April is Drop Everything and Read (D.E.A.R.) Month, an annual celebration encouraging teachers and students in classrooms and families at home to spend at least 30 minutes each day reading for pleasure throughout the month. Consider continuing to celebrate D.E.A.R. throughout the year by reading new books, like the ones reviewed in this column, or your old favorites each day.
Cinderella—with Dogs! Linda Bailey. Illus. by Freya Hartas. (2023). Nancy Paulsen.
When Cinderella is left behind sweeping ashes from the fireplace while everyone else is attending a ball at the palace, she wishes for a fairy godmother to get her to the party. Instead of a fairy godmother, her fairy dogmother shows up dressed in a pink tutu. Once Cinderella clarifies that the ball she is interested in is a dance and not something to play with, her fairy dogmother uses her wand to dress Cinderella in a gown made from an old dog blanket and gives her a poodle hairstyle. The doggish twists continue as Cinderella goes to the ball (although not in the classic manner of traveling in a carriage) where she enjoys dancing with the prince and frolicking with the hoard of royal dogs in attendance. With playful cartoonlike illustrations, Freya Hartas, portrays a joyful account of the silly events in Linda Bailey’s comical retelling of this traditional fairy tale. (PreK-Gr 2)
Don’t Touch That Flower! (Squirrel & Bird #2). Alice Hemming. Illus. by Nicola Slater. (2023). Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Squirrel wakes up one morning to the sounds of a bird calling and bees buzzing, and not knowing what is happening, shouts to his friend Bird to inquire about what he has observed. Thus begins their conversation about signs of spring. When Squirrel notices a “small and yellow and perfect” flower growing on the ground between his tree and Bird’s, he claims it as his own and decides to protect it. However, Squirrel’s ideas for protecting the flower, such as holding an umbrella over it to keep it from getting wet, go against what flowers really need to flourish. Bird patiently helps Squirrel understand what flowers need and that, like everything in nature, they are for everyone. Nicola Slater’s vibrant digital illustrations featuring these best friends and their surroundings bring the excitement of discovering early signs of spring to life! The “Our Flowers” endnote includes flower facts that encourage discussion. (PreK-Gr 2)
Here We Go Digging for Dinosaur Bones (Board Book Edition). Susan Lendroth. Illus. by Bob Kolar. (2023). Charlesbridge.
Young children can read along—or sing along to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”—as they join four young paleontologists who go digging for dinosaur bones “on a warm and sunny morning” in this lyrical patterned text that shares the steps from setting out for a fossil dig to assembling a museum exhibit of a T. rex. skeleton. Sidebars in smaller print presenting related facts about fossils, paleontologists, and dinosaurs are integrated on the double-page spreads. Additionally, written instructions with accompanying illustrations of hand motions for acting out the story while singing along are included at the back of the book. Bob Kolar’s brightly colored cartoon illustrations featuring both male and female children of different skin tones are perfect for engaging young readers and sharing the message that anyone can study dinosaurs. (PreK-Gr 2)
Home Away from Home. Cynthia Lord. (2023). Scholastic.
For as long as she can remember, 11-year-old Mia and her mother have visited her grandmother every summer. This summer, however, Mia’s mom is staying in Ohio to get their house ready to sell while Mia visits her grandmother in Stone Harbor, Maine, alone. Although her mom sees the move as a new start after her divorce, Mia views it as another unwanted change in her life. She is grateful to spend time at her grandmother’s, where she expects everything will be the same. However, she finds that her grandmother has befriended a new boy in town named Cayman, who acts as if he belongs at her house. When Cayman and Mia observe the eaglets in a nest on his property, they see a strange bird attacking the eagles’ nest. Mia is determined to figure out what kind of bird it is before Cayman can. Her posting of a photo she takes of it on a birder website results in its identification, but also has some serious consequences. How Mia deals with the unwelcomed effects on the birds, the town, and her relationships makes this coming-of-age story an engaging middle-grade novel. (Gr 3 Up)
Once Upon a Book. Grace Lin & Kate Messner. Illus. by Grace Lin. (2023). Little, Brown.
Alice longs to go to a place that is not “frozen and gray” so she does not have to stay inside without anything to do. Suddenly, she notices the pages of a book fluttering on the floor nearby. As she starts reading about a girl who went to a place “alive with colors” and warm, birds in the illustration on the page invite Alice into their lush tropical habitat. Once the rain starts in the rainforest, she wishes to be somewhere less “steamy and drippy,” and camels invite her to turn the page and come into their dry desert. Each time Alice wishes to travel to a new setting, a turn of the page transfers her there until she finds herself in outer space and wishing to be someplace that wasn’t so lonely. For the reader, Grace Lin’s vibrant, full-color illustrations match the poetic and expressive language of her and Kate Messner’s prose to create a feeling of being with Alice in the various locations. Lin’s depiction of Alice in a dress with words from a book printed on it before she begins to read the book and the fact that the color of her dress blends into the varying environments visited effectively suggests the idea of getting lost in a book. (PreK-Gr 2)
Snoopy Soars to Space (Peanuts Graphic Novels). Charles M. Schulz. (2023). Simon Spotlight.
This collection of eight original stories includes the previously published Peanuts graphic novel The Beagle Has Landed, Charlie Brown! (2014) and short stories of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang’s “out of-this-world” adventures, as well as a new story, “Kickoff to the Moon,” about Snoopy’s feathered friend Woodstock’s trip to the moon. The book also features some of Charles M. Schulz’s classic comic strips. At the end of the book, fans can see behind-the-scenes sketches from the creation of The Beagle Has Landed, Charlie Brown! Readers who love these stories will also enjoy the next book in the Peanuts Graphic Novel series, Adventures with Linus and Friends! (2023). (Gr 3 Up)
The Spooky Story (Paige Proves It #2). Amy Marie Stadelmann. (2023). Aladdin.
In this second mystery in Amy Marie Stadelmann’s graphic novel chapter book series, Paige investigates the Evergreen Street Music School to determine if it is haunted like her best friend, Penn, claims. As a self-described “fact collector,” Paige begins by creating a list of facts from her friend Karla related to the supposed hauntings. Using this list as a guide in her investigation, she begins to examine the evidence with her friends by her side. Pencil drawings that are digitally colored accompany the words depicting the story of Paige’s investigation, including her diary entries of facts she discovers along the way. Readers will enjoy joining Paige as she sticks to the facts to prove whether Evergreen Street Music School is haunted or not. (Gr 3-5)
Stanley’s Secret. John Sullivan. Illus. by Zach Manbeck. (2023). Paula Wiseman.
Stanley is a young, brown-skinned boy who is shy and quiet. Stanley has a secret. He loves tap dancing! He dreams of performing on a big stage one day. He is too afraid to tell anyone so only performs for his pet mice, Squeakers and Nibbles. However, sometimes he helps the school janitor and dances in his tap shoes while he cleans, which is how his talent is discovered by the principal. Principal Reynolds insists that he audition for the upcoming talent show, because “talent should be shared.” After accidentally “auditioning” while cleaning the stage, Stanley begins to move toward overcoming his fear of dancing before an audience. Zach Manbeck’s colored pencil-and-gouache illustrations change in saturated tones from predominantly blue to yellow in which Stanley shines while doing what he loves. (PreK-Gr 2)
Sunny and Oswaldo. Nicole Melleby. Illus. by Alexandra Colombo. (2023). Algonquin.
Sunny Swaroo is not fond of cats, and she hates the cat her dad adopts named Oswaldo. She refers to Oswaldo as “old and dirty and cranky,” and does not know why her Dad likes him. He is mean and hisses at her. However, her dad and Oswaldo have a special relationship. They understand and love each other. When Oswaldo, who frequently disappears all day, fails to return one night, Sunny is delighted and sleeps well, while her dad is upset and unable to sleep. Since Sunny wants her dad to be happy again, she decides to help him look for Oswaldo. Is there any chance they will find Oswaldo and that Sunny and Oswaldo can learn to like each other? Alexandra Colombo’s expressive cartoon illustrations complement the story as they clearly communicate the feelings of the characters, both human and feline. Together, the words and illustrations convey a message about the significance of family, friendship, and empathy. (PreK-Gr 2)
Whose Egg Is That? (Whose Is That? #3). Darrin Lunde. Illus. by Kelsey Oseid. (2023). Charlesbridge.
This latest book in the Whose Is That? nonfiction picture book series by Darrin Lunde invites readers to guess whose egg is painted in its actual size against a white background on the first of a series of double-spread pages. The pages that follow include the answer and a couple of facts about the egg. Kelsey Oseid’s realistic illustrations on these pages show the animal’s nest as well as the adult and its habitat. The eggs are those of birds (robin, ostrich, penguin, killdeer), a reptile (leatherback sea turtle), a mammal (platypus)—and even a fossilized egg of a dinosaur. Readers interested in learning additional facts about eggs can check out the “Eggcellent Egg Facts” at the end of the book. (PreK-Gr 2)
Worm and Caterpillar Are Friends (Ready-to-Read Graphics). Kaz Windness. (2023). Simon Spotlight.
In this Level 1 Ready-to-Read Graphics book, young readers are introduced to the format of a graphic novel by having Worm and Caterpillar explain how to read their story with its panels and speech bubbles in a “How to Read This Book” section. Through simple dialogue between Worm and Caterpillar, readers learn that they are best friends. Worm believes they are best friends because they are the same, but Caterpillar points out that they are not the same for various reasons. Caterpillar also knows change is coming and worries about what will happen to their friendship when he is no longer a caterpillar. Kaz Windness’s expressive cartoon illustrations accompany the easy give-and-take of the dialogue between the animated characters to create an engaging tale of a friendship that endures despite differences and change. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nicole Maxwell is an associate professor specializing in literacy instruction in the Elementary and Special Education Program at the University of North Georgia.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).