Thursday, October 22, 2020

Class Act

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Class Act by Jerry Craft. Grades 4-8. Quill Tree Books, 2020. 256 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

It's here! It's here! And it's sooooo good! The highly-anticipated sequel to 2020 Newbery Medal winner New Kid is out now and friends, it's so good. It's a standalone sequel that focuses on Jordan's friend Drew, an African American boy who attends Riverdale Academy Day School on scholarship. Like New Kid, this is an excellent blend of heart and humor while addressing serious issues like racism, classism, and microaggressions. You don't have to have read New Kid to understand and enjoy this book, although there are a few minor plot points that might mean more if you've read the first book. 

Drew's heard the saying that as an African American boy and a kid growing up poor that he'll have to work twice as hard to be just as good, but lately it feels like he's working way harder than that. As he begins his 8th grade year at RADS, he has to deal with a girl who has a crush on him and keeps filling his locker up with pies and cupcakes, an obnoxious classmate who gets a small taste of his own prejudice when he accidentally permanently dyes himself green for Halloween, and friends who seem to have everything Drew doesn't have (and why do they deserve swimming pools and housekeepers when Drew lives in a tiny apartment with his grandma?). But as he grows up, he's also starting to face some new realities, like the scary time a police officer pulls Jordan's dad over while he's driving the boys somewhere, and the comments his neighborhood friends make about his privileged friends from school. 

This is, of course, a must-buy for all library shelves. Definitely hand it to fans of New Kid (which I looooved, by the way, and you can read my 2019 review of it here). I'd also hand it to fans of Big Nate or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It's written in a really approachable way, making it a wonderful suggestion for families who are having conversations with their kids about race for the first time. Both books would make a wonderful family read to start some great conversations. 

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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Storytelling Math Board Books

 


Storytelling Math series by Grace Lin. Ages 1-3. Charlesbridge, 2020.
Digital review copies provided by publisher. 

These entries in the Storytelling Math board books series published by Charlesbridge Publishing are perfect books to add to a toddler's library. Each book reinforces a basic math concept, using a super simple story that's perfectly suited to its young child audience. At the end of each book, Lin describes the concept that the book is building and gives parents ideas for activities and conversations to continue the learning. I love the playful, childlike illustrations and the short, simple text that's tailored for a young child's short attention span. There's one book for each season: 

Circle! Sphere! explores shapes with children blowing bubbles together in summer. 

The Last Marshmallow introduces division with two friends sharing cocoa in winter. 

Up to My Knees looks at scale and measurement as a plant grows in spring. 

What Will Fit? plays with size at the farmer's market in autumn. 

These books would make excellent gifts for new babies, particularly in families where starting math skills early will be a priority. While I love series like Baby Loves Science and other more involved informational board books, which are all great for vocabulary and starting conversations, this one has text actually tailored to the board book crowd. Huzzah! And more, please.  

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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Diverse Books for Sparkly Kids

Do you have a sparkly kid in your life? They might be into royalty, fashion, unicorns, all things pink, or glitter... if you have readers who are sparkly kids, these are some wonderful titles they might enjoy that will diversify your shelves. Some are own-voices and some are not and I've indicated the titles that are. 

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Bedtime Bonnet by Nancy Redd, illustrated by Nneka Myers (own voices). This is a perfect book for any kid who loves taking care of their hair. It's time for bed and everyone in the family is starting their hair routine, but where has this little girl's bedtime bonnet gone? 

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Grandma's Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (own voices). What wonders does Grandma have in her purse? Luckily, she never minds her granddaughter investigating in this sweet picture book that celebrates the strong bond between grandmother and grandchild. 

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Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (own voices). Zuri has a very special hairstyle in mind, but can her dad help her pull it off? This is a funny, adorable story about a loving father and his trials and tribulations with his daughter's hair. 

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Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. When Julián glimpses three women spectacularly dressed up on the subway, he dreams about dressing up the whole way home. When he gets home, he puts together his own mermaid costume, but what will Abuela think? It turns out she loves him and celebrates him for who he is. 

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Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez (own voices). You may be familiar with Mary and her little lamb, but what about Maria and her little llama? This Peruvian take on the Mother Goose rhyme is a wonderful bilingual picture book and a Pura Belpré Honor Award-winner. 

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Mary Had a Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Here's another version of Mary, this one a fashion plate. Mary's got enough glam for herself and her nursery rhyme friends, too. 

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Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (own voices). A little girl watches her mother put on her khimar, a flowing headscarf, and spends a happy day playing with her mother's scarves of every color. In her mother's scarves she can be a queen or a superhero, but no matter what she's pretending she's wrapped up in her mother's love. 

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Not Quite Snow White by Ashley Franklin, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (own voices). Tameika is a girl who belongs on the stage and when her school puts on the play Snow White, Tameika goes out for the lead. But some of the kids at school think she's "not quite Snow White". Will Tameika let their harsh words get in her way? 

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One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail. Sophia wants a giraffe for a pet and she's working on her persuasive skills to try to get what she wants, no matter how impossible her parents think she is. Sophia's a creative, energetic young lady who practices her powers of negotiation in this fun picture book. 

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Red Shoes by Karen English, illustrated by Ebony Glenn (own voices). Malika loves, loves, loves her red shoes and she wears them everywhere. But what will happen to them once Malika outgrows them? If you have kids in your life who love shoes as much as my niece loves shoes, this is the perfect choice. 

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What Can You Do with a Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Amy Cordova (own voices). A young girl plays with a rebozo, a traditional Mexican shawl. How many things can you do with a rebozo? Quite a lot of things! 

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Monday, October 19, 2020

The Worry (Less) Book

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The Worry (Less) Book: Feel Strong, Find Calm, and Tame Your Anxiety by Rachel Brian. Grades 2-6. Little, Brown, 2020. 64 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Oh, anxiety is high all over the place. I feel it, you feel it, and the kids in our lives feel it, too. And this great graphic novel is wonderful for helping kids navigate it. This is a must-have for your library shelves and anyone working with or living with anxious kids, you're going to want this on your personal shelves, as well. 

It's super conversational and funny, while still providing some great information and tools that kids can use to deal with their own anxiety. Just like her book Consent for Kids, this is a book that kids will find fun to read, while it also gives them really good information. I love that this book normalizes anxiety, affirming that it's a normal emotion that everyone experiences sometimes, helps kids identify when anxiety is getting in the way of their life, and provides techniques for dealing with anxiety.

Although this book is definitely aimed at kids, I think it will have wide appeal and there are concepts that adults can use, too. I found myself snapping photos of pages to share with my husband, who tells me all the time to "stop worrying". The page that points out "You don't get to pick what you worry about, or when." is one I'm definitely going to show him. I love how this book boils down complicated concepts into simple wording that are easy to understand and make shareable sound bytes. 

A must-read, for these times especially. 


Friday, October 16, 2020

Our Favorite Day of the Year

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Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell. Ages 4-7. Salaam Reads, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my library. 

It's the first day of school, Ms. Gupta's very favorite day of the year because it's the day she gets to meet all the kids in her new class and start getting to know them. And the first thing she wants to know is what each of their very favorite days of the year are so they can learn about them together as a class and get to know each other. In the story, we see the class learning about Eid al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, and Pi Day. This is a fun, inclusive story that celebrates differences and the importance of coming together and learning from one another. 

I especially appreciate the inclusion of a secular family in this book - something that's still very rare and much appreciated. Kevin's family celebrates science and Kevin's favorite day is Pi Day, celebrated on March 14 with baking pies and doing science activities together. They're not identified as any particular flavor of secular (and the text doesn't use the word "secular", just that they "celebrate science"), so atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other secular families will see themselves represented here. 

This would make a great classroom readaloud for the first day of school or any time throughout the year. 


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Audiobook All-Time Favorites #1: Leviathan

This post is sponsored by Libro.fm. If you use the promo code, I earn money. 

I have long been an audiobook listener, but reading during pandemic times has just solidified my love for reading with my ears. Lots of days, my audiobook listening is the only reading I'm managing to get in right now, between stress and brain fog and cooking so many meals and cleaning the kitchen so many times. 

I don't know if you are an audiobook listener yet, but if you are not, my aim is to convert you. I'm going to start featuring some of my very favorite audiobook reads here and encouraging you to support your local independent bookstores by purchasing them with Libro.fm. If you're new to Libro.fm, use the code ABBYLIBRARIAN to get 2 credits for the price of 1 ($14.99) and give this audiobook platform a try. They have an awesome selection and they support an independent bookstore of your choice with every purchase. 

Today's pick: 

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, narrated by Alan Cumming. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2009. 8 hours, 16 minutes. Sequels (also expertly narrated by Alan Cumming): Behemoth (2010) and Goliath (2011). 

This is one of the audiobook series I always recommend when someone is open to genre but just wants something that's a REALLY GOOD LISTEN. 

Leviathan is a steampunk alternate history WWI story in which the Axis powers have developed massive war machines and the Allied powers have bioengineered living battleships. Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. Devyn Sharp has disguised herself as a boy to join the British Air Service and lives in constant fear of being discovered. Their paths cross and they begin a fantastic around-the-world adventure in this action-packed series. 

Alan Cumming is absolutely fantastic at accents in this fully-voiced production and he makes the story a pleasure to listen to. The world-building is amazing in this trilogy and it's the kind of story that you can really sink into and get transported into a really engaging alternate historical world. I was completely fascinated by the creative developments of each side of the war and how they engage with each other. 

I'd hand this series to middle school and high school listeners and I think it's fabulous for adults, as well. I'd try it on fans of Kenneth Oppel's Airborn series or Neal Schusterman's Scythe series for another immersive trilogy with really strong worldbuilding and unforgettable characters. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Astrid & Apollo

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Astrid & Apollo series by V.T. Bidania, illustrated by Dara Lashia Lee. Grades 1-3. Picture Window Books, 2020. 64 pages. Review copies provided by my local library. 


Astrid & Apollo are Hmong-American twins living in Minnesota and in each of these standalone own-voices chapter books, they have small adventures together with their family. These sweet books are perfect for new chapter book readers and bring a much-needed diversity to the early chapter book shelves. Astrid & Apollo are likeable characters tackling everyday challenges like a first camping trip, a disappointing fishing trip, and getting lost at a huge Hmong New Year celebration. 

Each of the books includes lots of details about Hmong American culture including some really mouthwatering descriptions of food. Back matter in each volume includes a pronunciation guide to Hmong words, cultural information about Laos and Hmong culture, and a world map that shows where Laos is. Minnesota has a large Hmong immigrant population and both the author and illustrator of this series are Hmong-Americans living in Minnesota. 

Diverse early chapter books are a sorely small section and this series is a super addition to your library shelves. I'm really impressed with Capstone bringing in own voices creators to help fill this gap. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

See the Cat

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See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. Ages 4-7. Candlewick, 2020. 64 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

See the cat. Wait a minute. Is this a story about a cat? Our dog in the illustrations would disagree and he's understandably confused and indignant. This funny easy reader goes on from there with the narrator telling a story in very simple words (think Dick & Jane style writing) and the dog in the illustrations reacting and sometimes changing the text. Each story is funnier than the last as the dog (who is not a cat) deals with a surprise snake and protests the narrator demanding that he run and jump when he'd really rather just take a nap. 

I can tell you that funny easy readers are in high, high demand. I have filled dozens of Grab Bags over the past few months for fans of Mo Willems and Elephant and Piggie. I am always looking for more funny easy reader options and this one definitely fits the bill. With text simple enough for new readers and tons of comedy coming through in the illustrations and the speech bubbles from the dog, this is a surefire hit for fans of Elephant and Piggie or Chester by Melanie Watt. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Listen Up and Support Your Local Indies


This post is sponsored by Libro.fm.

I love audiobooks. I listen when I'm exercising, cleaning my house (the only way I can get myself to do it sometimes), and driving. Sometimes the bulk of my reading is happening through audiobooks and it's always awesome when I find audiobooks that are so good they motivate me to do the things I need to do so I can keep listening. 

My newest audiobook fixation is Libro.fm. Have you tried it? I love Libro.fm because they offer a great selection, they support librarians with their Audiobook Listening Copies program, AND they support independent bookstores with every purchase. 

If you're new to Libro.fm, use the promo code ABBYLIBRARIAN to get 2 credits for the price of 1. Monthly credits are $14.99/month and this code will give you 2 credits for that price instead of 1. This is my first ever promo code! It has my name in it! That's how much I am loving Libro.fm for audiobooks. 

You can stick with a monthly membership or you can also purchase individual audiobooks on Libro.fm. I used this to purchase several popular titles about race this summer when holds lists were at their peak. I didn't have to make a huge commitment but got quick access to the titles I wanted and supported a Black-owned bookstore. When you make your purchases (or when you're charged your monthly membership fee), the independent bookstore you chose receives half the profits. They partner with stores all over the country. 

Try it out and keep them in mind for the upcoming gift giving season. They offer gift memberships in a range of prices and with everything going on right now, even your most voracious print readers may need something a little different this year. 

Are you an audiobook listener? Have you tried Libro.fm? 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Agnes at the End of the World

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Agnes at the End of the World by Kelly McWilliams. Grades 7 and up. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. 432 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Agnes has grown up fully believing in the philosophies of her home, Red Creek, a secluded community with strict religious beliefs. As the oldest, she's the good daughter, the one who follows the rules, the one destined for heaven. But when her little brother gets seriously ill, Agnes must turn to the Outsiders for help. And she must keep it a secret. She would be punished if the Prophet knew she was sneaking in insulin to save her little brother's life. But the alternative of letting him die is not something Agnes can live with, even if the Prophet would say it's God's will. 

When a global pandemic strikes (!!) and life at Red Creek becomes even more dire, Agnes must risk everything to save the ones she loves. And in the process, she discovers things about herself she would have never guessed. This is a riveting cult story with a super strong heroine that has a lot to say about religion and community. Yes, it's a pandemic story, which is too disturbing for some to read right now (I get it), but the pandemic in the book is a lot different than COVID and reminded me more of a zombie apocalypse than a viral pandemic. 

What I loved and what made this book impossible to put down for me was the strong heroine we get in Agnes. She is by no means a protagonist who has everything figured out. She doubts herself every step of the way, but she will do what she needs to do to protect the people she loves and to make the world a better place. Agnes is far from a victim (although horrible stuff happens to her). She was born into a world where she has no power, she's thrust into an outside world collapsing into chaos, but she never, ever gives up. 

I would hand this to fans of teen cult stories (I picked it up because I am such a fan) or philosophical speculative fiction like Neal Schusterman's Scythe or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Smug Seagull

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Smug Seagull by Maddie Frost. Ages 4-8. Little, Brown, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Seagull is an expert at swiping snacks on sunny days at the beach. He's the best - no one can beat him! Until a little crab shows up with a delectable french fry and, try as he might, Seagull is outsmarted at every turn. This delightful, laugh-out-loud picture book would make a really fun read for young beachgoers. The bright, cartoony illustrations make this a sure bet with young readers and they will delight in Seagull's mischievous escapades as he swipes all kinds of food from beachgoers young and old. 

Seagull gives me some serious Pigeon vibes. He's a bird that oozes personality and confidence, delighting in the fact that his "name is in lights" (there's a sign posted asking beachgoers not to feed the seagulls). I think young Mo Willems fans are really going to like meeting Seagull, too. And any family who's visited the beach can probably relate to swarms of seagulls hoping to sneak away with some of the picnic. 

Hand this to families about to head out on vacation or anyone who just needs a bit of a laugh. Although it's tailor made for a beach or vacation themed display, kids love to giggle anytime. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Jonas Hanway's Scurrilous, Scandalous, Shockingly Sensational Umbrella

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Jonas Hanway's Scurrilous, Scandalous, Shockingly Sensational Umbrella by Josh Crute, illustrated by Eileen Ryan Ewen. Grades 1-4. Page Street Kids, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Okay, so did you know that it was once incredibly unfashionable in London to carry and use an umbrella? People just GOT WET. Or they paid for street coaches to drive them everywhere. Because you know something about London? It rains there. A lot. 

To Jonas Hanway, that didn't make a whole lot of sense. And after he traveled to some distant lands and saw many people using umbrellas, he got back and said "To heck with fashion! I'm not getting wet anymore!" (He did not actually say that - I'm paraphrasing.) And he started using an umbrella, no matter how much he was stared at and mocked. 

It seems completely ridiculous now - umbrellas are ubiquitous! - but that truly was the case once upon a time in London. Umbrellas were thought of as foreign and only used by poor people who couldn't afford to hire coaches. This is an intriguing and beautifully illustrated nonfiction book that will appeal to kids who enjoy learning weird facts about the world. 

Back matter includes some notes about the issue of umbrellas and additional information about Jonas Hanway - another popular trend he eschewed was using young children as chimney sweeps, a practice that was finally outlawed in 1875. And it includes a timeline with a brief history of umbrellas for even more fun facts. Pull  this one out on your next rainy day and learn all about this handy tool.

I would hand this to kids who enjoyed such books as Pop!: The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy or Ben Franklin's Big Spash by Barb Rosenstock about fun inventions or interesting moments in history. The book has gorgeous, detailed illustrations with lots of funny little moments in the pictures, so it would make a great gift book for elementary age kids who enjoy trivia and fun facts. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Let's Go to Taekwondo

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Let's Go to Taekwondo: A Story About Persistence, Bravery, and Breaking Boards by Aram Kim. Ages 4-8. Holiday House, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Yoomi loves learning taekwondo with Master Cho at her dojang with her brothers and friends. She learns about the five tenets of taekwondo: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. And she works hard to improve her skills. But when it comes time to test for her yellow belt, Yoomi must break a board with her hand. Try as she might, she cannot break that board. Soon, Yoomi doesn't want to go to taekwondo anymore. Will Yoomi find a way to persevere or will she give up? 

I love this sweet story about perseverance with it's wonderful intergenerational connection. Yoomi's grandmother is the one to take her to her taekwondo classes and when Yoomi thinks about quitting, her grandmother tells her that's okay. But just at that moment, Grandma feels like giving up on something, too. She's trying to call a friend in Korea over the computer and nothing she tries will work! Readers can see Grandma's growing frustration mirroring Yoomi's as they both try and fail to accomplish their goal. Finally, when Grandma's had enough, Yoomi steps in to encourage her grandmother and realizes that she'd better keep trying, too. This was a really nice, organic moment that teaches a lesson gently so that the story doesn't come across as didactic. 

This would be a great pick for kids who study martial arts or any kids who are struggling with learning or doing something challenging. It's also a story that will appeal to grandparents looking for stories to share with grandchildren. And although characters are loveable anthropomorphic animals here, this is an own-voices story, written and illustrated by a Korean American author/illustrator. This is the second book about Yoomi's family and you can read more about them in No Kimchi for Me (Holiday House, 2017). 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Itzhak

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Itzhak: A Boy Who Loved the Violin: The Story of Young Itzhak Perlman by Tracy Newman, illustrated by Abigail Halpin. Grades 2-5. Abrams, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

From the time he was a very young boy, music was important to Itzhak Perlman. Growing up in Israel, his family always had the radio on and Itzhak was drawn to the violin at a young age. Once Itzhak started playing the violin, he never stopped. A polio survivor, Itzhak played sitting down while most musical performers played standing up, but his music was more beautiful than many. After asking for an audition for the Israel Philharmonic at age 11 (they never wrote him back), he auditioned for the Ed Sullivan show, performed on the show to rave reviews, and was soon one of the most famous violinists in the world. 

This is a gorgeous picture book, illustrated with bold, rich color that mirrors the color and personality that Perlman found in every piece he learned. The beauty of music really comes across in the artwork, which makes sense since illustrator Abigail Halpin is a violinist herself. Itzhak is depicted as a jolly, spirited child, facing all obstacles in his path with a determined smile. More than a celebration of music (although it is that, for sure), this picture book advocates for better disability access around the world. Walking with crutches and unable to climb stairs, Perlman was often forced to use freight elevators and stay in makeshift dressing rooms built on the fly as he toured music halls around the world. 

This is a wonderful, tender portrait that's perfect for young musicians and performers. Young musicians will recognize the incredible amount of work that Itzhak put into his playing and appreciate the musical terms included in the text. Back matter includes author's and illustrator's notes, a timeline, and an extensive bibliography. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away

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Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez. Grades K-4. Candlewick, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This is a beautiful and moving portrait of a special friendship that's just about to change. Daniela's best friend, her mejor amiga, Evelyn Del Rey is moving away and today's the very last day that they will share matching apartments across the alley from each other. It's the last day in a while that they'll see each over, that they will play imaginary games and share stickers and greet all the residents of Evelyn's building together. But it doesn't mean their friendship is over. Although it's hard to be apart, Daniela and Evelyn will always be special to each other and they can keep in touch in other ways. 

This rich, beautiful book celebrates best friends and honors the pain people feel when someone they're close to moves away and life changes. I love the gorgeous, rich paintings that illustrate this book, capturing a fall afternoon in the city with the leaves blazing in yellows and oranges. Fall feels like a nostalgic time, a time you might think back on the past and friends you've known, so it's definitely appropriate to this touching story. 

This is a great book to share with kids who may be experiencing their own changes as a friend or loved one moves away or they face some other unwelcome but necessary change. It doesn't try to smooth over the pain that kids feel, it's not cutesy or saccharine, but it will be comforting to kids in its realness. Hand this to kids who need it and display it alongside books like The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld or The Happy Book by Andy Rash, which honor kids feeling big feelings. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

I Love My Fangs

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I Love My Fangs! by Kelly Leigh Miller. Ages 4-6. Simon & Schuster, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

It's October 1! Time to delight in all things spooky! But if your tastes run to adorable and not scary, and especially if you have a young reader in your life who may be about to start losing some teeth, this is the book for you. Little Dracula loves his fangs and he takes really good care of them. He brushes them and flosses them, very proud of this family trait. But one day at lunch time, one of his fangs COMES LOOSE AND FALLS OUT. And then - THEN! - a tiny fairy visits and tries to steal it! What's a young vampire to do? 

Luckily, Drac's parents explain that it's just the tooth fairy and that his lost fang was a baby fang that had to fall out so a new, bigger fang could grow in its place. This is a gently humorous story with cute, not scary, monster characters. I'd hand it to readers who already know about losing teeth - they'll feel very smart and grownup compared to Little Dracula. 

And this could be Halloween adjacent - October might be the time you go hunting for vampire picture books - but it's definitely not a Halloween book. So the good news is that this one might still be on the shelf when your Halloween section or display is decimated. Whether you're looking for books about losing teeth or not-actually-scary books about monsters or something Halloween adjacent, this is the picture book that will fit the bill.