicorns with shimmering coats. Except Mira. Mira gets assigned to Dave.

Dave is the opposite of a majestic unicorn. He is physically small, so when Mira sits on him, her knees are by her chin. He absolutely loves donuts. He also loves to nap…a lot. All the time actually. Including in their classes. Even his poop isn’t dainty and glitter-filled like other unicorns–it looks like a pile of dog poop. And Dave poops (and farts) a lot. Dave keeps getting Mira in trouble, and soon they are both banned from the upcoming magical quest. Can Mira figure out why she and Dave are destined to be best friends? Or should she keep dreaming about a new unicorn?

Dave the Unicorn is a funny, lighthearted series that will appeal to kids who like the humor of Diary of a Wimpy Kid but might not be ready for middle school drama (or kids who are looking for a more text-heavy Dog Man readalike). When you think about the magical unicorn universe too much you are left with a lot of questions and some plot holes, but this series will be well loved by its intended audience.

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The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith (graphic novel)
Gr. 6+. A political coup that leaves their beloved grandfather murdered causes twins Hawke and Grayson to run for their lives. They hide among the new trainees in the Communion of Blue, taking on new identities as Hanna and Grayce. While they try to piece together what atrocities led to their home burning to the ground, the twins also learn more about themselves. Hawke longs to return to his old life, but Grayce realizes she wants to stay in this world that lets her be herself.

I love, love that this is a fantasy graphic novel with a transgender lead. While Grayce’s understanding of her gender is part of the plot, it isn’t the only or even central storyline–there is political unrest and a mystery to unravel. I do wish there was a bit more worldbuilding here. I wasn’t confused, but I didn’t really understand anyone’s motivations or the real power of the Communion of Blue. (Are they the only ones who can do magic? Why are some of them attached to the homes of nobles? Is their magic all encompassing?) I’m hoping for more stories that further explore this world.

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Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny tide pool, but today they are going to explore the big ocean. Little Crab is excited until Little Crab sees the big waves. Suddenly the ocean seems very big, and little crab is very small. Little Crab is nervous about going any farther, but Very Big Crab convinces Little Crab the giant waves will be worth it.

This was really cute! A great story about conquering our fears and trying something new. A good choice for the beginning of the school year. The illustrations do a particularly amazing job highlighting the ocean with lots of layering and unique shapes. A fun storytime choice!

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Flamer by Mike Curato (graphic novel)
Gr. 7+. Aiden is just trying to survive another summer camp with his Boy Scout Troup. It’s the summer between middle school and high school, which is a particularly big jump for Aiden, because he decided to leave his Catholic middle school to attend public high school (his first time attending a public school). Aiden got picked on a lot at his old school and by his fellow Boy Scouts here at summer camp. They call him gay–among other terms–because his voice and behaviors often seem feminine. But Aiden is confident he isn’t gay because gay boys like other boys. Plus, gay boys get made fun of. Gay boys can’t serve mass in Catholic church. Aiden can’t be gay because being gay is unsafe.

This is a rough read, but it is a must read. While the book is based on author Mike Curato’s real experiences, including his childhood experiences at Boy Scout camp in the 1990s, these experiences still continue today, especially in rural areas (but really everywhere). The book directly shows how other people’s words and actions hurt Aiden, and the mental consequences that unfold as Aiden doesn’t see any way to move forward. A must read.

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The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Melody is the youngest and smallest mermaid princess. She loves sneaking away from her princess duties to explore the ocean floor and catch glimpses of the world above. When she finally breaks the surface one day, she discovers a girl standing on the beach waving at her. Melody longs to become friends, but she returns home saddened that she can never walk on the beach. After a tempting offer from the sea witch, Melody agrees to give up her voice for a chance at legs and making a new friend. But after spending some time with her friend (and drawing out her story in the sand since she can’t talk), Melody realizes that the sea witch has used Melody’s voice to rise to power, and it’s up to Melody to save the day.

This is such a wonderful, amazing adaptation of The Little Mermaid story. In addition to Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations, the story takes on its own life while essentially eliminating the plot holes of the original tale and also giving Melody a sense of identity and purpose not attached to a love story. Melody wants to explore, and her curiosity leads to her deal, not a desire for love with a stranger she has never met. A beautiful, diverse adaptation that, for me, stands above the original.

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Monster and Boy by Hannah Barnaby
Gr. 2-3. The monster under the bed loves the boy who lives in the world above. The monster listens when the boy plays, when his mom reads him bedtime stories, and when the boy softly snores while he sleeps. After the boy’s mother tells the boy that monsters aren’t real, the monster is determined to do something about it-so he reveals himself to the boy. The boy is understandably shocked and possibly about to scream…so the monster eats him.

The monster isn’t so sure about this outcome, as he really just wanted to be friends, but he isn’t sure how to get the boy back out now that the boy is in his monster tummy. The monster decides to sleep on it, rather liking the idea that the boy is with him always, but when the monster wakes up, he discovers the boy is no longer inside him. The monster starts to cry, and suddenly he coughs up the boy, who is now very, very small. Can they return him to his original size?

This is a charming, humor-filled story that took many unexpected turns. Told from the perspective of the monster under the bed, the book adds an extra level of humor by letting the narrator add their own commentary throughout (such as explaining why the monster and boy are never given names). Lots of fun, including little-sister antics and the budding friendship between the monster and the boy. This would be a great story to recommend a caregiver and child read together before bedtime.

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The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
Gr. 4-6. Alberta is used to being the only black girl in her grade in her small ocean town in California. Alberta loves her life–surfing most days, enjoying delicious breakfasts with her two dads, and eating ice cream with her best friend Laramie. But when the bed and breakfast across the street is bought by a black family with a daughter her age, Alberta is thrilled.

Alberta is sure that she will be best friends with Edie, but Edie misses Brooklyn and isn’t so sure about small town life. While their friendship isn’t as immediate as Alberta dreamed, they still bond, especially after discovering a box of journals in Edie’s attic. Who do they belong to? Why were they left behind?

The Only Black Girls in Town was a ton of fun with the perfect mix of small town life, friendship drama, questions about growing up, and mystery. While a lot happens to Alberta over the book, nothing ever felt rushed and each plot element wove together with the next (much like how life works). Will be book talking and recommending.

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Our Favorite Day of the Year by A.E. Ali (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Musa’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gupta, proposes a yearlong show and tell, where each child shares with their classmates about their favorite day of the year. This way, the whole class will celebrate these important holidays all together. Four children present their favorite holidays throughout the rest of the book, emphasizing Eid Mubarak, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas (with some Latinx cultural elements), and Pi Day. Other holidays are shown in the back of the book.

I love this approach to celebrating holidays and important celebrations. Each student, and each student’s family, is different, and this activity celebrates those differences. Beautiful illustrations (and endpapers in particular) help each holiday jump off the page. Pi Day is a unique inclusion, but it is wonderful to see a non-religious holiday celebrated with the same level of excitement.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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The Best Worst Poet Ever by Lauren Stohler (picture book)
Gr. K-2. Pug and Cat are both determined to become the world’s best poet–though they have vastly different poetic styles. A battle of wits and words ensues, with rapidly increasing hilarity, until the two realize that maybe they would work better as a team.

This was so much fun! I would have a lot of fun reading this to an elementary school classroom, but I am really looking forward to turning this into a reader’s theater script.

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Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim (picture book)
Gr. K-2. Danbi just moved to America from Korea, and she is thrilled to start school! Except, when she gets there, she doesn’t understand what her teacher says. She figures out that her teacher wants her to write her name, so she does–in perfect Korean, not English. The kids dance and play games that Danbi has never seen. Danbi is sure that she knows what to do at lunch, but even her food is different than everyone else’s. Can Danbi figure out how to make new friends?

This adorable, upbeat book shows young Danbi’s genuine excitement at starting school, even with obstacles in her way. I really appreciate that Danbi always stays positive, showing her classmates how to use chopsticks, leading her own musical parade, and making a friend when she is surrounded by so many new things. The illustrations show the wonderful chaos of an elementary school classroom. Lots of fun!

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Everything Awesome About Sharks and Other Underwater Creatures! by Mike Lowery
Gr. 2-4. Learn everything you can imagine about sharks, oceans, and underwater creatures in this kid-friendly fact book.

Over 100 pages of fun illustrations and quick facts will make this book appealing to kids of all ages. A ton of great information fills the book, including the differences between each ocean, profiles on each shark species, and many a poop or snot related fast fact box. The book ends with really simple how to draw instructions for various sea creatures. The well-thought out design (with kids in mind) will make this book a winner.

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Ginger and Chrysanthemum by Kristen Mai Giang
Gr. 1-2. Cousins Ginger and Chrysanthemum love each other, but they each approach life a little differently. Ginger is spontaneous and loves to move fast and try new things. Chrysanthemum is more careful and loves plans and lists. The two enjoy their time together, preparing for their grandmother’s birthday, until they are tasked with making the birthday cake–together. Personalities clash, and soon everything is ruined.

A fun story about teamwork, friendship, and siblings (even if these two characters are cousins). A nice author’s note reflects on how traditional Chinese food (like ginger and chrysanthemum) have warm or cool characteristics. When brought together, they create balance, just like when our two cousins figure out how to work together. A good book to pair with Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao or Bilal Cooks Daal when working with older readers.

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I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day
Gr. 4-5. Edie doesn’t really ask about her Native American heritage. Edie’s mom was adopted as a baby by a white couple, and other than an annual visit to a nearby reservation to purchase fireworks, her parents tend to redirect any questions she has about their extended family. When exploring the attic with friends, Edie discovers a box filled with letters signed “Love Edith.” When Edie asks her mom who Edie was named after, Edie’s mom freezes up and lies to Edie’s face. Edie has a lot of questions–who was Edith? Why hasn’t Edie met her? And what secrets are her parents keeping?

This book was sweet, though heart wrenching. A family mystery seems like it will end with Edie learning about a death, but the painful reality is worse in a lot of ways–especially because of the very real women who went through the exact same trauma as Edie’s grandmother. I expected to have more of a glimpse into Native culture in this title, and that isn’t really present, but I did come away with new characters I will miss, knowledge about an atrocity faced by Native people just decades ago, and a new author to look out for.

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Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (graphic novel)
Gr. 6+. Will’s older brother was shot and killed outside of their apartment building. Will is determined to follow the rules passed down to him by his brother: (1) no crying, (2) no snitching, and (3) get revenge. Will has his older brother’s gun and, early the next morning, starts down their building’s elevator to get revenge on the person he is sure is his brother’s killer. But this elevator trip is like no other, with each floor revealing a new ghost from Will’s past, all with something to say.

I love how unique all of the adaptations of this book are. I love the original, I love the audiobook, and I also love the graphic novel. Each serves a purpose and shows this story in a slightly different light. Danica Novgorodoff did an amazing job with the watercolor illustrations that brought this to life. Wonderful.

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Melly Bean and the Giant Monster by Mike White (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-4. Lovable pup Melly Bean loves to play games, even if her three cat housemates prefer to nap while their humans are away. While preparing to bury a shoe in the backyard, Melly discovers that her hole is a bit deeper than she could have imagined. She slips through into a magical world filled with kings, knights, and even a humongous rabbit named Narra. Narra isn’t so fond of humans, as they spend their time hunting her for the gold that flakes out of her eyes. But Melly is sure not all the humans in this magical world are bad–maybe they just haven’t yet discovered the power of a Good Sit.

This was adorable. Melly has all of the expected energy and personality of a cute puppy, and her positive attitude seeps into the way she jumps right into adventure in the world she stumbles into. Lots of low-key adventure with high stakes, but the illustrations and story lack the depicted violence in many fantasy graphic novels for kids–a good thing here, making this a great book to hand to second or third graders looking for something fun but not scary. Hoping for more!

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Powwow: A Celebration Through Song and Dance by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-5. Learn about the history of celebrations of Indigenous song and dance–powwows. Author Pheasant-Neganigwane explores powwow history and culture in all of North America, with a focus on Canada. Her words are paired with beautiful photographs, creating a rich book that will serve as a wonderful introduction to these events for young readers. While I wish there was an equivalent title with a bit more focus on the United States, I am happy this book exists at all. Will be recommending.

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Rescuing Mrs. Birdley by Aaron Reynolds (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Young Miranda Montgomery loves the Nature Joe Animal Show. Every day, she watches Nature Joe rescue hurt animals and return lost animals to their natural habitats. When Miranda visits the grocery store, she finds something very grave–her teacher! Obviously, her teacher has escaped her natural habitat (their classroom), and it is up to Miranda to use all of the skills she has learned from Nature Joe to safely bring her teacher home.

This was so much fun! Taking the “Where do teachers live?” question to a whole new level with young Miranda’s very logical comparison of her teacher to a wild animal escaped from its natural habitat. Miranda sets traps and does her best to safely and carefully place her teacher where she will be safe. A fun storytime read when visiting an elementary school classroom.

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Wherever I Go by Mary Wagley Copp (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. Abia has been at the Shimelba refugee camp longer than any other kid. She is proud of her seven years and counting, ruling over the other kids like a queen. Her parents think they have been at the camp much too long, but Abia knows that wherever they go, she will always remember her days as queen of the camp.

A moving, approachable refugee story told in a slightly different perspective, focusing on a child’s nerves about leaving camp instead of their experiences after moving to a new country. Wonderful illustrations make young Abia shine while also not hiding the harsh realities of camp life.

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Work It, Girl: Run the Show Like CEO Oprah Winfrey by Caroline Moss (biography)
Gr. 3-4. Learn about the life of Oprah Winfrey, from her childhood as a little girl preaching at her grandma’s church (at the age of four) to her more tumultuous teenage years being shuffled between parents and her breakthrough into the world of television.

The Work It, Girl biography series is a ton of fun. While the content isn’t deep or overly thorough, these books provide a great introduction to famous individuals. Their physical design makes them particularly appealing, with well organized layouts and gorgeous paper cut illustrations.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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#Baby by Michael Joosten (board book)
Baby-Toddler. Adorable board book in it for the laughs. Each spread is simply a photograph of a baby paired with a hashtag–#lewk, #foodie, #fashionista, and my personal favorites #mondays and #holidayspirit:

This board book is the perfect mix of adult humor combined with those beautiful photographs of baby faces that will appeal to the intended audience. Quite a collection of diverse babies too! Not quite my storytime style, but this will definitely have a lot of audience appeal.

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Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson
Gr. 4-6. Cassius Clay was a kid, just like most kids. He struggled in school and dealt with bullies, but after his new bike was stolen when he was twelve, Cassius started training as an amateur boxer. Dual perspectives follow Cassius through his teens, with readers following his story from both Cassius’ point of view and the point of view of his best friend, Lucky. A final chapter, from the point of view of his friend, quickly sums up Cassius’ adult life and his transformation into Muhammad Ali.

A powerful, fun read showing Cassius discover confidence and strength. I am not a sports reader, and this book kept me fully engaged with so many humorous anecdotes that painted a beautiful picture of Ali’s childhood and teen years.

Unfortunately, this is the first title in a while that I wish I hadn’t listened to on audio. I feel bad starting a review that way, but due to the narration choices, I was very confused for the first half of my listen–I wasn’t entirely sure there were two perspectives since the voices were indistinguishable, and I just kept getting confused as we shifted from Cassius being described in the first and third person. I also missed out on the illustrations I see mentioned in many reviews–I will be tracking down the physical book soon to get a more complete view of this title.

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Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins (picture book)
Gr. 2-4. Siblings Maria and Juan are thrilled to head to the US-Mexico border to visit their grandmother and celebrate Las Posadas with her. Even though they are divided by a fence, they are excited to swap stories, but when it comes time to leave, they realize that their presents won’t fit through the fence. Maria creates a cunning plan to get her younger brother’s beautiful picture across the wall.

A beautiful, heartwarming story about families, love, and celebrations that also highlights the conditions of families separated by a border wall, trying to celebrate the holidays together. A soft color palette makes the harsh realities of the story more palpable for young readers.

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Bling Blaine: Throw Glitter, Not Shade by Rob Sanders (picture book)
Gr. K-1. Blaine loves everything sparkly. Sue loves orange; Alberto loves high-tops; Marvin loves hoodies; and Blaine loves bling. While his classmates embrace Blaine’s love of bling, not everyone else does. After some bullies make fun of his accessories, Blaine decides to leave the bling behind. Can his classmates stand up for Blaine and help Blaine get his groove back?

A cute story about identity and gender norms. The understanding and support from Blaine’s classmates is fantastic. Illustrations are colorful and show a diverse collection of students and teachers. Back matter talks about what it means to be an ally and how you can practice standing up for others.

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The Chicken Who Couldn’t by Jan Thomas (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Chicken just CAN’T win a ribbon at the fair, CAN’T fly, CAN’T walk all the way home–chicken couldn’t possibly accomplish these things! With some help from new friends, chicken develops self-confidence that allows him to defeat the hungry fox that likes to eat chickens that walk down the road.

Lots of Jan Thomas humor. This book is entirely dialogue, making it a bit of a difficult read aloud choice. May work well as a reader’s theater script. Filled with Thomas’s standard, colorful, child-friendly illustrations.

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Craftily Ever After: Making the Band by Martha Maker (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Craft-loving friends Maddie, Bella, Emily, and Sam have to figure out an act for their school’s talent show! They are sure they can find some way to showcase their crafting talents on stage, but all of their ideas are just okay until Sam is inspired to start a band using instruments they make themselves.

This is an adorable series, brimming with diversity and happy, positive messages about caring about the environment, being kind to others, making new friends, and embracing the activities you love. This particular title stands out for the kids’ perseverance after their first instruments are destroyed by rain. Also a good place to find lots of creative DIY ideas for young crafters.

Diary of an Ice Princess by Christina Soontornvat (first chapter)

The Big Freeze. Gr. 2-3. Lina has got a lot to figure out in just a few days! Her teacher at her human school wants her to create a piece of art representing Lina. Lina loves science and magic–but science won’t work for her project, and she can’t reveal her magical secret at her human school. Lina is stumped, but she doesn’t have too much time to focus on her art project because her grandfather wants Lina to pick her magical forever task. Her grandfather directs wind currents. Her mother brings the spring rains. Her cousin, Jack, makes intricate lace-like artwork out of ice. What does Lina want to do? And is she really ready to pick the job she wants to do…forever?

Slush Puppy. Gr. 2-3. Lina wants to get the perfect present for her best friend’s birthday. Claudia really, really wants a dog, and, luckily enough, Lina discovers that her winter magic can bring snow to life! Lina makes the most adorable snow puppy…but the puppy turns out to be a bit more trouble than the girls imagined. How to you train a magical dog made of snow?

This series is fun with a great combination of humor, everyday school adventures, magic powers, and a lovely message of self-acceptance. Plus, this series stars a biracial main character, is written by a diverse author, AND is a fantasy series–a combination very hard to come by in first chapter books. Recommending to anyone and everyone.

Ellie Ultra by Gina Bellisario (first chapter)

An Extra-Ordinary Girl. Gr. 2-3. Ellie Ultra is a superhero! She has spent her first eight years training in supervillain identification, combat skills, flying, and more, but now her parents think it is finally time for Ellie to start regular school. Ellie is thrilled–until she realizes that none of the other kids have superpowers. If Ellie wants to blend in, she is going to have to become a little less super. But is fitting in the best choice for Ellie?

Team Earth Takeover. Gr. 2-3. Ellie Ultra is a superhero! Ellie regularly uses her superpowers to stop supervillains, but this time she is faced with a different challenge: working with her classmates to help save the environment. Ellie and her best friend Hannah decide to build an animal habitat. Ellie loves the idea, but, as a superhero, she knows that she must really do all of the work–all of the earth saving–all by herself. It’s her superhero duty after all! Though, if she uses her dad’s cloning machine to make two Ellies that just means two superheroes will accomplish even greater results! Right?

Ellie is a cute, spunky young superhero. I prefer Mia Mayhem’s everyday adventures to this series, but, reading level wise, this is a good step up from the Mia Mayhem books. Lots of kid appeal, and I appreciate any diverse young superheroes.

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Fiona, It’s Bedtime by Richard Cowdrey (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-Pres. Howl! Roar! Squawk! Coo! The sun is setting at the zoo. Fiona travels around the Cincinnati Zoo to say goodnight to all of the animal families, including the cheetahs, sloths, tortoises, and more before falling asleep herself.

Come on…it’s an animal book with adorable illustrations about the baby hippo internet sensation that lives just a few hours away from my house. How can I not love it? The rhyme scheme and large illustrations (plus the local familiarity with Fiona) make this title a good storytime contender. Lots of animal identification and guessing as we turn each page and explore the zoo with Fiona.

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I Love My Fangs! by Kelly Leigh Miller (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Little Dracula loves his two, pointy, beautiful fangs! He brushes and flosses them every day, but suddenly one starts to wiggle. And then–oh dear–it falls out! How can Dracula be a vampire with just one tooth? He tries tape, string, and bubblegum to get his fang to reattach, but it just won’t go back in. How can he face the world with just one fang?!?

Lots of humor and drama surround our adorable young vampire including a hilarious battle with the tooth fairy. Bright, colorful illustrations will keep the youngest readers engaged. A great explanation about teeth for little ones soon to be visited by the tooth fairy themselves. Hoping for more adventures starring this little guy.

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I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee (teen)
Gr. 5-10. Skye has been told she is fat her whole life. For a while, she participated in her mom’s crazy diet schemes, but, since then, Skye has accepted herself as she is, even if her Korean mom and much of the Korean-American community find her body size alarming. Skye doesn’t have time to worry about the number on a scale because she is too busy preparing for auditions for a prestigious, televised Kpop competition. Skye knows she has the vocals and the dance moves to succeed–but will anyone in this stereotypically skinny field take her seriously? And why is hot, Instagram model Henry Cho auditioning anyway? And why is he so interested in Skye?

THIS BOOK! I powered through this title in just a few hours. This book is great mix of girl-power, strength, confidence, and pure awesomeness with a plus-sized, bisexual main character; an adorable love interest; and wonderful side characters. I love a good romance, and Henry Cho is adorable, but this book would have been just as successful without the romance because of the strength of the main character. I love the new trend in books featuring plus-size characters who are fully confident in their size. Skye is a force to be reckoned with–when she is body shamed, her confidence in herself and her appearance simply grow. Will be recommending.

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A Journey Toward Hope by Victor Hinojosa and Coert Voorhees (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. Children Alessandra, Laura, Nando, and Rodrigo travel, unaccompanied, north from Central America, nearly 1,000 miles through Mexico, to seek asylum in the United States. Although the children don’t know each other when the book begins, and language differences sit between them, they become fast friends as the band together to make the dangerous journey north.

Based on the true stories of the 50,000 children who make this journey each year, A Journey Toward Hope provides a unique view into these children’s experiences. Paired with four pages of back matter giving more details on the real kids who make these trips each year and information on how to help.

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Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera (graphic novel)
Gr. 10+. Juliet is leaving the Bronx and moving to Portland to intern for her favorite feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane. Just before leaving, Juliet came out to her Puerto Rican family and the results were…not exactly great. Juliet hopes that Harlowe will help Juliet figure out what it means to be a lesbian and Puerto Rican, but, while Harlowe definitely has a lot of ideas, Harlowe doesn’t really understand Juliet’s perspective. Even with a few bumps in the road, Juliet is sure that her experiences in Portland will help her figure out her place in the world.

Juliet is fun, vibrant character, and this is a lovely queer coming of age story that touches heavily on race and identity. I haven’t read the original book, which may have made the graphic novel experience feel a little disjointed at times. Many of Juliet’s Portland experiences felt a touch too quick, and I would have appreciated a little more detail (perhaps I just would have enjoyed this book better in novel form instead of as a graphic novel). The art is vibrant, with the colors matching the pace and setting of the story.

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The Last Kids on Earth and the Skeleton Road by Max Brallier
Gr. 3-5. Newest addition to the Last Kids on Earth series! This time, Jack, Quint, June, and Dirk are on the road trip of their lives, determined to track down and stop the evil Thrull. The team finally have a lead that might take them to Thrull’s Tower (a portal to bring Rezzoch, Destroyer of Worlds, to Earth). But, of course, a road trip in this series combines new monsters and constant danger with a ton of snacks, lots of humor, and many, many kitschy roadside attractions.

I adore this series–a perfect mixture of humor, action, crazy fantasy, friendship, and sarcasm. Looking forward to more, particularly additional June standalone adventures.

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The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (nonfiction)
Gr. 4-8+. A beautiful collection of thirty short stories, poems, letters, and essays from an amazing group of diverse authors and illustrators about how they talk to young people, most often their children, about race.

Each story was unique and poignant, though for me, personal standouts include “Handle Your Business” by Derrick Barnes, “Mazes” by Christopher Myers, and “Our Inheritance” by Adam Gidwitz. In the first, Derrick Barnes’ son comes home and in passing talks about his teacher doing an entire unit on the book Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. A kid in class asks Derrick’s son if he is happy that they are finally reading a book with a character that looks like him. While the child stands up for himself and his history, this one really hit home why proper representation is so important. Myers talks about the story of the Minotaur and how stories are twisted by the tellers to create a view that most benefits them. Gidwitz talks about explaining to his young daughter how their white family has benefited from racism–historically and in the present–giving a sharp reminder that these “talks” about racism should not be limited to diverse parents warning their kids about what they will face now and in the future.

There is so much to unpack here–it isn’t really possible to write decent summaries of some of these stories, as they each have so many layers and nuances. An excellent book to read together as a family, one story at a time. A title I will be recommending to teachers, parents, librarians, and more.

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Ten Ways to Hear Snow by Cathy Camper (picture book)
Gr. 1-2. The day after a blizzard, young Lina awakens to silence–the silence created by a heavy layer of snow. Lina decides to walk to her grandmother’s house to make a special meal. Her grandmother can’t see very well, so as Lina walks, she focuses on listening to the sounds of the world around her, discovering ten different ways to hear snow.

A beautiful story with stunning illustrations and a great point of view. Lina and her grandmother have a wonderful relationship, and the blending of story, diversity, and even a science lesson about your senses would make this a wonderful storytime or classroom read.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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Animal Showdown: Round Three by Stephanie Warren Drimmer (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-4. Which animal is most acrobatic? Loudest? Most venomous? Lives the longest? Find out in the newest round of animal matchups.

I like that this series isn’t quite as clear cut as the Who Would Win books. While some of these questions have just one answer–like the loudest animal–the book makes the reader look at the stats and facts to figure that out (or, in the cases of less clear cut matchups, the answer is up to the reader). A great design paired with beautiful photographs and, of course, fascinating information, makes this series a win.

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Goldie Vance: Larceny in La La Land by Hope Larson (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-8. Goldie Vance is back and taking Los Angeles by storm! While her best friends have glamorous lives as movie stars or are off working at fancy internships, Goldie has to figure out her own summer plans. When she stumbles across a grown-up female detective, Goldie knows she is meant to spend the summer solving real mysteries! After a bit of convincing, Goldie manages to land her dream assistant job where she is quickly caught up in a pair of intertwining mysteries involving both sentimental and very lucrative thefts.

Goldie is back! Move aside Nancy Drew–Goldie Vance is the queen of teen detectives. I love the sweet alternate reality that Goldie lives in (that essentially looks a bit like a Hollywood version of the 1960s without racism, the Vietnam War, and all of those real-world issues). Goldie and her friends exude the diversity that is much needed in modern comics but probably wouldn’t have worked out well in real life at the time–Goldie is biracial, gay, curvy, and amazing (she also drag races, though that isn’t featured in this book). Her friends are equally unique and awesome. Plus these comics are just fun–a combination of Sherlock Holmes meets Nancy Drew mystery, a few high stakes action scenes, fun side characters to flesh out the plot, and a great color palate that brings the setting to life. More please!

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Move, Play, Learn: Interactive Storytimes with Music, Movement, and More by Alyssa Jewell (professional development)
Adult. Make your storytimes active through movement, music, and play! Think about how to make all parts of your storytime, not just some elements, an active experience, engaging little ones and caregivers throughout.

I wish I had read this book pre-COVID, but I am still glad to have found it now. Lots of great messages and ideas here (and a great list of children’s musicians!). The theory and research in this book help me put into words what I’ve been trying to do with my storytimes before and after COVID–create an active, engaging experience. The less passive listening, the better.

While I don’t agree with everything–I’m really not a theme person, and those are emphasized heavily in this text–the below paragraph really stuck with me, so much that I wanted to include it here to refer back to. I had a core set of storytime materials that I used pre-COVID, and I didn’t put that much effort into revitalizing those materials. While I still use a bit more repetition than is highlighted in this book, I’ve been taking a much more thorough effort into planning and carefully selecting materials for my virtual storytimes–finding quality materials that I enjoy that highlight new voices, cover an early literacy skill, and fit the appropriate developmental level. I’ve wondered a lot about the time commitment involved with this and how this will fit into my job when I am back on desk with the public many hours a week, and I’ve been coming to the conclusion that storytime content needs to remain a priority. Author Jewell sums this up nicely in her text:

“For me, selecting the best materials for storytime is at the core of what it means to be a good children’s librarian. My job is to showcase the best of what the library’s collection has to offer. This means not only keeping up to date with the newest books and music, but also performing rigorous searches of the collection for each storytime theme, as there are sometimes hidden gems published years ago hiding in the stacks and begging to be brought to life. This is not always easy to do if you, like most librarians and teachers, are strapped for time. Everyone falls into bad habits at some point, such as rushing through material selection, gravitating toward comfortable materials that you or others have used time and time again, or choosing materials that you think are cute but are really not developmentally appropriate for your storytime. If you find yourself falling into any of these behaviors, take a step back and remember: the building blocks of storytime are the materials you select. If you are not putting energy into that process, then your foundation will be shaky.” – page 51

Queen Of The Spelling Bee - (Ellie Ultra) By Gina Bellisario (Hardcover) :  Target

Queen of the Spelling Bee (Ellie Ultra) by Gina Bellisario (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Life isn’t always filled with daring rescues for young superhero Ellie Ultra. She has to go to school, and sometimes those school days are filled with spelling bee practice! Ellie is sure that her super talents will make her a spelling bee champion, but when Ellie decides she doesn’t need to practice, things don’t work out as planned. But is there more to this new substitute librarian than meets the eye? Something seems to be off about the plans for the upcoming school-wide spelling bee…will Ellie need to save the day?

Ellie is a cute, spunky young superhero. I prefer Mia Mayhem’s everyday adventures to this series, but, reading level wise, this would be a good step up from the Mia Mayhem books. I’m not sure if these books have to be read in order (no series number on the spine), but I definitely felt a bit confused by many of the references to what felt like previous books. This felt a little disjointed at times with a heavy focus on the fast-paced action, but I see the kid appeal, and I appreciate any diverse young superhero.

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Rick by Alex Gino
Gr. 4-5. Rick has always gone along with his best friend, Jeff. Even when his best friend is mean–best friends stick together, right? Now, Rick is in middle school. He learns that maybe things don’t all have to be one way, especially when a new friend leads him to a meeting of the school’s rainbow spectrum club. The kids in this club seem to be so sure of who they are (or they are comfortable in being not so sure). Rick longs to be just as understood–but can he figure out who he is while still keeping his life as it has always been?

This was fun and so sweet! I loved the call backs to George–even though its been a while since I read that title, hearing Melissa introduce the talent show with a few loud “salutations!” was lovely. Rick was a particularly great perspective to explore. While George was a bit stronger of a book for me, I like that Rick was–and still is–questioning who he is. That questioning is normal and such a part of growing up that isn’t focused on quite as often as the kids who “know” something about themselves. Rick’s relationship with his grandfather was particularly strong and nuanced. Looking forward to more books!

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School for Extraterrestrial Girls #1: Girl on Fire by Jeremy Whitley
Gr. 5-8. Tara Smith longs to be extraordinary–but, when she said that, she dreamed of becoming an astronaut, not spontaneously combusting in math class. She wanted to travel to space–not find out she is really an alien. She wanted her parents to be a little less routine-oriented–not really be kidnappers that tore her away from her home and hid Tara’s true identity from her for years.

But, things don’t always work out the way you expect. Such as when you discover all of these extraordinary things about yourself, while also finding out that you still have to go to high school (but now a high school for alien teenage girls). New friendships, drama, and confusion seem to follow Tara wherever she goes as she tries to figure out where she fits in among the big, wide universe.

A new series by the author of Princeless! This wasn’t quite as amazing as Princeless, but I am definitely looking forward to the sequel. Tara’s emotional ups and downs felt very real, and I’m excited to see more of the world created in this series, including the multitude of alien species (more cat people please!). I’m also ready for the strength of a united Tara, Summer, and Misako–their new school isn’t going to know what hit them.

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There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Gr. 7+. Ashish was recently dumped by his (now ex-) girlfriend. Ever since the breakup, nothing is working–he can’t seem to flirt anymore, he never feels happy, and basketball just feels routine. Even though he can’t ever imagine it working, he agrees to let his parent’s set him up with a new girl, hoping that a little bit of a flirting and a few dates (without the pressure of making those things happen himself) might help him find his groove again.

Sweetie doesn’t think too much about romance–she is too busy beating everyone on the track, hanging out with her friends, and singing in the shower. When Sweetie finds out that Ashish’s parents want to set the two of them up, she is mildly interested–until Sweetie’s mom denies the match because Sweetie’s traditional Indian mom thinks Sweetie is too fat for an attractive, rich boy like Ashish.

Sweetie is furious. She doesn’t care so much about dating Ashish, as she hates how her parent’s insecurities about Sweetie’s weight make them control her actions. She tracks down Ashish and proposes a deal–that they date, in secret, behind their parent’s backs. He gets his mojo back, and Sweetie proves that fat girls are datable. Ashish agrees. Obviously, love follows.

I love all of Sandhya Menon’s sweet romance novels, and I’m glad I saved this one for last (of what she has currently published). It was fun to see familiar characters again, but Ashish and Sweetie just have a great dynamic. Contrary to their names, Ashish was the one who was a little too sweet for me at times, especially toward the end of the book, but Sweetie’s self-confidence and determination make this book shine. At so many moments, Sweetie could have crumbled–but she never does, no matter who is trying to hold her back, because of her faith in herself. So much fun to read.

Book Review Tuesday

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

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Boys Dance! by John Robert Allman (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Travel through a day of ballet practice for a group of young boys.

This book stands out by focusing on diverse, male ballet dancers. The story is simple–going through the daily routine of a standard kids’ ballet practice, except all the kids are boys (not traditionally shown in picture books about ballet, except maybe one child seemingly as an afterthought). Highlights real, diverse, male ballet dancers from throughout history. A fun read for young dancers and a great choice for anyone looking to diversify their dance titles.

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Cheer Up by Heather Ayris Burnell (reader)
Gr. K-2. Unicorn and Yeti are best friends, going on many adventures. In three short episodes, Unicorn gives Yeti a special present, Yeti helps unicorn get warm after an icicle-chewing incident, and the two friends take a walk down a trail together.

I appreciate the bright, colorful illustrations and kid-appealing characters of the recent Acorn beginning reader series by Scholastic. These books are designed with kids in mind, in addition to containing elements of a good beginning reader title. Unicorn and Yeti might be one of my favorite Branches series. The characters are adorable, and each book focuses on kindness and friendship. Vocabulary and sentence structure is slightly more advanced than similarly packaged Frog and Dog books.

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Diana and the Island of No Return by Aisha Saeed
Gr. 3-4. Princess Diana is thrilled that it is time for Themyscira’s annual festival, where female leaders from around the world celebrate on the island of the Amazons. Every year, Diana’s best friend, Princess Sakina, comes for the festival, and Diana has a week of excitement planned–until everything goes wrong. A boy followed the ships to Themyscira, and men are not allowed on the island. The boy has a nefarious goal, and he successfully puts the Amazons under a sleeping spell. Everyone is asleep except Diana and Sakina, who agree to travel to his home to save his people, in exchange for the antidote that will save their families. Diana’s first trip off Themyscira is filled with danger as she faces down a lava river, hypnotized minions, and a demon determined to capture Diana alive.

Fast-paced and filled with adventure, this serves as a wonderful origin story for Wonder Woman. There have been a slew of these lately, and Saeed’s tale holds up. I’m glad to see a diverse voice brought into Diana’s story, and I’m very happy to recommend this to young readers. A great readalike for Diana Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale or Shuri by Nic Stone.

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Do Not Open This Book by Andy Lee (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! Well, of course, you want to open it, and the main character just cannot convince you to stop turning the pages no matter what tricks they try.

This fun, interactive book would work well for a preschool or kindergarten read aloud. Each page encourages the reader to ask a child whether they want to turn the next page. The increasing anger and frustration of the main character creates lots of humor, which will appeal to the intended audience. Kids will have fun with this one, particularly fans of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

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Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Meet the Dungeon Critters:

  • Juniper – The healer. Nervous in large crowds. Loves botany. Terrible at lying. Looks eerily similar to the reclusive Duchess Helena von Fancypaws.
  • Rose – Arson loving cat. Doubles as a defense attorney when needed. May have a tiny crush on Juniper.
  • Prince Chirp – Heiress to the throne of the [redacted] Kingdom. Impulsive. Hates to apologize. Tends to not think before acting. Avoids responsibility.
  • Goro – Gentle giant. Generally quiet, but when he speaks, his words are profound.

These four, with the occasional assistance of other creatures who are quickly forgotten (even by the main four characters), are determined to discover the nefarious plot of the (maybe?) evil Baron Foxworthy. What is this mysterious plant they discover in his dungeon?

Lots of chaos and humor fill this jam-packed fantasy adventure story. Readers will be engaged, if sometimes a little lost (a lot is happening very quickly, and I felt like I didn’t have that much time to get to know the characters outside of action scenes). I love that all of the characters have some kind of romantic interest–and every one of them (whether crush or serious relationship) is interested in someone who is their same gender (yay representation!). I’m hoping for more books to give these characters more depth. Great for fans of Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, or even kids who miss the humor of Dog Man but are a few steps past those books.

Field Trip (Mr. Wolf’s Class #4)

Field Trip (Mr. Wolf’s Class) by Aron Nels Steinke (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Mr. Wolf’s class is going on an extra special field trip to a local campground! Everyone gets to sleep in cabins, make s’mores, and hike through the woods. The forest may be sort of magical, but everyday drama follows the students on their trip, making things a little more chaotic than usual.

Another fun read following (animal) students and their everyday hijinks. Aziza and Randy are arguing; someone else isn’t feeling too well; other students are getting to know kids from another visiting school. Author Steinke does an excellent job capturing the feel of an elementary school classroom, including the mild chaos, blunders, and funny (but sometimes awkward) conversations between teacher and student. A comforting, wholesome series for anyone looking for a sweet, quick read.

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Icing on the Snowflake (Diary of an Ice Princess) by Christina Soontornvat (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Lina’s cousin Wendy is getting married, and everyone is determined to create the most perfect, most traditional magical wedding ever. Lina and her best friend Claudia feel like they might be doing more harm than good, but they are determined to turn things around and make the wedding day as perfect as possible. But is that what Wendy really wants?

Another amazing Diary of an Ice Princess adventure! Lots of shenanigans between Lina and Claudia (like putting cornstarch on their legs to make their formal dresses stop itching!). I appreciate the diversity and accessibility of this first chapter fantasy series. I’m looking forward to many more new titles to come!

Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster (first chapter)
Isadora Moon Goes to the Ballet Young Isadora–half-fairy, half-vampire–and her magical pink rabbit love all things ballet but especially their favorite dancer, Tatiana Tutu. Isadora is so excited that her class gets to go on a field trip to a local ballet. Soon after they arrive, Isadora loses Pink Rabbit. Can she find him before the curtain rises?

Isadora Moon Has a Birthday Isadora Moon wants a birthday party, but she would really like a human party. Her mom is a fairy, and her dad is a vampire, and they are both sure that either a fairy party or a vampire party would be a much better idea. After some convincing by Isadora, Isadora’s parents agree to host a human party, but will they be able to pull off a non-magical event?

Isadora Moon Has a Sleepover Isadora Moon is going to her best friend Zoe’s house for her very first sleepover! It isn’t all fun and games, however. The girls have to work together to make a cake for their school’s baking competition! When they get a little carried away using Isadora’s magic to make the cake extra special, Isadora starts to doubt if it is really fair to submit their magically-improved creation into the contest at their human school.

Gr. 2-3. More great additions to the sweet Isadora Moon series. I enjoy the twist on the traditional realistic fiction first chapter book. The only difference between these titles and other everyday school adventures is that Isadora’s mom is a fairy and her dad is a vampire-but those changes are enough to make this series hold its own.

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Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence
Gr. 5-6. Keiko is ready to tackle seventh grade with her two best friends, Audrey and Jenna, by her side. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple. Audrey decides they all need boyfriends before the fall dance, and Jenna isn’t so sure about this plan. Audrey and Jenna don’t seem to be getting along, but Keiko is sure it will all work out–and maybe the cute new boy in Keiko’s math class will even ask her out!

But…things don’t get better. Soon Audrey and Jenna are arguing, and Keiko is forced to choose sides. Keiko’s crush is spending a ton of time with Audrey, and Keiko is starting to remember why she used to be friends with Audrey’s brother, before Audrey made Keiko choose between him and Audrey. Keiko wants to talk to her mom, but her mom hasn’t been home much lately. Can Keiko keep everyone happy on her own?

This was excellent. I spent a good part of the book frustrated at Keiko for not seeing Audrey’s true personality, but Keiko’s coming to terms with her friend’s cruelty, and Keiko’s character development, felt raw and honest. This felt like a Real Kid figuring out what makes a good friend, not a quick solution to a messy problem. Florence explores so many great relationships without dipping into drama for drama’s sake, while adding a perfect sprinkling of middle school romance. Will be recommending to many 5th-6th grade readers.

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Mindy Kim, Class President (Mindy Kim) by Lyla Lee (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Mindy Kim has adjusted to her new school, miles and miles away from her old home in California. In fact, now that she is in third grade, Mindy is ready to run for class president! Mindy learns all about how to run a great campaign (with a platform focused on kindness and snacks), but she is extra nervous about having to make a speech in front of her whole class. Can Mindy face her fears and win over her classmates?

I adore this series. Mindy Kim is a Korean American elementary school student, going through the ups and downs of everyday school drama, elements of her culture easily woven into the storytime, and personal and familial adjustments to her mom dying before Mindy and her Dad moved to Florida. Great for fans of Jasmine Toguchi–though I really, really hope the Mindy Kim series doesn’t end with just four books like that series. More Mindy Kim please! Already a regular book talk title for me, I will be passing these books to more and more kids.

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Not Your All-American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Gr. 4-6. Lauren and Tara are best friends. They do everything together–referring to themselves as the “royal we.” Of course, they try out for the school musical together, hoping to maybe both be cast in the ensemble. Lauren knocks her audition out of the park, but Lauren is assigned to the ensemble, while Tara is cast as the leading lady. Why? The drama teacher feels that half-Chinese, half-Jewish Lauren doesn’t look like an “All-American Girl.” Heartbroken, Lauren tries to make the best of it, but eventually she just can’t bring herself to sing anymore. Why bother when she can never be a star?

This book! Lauren’s voice rang true for me. I felt the heartbreak in her character and eventually her determination to succeed. Little details brought this story to life, even though it is not my genre of choice (historical fiction–and yes, sorry, but the 80s are historical fiction now). The 80s backdrop created a vivid image of Lauren’s day-to-day life, with her bickering, loving, live-in grandmothers adding humor while also helping Lauren find the motivation to keep trying. A small detail, but I was confused when John Hughes movies were highlighted at the beginning as something Lauren loved (all I could think of was Sixteen Candles’ racist characters), and I appreciated how this issue was confronted when the girls went to see Sixteen Candles in theaters with friends. Lauren’s intersectionality–as both Chinese and Jewish–helps make this book stand apart from similar works. Will definitely be recommending.

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Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J.C. Phillipps (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Pacey Packer dreams of adventure, but she is stuck babysitting her little sister, Mina, and being wrangled into tea parties. Pacey turns her back for just one minute, and when she turns around, her sister is on the back of a giant unicorn running over a magical rainbow bridge. Pacey chases them down and manages to hitch a ride to the magical unicorn land of Rundalyn. Pacey quickly loses her sister and is stuck trying to catch up to Mina on foot, with just her sister’s (apparently magical) stuffed unicorn, Slasher, as her guide. They have to traverse a dangerous jungle to rescue Mina–but all is not as it seems.

A cute, fast-paced adventure filled with lots of unicorn humor and dramatic betrayals. Fun for fans of Phoebe and Her Unicorn looking for more drama or readers who like the wonky adventures of Aster and the Accidental Magic.

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Real Pigeons Nest Hard by Andrew McDonald (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. The Real Pigeons are back with three new mysteries. First, who stole a vulture nest? (And how did they manage to pull off the stunt?) Also, who is this mysterious, pigeon-loving child alone at the park? Finally, is that lonely photo in the river a picture of Homey’s long lost family? The pigeons will need all of their amazing pigeon powers to defeat villains new and old.

Perfect for fans of Dog Man, this series continues to combine humor, superhero antics, and line drawings designed to appeal to young readers looking for fast-paced action and lots of laughs. Originally published in Australia. I’m eagerly awaiting the in-the-works TV adaptation.

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RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford (biography)
Gr. 1-3. So beautiful! This biography of Aretha Franklin is visually stunning. The illustrations, the headers, type face, and framing of the text in words (spelled out RESPECT style) and rhyming couplets all blend together for a truly wonderful reading experience. I’ve been itching to plan a Little People, Big Dreams Aretha Franklin program, and this is most definitely going to be featured.

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The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Worrysaurus is a planner. He likes to know what might happen each day, as those plans help keep his worries away. Worrysaurus is all set for an adventure, when a nervous lizard tells him it is going to storm! Worrysaurus didn’t prepare for a storm. Will his new worries stop him from having a great day?

This is a sweet, rhyming book that approaches worries and emotions in a wonderful, child-friendly way. It subtly weaves in great ways for children to handle their worries–thinking about helpful words from a grown-up, finding objects that comfort and calm them, and figuring out if something is a real worry or more unrealistic (such as being worried it might storm when the sun is shining). A fun read aloud or a great one-on-one book for a child who might be worried about their own worries.

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). 

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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.

Book Review Tuesday

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

Agent Moose by Mo O’Hara (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-3. Agent Moose (aka Anonymoose) recently lost his credibility after claiming the moon was moon-napped during a lunar eclipse. Instead of solving his 100th case, Agent Moose and his assistant Owlfred became the joke of Woodland HQ. To make things worse, they both have to attend Camo Chameleon’s Party–celebrating Camo Chameleon’s 100th case solved! The party isn’t all play, however–Anonymoose and Owlfred also have to track down a missing animal, Terrance Turtle, a key witness in a recent robbery (solved by none other than Camo Chameleon). But when Anonymoose and Owlfred arrive at the party and start talking to witnesses of the turtle-napping, all is not as it seems…

Another great readalike for fans of Dog Man, Agent Moose is sure to be a winner with kids looking for animal crime-solving humor. Lots of fun disguises and puns paired with cute illustrations and an easy setup for a longer series. Will be recommending.

Grandpa Grumps by Katrina Moore (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Daisy is so excited to meet her Yeh Yeh (grandfather), visiting from China for the first time. She has so many great ideas for all of the ways they will have fun together…but he seems really grumpy. Daisy is about to give up on getting a smile from him before he goes home, when the two finally bond while cooking together.

Adorable depiction of family dynamics, especially when cultural differences are added to the mix. Sweet ending that may invite a welcome sequel.

I Am Brown by Ashok K. Banker (picture book)
Gr. PreS-1. Gorgeous! Stars brown children from around the world showing all of the different, amazing things that they do, the clothes they wear, the places they are from, the languages they speak, and more. Vibrant, warm colors keep the reader engaged. Holds a wonderful, uplifting message about the normalcy and awesomeness of being brown.

I Love Us: A Book About Family by Luisa Uribe (board book)
Toddler-PreS. Board book depicts various families having fun together. Features diversity in skin color and family makeup (kids raised by grandparents, single parent homes, possibly a family with two dads (not clear)). I would’ve preferred this book in a larger, picture book format, as the words and detailed illustrations would work well for a preschool storytime. Includes a mirror at the end, followed by a blank family tree encouraging readers to add the names of people they love.

In the Garden by Emma Guiliani (nonfiction)
Gr. 1-3. Siblings Plum and Robin explore and take care of their garden all year long. This physically giant book is filled with flaps for additional learning, letting readers see inside of fruits and flowers and get a peak underground. Plenty of interesting info on what tasks need to be completed in a garden during each season as well as how plants grow. Rare nonfiction book starring diverse kids.

Internet Animal Stars by Rebecca Felix (nonfiction)
Gr. 1-2. Simple facts about various animals, with a focus on their Internet popularity.

While this series is cute and definitely has cover appeal, I do wonder about their longevity. Animal facts are sparse, with not quite enough details to cover the required information for the average animal project. The design has a definite rainbows-and-cuddles Lisa Frank vibe without looking too dated (for the current moment anyway). I’m not sure how long that style, or the chapter starring animal memes (“meme break!”), will stay relevant. Still, it is pretty darn cute.

Jake the Fake Keeps His Cool by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach
Gr. 4-5. Jake’s mom is pregnant! Jake isn’t sure what this means for him–will his parent’s stop paying attention to him now that he will be the middle child? Will the baby keep him up all night? Will Jake have to share his room? Jake quickly gets distracted by a new, pretty classmate that Jake is desperate to impress, even if that means stretching the truth about his cooking and haircutting skills.

I still enjoy this series, even if neither sequel reached quite the same hilarity as the first book. This book felt a little more disjointed than previous titles in the series, with the baby storyline only appearing when it needed to make a point. Even with that, I appreciate any own voices books that are great readalikes for fans of Wimpy Kid and Big Nate.

Leap Frog by Jane Clarke (picturebook)
Gr. PreS-K. Tiny Felix Frog is trying to make his way home across the jungle. Along the way, he runs into a variety of rainforest critters whose unique sounds make Felix jump! Help Felix make his way home by counting, bouncing, and repeating phrases before turning each page.

Vivid illustrations with bright colors make this a storytime standout. Turn the animal-sound reveals into a guessing game for preschoolers or kindergarteners, especially if paired with a non-fiction rainforest or jungle animal title.

Mia Mayhem and the Super Family Field Day by Kara West (first chapter book)
Gr. 1-3. Mia Mayhem finally gets to see her superhero parents in action when her Program for In Training Superheroes (the PITS) hosts a family field day. Mia knows everything is for fun, but she really would like to win that trophy…

I adore the Mia Mayhem series SO MUCH. At their heart, these are well-written, fun first chapter books combining superhero antics with everyday elements of growing up, including friendship struggles, balancing home and school, overcoming challenges, wanting to win, and more. The diversity in our young superheroes is unparalleled, with Mia having close friends of not just different races, but a friend who is blind (with a super guide dog) and a friend who has two prosthetic legs. We learn in this book that one of her friends has two dads. And its all so seamlessly included in the text that this series is far from issues books–they are just kids in everyday (superhero) situations.

Mummy, What’s In Your Tummy? by Bernadita Romero (board book)
Toddler-PreS. In this board book, a child imagines what might be growing in his mummy’s tummy. Originally published in Chile in Spanish and translated to English. I wonder if the translation has to do with the inclusion of a whale as one of the animal guesses–a logical guess for a small child, but maybe not a word every expecting mom wants to use to describe her belly? (Or an elephant for that matter…) Diverse family featured throughout.

Rockin’ Rockets: The Adventures of Allie and Amy by Stephanie Calmenson (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Allie and Amy are are inseparable, until new girl Gracie moves into their neighborhood. Gracie doesn’t want to come between Allie and Amy, but when Gracie is only allowed to have one friend over at a time, she is forced to choose. When Gracie accidentally promises both Allie and Amy her extra ticket to the Rockin’ Rockets concert, suddenly Allie and Amy are fighting over who gets to go, and their status as best-friends-forever is in question.

The Allie and Amy series is cute, if a little shallow. I appreciate the diverse friend group and that the girls live in apartments (something not often shown in kid’s lit). I wish their friendship struggles had been more fleshed out in this book, as these kinds of fights do happen in real life, and they aren’t often resolved by getting an additional free ticket because your other neighbor just happens to be the mysterious new drummer in your favorite band. A good readalike for the more nuanced Craftily Ever After and Miranda and Maude series.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat: Sing Along with Me! by Nosy Crow (board book)
Baby-Toddler. Cute, though short, board book adaptation of the song Row, Row, Row Your Boat. The chunky sliders and pull tabs will appeal to babies and toddlers and are sturdy enough for repeated circulation. I prefer Jane Cabrera’s adaptation for storytime purposes, as it has very similar verses with larger, less dense illustrations. The interactivity and small details make this ideal for a one-on-one reading.

Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee (graphic novel)
Gr. 4-5. Lora feels left out as all of her friends seem to be growing up without her. Lora doesn’t want to grow up, and she is thrilled to discover a new (though also old) friend living in her house. Ghost girl Alexa is around Lora’s age, haunting Lora’s house and just looking for a friend. The two become inseparable even as Lora begins to grow up on her own, and Alexa grows more and more curious about the past that she can’t remember.

Beautifully illustrated and filled with all the feels, Séance Tea Party is a sweet story about how friendships change, what it means to grow up, and keeping the magic of childhood alive. Be prepared for a bittersweet, authentic ending that may leave you tearing up.

Speak Up by Miranda Paul (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. When you see something that doesn’t feel right, when you make a mistake, when you can help someone in need, use your voice and speak up!

While this book’s message is simple, it approaches kindness, activism, and using your voice in a tone perfect for preschoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders. The book shows real situations kids may face in school such as a teacher mispronouncing a classmate’s name, kids spreading rumors that mud on a child’s pants is really something else, litter covering the playground, classmates goofing around, and more. A diverse class reflects the faces of real kids who spoke up and made a difference, as shown in the last few pages along with brief information on how those kid’s made a difference in the real world. Perfect choice for a kindergarten storytime.

Target: Earth (Klawde, Evil Alien Warlord Cat) by Johnny Marciano and Emily Chenoweth
Gr. 3-4. Klawde,–the Evil Alien Warlord Cat from Planet Lytterbox trapped on Earth as punishment–is moving on to another evil scheme. Klawde has decided to take over his new home–Earth. Using the technology skills of his evil minion cat, Klawde programs a new cybercurrency, Kitcoin, and uses his new wealth to buy virtual reality headsets that allow him to control Earth’s squirrels. Combine those headsets with a dozen or so satellites, and Klawde is on his way to world domination. Except, humans aren’t quite as easy to conquer as Klawde might believe.

Ridiculous and funny, this is a perfect step-up series for fans of Dog Man, Captain Underpants, and even Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The balance of Klawde’s evil villain commentary and Raj’s everyday concerns (and fear of and love for his all-powerful cat) keep reader’s engaged and eager to know what will happen next. Cute messages about friendship and technology make this series feel a little preachy, but that is easily pushed aside when paired with Klawde’s pure villainy. Looking forward to many more Klawde adventures.

Book Review Tuesday

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

Happy reading!

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson: 9780399545436 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson (novel in verse)
Gr. 4-7. ZJ’s football star dad isn’t his hero–he’s just ZJ’s beloved dad. Lately, ZJ’s dad struggles to remember things and sometimes gets really angry. ZJ’s mom explains that the memory loss has to do with all the head injuries and hits ZJ’s dad took during his professional football carer. The doctors can’t seem to help, and ZJ is scared of losing his dad forever.

Wow. This is an incredible book, told in verse, where, with such raw emotion. ZJ shows that the “ever after” isn’t always happy and life isn’t always okay. I hope this one receives lots of recognition at the youth media awards.

Dear Sweet Pea: Murphy, Julie: 9780062473073: Amazon.com: Books

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Gr. 4-5. Sweet Pea is trying to figure out what her new life looks like. She still lives in her small town in Texas, but her parents don’t live together anymore. After the divorce, her dad moved in right next door, meaning Sweet Pea has two nearly identical houses, with nearly identical bedrooms. That isn’t all Sweet Pea has to think about–there is also her ex-best-friend who has moved on to prettier and skinnier new friends, a possible first crush, and the reason for that divorce, that her dad realized he’s gay.

When Sweet Pea’s eccentric neighbor, Miss Flora Mae, has to go out of town, she leaves Sweet Pea with a job: collect the letters Flora Mae receives from the newspaper and send them along to Flora Mae’s temporary address. Flora Mae is the town’s one and only advice columnist, and she wants to keep her trip a secret. Sweet Pea is excited by this new project, but when she finds a letter to Flora Mae from Sweet Pea’s ex-best-friend, Sweet Pea can’t help but reply to the letter herself.

Sweet Pea is an amazing kid, and an excellent, honest protagonist. I felt and understood every one of her decisions, even when I knew they would end badly. (I would have probably made the same decision if I had been caught in Sweet Pea’s sleepover dilemma.) This book is particularly wonderful because of its fat girl representation. Sweet Pea is fat, plain and simple, but this isn’t an issues book. Fat girl issues are mentioned, such as trying to find cute clothes in larger sizes and a fear that her old friend, Kiera, has moved on to skinnier friends. But the book isn’t about these things. There is a sense of self-acceptance in the book, but not about her weight, because Sweet Pea accepts and loves herself before this book even begins. Refreshing and sweet.

Amazon.com: Kodi (Book 1) (9781603094672): Cullum, Jared: Books

Kodi by Jared Cullum (graphic novel)
Gr. 2-3. During a summer stay with her grandma, Katya struggles to make friends until she rescues a hurt Kodiak bear. Affectionately named Kodi, the bear and Katya quickly become inseparable. When Katya has to return home early, both Katya and Kodi are heartbroken. Kodi is determined to be reunited with his friend, stowing away on a cruise ship and traversing the streets of Seattle until he finds Katya once again.

A sweet and quiet read, this graphic novel focuses on friendship and perseverance. Great for younger readers and fans of books about kids and their dogs.

Amazon.com: Snow Place Like Home (Diary of an Ice Princess #1)  (9781338353938): Soontornvat, Christina: Books

Snow Place Like Home (Diary of an Ice Princess) by Christina Soontornvat (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Princess Lina loves her magical life living in castle in the clouds, but she also dreams of doing regular things at a Groundling (human) school with her best friend Claudia. Lina convinces her parents to let her try out human school, but Lina still doesn’t have control of the wind powers she inherited from her mom. Whenever she feels strong emotions, Lina tends to make ice and snow appear in the world around her…and that ice and snow have followed her to her new school.

I read this series entirely out of order, though I am very happy to finally make it to the first book. This series is simply fun–with a great combination of humor, everyday school adventures, magic powers, and a lovely message of self-acceptance. Plus, this series stars a biracial main character, is written by a diverse author, AND is a fantasy series–a combination very hard to come by in first chapter books. Recommending to anyone and everyone.

Heroes Wear Masks: Elmo's Super Adventure (Sesame Street Scribbles): Sesame  Workshop: 9781728236599: Amazon.com: Books

Heroes Wear Masks: Elmo’s Super Adventure by Ernie Kwiat (picture book)
PreS-K. Elmo is about to start school, and his mom helps him prepare with tips about staying calm, handwashing, and mask wearing. More details and suggestions in the back for caregivers.

This is exactly what you would expect from Sesame Street, and a book that I’m sure is needed right now. Elmo sets a great example for kids everywhere, wearing his mask, keeping six feet from his friends, and still managing to have a great day at school.

Amazon.com: ¡Brilla, brilla, pañalito! / Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You!  (Spanish and English Edition) (Small Talk Booksƒƒ‚ƒƒ‚‚&#) (9781595728944):  Ellen Mayer, Ying-Hwa Hu, Ying-Hwa Hu: Books

Twinkle, Twinkle, Diaper You! by Ellen Mayer and Ying-Hwa Hu (board book)
Baby. Mama changes baby’s diaper in this simple board book. While the action is straightforward, the book excels in modeling ways a caregiver can turn a small exchange, like changing a diaper, into a literacy-development experience by singing a modified version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, practicing animal sounds, identifying body parts, and more. Bonus points for featuring a diverse family.