Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger and Sue Corbin
After a difficult school year of virtual or a combination of in person and virtual learning, most children and teachers (and parents, too) are ready for summer! Summer is an important time for students to keep reading and improving their language skills. Even if most of your summer is spent in your own backyard, a good book can make any day feel like a relaxing escape. From engaging stories about fishing to exploring to traveling, from the realistic to the supernatural, these books will be welcomed by those including reading in their vacation activities.
The Best Place in the World. Petr Horáček. (2021). Candlewick.
In this picture book wrapped in bright sunny endpages, Petr Horáček shares the story of Hare, who is looking for confirmation that his meadow is indeed the best place in the world. He asks all of the animals who live in the meadow, and they agree with him. However, he still is not certain that there aren’t other places better than the meadow. Hare decides to explore the world outside of his meadow and discovers many beautiful places. Eventually, Hare realizes that, while there are many wonderful places in the world, the best place is really where your friends live. Horáček’s lively, textured illustrations are created using mixed media in bright, vivid colors. (PreK-Gr 2)
Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs (The Wrong Fairy Tale). Tracey Turner. Illus. by Summer Macon. (2021). Kane Miller.
To the Three Little Pigs’ surprise, it isn’t the Big Bad Wolf who enters their brick house, it is Goldilocks, who happens to be walking through the woods and spots a home that needs to be investigated. She befriends the pigs, and as she is enjoying their porridge, the Big Bad Wolf announces his presence outside. The Three Little Pigs and Goldilocks work together to try to keep the Big Bad Wolf outside. Tracey Turner mixes up another pair of traditional fairy tales in Jack and the Three Bears, which was published simultaneously. The illustrations in both of the books are wonderfully anarchic, hilarious, and endearing. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Hedgehog of Oz. Cory Leonardo. (2021). Aladdin.
This book is an absolute gem—an emerald, that is. L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City has nothing on the Emerald City Theater, where a lost hedgehog named Marcel and two hens have set up housekeeping in the balcony. Marcel lives for the showing of The Wizard of Oz every Saturday, remembering the times he’d watched the movie with his former owner, Dorothy. Surely, she will show up one day and take him home! When the old theater is shut down by the authorities and Marcel is captured and taken to a wilderness area outside the city, he begins a journey that becomes a quest for home with a ragtag bunch of lost and hurting souls. Cory Leonardo’s text is laced with alliteration and imagery that glows as beautifully as the Luna Moth who serves as Marcel’s good witch Glinda and finally shows Marcel the way home. Leonardo suggests listening to Lauren Daigle’s “Rescue” and “Love Alike This,” which he cites as part of the book’s playlist. (Gr 3-5)
I’m a Hare, So There! Julie Rowan-Zoch. (2021). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Jack, a hare mistaken for a rabbit, jackrabbit, and even a jackal by a ground squirrel (who is also misidentified as a chipmunk by Jack), explains the characteristics that make him unique as they travel through the desert in this engaging picture book that focuses on the concept of similar but different. Back matter includes a section on eight pairs of frequently-confused animals along with facts about what makes each of them special. For example, lizards and salamanders are compared and it is noted that lizards are reptiles with scales and salamanders are amphibians with moist skin. There is also a seek-and-find activity that encourages readers to go back through the book to identify fifteen Sonoran Desert creatures hidden in the digitally-created cartoon illustrations. (PreK-Gr 2)
Just Like That! Gary D. Schmidt. (2021). Clarion.
Just like that, things can change, and they do in this story about two unlikely people whose lives come together quite unexpectedly. Meryl Lee has lost her best friend, Holling, her parents are divorcing, and they have sent her to a boarding school to recover from Holling’s death in a car accident. Matt has also lost his best friend, Georgie, but his life is very different from Meryl Lee’s. He has no parents and is on the run from a gang of thugs who use children to steal for their living. The story is told from the perspective of each protagonist as they negotiate their circumstances through kindness and strength of character. Set in the late 1960s against the backdrop of the war in Vietnam, Just Like That! is an engrossing read, lush with Schmidt’s unique style of repeated words and phrases and incomplete sentences that pack a powerful punch of emotions. (Gr 6-8)
Mr. Complain Takes the Train. Wade Bradford. Illus. by S. Britt. (2021). Clarion.
Readers join Mr. Complain on a journey by train complete with plenty of train onomatopoeia. “Chug-a-chug-a-chug-a-chug-a-chug-chug! Screeeeeeee . . . POOSH!” Readers are asked to physically turn and tilt the pages as the train twists, turns, and flips in an interactive story told in speech bubbles. Even before Mr. Complain gets on the train, he complains that it’s too noisy. Once on the train, he can’t seem to find the right seat, and the train is too bright, too hot, and too wet. A variety of other troubles ensue during his journey to Dullsville. When he arrives at his destination, however, Mr. Complain realizes that he would rather stay on the train. S. Britt’s cartoon illustrations, rendered in ink and colorized using mixed media, extend the humor of Mr. Complain’s train trip. (PreK-Gr 2)
No Buddy Like a Book. Allan Wolf. Illus. by Brianne Farley. (2021). Candlewick.
Friends open up new worlds for you, and there is no friend like a book to take you to faraway lands and to teach you anything you would like to know. In a book, you can learn “why icebergs stay afloat . . . and why Titanics sink.” A book can be your travel guide to space or Mount Everest and all points in between. Allan Wolf uses his whimsical poetic genius as he invites all readers to join him on journeys of the imagination, the “greatest nation in the world.” Readers are invited to “step aboard the Book Express. / It’s waiting at the station. / But can you guess the address / of your final destination?” Brianne Farley’s lively illustrations play with Wolf’s verbal images and reflect Wolf’s joy of reading, even going so far as to provide visual directions on making a pinhole viewer to see an eclipse of the sun. This is the perfect book to introduce young children to the world of reading and to remind older ones of the possibilities open to them in a book’s promising pages. (PreK - 2)
Noah McNichol and the Backstage Ghost. Martha Freeman. (2021). Paula Wiseman.
The annual sixth grade play has been scheduled, but the director has a broken leg. Her replacement is a distracted coach with wedding planning as a side business. Noah McNichol and his classmates are worrying that the show won’t go on when a mysterious man named Mike appears (and strangely disappears on occasion). It turns out that Mike is the ghost of a famous Broadway director who has decided to save the Plattsfield-Winklebottom Memorial School’s rendition of Hamlet. But why would he bother with such an insignificant thing as a school play? Perhaps it has something to do with who is in it. Martha Freeman has written an intriguing novel for middle school students who aspire to the theatre or are simply taken with the idea of ghosts. The plot twist at the end of the story is a heartwarming tribute to the strength of family bonds and the pain that is sometimes associated with them. The character of Noah is a well-drawn depiction of an adolescent boy negotiating what is real and what isn’t in his young life. (Gr 6-8)
Sherlock Chick and the Case of the Night Noises (Sherlock Chick #3). Robert Quackenbush. (2021). Aladdin.
This new picture book edition of Robert Quackenbush’s third Sherlock Chick mystery (originally published in 1990) tells the story of how, over the course of three nights, Investigator Sherlock Chick helps the farm animals figure out who is responsible for knocking down a bucket of nails, cans, and various other items from a tall shelf and waking them in the middle of the night. This is the perfect book for readers to practice their inference skills as they solve the mystery along with Sherlock Chick. Quakenbush’s colorful Illustrations featuring his cute little super sleuth, Sherlock Chick, are created using watercolor, pen, and ink. (PreK-Gr 2)
So You Want to Be an Owl. Jane Porter. Illus. by Maddie Frost. (2021). Candlewick.
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost take you to Owl School to learn everything there is to know about being an owl. Unfortunately, as a human being, it will be difficult for you to be an owl. However, Professor Olaf, your teacher, will make you an honorary owl just for trying. This book engages young children as Professor Olaf speaks directly to readers and invites them to check themselves for feathers, look for food and predators, try to turn their heads, listen for sounds, pick things up with their feet, and hoot like different kinds of owls. While the owl menu may turn a few stomachs, the unpleasantness doesn’t last long, and each reader is made an ex officio member of Team Owl at the end of the lessons. The Owl Code, “Be alert, be watchful, and be silent (shh),” if taken to heart by readers, will be appreciated by adults. The artwork, done in bright colors (which owls can’t see), complements the text with diagrams and pictures of Professor Olaf showing just what it means to be an owl. (PreK-Gr 2)
Switched. Bruce Hale. (2021). Scholastic.
Middle schoolers will love this story about a boy and a dog who switch bodies, all by accident, of course. Known to the dog as Gloomy Boy, Parker detests Boof, a lovable but destructive Goldendoodle. Since the death of his beloved grandmother, Parker has slipped into a depression that causes him to obsess over cleanliness and order. With his grandmother gone, his sister leaving for a semester in Ireland, and his best friend moving away, Parker’s life is in chaos when his parents put him in charge of Boof, who is really his sister’s dog. If he can control the world around him, he can cope, but Boof seems bent on creating messes that Parker must clean up. A bump on the head during a tug of war with Boof magically switches Parker with the dog, and things get out of hand quickly. As Boof and Parker search for ways to reverse the transformation, they form a bond and learn something about themselves and each other. Bruce Hale has created two characters who are highly relatable and whose victory over their troubles gives the reader hope that, in spite of problems, it is possible to find ways to deal with them. (Gr 3 Up)
We Love Fishing! Ariel Bernstein. Illus. by Marc Rosenthal. (2021). Paula Wiseman.
Ariel Bernstein and Marc Rosenthal tell the story of a fishing expedition taken by four friends. Throughout the story, it is clear that Bear, Porcupine, and Otter love fishing, while Squirrel’s actions, comments, and feelings show that he doesn’t feel the same way. This cheeky fishing narrative ends in a delightfully unexpected manner with their friendship intact. Young readers will enjoy studying the vintage style illustrations, rendered in Prismacolor pencil, to see how they contrast with the text. (PreK-Gr 2)
Chelsey Bahlmann Bollinger is an assistant professor in the Early, Elementary, and Reading Department at James Madison University. Sue Corbin is an associate professor and chair of the Division of Professional Education at Notre Dame College in Ohio.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).