Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
Biographies offer stories about the lives and achievements of memorable individuals. This column includes reviews of recently published biographies, written in various formats, which will engage readers in thinking about not only how these life stories of people (some familiar and others new to them) have been shaped by the times and places in which they lived but also how reading about them contributes to their own understanding of events of the past and present.
The Boy Whose Head Was Filled with Stars!: A Life of Edwin Hubble. Isabelle Marinov. Illus. by Deborah Marcero. (2021). Enchanted Lion.
Young Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) loved the stars and never lost his curiosity about the universe. Following years as a high school teacher, he returned to college to study astronomy and then began working at Mount Wilson Observatory in California. After many nights spent at the telescope taking pictures of the sky, measuring, and calculating, Hubble discovered that the Andromeda nebula was a galaxy, proving that the Milky Way was not the only galaxy. He went on to identify many other galaxies and to prove that as galaxies move away from each other, the universe expands. Isabelle Marinov’s lyrical narrative with a repeated refrain of three questions—"How many stars are in the sky? / How did the universe begin? / Where did it come from”— and Deborah Marcero’s mixed-media illustrations, including a gatefold that dramatically shows the vastness of the universe, create an awe-inspiring biography for young readers. Back matter includes author and illustrator notes, notes on the importance of Hubble’s discoveries, and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars. Laurie Wallmark. Illus. by Brooke Smart. (2021). Abrams.
Through Laurie Wallmark’s engaging narrative and Brooke Smart’s digitally-assembled watercolor and gouache illustrations that incorporate quotes and ribbons of coded messages, readers learn about the secret, once classified, accomplishments of Elizebeth Smith Friedman (1892-1980), an early cryptanalyst, who was involved in the “greatest spy roundup in American history.” Elizebeth, who studied literature and loved exploring the complex structure and patterns of languages, transferred her interests to cryptology. When the U.S. entered World War I, Elizebeth and her husband, scientist William Friedman, developed a government code-breaking unit that uncovered enemy secrets. During WW II, Elizebeth created the Office of Strategic Services’ code-breaking unit, which was instrumental in cracking the supposedly unbreakable German Enigma Code that uncovered Nazi secrets. Back matter includes notes on codes and ciphers, a "Crack the Code!" challenge for readers, information on cryptology today, a timeline of Elizebeth’s life, and a bibliography. (Gr 3-5)
Harriet Tubman (She Persisted). Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illus. by Gillian Flint. (2021). Philomel.
In this first book in Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger’s new early chapter book series of biographies of women who worked hard to fulfill their dreams, Andrea Davis Pinkney tells the life story of Harriet Tubman (ca. 1822-1913), born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, whose dreams of freedom led her to make the treacherous flight north to Pennsylvania, a free state, in 1849. Harriet went on to make numerous journeys south to bring family members and other enslaved people to freedom, becoming “one of the most persistent conductors on the Underground Railroad.” During the Civil War, she served as a nurse and spy for the Union Army. As she relates the story of “the woman called Moses,” Pinkney weaves in many details about slavery in child-friendly language. Back matter includes a “How You Can Persists” section of activities to honor Harriet Tubman and references (books and websites). (PreK Up)
The Highest Tribute: Thurgood Marshall’s Life, Leadership, and Legacy. Kekla Magoon. Illus. by Laura Foreman. (2021). Quill Tree.
This engaging picture book biography presents the story of Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), who devoted his life to making the United States “a fair and equal place for all people.” Growing up in segregated Baltimore, Maryland, surrounded by signs (such as “WHITES ONLY” and “COLORED WAITING ROOM”), Thurgood knew that spaces for Black people and white people were separate but not equal. After being assigned to read the Constitution as punishment for misbehaving in class, he knew that segregation laws were wrong. Following graduation from law school, Marshall took on civil rights cases, became a special counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and argued cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. He became a federal judge, was appointed Solicitor General to argue cases in the Supreme Court on behalf of the U.S. government, and was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson for a seat on the Supreme Court. Sworn in as an associate justice on October 2, 1967, he became the first Black member of the Supreme Court. Upon his death, Thurgood Marshall was given “the highest tribute” of lying in state in the rotunda of the Supreme Court. Back matter includes a timeline, a “Major Court Cases” section, suggestions for further reading, and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
Joe Biden: Our 46th President. Beatrice Gormley. (2021). Aladdin.
In fifteen short chapters written in a conversational tone, Beatrice Gormley offers middle-grade readers an accessible biography of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. (b. 1942), from his growing up in a close-knit family to the beginning months of his presidency. Readers learn of the personal problems and tragedies in his life as well as the challenges he has faced throughout his political career: becoming the U.S. Senator from Delaware in 1974, serving two terms as Barack Obama’s vice president, winning the 2020 election, and being sworn in on January 20, 2021, as the country’s 46th president. Sidebars inserted throughout the narrative provide related information about events, issues, and topics such as racial segregation, voting rights, civil rights, and the Electoral College. A list of resources is included. (Gr 3 up)
Kidstory: 50 Children and Young People Who Shook Up the World (Stories That Shook Up the World). Tom Adams. Illus. by Sarah Walsh. (2021). Atheneum.
This collective biography introduces readers to young “dreamers and fighters, thinkers and makers, achievers and believers.” The double-page spreads that profile children and young people from around the world and across history to present day include introductory statements, blocks of text about their lives and accomplishments, and quotations. Each entry is illustrated with mixed-media artwork and captioned photographs. Back matter includes a “When They Were Born” spread with thumbnail images of the fifty individuals organized chronologically by birthdate from Pocahontas (ca.1596-1617) to Marley Dias (2005), a glossary, an index, and an explanation of the organization of the profiles into five sections: “Think & Invent,” “Create & Dream,” “Hope & Believe,” “Lead & Triumph,” and “Change & Conquer.” (Gr 3 Up)
Osnat and Her Dove: The True Story of the World’s First Female Rabbi. Sigal Samuel. Illus. by Vali Mintizi. (2021). Levine Querido.
In 1590, Osnat, a Kurdish Jew, was born in Mosul, where men studied at a yeshiva built by her father, Rabbi Samuel Barzani. Growing up surrounded by books, Osnat convinced her father to teach her to read in spite of the fact that he believed reading was for boys and that girls should spend their time doing chores. Osnat became a Torah scholar and highly respected teacher. After the deaths of her father and her husband, Osnat became the leader of the Mosul yeshiva. Vali Mintzi’s stunning gouache paintings in rich blue, red, and golden colors beautifully set the scene for this well-crafted biography in which Sigal Samuel weaves legend and fact in telling the story of Osnat Barzani, “a woman with a curious mind, kind heart, and, according to some, miraculous power—the first female rabbi in history.” (Gr 3 Up)
Our Country’s Presidents: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency (2020 Edition). Ann Bausum. (2021). National Geographic.
This revised reference on the U.S. presidency is organized by six historical periods from “The Presidency and How it Grew” (1789-1837) to “Pathways for a New Millennium” (1989-Present). Each section includes an introduction and timeline of important events followed by profiles of the presidents during the period. Each profile includes a full-page reproduction of the president’s official portrait; a biographical essay including family background, childhood, education, pre-presidential careers, election highlights, key events during the presidency, and post-presidential activities; notable quotes; a text box of quick-reference facts; and numerous captioned illustrations. Interspersed among the profiles are double-page spreads on topics related to the presidency such as “Presidents at War: Serving as the Commander in Chief” and “Election 2020: Choosing a President During a Pandemic.” Back matter includes a chart of presidential election results, a “Find Out More” section (books, websites, videos and TV programs, and places to visit), a bibliography, and an index. (Gr 3 Up)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Iconic Supreme Court Justice (2nd Edition) (Gateway Biographies). James Roland. (2021). Lerner.
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) was sworn in as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1993, she became the second woman to serve in that capacity. As a Jewish woman, she battled along the way to attaining this most important judicial position, including fighting anti-Semitism and gender bias in college and law school and working for women’s rights as a lawyer and a judge. On the Supreme Court, she had a reputation for fairness and being able to work with judges supporting opposite sides of issues. She advocated, “Fight for the things that you care about, . . . but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Justice Ginsburg became known as the “Notorious RBG” in popular culture with her words such as “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” She was eighty-seven and actively serving on the Court at the time of her death on September 18, 2020. Back matter includes a timeline, source notes, a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and an index. (Gr 3 Up).
Secrets of the Sea: The Story of Jeanne Power, Revolutionary Scientist. Evan Griffith. Illus. by Joanie Stone. (2021). Clarion.
Jeanne Power (1794-1871), a pioneer female naturalist in a sea of male scientists, designed the first glass aquarium and made wooden cages so she could study live sea creatures up close. Joanie Stone’s exquisite digital illustrations complement Evan Griffith’s lyrical text describing Jeanne’s studies and how this self-taught naturalist solved a disagreement among scientists about whether the paper nautilus grew its own shell or stole it from another creature. After becoming the first female member of a science academy in Sicily, she moved to England to share her years of documented research, which, unfortunately, was lost in a storm at sea. After recreating her experiments and patented inventions, she finally found wide acceptance among scientist for her study of sea creatures and paved the way for future women scientists. Back matter includes additional information about Jeanne Power’s life and legacy; notes on the paper nautilus (with photographs), marine biology and conservation, and historical research; and a bibliography. (Gr 3-5)
The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe. Sandra Nickel. Illus. by Aimée Sicuro. (2021). Abrams.
The life of Vera Rubin (1928-2016) is explored through Sandra Nickel’s informative text and Aimée Sicuro’s beautifully crafted watercolor, ink, and charcoal-pencil illustrations, often incorporating artistic swirls that mimic the major focus of Rubin’s studies, rotating galaxies. Following graduation from Vassar as the only astronomy major in her class and marrying, she continued to test her galaxy movement theories that were refuted or ignored by senior astronomers. After being hired by the Carnegie Institution, she became the first woman to observe at California’s Palomar Observatory and to use the powerful telescopes atop Kitts Peak in Arizona. Her research on what some earlier astronomers called “dark matter,” the mysterious stuff filling the space between the stars which comprises 85% of matter in the universe, serves as an important foundation for current astronomy research. Back matter includes an author’s note, a timeline of her life, source notes, and a bibliography. (Gr 3 Up)
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.
Sandip Wilson and Mary Ellen Oslick
Reading historical fiction and nonfiction accounts gives young people insight into places and events, some familiar from textbook introductions and some new for readers. These books can be engaging and transporting, presenting ways to jumpstart thinking about the past. This column features books introducing unique points of view and perspectives on recent as well as long-past lives and experiences.
Enduring Freedom. Jawad Arash & Trent Reedy. (2021). Algonquin.
In 2003 Iowa, National Guard Reservist Joe Killian dreams of becoming a journalist after graduating from university, while in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Baheer Sadiq dreams of becoming a writer. Told from two points of view, they recount their meeting in 2003 when Joe is deployed to Afghanistan and Baheer’s family starts a new life in Farah, western Afghanistan, far away from Kabul overtaken by the Taliban. As Joe and Baheer seek to help one another, they discover the biases that they have about each other are wrong. Readers learn about the lives, work, traditions, and practices of Baheer’s family in this thrilling novel of friendship, hope, resistance, and persistence. The book’s back matter includes notes from both authors. (Gr 9-12)
Ensnared in the Wolf’s Lair: Inside the 1944 Plot to Kill Hitler and the Ghost Children of His Revenge. Ann Bausum. (2021). National Geographic.
In 1944 some German career military officers planned an assassination of Adolf Hitler at his outpost, the Wolf’s Lair, as a result of their doubts about the tactics and goals of the Nazi regime. Their master plan is suspensefully detailed in the first half of this intriguing book. The failure of the plot precipitates Hitler’s revenge of demanding Sippenhaft, “clan arrest.” Gestapo agents arrested, detained, and executed relatives of these officers and scooped up their children, isolating and incarcerating them in secret places. Including many archival photographs, Ann Bausum’s narrative establishes the context of the officers’ loyalty to Germany and provides details of their family lives. The back matter includes an author’s note with information on interviews she conducted with ghost children survivors, a glossary, and information on the officers. (Gr 6 Up)
Flight: A Novel of a Daring Escape During World War II. Vanessa Harbour. (2021). Feiwel and Friends.
In 1945 Austria, Jakob lives with Herr Engel and shares in the care of the beautiful stallions, the Lipizzaner dancing horses, while concealing his Jewish identity. Determined to uncover every Jewish person hiding in the region and their sympathizers, SS Officer Major Bauer threatens to kill all the horses, demonstrating his intention by shooting one of them. Afraid for the safety of the horses and for one another, Herr Engel and Jakob cross Nazi-held countryside, guiding the skittish horses over mountains and across rivers and passing dangerously close to towns. Vanessa Harbour details the relationships between the horses and Jakob in this novel based on the true story of a joint effort of Germans and Americans to save the Lipizzaner horses in the last days of World War II as the Russians advance from the east. (Gr 6-8)
Ground Zero: A Novel of 9/11. Alan Gratz. (2021). Scholastic.
On September 11, 2001, nine-year-old Brandon Chavez takes the subway to the World Trade Center with his father, a chef for Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower. When the first airliner hits the building, he is in an elevator on his way to the underground mall to buy a toy. The chapters alternate between that day in New York City in 2001 as Brandon, a man named Richard, and other strangers work together to escape the building, and another day, September 11, 2019, in Afghanistan, when Taliban fighters attack the village of eleven-year-old Reshmina and her family, killing Americans who were doing reconnaissance there. Her family shows compassion, sequestering the surviving American, Taz, who begged her for help after being blinded in the attack. Taz, who was born Brandon Chavez and became the ward of Richard following 9/11, confesses to Reshmina that he had joined the army seeking revenge but found compassion instead. Back matter includes a map of the World Trade Center and an author’s note detailing the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and the war in Afghanistan. (Gr 6-8)
I Am Defiance. Jenni L. Walsh. (2021). Scholastic.
In 1942 twelve-year-old Brigitte is part of the League of German Girls, the counterpart of Hitler Youth for boys. At first wholehearted in her adherence to Hitler’s effort to create one nation with work and bread for all, safeguarded against the Jews, whom the Nazi’s claimed prolonged the war, she begins to doubt the ideology. She questions Germany’s attack on Poland and its non-German-speaking people, and learns that her eighteen-year-old sister, who had polio in childhood, is at risk for sterilization as a disabled person. Witnessing an anti-Hitler demonstration at the university where her father teaches, and her sister and friend Sophia Scholl are students, endangers the lives of Brigitte and her family. This novel of conflict and loyalty includes a note from the author with information on the White Rose resistance and biographical notes on Sophia Scholl, a member of the movement. (Gr 6-8)
The Poetry of Secrets. Cambria Gordon. (2021). Scholastic.
Sixteen-year-old Isabela Perez lives with her family in Trujillo, Spain, in 1481 as conversos, Jewish people who have lived in Spain for centuries and have converted to Christianity. Her family secretly practices their Jewish traditions in the cellar of their home where they make wine that serves a clientele of local nobility. Her family has picked a husband for her, but she wants to make her own choice about whom she marries and her future. She wants to learn to read the sacred text and to write poetry. Her abuela promises to help her learn to read and, in support of her poetry writing, gives her a centuries-old scroll of a Jewish poetess written in Arabic. As the Inquisition reaches Trujillo, Fray Torquemada vows to punish sympathizers as heretics and threatens the conversos. Endangered by the policy, Isabela and her family flee the country in this novel based on the true story of Jews who fled Spain for Italy during the Inquisition and later migrated to Turkey. (Gr 9 Up)
Rescue. Jennifer A. Nielsen. (2021). Scholastic.
During World War II, Meg covertly supports the French Resistance in her small village of Perche in Occupied France. Her father taught her about codes and surveillance before he was summoned to aid the Allies in London, and she uses these skills to gather intelligence to warn the partisans living in a nearby forest of Nazi activities. Meg faces a much bigger mission after she finds and helps an injured British pilot who crash landed. If she can lead a German family to a neutral country to escape the Nazis, the German father will share where the Nazis have imprisoned her father. Readers will enjoy Jennifer Nielson’s fast-paced and history-rich novel which includes back matter about secret codes and the Special Operatives Executive (S.O.E.). (Gr 6-8)
Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge. Ray Anthony Shepard. Illus. by Keith Mallett. (2021). Farrar Straus Giroux.
“Why you run Ona Judge?” As Shepard describes the life of George and Martha Washington’s slave Ona Judge, he poses this rhetorical question to Ona and to readers. Ona worked in the Washington’s house, not in the field, and was given nice clothing and shoes, but was never taught to read or write. Shepard proffers that Mrs. Washington kept Ona as her pet until the day she planned to give Ona to her granddaughter. During the night Ona runs away to her freedom and lives the rest of her life as a fugitive from the Washingtons. Considering Ona’s experiences as a slave and examining the timeline and bibliography in the back matter will give readers a deeper understanding of the history of enslavement in America. (Gr K-2)
Separate No More: The Long Road to Brown v. Board of Education. Lawrence Goldstone. (2021). Scholastic Focus.
In Separate No More, Constitutional law scholar Lawrence Goldstone brings to light the key legal cases and influential voices that led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that ended the legality of “separate but equal.” Goldstone begins with the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson in which the Supreme Court said that the U.S. Constitution legitimized the practice, perpetuating existing segregation in all aspects of American life including schools, neighborhoods, and even drinking fountains. Goldstone traces almost sixty years of history in recounting state and local court cases leading to the monumental Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision ending school segregation in 1954. This comprehensive text contains an extensive bibliography and notes on the multitude of primary sources used. (Gr 6 Up)
Standing on Her Shoulders: A Celebration of Women. Monica Clark-Robinson. Illus. by Laura Freeman. (2021). Orchard.
This lyrical picture book is a letter of love and celebration of the strong women in our families and in America: “When we remember them and speak their names, we respect the struggles they overcame. We are grateful for the freedoms they’ve given, we stand on the shoulders of powerful women.” Laura Freeman’s bold and realistic portraits of athletes, activists, artists, politicians, educators, authors, explorers, and scientists are displayed on the pages as three generations of female family members celebrate their stories. At the end, the young protagonist is asked to consider who will stand on her shoulders, fostering both a sense of duty and empowerment for all children, but especially for girls. Brief biographies of all the women profiled are included at the end of the book. (Gr PK- 2)
Together We March: 25 Protest Movements That Marched into History. Leah Henderson. Illus. by Tyler Feder. (2021). Atheneum.
Going back to 1903 and ending in 2020, this nonfiction collection documents twenty-five trailblazing protest movements. While most take place in the U.S., several are worldwide. A year after the Black Lives Matter marches of the summer of 2020, this picture book is especially timely and important. Leah Henderson links the protest movements together chronologically and includes quotes from influential leaders of each march including Mahatma Gandhi for the Salt March, which began the nonviolent protest against British rule in India in 1930, and Dr. Lehman Brightman for the Longest Walk, the peaceful transcontinental march for Native American justice in 1978. Tyler Feder provides colorful cartoonlike illustrations of the marches to augment the text and make it accessible for a wide range of readers. Back matter includes a selected bibliography with a website link for a more comprehensive bibliography on Henderson’s personal website. (Gr 6 Up)
We Must Not Forget: Holocaust Stories of Survival and Resistance. Deborah Hopkinson. (2021). Scholastic Focus.
Deborah Hopkins spotlights Holocaust stories of Jewish youth from Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Poland during the Nazis’ “Final Solution” in World War II in this narrative nonfiction collection. Divided into three parts by regions and experiences, each section includes a photo album and chronicles the true stories of oppression, resistance, and ultimately, for some, survival. These stories honor the courage of Holocaust victims and remind readers of the power they have when they show compassion. Extensive back matter includes a glossary, timeline of World War II in Europe, internet resources, a bibliography, source notes, and an index. (Gr 6-8)
Sandip Wilson, Chair of the Notable Books for a Global Society Committee, is a professor at Husson University, Bangor, Maine. Mary Ellen Oslick, Co-chair of the committee, serves as associate professor at Stetson University, Deland, Florida.
Jenn Manak and Debra Wellman
The beauty of language is illuminated through stories in rhyme and novels in verse. The rhyming picture books in this column include repetitive phrases and corresponding illustrations making them particularly good for beginning readers. The novels in verse, from stories of adventure and survival to coming of age and love, introduce readers to well-developed characters including strong female protagonists. The authors’ rich word choices and vivid descriptions carry the reader rhythmically through these novels in verse.
lone. Megan E. Freeman. (2021). Aladdin.
Twelve-year-old Maddie wakes up all alone to a desolate town that was evacuated overnight due to an “imminent threat.” Her divorced parents, each thinking Maddie is with the other, do not realize she is all alone and has no way to contact them. Maddie learns to survive without power, running water, and phone access. She and her Rottweiler, George, endure natural disasters, looters, and wild animals, but Maddie continues to question if she can endure the intense loneliness with only the company of George and her favorite authors. In a series of linked titled poems, Megan Freeman vividly portrays Maddie’s perseverance and ingenuity in the face of danger and isolation. (Gr 6-8) —JM
Bear Can’t Wait (Bear Books #8). Karma Wilson. Illus. by Jane Chapman. (2021). Margaret K. McElderry.
Bear and his friends are planning a surprise birthday for their friend, Hare, but Bear is so impatient for the party to start. Bear can’t wait! With just two hours to the party, Bear rushes to help, making a mess and almost ruining the surprise. “Time is almost up, / but Bear is very fast. / They bake a new cake / even better than the last.” With the help of his friends, the party is ready just in time for Hare’s arrival. The frolicking text and detailed acrylic illustrations guide the reader to eagerly wonder what Bear and friends are going to do next. Young readers will delight in seeing how the friends all work together to clean up Bear’s mess and throw a wonderful birthday party. (PreK-Gr 2).
The Deepest Breath. Meg Grehan. (2019). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Eleven-year-old Stevie loves to read and keeps a list of the things that she wants to learn about. Stevie finds that the more she knows about things, the more she feels safe and in control. But there is one question that she needs to know the answer to the most: What is the fizzy feeling she has in her chest when she sees her friend Chloe? Meg Grehan addresses issues of identity, sexuality, and anxiety in this engaging novel in lyrical verse for middle schoolers. (Gr 3 Up)
Duck, Duck, Moose. Mary Sullivan. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Duck, Duck, Moose plays off a beloved children’s game as the characters search for missing Goose. Through repetition of sight words and rhymes, the playful text follows the characters as they search the farm for Goose all day. After a misadventure with a beehive, Duck, Duck, and Moose give up and head for home. Even though they miss Goose, they settle down for bed. The next morning Goose appears. Where has she been? (PreK-Gr 2) Mary Sullivan’s digitally created illustrations add to the liveliness of the text. (PreK-Gr 2)
Muted. Tami Charles. (2021). Scholastic.
Muted is a dark trip inside the abusive music business where women (and young girls) are expected to give of themselves in order to succeed. Denver and her two high school friends get the attention of a music icon who promises to propel them to great heights. Though they are talented, they are quickly pitted against one another and cut off from talking to family and friends. When Denver uncovers the truth, she is determined to bring this icon and abuser down. “But there in that moment / I KNEW exactly who I was / a fearless / gifted / brilliant . . .” The intensity of this novel in verse builds chronologically, sometimes with several entries in a single day, as the girls shoot for their dreams of stardom. Using her own experience along with those of other artists, Tami Charles does not water down the vivid, harsh experiences of sexual predation, drug use, rape, and abuse. (Gr 9-12)
The One Thing You’d Save. Linda Sue Park. Illus. by Robert Sae-Heng. (2021). Clarion.
Linda Sue Park’s novel in verse written in sijo, a traditional Koran poetry form, begins with Ms. Chang asking her classroom of middle schoolers, “If your home is on fire, what is one thing that you would save?” The voices within the diverse classroom are captured as the students share what they would save and why. While some would take a sentimental sweater, photo, or autographed game ball, others would choose to take sneakers or a laptop. The diversity of the students’ responses to this thought-provoking question can lead to a rich discussion of items and compelling reasons for saving them. (Gr 3 Up)
The Power of Yet. Maryann Cocca-Leffler. (2021). Abrams Appleseed.
Little Pig is eager to grow up and do all the things that Big Pigs can do—ride a bike, play a violin, and ride a big roller coaster. The relatable pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations accompanying Maryann Cocca-Leffler’s rhyming text with the repeated refrain “Not Yet!” emphasizes the power of the growth mindset. With patience, persistence, and practice, Little Pig learns that over time he can reach his dreams and goals. “You’ll get sad and angry, / but don’t you quit— / you have power and courage, / and that’s called GRIT.” Little Pig continues to practice and learn from his mistakes and realizes the power of yet! (PreK-Gr 2)
The Seventh Raven. David Elliott. Illus. by Rovina Cai. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
David Elliott’s novel is a loosely based retelling of Grimm’s (1819) fairy tale “Seven Ravens,” in which a husband and wife wish for a daughter, but seven sons are born. When the eighth child is born, their wish has been granted, but their daughter is deathly ill. The father sends their sons for water so the priest can baptize Jane before she dies. When they fail to return, he angrily cries, “These boys are a torment / No better than ravens / Eaters of carrion / Scourge of the sky.” As he utters these words, the curse becomes reality. “And seven new birds / Appear overhead / Not there before / And the boys are no more.” The cadence of the verses is captivating. The different forms of poetry Eliot uses for each of the characters are explained in the back matter. While many themes could be assigned to individual chapters, the idea of unintended consequences is one that resonates in this novel. Particularly effective is the idea of one not feeling right in one’s skin as the seventh son, picked on as a boy, loves the freedom of being a raven. (Gr 6 Up)
We Want a Dog. Lo Cole. (2021). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Lo Cole uses only red, black, gray, and white to create bold, inviting images of various dog breeds for this story which opens with “We want a dog. What kind of dog?” The reader views a variety of “types” of dogs. “Ones that begs? / One the sheds? / One that rips things into shreds?” Instead of focusing on the merits of different breeds, Cole points out characteristics of all dogs including the not-so-great ones like shedding, eating out of the garbage, and getting fleas. With its clever rhyming story which ends with a surprise twist, We Want a Dog is a great read-aloud choice. Parents will also appreciate the opportunity this book provides for a discussion about the responsibilities of pet ownership. (PreK-Gr 2)
Your Heart, My Sky: Love in the time of Hunger. Margarita Engle. (2021). Atheneum.
Margarita Engle’s novel in verse presents a poignant story of love and survival set in a period of Cuban history that many are unaware of—a time of near starvation for most of the island inhabitants during the 1990s. The U.S. Embargo on Cuba played a crucial role in this devastating period in Cuban history that Cubans referred to as “el período especial en tiempos de paz,” which translates to “the special period in times of peace.” Liana and Amado are teenagers who independently choose to defy the government requirement for them to “volunteer” as farm laborers, a choice that could land them in jail. A stray dog brings the two together as they find ways to survive during a difficult time. (Gr 9-12)
Jennifer Manak is an Associate Professor of Education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Deb Wellman is a Professor Emeritus of Education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.