It takes me a little longer than most to put together my top picture books of 2017 for young readers. The books I review are from the library and are not sent to me from publishers. I have to wait for reserves to come in like everyone else. I did not purposely pick 33. I just went through my reviews and chose the books that still stand out to me, and ones I have bought for my own elementary school library. They are not in any order of preference.
1. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes; illustrated by Gordon C. James. 2017. Published by Agate Bolden.
Brief summary: A young boy goes to the barber shop to get his hair cut. The barber is the man who will transform him to his highest potential of handsomeness. The barber puts the cape on and starts his magical transformation of the boy that will enable him to do wondrous feats and be admired by all. The boy notices all the other men in the chairs imagining what greatness they behold. The finishing touch of the stinging alcohol completes the feat. The boy admires his sweet self in the mirror. The barber takes off his cape and brushes off any strays. The boy gives him the money and leaves the shop feeling invincible.
Comments: Derrick Barnes truly captures the feel of a great haircut with the humor and metaphorical descriptions of each step of the haircut. Although this book is through the perspective of a young boy, both boys and girls could relate and understand that magic that happens in the shop; the before and after feeling; the magical surge of self-esteem at the end.
There is a note from the author where Derrick Barnes shares his barber shop story when he was in sixth grade.
I love the illustrations and how they capture the energy and excitement of the barbershop. Combined with Derrick Barnes’ ode? A true homage to the barbershop culture. This is one of those books to add to your library.
2. Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin; illustrated by Bethan Woolvin. 2017. Gouache on cartridge paper. Published by Peachtree.
Brief summary: Rapunzel lives in a tower all by herself except for the witch who visits and cuts bits of Rapunzel’s beautiful hair to buy riches. As the witch leaves, she warns Rapunzel that there will be a terrible curse upon her if she escapes. Rapunzel is not afraid and climbs out the tower using her golden hair as a rope. She secretly goes in and out of the tower with the help of a forest friend. The witch finds a leaf in Rapunzel’s hair and threatens the girl again as she climbs out the window for the last time.
Comments: Another great retelling of a fairy tale by Bethan Woollvin where the damsel is not helpless and is able to get out of the bad situation on her own. Illustrations are done in black, gray, and yellow. I look forward to this author doing more fairy tales.
3. This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe; illustrated by Matt Lamothe. 2017. Illustrations are digitally. Published by Chronicle Books, LLC.
Brief summary: Seven kids from around the world(Russia, Peru, Japan, Uganda, Iran, Italy and India) share what their lives are like in an average weekday including meals, school, family, and home life.
Comments: Love this book! It is set up to show the timeline of the day and then with each country’s traditional home, family, breakfast, school clothing, schools, meals, play, activities, and so forth. The back has a photo of each family featured in the book. Glossary in the back. Front and back pages have a map with each child’s country pointed out. This would be a great book to share and then to have students write and illustrate those same activities in their lives. Dewey is 305.23 but not a narrative nonfiction. This is a book that will help students understand others around the world and how we do things the same or differently.
Brief summary: Jasper Rabbit is in the underwear store with his mother and is about to buy three packages of Plain White when he notices a display of green creepy underwear. He begs his mother to buy them. She agrees to one pair. Jasper excitedly puts them on for the night and notices the creepy green glow. He keeps getting rid of them but they return. Jasper’s hate-love relationship results with hilarious situations and a surprising ending.
Comments: I read this to my students reminding them of Jasper Rabbit’s first appearance in Creepy Carrots!. They loved the creepy green glowing underwear just as much as the creepy orange carrots. The white, gray, and black illustrations with only green as the color for the underwear worked just as well in the sequel as the orange carrots did in the first. The endpapers of white undies with a green creepy underwear start the mood of the picture book right away.
This book was able to relay a spooky tone which had my students sitting frozen as I read some of the pages and then laughing out loud the next during the humorous situations that Jasper Rabbit experienced. They loved the ending and had several conversations about what it would be like to do that in their bedroom.
5. Silent Days, Silent Dreams by Allen Say; illustrated by Allen Say. 2017. Burnt matchsticks, sharpened stick dipped in soot mixed with spit, wastepaper, cardboard, cotton wads, rags, Q-tips, big nails, toothpicks, brushes, and fingers. Published by Arthur A. Levine Books.
Brief summary: James Castle was deaf, mute, autistic, and believed to be dyslexic, and although he attended five years at the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind, he did not learn to write, read, speak or even use sign language. He created his own calligraphy and made hundreds of books and albums. Living in poverty, he drew on what paper was around and created over 15,000 pieces of artwork often using matchsticks and spit. Readers will learn about the harsh life this artist had endured from being different. The bullying. The isolation. The unkindness from his own relatives.
Comments: I suggest reading the author’s note in the back first. Allen Say’s friend, Cort Conley, asked him to create a portrait of a local Idaho artist. Mr. Say agreed to do a portrait drawing after receiving the artist’s photo and catalog of works. Allen Say became intrigued by the artist and his unique style of drawings so researched him more. Many publications and relative interviews about Mr. Castle had conflicting stories. Allen Say wrote this book and created the artwork in the same way James Castle created. The artist’s portrait is in the back. The tools Allen Say used are shown as well. I was impressed that Mr. Say totally submerged himself into understanding Mr. Castle by experimenting and using the same tools as the artist.
I think this would be a superb read aloud not only to learn about this artist but to better understand empathy, perseverance, and uniqueness from another’s life. Can you imagine not being able to hear, speak or communicate with others? What do you think it was like for Mr. Castle to see his works in a gallery? Did the time period he lived in understand him? Did people understand autism more now or then? How did his relatives treat him? How would you feel if your family treated you the same way?
6. After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up by Dan Santat; illustrated by Dan Santat. 2017. Published by Roaring Book Press.
Brief summary: The story begins after Humpty Dumpty gets out of Kings County Hospital and has recovered from his fall, that is physically recovered. Humpty Dumpty tells and shows the reader about his fear of heights that developed from the fall. He is unable to enjoy anything up high. He walks past where the accident happened and really wants to be up high where the birds are, but just can not. He watches the birds from the ground until one day a paper airplane flies by him piquing his interest in flying and being up high. After a lot of perseverance, he comes up with the perfect paper airplane and takes it to the wall to fly. It goes over. He nervously climbs the wall to retrieve it and discovers what his true self is afterall.
Comments: One of my all-time favorites! My students in all grades loved this book and especially the surprise ending. As we checked in books, I had the nursery rhyme on the Smartboard when they came in. (I never assume they know the nursery rhymes). I taught the book as a fractured nursery rhyme and before I read the book to them, explained what are the characteristics of fractured folklore. The students were mesmerized by the story and illustrations. The younger ones had to think a bit more to get the ending and what happened. Afterwards, with the older students, this led to many conversations about their own fears and overcoming them. I could see this being shared by a counselor to talk about fear.
Writing. This could be the beginning of a writing exercise with nursery rhymes and what happened afterwards. What happened after the mouse ran down the clock? What happened to Baa Baa Black Sheep’s wool?
Art connection. Origami. The paper airplane books are now checked out all the time. I had to put out extra paper and was amused how several students would gather in a circle to make airplanes. New rule: No throwing paper airplanes in the library.
7. The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen. 2017. Mixed media. Published by Candlewick Press.
Brief summary: One morning, a mouse is eaten by a wolf and moans about his unexpected end as it sits in the beast’s belly. “Be quiet!” The mouse is surprised to find a duck in bed. They have breakfast together in which the rodent learns all about the duck’s life inside the belly of the wolf. The mouse asks if he can stay too where there is no worry. The duck agrees. They dance about causing the wolf’s tummy to hurt. The duck suggests he knows how to cure his ache and lists a few supplies he would like the wolf to swallow. A hunter comes along and tries to shoot the wolf. Realizing their safe home is under attack, the goose and mouse come up with a plan scaring the hunter away. In return for saving his life, the wolf grants them a favor.
Comments: Has a fable feel. My favorite line is “I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.” It made me think of what it would be like to live inside the belly of a beast that I was always being frightened by in my everyday life.
8. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall; illustrated by Gaia Cornwall. 2017. Pencil, watercolor and collage, then colored digitally. Published by Candlewick Press.
Brief summary: Jabari finished his swimming lessons and passed his test. With confidence, Jabari excitedly tells his dad that he is going to now jump off the diving board. He goes over and stands in line allowing other children to go ahead of him as he watches how high up they go. He begins to climb and decides that he needs to do some stretching first. His father picks his son up, places him on his shoulders, and tells the boy that maybe tomorrow would be a better day. The father shares how sometimes he is scared and what he does to overcome the fear. Jabari regains his courage and determination and goes back up that diving board, loving his new surprise.
Comments: The father is supportive of his son no matter if Jabari decides to dive or go home and try another day. The father does not push his son but stands back and lets the boy decide what to do. The father wisely shares a little advice of how he personally handles fear. I like that the father admits that sometimes he is afraid to do things too. I think THAT is important for children to hear. We all have fear.
9. Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper; illustrated by Elisha Cooper. 2017. Black and white illustrations. Published by Roaring Brook Press.
Brief summary: There is a white cat living alone in a house until a black kitten arrives learning all about how to live the house through the white cat’s teachings. The black cat grows to be the same size as his new friend. They spend many years together until the white cat gets older and does not come back. Then one day, a white kitten joins the black cat who shows the new kitten how to live in the house.
Comments: This cat picture book continues in the mind of the reader. The life cycle. This would be a good story for the school counselor to read when a student’s pet dies. One could share this book to help explain death and dying and how we go on.
10. Lost and Found Cat: The True Story of Kunkush’s Incredible Journey by Doug Kuntz, and Amy Shrodes; illustrated by SueCornelison. 2017. Published by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Brief summary: Kunkush, a beautiful white cat, and his family must leave Iraq to find a safe place to live. Sura and her four daughters and son pay smugglers to get them out of the country only being permitted to take food and water. Kunkush is concealed in a basket. The cat stays hidden as they go to one country to another. They arrive in Greece and must all get on a small rubber boat. Once they land though the frightened cat flees into the woods. After searching for hours, the family has to leave. Two volunteers, Amy and Ashley, notice a white cat living with a colony of cats on the island and take it to the vet to get help and cleaned up. They rename him Dias. Amy keeps the cat in her apartment. The two volunteers are determined to find the owner and put up a Facebook page. Amy’s time in Lesbos has ended. She takes Dias back to Germany where some of the refugees traveled. A British couple keeps him. Soon Dias is found by his family who is living in Norway. Doug, a photographer, take Dias to Norway to reunite the cat with his family.
Comments: This is a story that can be shared with students by showing the cat’s journey on Google maps and learning about countries the family traveled through on their journey. Refugees and immigrants can be discussed. What causes someone to flee their country? How would you feel only being able to take food and water with you? This story could be used to discuss feelings. How do you think Sura felt when her husband was killed and she had to flee? What did she think was going to happen to her and her family? How did the family feel while being smuggled? What about when they could not find Kunkush? How did they feel when they were reunited in Norway? There are photos of the cat and map of his journey. This is a picture book that could have several discussions and lessons not only for elementary schoolers but for older students as well. Warning: Kunkush dies in 2016 from a feline virus
11. Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer; illustrated by Troy Cummings. 2017. Artworks was created digitally. Published by Sterling Children’s Books.
Brief summary: A boy has been waiting for almost a month for his new kitty to arrive. He has all of the pet supplies ready. The pet delivery truck arrives with a giant wooden crate with a note on it. “Congratulations on your new lion! We know you ordered a kitten, but we ran out of those.” There is an instruction sheet of ludicrous fourteen steps to follow.
Comments: Be sure to look the front end pages where the story begins. Troy Cummings’ hilarious 50s/60s cartoon style brings the story alive with one humorous step to the next. I would use this book as a writing exercise. Students could think of a wild animal that they would receive in the mail and what steps they would need to take to care for it. Drawings could be included.
12. The Lost Kitten by Lee Sakai; illustrated by Komako Sakai. 2017(translation). Arylic colors and oil pencils. Published by Gecko Press.
Brief summary: Hina and her mother open the front door to find a sickly kitten with a mama cat and her other kittens standing aside. The mother cat meows and nods her head as to ask for them to take care of her baby before leaving. Hina’s mother agrees to keep the kitten and brings it inside. She gently wipes the goo from the kitten’s eyes explaining to her daughter that they will take it to the vet tomorrow to make sure the little feline is okay. Hina learns how to take care of the tiny kitten as it explores the house. Her mother must go to buy cat food leaving Hina with her sleeping Grandmother. Hina tries to come up with a name for the new family addition and realizes the kitten is no longer in her sight. She searches all over the house becoming very upset recalling the time she was lost in a store and wanted her mother. She felt the little kitten must have felt the same way and must be found immediately. Not seeing it anywhere inside, Hina concludes the kitten must have slipped outside when her mother left to go for food. The girl opens the closet door and starts to put on her coat when she looks down finding the kitten on the bottom of the closet floor safe and sleeping. The little girl begins to cry relieved to have found her new lost baby. Her mother comes home learning Hina has come up with the name for the newest member of the family.
Comments: This book was originally printed in Japan in 2015. The unique illustrations of Komako Sakai stand out with this book through her soft and muted brushstrokes and black pencil. I could not find a lot of information about this author and illustrator but hope to have more books translated in the future.
13. Little i by Michael Hall; illustrated by Michael Hall. 2017. Digitally combined collages of painted and cut paper. Published by Greenwillow Books.
Brief summary: Little i’s dot fell off, rolled down a hill, over a cliff and into the sea. Little i swims across the sea to an island where he discovers !s, *s, and ,s. He finds the dot but is confused about why it does not fit anymore and goes home without it to tell his alphabet friends how the journey has changed the letter.
Comments: So stinking cute! The ending is adorable. I plan to pause a lot while reading this book to my students to make sure they see how the letters are on the page and get the little puns and play on words and punctuation. The letters spell out their words and conversations several times as well, so I suggest that the young reader is able to see the pages.
14. Read! Read! Read! by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater; illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke. 2017. Created in Adobe Photoshop. Published by Word Song: An Imprint of Highlights.
Brief summary: Twenty-three rhyming poems sharing the various ways and places we read in our lives.
Comments: Loved this book! The poetry has rhythm and rhyme. Some are short; some are longer. The author wrote a poem each of the many things we read in our every day lives: a magazine, a birthday card, a cereal box, sports page, road signs and so on. The illustrations fill the pages with several two-page spreads.
15. Princess and the Peas by Rachel Himes; illustrated by Rachel Himes. 2017. Acrylic, pencil, watercolor, collage, ink. Published by Charlesbridge
Brief summary: Ma Sally cooks the best black-eyed peas in South Carolina. She says anyone can marry her son if the woman can cook as well as she. John wants to decide on who he will marry. She ignores that. Ma Sally decides to spread gossip that her son is ready to marry and for any interested women to come to her house that Sunday. Three women show up but do not like that Ma Sally wants them to cook. A fourth arrives later named Princess who says she heard there was a competition and would like to try. She cooks black-eyed peas well enough that the mother approves. Princess is not so sure if she wants John though and challenges him to wash the pots and pans. Will they marry?
Comments: This is a Princess and the Pea variant that takes place in the 1950s. There is an author’s note and a black-eyed peas recipe in the back of the book. There are several double-paged illustrations. I feel like I really want to try those black-eyed peas they are cooking.
16. Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva by Jacqueline Jules; Illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg. 2017. Published by Kar-Ben.
Brief summary: Akiva, a poor shepherd, takes care of a wealthy man’s sheep. Rachel, the daughter of the wealthy man, notices how kind Akiva is to the sheep. Although Akiva cannot read or write, Rachel sees that he is smart. The two marry without the blessing of Rachel’s father. After many years, Rachel lovingly encourages her husband to learn how to read and write. Akiva protests that at forty, it is too late to learn. She does not share his doubt. He decides to try by sitting with the children in a classroom and begins to learn to read a little at a time just like the drops of water he notices making a hole through the stone he saw next to the stream. His wife, once again, encourages her husband to further his education by going to study the Torah where he excels and becomes famous for his wisdom. Meanwhile, Rachel, works hard to keep a home for them upon his return.
Comment: What a wonderful story to teach perseverance, growth mindset, and sacrifice to reach a goal that may seem unattainable. This book is based on Rabbi Akiva, a great sage of the first century.
17. All Kinds of Friends by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. 2017. Photography. Published by Millbrook Press.
Brief summary: Through simple text, this book explores all kinds of friends one can have.
Comments: This teaches how there are different types of friends. It talks about the characters a friend could have like funny or tall. The book talks about where you may have different friends like at school or in a family. It explores the fun activities friends like to do like dress up or pretend. I liked that it explained that sometimes we can be sad or mad at our friends. I will definitely be buying this book to share with my elementary students. The photographs really caught the true facial expressions of the friends.
Brief summary: This book explains how if the sharks, apex predators, were eliminated, the ocean would become unbalanced. Sharks typically eat the weak. This allows the healthier animals to reproduce. But if sharks become extinct, then many other marine life will have higher populations, causing them to eat all the fish. Those fish eat plankton, but if there is too much plankton, the water would be a thick sludge. Many land animals rely on the ocean for food, and they would start to starve and die too. This cause and effect pattern could continue spreading across the globe.
Comments: This narrative nonfiction book did a great job of explaining trophic cascade with simple terms and illustrations. I recommend this book for science units as well as teaching the importance we, as humans, have to keep the earth balanced. There is a glossary, Sharks Are In Trouble, How You Can Help Save Sharks, and Author’s Note. The end pages have drawings of various sharks. There is one fold out.
19. Diana’s White House Garden by Elisa Carbone; illustrated by Jen Hill. 2017. Pencil, gouache, and digital. Published by Viking.
Brief summary: Diana Hopkins lived in the White House with her father, Harry Hopkins, who was the chief advisor to President Roosevelt. This ten-year-old girl wanted to do her part for her country during the second war and was trying to figure out a way to do so. Diana did get into a lot of mischief while living in the White House often accompanied by the Roosevelts’ black Scottish terrier, Fala. Diana heard the President tell her father that he wanted the food our farmers grew to go straight to the soldiers to make sure they were fit and for civilians to start growing gardens for their own food in their yards and empty lots. Diana volunteered to help. The President wanted to be an example for others to follow, so Mrs. Roosevelt, Diana, and George (the groundskeeper) planted a garden in the lawn of the White House with all three tending to it. Diana felt good being able to sit at the table with her father and the Roosevelts knowing they were eating food from the garden.
Comments: This is based on a true story. Diana Hopkins’ photo is in the back holding hands with Mrs. Roosevelt. There is an author’s note and illustrator’s note explaining why Victory Gardens were needed. I did not realize that there was not enough steel and tin for fighter planes and to be used for canned vegetables. Classes were being offered to teach canning with glass jars so that people had food during the winter. The gardens were growing everywhere: city parks, apartment rooftops, urban yards, and suburban yards.
This book could be used for science units of study and also for teaching how if we all work together, we can make a difference as a whole.
20. Apex Predators: The World’s Deadliest Hunters, Past and Present by Steve Jenkins; illustrated by Steve Jenkins. 2017. Torn- and cut- paper collage. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Brief summary: Apex predators are “creatures too tough, too big, or too well-armed to be hunted by other animals.” The reader will be wowed going through this book learning about the mightiest hunters of the past and present day. Steve Jenkins explains how each of the hunters were/are the top of their food chain with no natural enemies.
Comments: This is one of those nonfiction books that one student checks out and sits down with a circle of friends sharing and pointing facts about each page. Not only are there interesting facts of why the apex predator was the best but a chart comparing the beast’s height to a man. The tab on the upper part of the page tells the reader when the creature exists or existed. Steve Jenkins never lets me down. This is a must for every library–home, public, or school. He is one of the best torn/cut paper artists able to make the illustrations pop off the pages
21. Transportation!: How People Get Around by Gail Gibbons; illustrated by Gail Gibbons. 2017. Holiday House. Mixed media.
Brief summary: This is a nonfiction transportation book with all the traffic heading to the right as the reader learns about various modes of transportation. All vehicles are labeled, and there is informational text on the bottom of the pages. The categories are cars and other vehicles, trains, aircraft, and boats. There is an “important signs, signals and navigational aids” page in the back.
Comments: This is another one of Gail Gibbons’ gems to add to any library’s collection. This was classified for the 388 section, but it could go in the 620 area as well where I have the other engineering books. I think it may be missed in the 300s. The boys are always going to the 629s for car books in my elementary library.
22. Home in the Rain by Bob Graham; illustrated by Bob Graham. 2016 (Walker Books Ltd; London, UK). 2017 (Candlewick Press Mass. USA). Ink and watercolors.
Brief summary: It is pouring rain as Francie and her pregnant mother leave Grandma’s house and drive away in a little red car. The window wipers are going back and forth with rain coming straight down as the car moves along the crowded highway. Francie notices the farmland on either side. Wildlife live on both sides of the highway up in the hills and along the coast. The car windows are fogging up. Francie writes her name on one window, Mom on another, and Dad on another with just one window left blank. Her mother pulls over so that they can eat lunch inside the car. Francie asks what her baby sister’s name will be so she add it to the back window. Her mother is not sure yet. They pull back into the traffic with the relentless rain still pelting the car. Her mother pulls into a gas station where there are several other cars and people. Francie splashes in a rainbow-colored puddle. Her mother realizes the name of the baby sister and gives Francie a big hug as they head back towards home now with the back window displaying the baby’s name.
Comments: I liked the quietness of this story that matched the quietness of the rain coming down. Although Bob Graham is Australian and the book was first published in the U.K. before making it to the US, there are no language differences that would hinder with the story and characters. This would be great to read aloud to young students during one of those days when it is raining all day.
23. 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story by Tara Lazar; illustrated by Ross MacDonald. 2017. Colored pencils, watercolor, and 19th-century wood type with all composed digitally using Photoshop. Published by Disney Hyperion.
Brief summary: Detective I is waiting for his next case when 6 comes into his office nervously explaining he is worried about 9 going after him. I takes the case and goes around town asking letters and numbers about 9. The case is solved by Detective I with all becoming friends at the conclusion.
Comments: Based on the old riddle: Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7, 8, 9(seven ate nine). Hilarious puns about numbers and letters. A great book to read to all ages especially though to intermediate students who will get all the jokes and homonyms. Told in the first person narrative mode like an old detective movie. This is one of my new favorites.
This may be confused with an earlier book with a similar title: Seven Ate Nine (2012) by Stan Resnicoff.
24. The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney; illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2017. Watercolor. Published by Little, Brown and Company.
Brief summary: (Traditional version). A small billy-goat wants to get over the bridge to the grassy hills on the other side of the bridge. A troll living under the bridge hears TRIP, TRAP! TRIP TRAP! and jumps out from underneath threatening to eat the little goat. The troll decides to let him go, because the next goat would be a bigger and better meal according to the little goat. The middle-sized goat is in the same situation and tells the troll to let him go and eat the biggest goat. The greedy troll lets him go too and shortly meets the largest billy-goat. The largest goat rams the bridge’s gate open. The troll yells that he is going to eat the goat right up. The goat dares him. The troll is charged and rammed over the bridge in which it encounters a surprise. The goats and herd go back and forth on the bridge eating the wild, green grass.
Comments: I have never been disappointed with any folklore Jerry Pinkney retells and illustrates. His watercolor illustrations are superb and so detailed. There is an artist’s note in the back of this book and a left hand/ right-hand foldout. I urge new librarians to try to purchase all of his folklore books as an excellent addition to the library’s collection: The Lion and the Mouse, The Tortoise and the Hare, The Grasshopper and the Ants, Puss in Boots, Three Little Kittens, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Red Hen, The Ugly Duckling, and many more. Everything he touches is gold. One of my favorite illustrators.
25. Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko; illustated by Dan Santat. 2017. Pencil, watercolor, ink, acrylic, Photoshop. Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
Brief summary: Nicholas is afraid of many things while his dad is not. The boy carries around a toy dinosaur in his pocket for courage to whatever activity he does. Nick has the toy plastic dinosaur with him even when he swims, tying it to his swim shorts. That evening, Nicholas takes it to his soccer game tucking the dinosaur in his sock. He scores a goal but loses his toy. His mother asks what he is doing walking all over the grass, but he does not tell her as they drive back home. He sleeps with the light on. His father comes home from work and asks if Nick is having a nightmare. His father tells him it’s okay to be afraid. Nick tells his dad about losing the dinosaur. His understanding father takes him out to the soccer field that night, and they find the dinosaur. Nicholas regains his bravery and is glad his father agrees not to tell his mom.
Comments: Wow. I can’t imagine my father going out of the house at night after working all day and actually go looking in the dark for a small toy dinosaur on a soccer field. This gesture tells the reader that the father really gets the urgency to find his son’s charm. I could see this book being shared at the beginning of the school year or when a child needs to do something a little scary or challenging. I have students show me their good luck charms a lot at the beginning of the school year. Sometimes they show me a photo of their mom all crumbled up having been hidden deep in a pocket. I show them the photos of my family and cats on my desk. We can all learn that there are different things/events that we may need a little extra reassurance.
26. Make the Earth Your Companion by J. Patrick Lewis; illustrated by Anna and Elena Balbusso. 2017. Published by Creative Editions.
Brief summary: A gentle poem advises the reader how earth elements can teach about life; how nature can teach mankind to live in harmony with life and one another. “Let the River remind you that everything will pass.”
Comments: One of my new favorite poems of J. Patrick Lewis. The rhythm of the poem and softness of the words with the beautiful illustrations of the Balbusso sisters are both aesthetically pleasing to hear and see. This would be an excellent addition to any library. I would use it in the school setting for Earth Day and to teach imagery. Very well done.
27. Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein; illustrated by David Ezra Stein. 2017. Mixed media on watercolor paper. Published by Candlewick Press.
Brief summary: Ice Boy has a normal ice cube life in the freezer with his family and friends. Sometimes, someone goes to a person’s drink which is considered an honor. Although his parents warn him not to go outside, he leaves the freezer. Ice Boy goes to the beach and even surfs on the waves. He sinks to the bottom of the ocean becoming Water Boy. He is later knocked out of the sea landing on someone’s beach towel becoming vapor in the hot sun. Vapor Boy plays in the clouds until he becomes Ice Boy again falling to the earth and landing in someone’s drink where he meets his parents. The person throws them into the yard leaving the reader with the hint of what will happen next.
Comments: What a fun and imaginative way to explain the water cycle! Teachers will love to use this book paired with a nonfiction water cycle book. There are many laugh-out-loud situations. This is a good edition to any elementary library.
28. Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky; illustrated by Kate Harvey Mcgee. 2017. “Color work in Photoshop with a digital palette and brushes.” Published by Candlewick Press.
Brief summary: Little Wolf is excited as he and his father climb up the hill. It will be his first howling when the full moon rises. His father calmly demonstrates the “proper howling form.” Little Wolf has his turn but does not quite sound like his father’s howl. Big Wolf praises but also gives some constructive criticism to his son. Little Wolf tries again adding his own special touches. His father kindly tells his son all of the things he is proud of about him but ends with that he does not have “proper howling form.” He demonstrates for his son again. Little Wolf listens and howls again knowing it was not the form but really wants to howl with his heart. His father joins now in his son’s howling form.
Comments: Big Wolf realizes that this form of howling was something that Little Wolf wanted to be creative with and make his own style. The father wolf does not yell at him or tell him he is not listening. He does not berate him. His father lets him howl in the way that is unique to his son and stops demonstrating the proper technique.
This would be a good book for the art teacher to read that would encourage students to do art with their hearts and not always with the “proper form.” It is important for children to know how to do something properly, but is also good to let them do some things their own way.
29. Graduation Day by Piotr Parda; illustrated by Piotr Parda. 2017. Watercolor, monoprint. Published by Ripple Grove Press.
Brief summary: First scene. There is a student dressed in a graduation gown and mortar looking out of a school window smiling. The wordless story continues with the setting through a bird’s view of a city block all in gray with a schoolyard in the center. Closer look. There are cracks all over the school building and concrete grounds. Next is a large graduation day banner. Then we see where the plot begins. The student is a victim of a group of children jeering at her, and one shoots a sunflower seed through a straw hitting her in the neck. She picks up the seed. They all go to the graduation ceremony, hear the speech, and throw their hats in the air. Kids are happy and go home with family members.
She walks alone down the school’s gray halls to her locker one last time where there is a jar full of sunflower seeds revealing to the reader just what type of life this young lady endured. She takes the jar and goes about the empty school grounds planting sunflower seeds in the cracks creating a beautiful bright yellow space.
Comments: Wow. So many words and emotions for a story without words. Not the usual happiness on someone’s graduation day. This is a story of a person who has been bullied many times made evident of all the sunflower seeds collected in her locker’s jar. She was able to take that hate and meanness and loneliness to create the only bright color in the book…a sunflower garden. This is a resonating story without words that is not a preachy bullying message of “do not bully; it’s wrong.” This is about a victim who, despite it all, is able to create hope and beauty where there must have been a lot of heartaches. The symbolism of the sunflowers can be understood by even younger readers.
30. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt; illustrated by Adam Rex. 2017. Published by Balzer & Bray.
Brief summary: Rock, from the Kingdom of Backyard, is a warrior without defeat and is looking for a worthy opponent. Paper, from the Empire of Mom’s Home Office, is also a warrior without defeat and looks in his empire for a worthy adversary. Scissors is from a small village from Junk Drawer and is also a warrior without an equal challenger. All are the best and bravest warrior in their land. The three slowly encounter each other, battling to see if they can be defeated thus creating the legend of Rock Paper Scissors.
Comments: This is a huge hit at my elementary school. I played the book trailer to build excitement and read the book the following week except for the kindergarteners. I had to read it right after the trailer. Next week seemed like a year to them.
The words and illustrations go so well together; one of the better pairs I have seen in a while. Drew Daywalt scored big time with the students bytaking thiss simple deciding game to a whole new level of imagination.
Adam Rex’s hilarious illustrations of Rock, Paper, and Scissors are a delight to the students’ funny bone. The various fonts and sizes he uses capture the movement and energy of the warriors. Some words are half as large as the page to indicate shouting. Smaller sized words are read in a regular voice. Readers–I suggest practicing various volumes and voices ahead of time. I practiced in front of my cat until he left the room, because I was shouting like the wrestling-match announcer voice indicated in the book with the large bolded words.
I brought in a pair of big scissors, a sheet of stock card paper, and a rock all with super-glued googly eyes on them. You could also go as far as bringing in all of the opponents that these three challenged. Props make the story even more fun to act out.
Children related to the humor and the personification. They all know the game but will play in the future with those three illustrated characters in mind.
Warning: You will hear students all over the library shouting “Rock paper scissors shoot!” “Rock paper scissors shoot!” “Rock paper scissors shoot!” until you feel like you have lost your mind, but well worth the joy of reading you just shared with future lifetime readers.
31. Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin; illustrated by Stehani Graegin. 2017. Published by Schwartz & Wade.
Brief summary: A young girl takes her plush fox to school for show & tell. At the end of the day, she sets her fox down and swings. A real fox comes along taking it into the forest. She and her friend follow the fox but lose track of it. They come across several forest animals along the way and ask if they have seen the fox doll. They come across a little village of animals. The girl shows the picture of her fox to several more animals finally leading them to where a little fox kit lives. The fox’s mother tells her daughter to give back the plush fox, but she is heartbroken. The little girls sees how much the fox wants the plush fox, so decides to give her doll as a gift. The fox kit gives the human girl a unicorn plush in exchange. The two human friends leave the forest and go home. The last page shows each sleeping with their new stuffed dolls.
Comments: The colors are grays, whites, and blues at the beginning and end of the story with brilliant colors when the two children discover the magical animal village. This is a story without words. Children will pore over this book delighted by the characters, plot, problem, and resolution. This will make a great addition to any elementary library.
32. PoPo’s Lucky Chinese New Year by Virginia Loh-Hagan; illustrated by Renne Benoit. 2017. Pencil and watercolor. Published by Sleeping Bear Press.
Brief summary: PoPo comes to visit her Chinese-American granddaughter to teach the little girl about Chinese New Year. The child learns the rules to prepare for a lucky year which means preparing for fifteen days and also celebrating for fifteen days.
Comments: Chinese New Year’s rules are written on the top or bottom of the pages as the story unfolds. I learned many superstitions and traditions about the new year I was not aware of before reading this picture book. Each ritual’s symbolism is explained by the PoPo. The story is written with light humor as the little girl learns about the holiday’s customs. This is a great addition to any elementary library’s holiday and customs section.
33. Still a Family by Brenda Reeves Sturgis; illustrated Jo-Shin Lee. 2016. Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company.
Brief summary: A young homeless girl sleeps on a cot next to her mother in a shelter for women and children only. Her father is in a shelter for men. Too young to attend school, she stays at the shelter and shares her doll, Molly, with the girl next to her. The parents take turns caring for their daughter while the other looks for work. They do things together like eating at the soup kitchen and playing in thepark.. Months go by. Even though they are in different shelters and under different roofs, they are still a family.
Comments: This is one of those books that will create great conversations and discussions with children about homelessness. How would you feel if you lived in a shelter? What would you miss the most? If you could only take one toy with you, what one would you choose? Although this is a difficult subject, the author wrote it in a way that the young reader of the story will get of a glimpse of children who live in homelessness and not be exposed to some of the harsher situations that could occur. This would be a good addition for elementary school library collections.