Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
What began as a yearly celebration of National D.E.A.R. Day on April 12 (the birthday of popular children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who died on March 25, 2021) has become an annual month-long celebration in April. Here is a selection of recently published books to add to family, classroom, and library collections to encourage independent reading. Join in the 2021 D.E.A.R. celebration by reading for a period of time each day during April or, better yet, keep the celebration going throughout the year. To introduce D.E.A.R., consider reading aloud the chapter about Ramona Quimby’s favorite part of the school day, what her third-grade teacher calls Drop Everything and Read, in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Plan to have other of Cleary’s many books available for independent reading too.
Alone! Barry Falls. (2020). Pavilion.
In this hilarious cumulative tale, trouble begins when a squeaky mouse moves into Billy’s home and he brings a cat home to get rid of it. The plan backfires with the cat and mouse playing with each other, so Billy adds a rambunctious dog, a sleeping bear, an ailing tiger, a sheep to be shorn, a hairdresser with a fussy baby, and a red balloon to soothe the baby. Nothing works. He laments in between events, “This is my hill / I live here alone! / Always have, always will.” After Billy escapes the chaos to a neighboring mountain top where a thunderstorm strikes, he realizes it’s good to have friends. Returning home, peace is restored—except on Tuesdays when the mouse, cat, dog, bear, tiger, sheep, hairdresser, and baby come around to visit him. Vibrant, action-filled illustrations that complement the rhyming narrative make this a perfect book for independent reading as well as for reading aloud. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Beak Book. Robin Page. (2021). Beach Lane.
“Bird beaks come in many different colors, shapes, and sizes,” and Robin Page’s well-designed informational picture book introduces young readers to the many ways this common feature of birds is adapted. Double- and single-page spreads feature realistic head shots of twenty-one different birds in profile (rendered in Adobe Photoshop) paired with “This beak is for . . .” sentences against expansive white backgrounds. For example, a brown kiwi with its long beak and the declarative sentence “This beak is for sniffing.” A brief statement in smaller print adds that the kiwi’s nostrils are located at the end of its long beak, enabling the bird to sniff out worms and insects, and a small inset shows the bird using its beak and identifies it as a North Island brown kiwi. Back matter includes a double-spread chart with information about each of the featured birds and a bibliography. (PreK Up)
The Capybaras. Alfredo Soderguit. Trans. by Elisa Amado. (2021). Aldana Libros/Greystone Kids.
The hens lead a contented life in a pen with plenty of food and a comfy coop at the edge of a wetland until five hairy, wet, big strangers, capybaras, come seeking refuge during hunting season. To stay, the capybaras must accept some strict rules. Nearly wordless panels show the smallest capybara breaking the all-important “Don’t come out of the water” rule by befriending a chick and taking her for a swim on its back. The mother hen is outraged, but everything changes when the chastised chick sneaks through a hole in the fence and is chased by the farmer’s ferocious dog. And when hunting season ends, the capybaras prepare to go home, the hunters depart empty handed—and the chicken coop is empty. Young children will be delighted by the final double spread of this beautifully designed picture book with black-and-white drawings with touches of red and a gentle message about accepting others and community building. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Coldfire Curse (Dragon Kingdom of Wrenly #1). Jordan Quinn. Illus. by Ornella Greco. (2021). Little Simon Graphic Novel.
In this new graphic novel series opener, the coldfire curse, which began on the Island of Crestwood in the Kingdom of Wrenly, is leaving the dragons freezing and ill. Young dragon Cinder is sent to the northern border of Wrenly to find help. Upon arriving, she begs Rushkin, the pet scarlet dragon of the prince, “You’re the only one who can save us!” Pampered Rushkin doesn’t know that legend says he is either destined for greatness or ruin, but he decides it’s up to him to save Crestwood and the rest of the kingdom as the curse spreads, in spite of time running out and someone wanting him out of the way. Vivid, action-filled panels with short narratives and dynamic dialogue draw readers through this dangerous adventure. Shadow Hills (second book in the series) was published simultaneously. (Gr 3-5)
From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves. Vivian Kirkfield. Illus. by Gilbert Ford. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The engaging narrative and full-color cartoonlike illustrations of this collective biography tell the stories behind inventions that changed the way human get from here to there by land, water, and sky. Among the innovators introduced are brothers Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, who developed the hot-air balloon that made the first manned balloon flight in France in 1783; German Karl Benz, who patented the first gasoline-powered horseless carriage, the three-wheeled Benz Patent-Motorwagen, in 1886; and American Robert Goddard, who invented the liquid-fuel-propelled rocket in 1926. Sidebars provide additional information on the inventors and the significance of their inventions. Back matter includes a “Build Your Own Dream” section, source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index. The endpapers feature a selected timeline of “inventions that changed the way the world moves.” (Gr 3 Up)
Ghosted. Michael Fry. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Twelve-year-old Larry, a shy loner, is devastated when his best friend, Grimm, dies while rescuing a cat in a tree during a lightning storm. However, it’s not long before he realizes that Grimm is still with him as a ghost that only he can see and hear. Larry decides that they need to complete their Totally To-Do List with unfinished tasks such as “sit in a bath of spaghetti” and “kiss a girl” before Grimm will be free to leave. As Larry works his way through the remaining tasks, coached by Grimm, he realizes that his friend had been a bully to Boogie, the biggest kid in class. Maybe this is where reparation needs to be made. Black line illustrations and quirky descriptions such as “feeding a stupid tiny hellhound” and “Terrible Taco and Tot Fight of 2021” add humor to Larry’s learning to say a final goodbye in this engaging middle-school novel. (Gr 6-8)
Hard-boiled Bugs for Breakfast and Other Tasty Poems. Jack Prelutsky. Illus. by Ruth Chan. (2021). Greenwillow.
Popular and prolific Jack Prelutsky’s latest child-pleasing anthology includes one hundred four delightfully humorous poems complemented by Ruth Chan’s black and white cartoon artwork. There are verses about icky food choices such as crunchy hard-boiled bugs and a stew of discontented vegetables, creatures both real and imaginative such has a poor revolving dormouse and a kangarooster, and quirky humans doing odd things such as kids bowling with Ping-Pong balls and a spaghetti lover spending a lifetime mining for spaghetti in the macaroni hills (and finding only gold). Included are some shape poems and a series of clever animal haikus. My favorite: “I know I’m slow, / But, sandwiched between two shells, / It’s hard to hurry.” Prelutsky is a master of clever rhymes and inventive wordplay. The rhythmic meter of his poems invites reading aloud. (PreK Up)
Never Show a T. rex a Book. Rashmi Sirdeshpande. Illus. by Diane Ewen. (2021). Kane Miller.
As a young girl (shown selecting the book Dinosaurs: Stuff You Never Knew You Never Knew from a bookshelf on the title page) settles down for some bedtime reading, she imagines the problems and possibilities that might arise from showing a T. rex the book. Reasoning that the dinosaur wouldn’t know what to do with it, she decides you’d have to teach the T. rex to read. This would lead to borrowing lots of books from the library and staying up at night to read, and read, and read. The dinosaur might become very clever and that would lead to more unexpected consequences, all imaginatively revealed in the colorful, giggle-inducing illustrations. “Amazing!! Can you IMAGINE?!” And when young children see her next choice from the bookshelf on the final page, they can ponder what the imaginative girl will make of it. (PreK-Gr 2)
Road Trip!: A Whiskers Hollow Adventure. Steve Light. (2021). Candlewick.
This romping road trip in Whiskers Hollow begins after Bear has a little accident with an acorn in his red 1940s Chevy pickup and needs a new headlight. “Rabbit, let’s go—road trip!” Along the way, Bear invites Mouse, a natural worrier, and Donkey, who leads them across a rickety bridge and through a bramble tunnel to Elephant’s Old Junk Tree, a junkyard filled with “tires, tricycles, a guitar with broken strings, a motorcycle, and lots of wrenches.” The hilarity continues when the friends serendipitously locate the headlight, and it’s time for the return trip. Steve Light’s colorful illustrations in pen, ink, and gouache will have young readers chuckling as they connect with this lively story dedicated “to friends everywhere.” (PreK-Gr 2)
The Thingity-Jig. Kathleen Doherty. Illus. by Kristyna Litten. (2021). Peachtree.
Bear discovers a heavy Thingity-Jig (“… a springy thing. / A bouncy thing. / A sit-on-it, hop-on-it, jump-on-it thing”) in the alley one night. When he asks his friends for help, they won’t get up, so he builds a Rolly-Rumpity to wheel it home, a Lifty-Uppity to put it on the Rolly-Rumpity, and a Pushy-Poppity to free the Rolly-Rumpity when it gets stuck in the mud. Once Bear gets home, he wakes his friends by plopping down the Thingity-Jig loudly beside them. They jump, bounce, hop, leap, and climb all over it before Bear flops down onto the couch, too tired to play and ready to “snorty-snore.” Penciled, ink textured, and digitized illustrations accompany the humorous storyline with its clever wordplay that will catch the imagination of young readers. (PreK-Gr 2)
Wild River. Rodman Philbrick (2021) Scholastic.
Twelve-year-old introvert Daniel Redmayne and classmates Mia, Imani, Deke, and Tony, chosen for Project Future Leaders from Byron James Regional Middle School, spend their first day white-water rafting down Crazy River in Montana under the supervision of rafting guides Sky Hansen and Cindi Beacon. That evening, nestled in their tents, they are awakened by the thundering roar of water rushing from a broken dam and destroying everything in its path. The campers escape, but their counselors don’t. They have dwindling supplies, few survival skills, no cell phone reception, and no search team looking for them. Over the next week, the odds escalate against them as Deke, a perpetual bully, and his protégé, Tony, sabotage their moves at every chance, resulting in another tragedy. Daniel and the remaining participants realize that they must work together if they are to survive. (Gr 6-8)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).