Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Every Little Letter

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Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Joy Hwang Ruiz. Ages 4-8. Dial, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Of course all my patrons want to check out this new picture book - look how adorable it looks! Kids will gravitate towards this one for the cute, colorful letters and the fun wordplay. Adults will want to share this one for the message of accepting others and celebrating our differences. 

It starts with a town of H's. The H's all live in their little town, walled off from everyone else. They do fine and have pleasant but boring conversations (with only one letter, what do you expect?) until one day a little h spies a neighboring i through a hole in the wall. The little h and little i come together and make something surprising and delightful - "hi!" But the big H's see and promptly close up the gap in the wall. Luckily, the little h has an idea to send out a message and before long, little letters from all sorts of places are getting to know one another. And maybe, just maybe, they can convince the entire world to bring down their walls. 

This would make a great classroom read aloud to introduce concepts of breaking down barriers, getting to know neighbors, and celebrating the unique differences that make our diverse world a fun place to live. As the letters start to come together, they form words and the wordplay is cute and fun throughout. Kids who are learning to read and starting to understand wordplay will enjoy this sweet story. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Dozens of Doughnuts

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Dozens of Doughnuts by Carrie Fenison, illustrated by Brianne Farley. Ages 3-7. Putnam, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

LouAnn the bear is getting ready for winter, which for her means she's baking dozens of doughnuts which she will eat herself to get ready to hibernate. She's just about to sit down to some fresh doughnuts when her doorbell rings and it's a friendly neighbor who has smelled the delicious treats. LouAnn kindly shares her doughnuts and heads back to the kitchen to whip up some more. But when neighbor after neighbor shows up looking to share in the feast, LouAnn has finally had enough! Luckily, her neighbors realize that they've eaten up all her doughnuts and come back to repay her kindness with treats of their own. 

This is a super cute, playful story about sharing that feels mildly seasonal since it's a little bit about hibernation, but it could definitely be read any time of year. The rhyming text begs to be read aloud and this would make an excellent storytime book. It has a recurring chorus each time LouAnn's about to get to eat some of the doughnuts, in which LouAnn gets interrupted by the doorbell before it can get to her name in the rhyme: 

One dozen doughnuts, hot from the pan. 
Toasty, and tasty, and ALL for - 
Ding dong!

The interruption adds humor to the story and you could really play that up in the readaloud. 

Pair this fun animal story with Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson for another bouncy, rhyming picture book about forest creatures having a feast and leaving hibernating a bear out or Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora for another tale about neighbors following their nose and popping in to share in a delicious meal. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

I Am Every Good Thing

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I am Every Good Thing by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James. Ages 4-10. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

This newest collaboration from the creators of the Newbery-honor-winning and Caldecott-honor-winning and Coretta Scott King-honor-winning book Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut is everything I wanted it to be. It's a celebration of Black boy joy, an affirmation that begs to be read and shared and pressed into the hands of families everywhere. From the dedication of the book, which goes to some of the Black boys murdered by law enforcement, to the text and illustrations, this is a book that will make a difference. It depicts Black boys as superheroes, as scientists, as getting back up after a fall and trying again. 

This is a book that celebrates Black boys in the way that all children deserve to be celebrated and that Black boys are not always celebrated. They are every good thing, just like all children, and this is a book that strives to show that in its ebullient text and its rich, colorful, joyful artwork. 

This is a must-buy for library shelves. Display it proudly alongside Hey Black Child by Useni Eugene Perkins (illustrated by Bryan Collier) or I Am Perfectly Designed by Karamo Brown (illustrated by Anoosha Syed) for an empowering display. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020


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Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey. Ages 4-9. Putnam, 2020. 32 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Misty Copeland is back with another picture book about a classic ballet and a young, African American ballerina determined to shine. In this autobiographical story, young Misty attends her first ballet class and falls in love with the story of CoppĂ©lia when her teacher presents their upcoming show. There is plenty for young ballet students to appreciate here as Misty explains and demonstrates some of the steps she learns in her class as they prepare for the auditions. The steps are depicted in both the text and the illustrations, which will appeal to young dancers who may be learning these very steps themselves. 

Throughout class and the audition process, young Misty bonds with another girl in her class, forming a fast friendship, and luckily they are both cast in the show. I don't know if you have as many Misty Copeland fans at your library as I do at mine, but I can tell you they were asking for her by name this summer. We have plenty of young children that look up to her and this is definitely a book I'm going to put on hold for them. Pick this one up for the young dancer in your life and make sure you have it on your library shelves. Representation matters and it's wonderful to see a book featuring a young African American ballerina. 

Pair this book with Goodnight, Little Dancer by Jennifer Adams for more representation of African American children as dancers (that one gets a bonus for also including a male child dancer). And A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, which is a picture book about an African American girl inspired by the first African American prima ballerina Janet Collins. And don't forget Misty Copeland's Firebird, for which Christopher Myers won the 2015 Coretta Scott King illustrator award. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (And Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion

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How to Solve a Problem: The Rise (And Falls) of a Rock-Climbing Champion by Ahima Shiraishi, illustrated by Yao Xiao. Grades K-4. Make Me a World, 2020. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Ashima Shiraishi knows about problems. Problems are what rock climbers call the boulders that they climb: each one is a problem to solve. Shiraishi is a world champion rock climber who was the first woman in the world to climb a V15 boulder problem (that is a very, very difficult climb). And in this picture book, Shiraishi takes a look at how she solves problems. While this book uses Shiraishi's boulder problems to detail her problem-solving steps, these steps translate to any kind of problem a person might face. 

She looks at the problem "There were many parts, and none of them looked easy." 

She maps out her steps. She gives it a try.... and she falls. But does she give up? Of course not! "Then, when I was ready, I looked at the problem again with the new information the fall had given me." 

This is an encouraging book that is wonderful to share with kids of all ages who might struggle with perseverance in the face of difficulty. It would make a great classroom read aloud to set the tone for your class. The text reinforces the importance of learning from your failures and getting up to try and try again. Of course Shiraishi did not become a world champion by getting everything perfectly right the first time. I love how she structures her falls as opportunities to learn and to approach a problem in a new way. 

Not only is this a great book about problem solving and perseverance to have on your shelves and to know about for your patrons, but it's also a story that celebrates women and Asian Americans in sports and the accomplishments of a young person. Ashima Shiraishi was born in 2001, so she wrote this book as a teenager and she won world championships in climbing as a teen, so this is definitely a story that young people will relate to. And I think it's got some nice words of wisdom for us all! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul

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RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Grades K-6. Atheneum, 2020. 48 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Y'all. Stop what you are doing and run to your local indie bookstore to get your hands on this book. It is absolutely stunning. Stun. Ning. 

Carole Boston Weatherford is a poet, we know this. And she's outdone herself here. The text of this book is deceptively simple, each spread a rhyming couplet titled with a spelled out word, paying homage to one of Aretha Franklin's most well-known songs. It seems simple, but there's a lot of thought that's gone into the construction of this book. Each couplet is titled by a spelled-out word that ends in that "ee" sound like R-E-S-P-E-C-T. For example: 

Cradled by the church, rocked by an ebony sea, 
Aretha says a little prayer each night on bended knee

The Franklins move north from Memphis, Tennessee. 
They put down roots and rise like a mighty tree

Not all the words are seven letters long, like "respect", a feat that would have been a stretch to carry out throughout the book. They all end in that long E sound, so the text flows together like a song and continually brings the reader back to the powerful message of Aretha's famous song. 

And the paintings. Oh, the paintings. Frank Morrison's oil paintings are rich and full of color and consistently play with perspective, sometimes taking a view from behind or above. I love the spread that talks about Detroit, picturing the Franklin family as part of a mighty tree and then later in the book after Aretha's mother has left the family, the same image is rendered with the family minus mom. 

I am sure the Caldecott Committee is looking carefully at this book - it's one of my favorites of the year! 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Laugh Out Loud Picture Books

 Holy cats, did I start a thread on Twitter the other week! In one of my Grab Bag requests I was working on, a patron asked for "any picture books that are hilarious and make you laugh out loud". I definitely have my own laugh out loud favorites, but I know that everyone has a different sense of humor, so I wondered what my Twitter friends would say. 151 replies later (!!!), I have quite a list and I was happily able to tell my patron to let me know anytime she wanted more funny books and I could keep her in good supply! 

It's waaaaay too many books to list all of them, but here are some of my favorites and some of the most-suggested. If you're looking for funny books, you can't go wrong here! Bonus: MANY of these authors have other books that are also hilarious and/or awesome, so definitely check them out!

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Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett. Atheneum, 1988.

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The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak. Dial, 2014. 

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Chicken Butt by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Henry Cole. Abrams, 2009.

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Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex. Simon & Schuster, 2009. 

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Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein. Candlewick, 2016. 

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The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex. Balzer + Bray, 2017.

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Misunderstood Shark by Amy Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon. Orchard Books, 2018. 

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Moo! by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka. Bloomsbury, 2013. 

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Neck & Neck by Elise Parsley. Little, Brown, 2018. 

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Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex. Chronicle Books, 2017. 

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Penguin Problems by Jory John, illustrated by Lane Smith. Random House, 2016. 

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Potato Pants by Laurie Keller. Henry Holt, 2018. 

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The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton. Arthur A. Levine, 2015. 

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Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas. Beach Lane Books, 2009. 

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Stuck by Oliver Jeffers. Philomel, 2011. 

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This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, 2012. 

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We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins. Disney-Hyperion, 2018. 

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Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea. Little, Brown, 2019. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance

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Powwow: A Celebration through Song and Dance by Karen Pheasant-Neganigwane. Grades 3-8. Orca Book Publishers, 2020. 88 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

When your patrons ask you for books about Native Americans, do you only have history books to give them? If so, it's way beyond time to change that. And this book is a great one to add to your collection. With vibrant words and photographs, this book takes a look at modern powwows, celebrations of song and dance that are still held today in all 50 states, as well as their history and significance. It's a comprehensive introduction that is a wonderful starting point for kids (and adults) interested in learning more about Native American traditions and it inspired me to look up annual powwows held near me. Of course I can't attend one this year, but it's definitely something I would like to do once it's safe to do so again. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Ghosts Went Floating

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The Ghosts Went Floating by Kim Normal, illustrated by Jay Fleck. Ages 3-6. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Are you as ready for Halloween as I am? I don't even know if we will really have a Halloween (at least not like we're used to, I'm sure), but for some reason I am all about decorating and celebrating it early this year. Maybe it feels like something to look forward to? Anyway, it was a lot of fun the week I got to sit down and order some new Halloween books for my library and this was my favorite one. 

The text is a variation of The Ants Go Marching, which is fun since you can sing it. Instead of "Hoorah, hoorah", it says "BOO-rah! BOO-rah", which I think is super cute. And instead of ants, each spread is a different ghosty or beasty. The book is far from scary with super cute illustrations, making this a very gentle monster book that's good for really young kids. I'm going to buy it for my youngest nieces, ages 2 and 4. 

Most of the book is not Halloween specific - it's only the last two spreads the mention where the ghosts and creatures are marching to - your street for trick or treat! And then the very last spread shows all the monsters enjoying a Halloween party together. So if you wanted to use this for storytime, it could easily fit into a monster or slightly-spooky themed storytime just by skipping the last couple of spreads. It would also make a super cute flannel board story. Although it does count up to 10 different creatures marching together, you could definitely cut down on the pieces by just creating one piece for each creature. 

Pick this one up if you're looking for a Halloween book for a very young child on your list! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Brother's Keeper

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Brother's Keeper by Julie Lee. Grades 4-7. Holiday House, 2020. 320 pages. Review audiobook provided by publisher via Libro.fm.

Life as the oldest sister is not easy for Sora in 1950 North Korea. Not only does her family already live by a set of ironclad rules set by the government - they can't leave their village, they can't speak their minds, they can't trust their neighbors - as a girl, Sora has to live by even more rules. She has to quit school to take care of her brothers and she must learn to keep house in preparation for being a wife one day. But everything changes when war is declared and her family decides to make a run for it. Early in their journey, Sora and her little brother Young are separated from their parents and they have to make this dangerous journey - hundreds of miles to the South Korean border - by themselves. Can they face hunger and exhaustion and the Red Army chasing them and make it to freedom? 

This is a riveting survival story that will appeal to young readers who enjoy books like Refugee by Alan Gratz and The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani. I am a huge historical fiction fan and I loved learning about Sora's struggles as a girl in a culture that venerates sons. As smart and strong as Sora is, her family still balks at sending her to school and letting her follow her own dreams. Sora is expected to set her own wishes aside to care for others (her brothers and eventually her husband and her own family). Sora's not perfect - she's impatient and careless sometimes - but she's definitely a heroine you can root for. And readers who love discovering history through story will really enjoy this tale.