Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger, Sarah Duncan and Jeanne Gilliam Fain
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a reader! Superpowers like flying and X-ray vision are pretty cool, but books can send readers on adventures, allow them into the minds of characters, and help increase their brain power. Invite students to exercise their reading superpower with a book as their sidekick during the fall celebration of 2021 Children’s Book Week (November 8-14) and all year long.
Best Friend in the Whole World. Sandra Salsbury. (2021). Peachtree.
One day while walking in the woods, Roland, a lonely rabbit, comes upon a pine cone. He picks up the pine cone, names it Milton, and takes him home. The two become the best of friends. On another walk, Roland sees posters tacked on the trees about a missing friend who looks like Milton and sadly knows he must return Milton to his home. Happily, however, upon seeing the woods full of “Wanted New Friends” notices, he realizes that he can have two best friends in the whole world: Milton (really named Popkin) and Lucy, the cat who posted the original “Missing” notices. Sandra Salsbury’s watercolor illustrations clearly convey Roland’s feeling of loneliness and then happiness expressed in this child-pleasing friendship story. (PreK-Gr 2)
Best Friends-ish (Audrey L & Audrey W #1). Carter Higgins. Illus. by Jennifer K. Mann. (2021). Chronicle.
Audrey Locke thought that second grade would be twice as good as first grade, but her best friend, Diego, has new buddies, and it seems like everyone in Room 19 except her is best at something. When Audrey Waters joins the class, Audrey is annoyed to become Audrey L for the rest of the year. After being assigned Audrey W’s “Welcome Ambassador,” she wonders about her best-friend potential, and as she gets to know her, learns lessons about friendship and acceptance. By the end of the week, the two Audreys’ relationship is clearly “best friends-ish.” Short chapters filled with lots of realistic school-day details, gentle humor, and numerous black-and-white drawings make this new series an engaging choice for readers transitioning to chapter books. (PreK Up)
Blueberry Cake. Sarah Dillard. (2021). Aladdin.
Little Bear wants Mama to make him a blueberry cake, so he sets out with his red bucket to pick wild blueberries in the woods. But picking blueberries and getting them back to Mama isn’t as easy as you might think. Succumbing to the temptation of eating berries and the distractions of the woods thwarts his efforts, and Little Bear arrives home with a bucket full of wildflowers instead of blueberries. After dreaming of blueberry cake, Little Bear goes berry-picking again and gets a blueberry cake—and the reader gets a recipe to make one at home— in this delightful tale told through vivid illustrations and a simple text of speech bubbles. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb. Candace Fleming. (2021). Scholastic Focus.
“It was said…” that during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb many strange things happened. Were these situations a coincidence or a result of a curse? Candace Fleming’s straightforward narrative provides background on the history of mummification and tomb building in ancient Egypt. She details how British Lord Carnarvon, who had been financing treasure hunts in the Valley of the Kings since 1906, and archaeologist Howard Carter got caught up in uncovering King Tut’s tomb in 1922. Many stories of the whats, whys, and hows of the excavation are shared along with captioned black and white archival photographs. Each chapter ends with an “It was said . . .” section related to one purported “curse of the mummy.” Back matter includes an author’s note, map, timeline, bibliography, source notes, photo and illustration credits, and index. (Gr 6 Up)
Fox & Rabbit Celebrate (Fox & Rabbit #3). Beth Ferry. Illus. by Gergely Dudás. (2021). Amulet.
This latest book in Beth Ferry’s graphic novel series invites young readers to join Fox and Rabbit in another adventure as the two friends plan a “super-trooper’” pizza party to celebrate Sparrow’s birthday. Dragon, a new character to the series, agrees to help Fox and Rabbit with heating their grandiose pizza as he tells them he struggles finding friends. As Dragon joins in the joyful celebration of Sparrow’s birthday, his new friends discover it is his birthday too. Young readers will enjoy reading the five linked stories (with alliterative titles) presented in an easy-to-follow graphic format of eight panels per page with vibrant graphite-and ink illustrations and text full of wordplay presented in speech bubbles. (PreK Up)
The Girl Who Stole an Elephant. Nizrana Farook. (2021). Peachtree.
Chaya, the twelve-year-old daughter of a village headman, has a habit of stealing from the rich to help those in need in her village, but when she sneaks into the palace and takes the queen’s jewels, she goes too far. Her best friend, Neel, confesses to the robbery and is held in the palace’s underground prison. While he awaits execution, Chaya plots an escape that frees him but leaves them both as wanted criminals. After she steals the king’s elephant, Chaya, Neel, and Nour, the daughter of a wealthy merchant, go on a dangerous adventure through the wild Sri Lankan jungle as they attempt to outrun the palace soldiers. Readers who love non-stop action will enjoy the chase, while the lush description of the Sri Lankan jungle and its exotic plants and animals gives them a peek into a beautiful South Asian Island setting. (Gr 3 Up)
An Occasionally Happy Family. Cliff Burke. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Thirteen-year-old Theo Ripley, whose mom died two years ago, is not thrilled to be going on a vacation with his older sister, Laura, and his dad to Big Bend National Park in Texas in July. Theo is definitely not the outdoorsy type. As he predicted, the vacation involves too hot temperatures, too many bugs, encounters with annoying hikers, and even an encounter with a bear at their camping site. When Theo and Laura discover their dad’s surprise behind this unexpected vacation, meeting his secret girlfriend, they both have conflicted feelings about this and must grapple with the idea of their dad being read to move on while they are still grieving over their mom’s death. This story about a family overcoming life’s challenges is realistic and also funny in all of the right places. (Gr 6-8)
Percy’s Museum. Sara O’Leary. Illus. by Carmen Mok. (2021). Groundwood.
Percy leaves his old home in the city, where there was always something to do and friends with whom to do it, and finds himself in the middle of the country in complete solitude. However, once he discovers the busy activity of bees, ants, and birds in his backyard, he begins to carefully explore the ever-changing natural world around him, makes drawings of his observations, and builds a nature collection in a small shed in his backyard. His posting of a “Percy’s Museum” sign on the mailbox attracts attention, and he begins to make friends by inviting them to visit the museum filled with his environmental discoveries. Carmen Mok’s colorful artwork, rendered in gouache and colored pencil, complements Sara O’Leary’s joyful story of adjusting to moving to a new home, exploring nature, and making new friends. (PreK-Gr 2)
To Tell You the Truth. Beth Vrabel. (2021). Atheneum.
Trixy, a talkative and adventurous fourth grader had loved spending time with her grandmother, a great storyteller, who has died. When she must write true stories to bring up her failing grade in English, Trixy, who struggles to find her voice as a writer, has her mind filled with Gran’s stories of her childhood. Although Gran had told her never to share her stories with anyone, Trixy writes up some of them for the assignment. The stories are good, but are they true stories? To prove that Gran didn’t just make them up, Trixy sets out on an adventurous road trip through Tennessee with her best friend, Raymond, and his father and sister to uncover the truth about Gran and her family. This engaging story explores the power of the truth in troubling times and of a family coming together. (Gr 3 Up)
Travels to Cuba (Travels with My Family #5). Marie-Louise Gay & David Hamel. Illus. by Marie-Louise Gay. (2021). Groundwood.
Charlie and his younger brother, Max, are quite the travelers. They are used to their Cuban family leaving their home in Canada for adventurous out-of-the ordinary vacations. Now they are traveling to Cuba where their mother, an artist, has been asked to work with local school children. The boys expect to enjoy beautiful beaches, but what they experience is something quite different. During their excursions they meet kind people, eat delicious food, and listen to wonderful music, but they also encounter the poverty, hunger, fear, and rules of the communist country. Short chapters, peppered with Spanish terms and black-and-white illustrations, make this book an interesting introduction to present-day Cuba and a good read aloud choice for children in upper elementary grades. (Gr 3-5)
Trouble with Tattle-Tails (The Fabled Stables #2). Jonathan Auxier. Illus. by Olga Demidova. (2021). Amulet.
Young Auggie works on an island at the Fabled Stables, “a magical place full of one-of-a kind creatures.” The appearance of an empty stall is the signal that Auggie must rescue a new beast. When they are magically transported to the village of Rainbow’s End, Fen, who is a literal Stick-in-the-Mud, helps Auggie recover a pot of gold that has been stolen by two villainous Rooks, who are always trying to steal one-of-a-kind things (including Auggie’s friend Willa the Wisp in the first book in the series), before coming up with a clever plan to free the unhappy townspeople of the tattle-tails that are attached to them. After they return to the Fabled Stables with Nunya, the original Tattle-Tail, Auggie solves the problem of knowing what the Unfeeling Brute, a creature with no eyes, ears, mouth, or nose, needs by attaching Nunya to it. Whimsical, full-colored artwork adds to the fun of reading this fanciful early chapter book. (PreK Up)
Walls. L. M. Elliott. Photo essay by Megan Behm. (2021). Algonquin.
It is August 1960, and divided Berlin is on the frontline of the Cold War. Disappointed over not having the much-anticipated opportunity of pitching his baseball team to the state championship in Virginia, fifteen-year-old Drew has moved with his family to West Berlin for his military dad’s new assignment. When Drew meets his German cousin Mattias, who lives in East Berlin, they clash over politics and beliefs, but gradually form a tentative truce as they observe each other’s lives and find common ground, including a love of music. Every chapter features a photo essay explaining key historical and cultural happenings occurring synchronously with the book’s events as the story spans the tension-filled year before the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961. Back matter includes an author’s note, acknowledgments, selected sources, and photo credits. (Gr 6-8)
The Year I Flew Away. Marie Arnold. (2021). Versify.
In 1985, when ten-year-old Gabrielle has the opportunity to leave her small village in Haiti and go to America, she has to take it even if it means leaving her parents behind while they wait for their papers. Living with relatives in Brooklyn, Gabrielle struggles with homesickness and not fitting in at school. When Lady Lydia, a witch, offers her a magic mango to make her problems go away in exchange for her essence, Gabrielle accepts. But is the price of getting her wish to be a “real” American too great? With elements of magical realism, Gabrielle’s story shares the day-to-day challenges of being a young Haitian immigrant who wants to belong while also remaining true to her identity. (Gr 3 Up)
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger is an assistant professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department at James Madison University. Sarah Duncan is an associate professor in the College of Education at Lipscomb University. Jeanne Gilliam Fain is a professor in the College of Education at Lipscomb University.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).