What it’s about: The struggle to accept yourself and your life when you don’t quite fit in as a kid.
What made me pick it up: I love everything Woodson writes and was excited to see this book announced.
My favorite parts: The illustrations are lovely and really add another layer of emotional depth to the story. I was not expecting the emotional gut punch this book has about not fitting in and all the self doubt that can bring up as a young person. If your lunch, clothes, or abilities are different, or your adventures are smaller, or you have no “good” stories school can be a really uncomfortable place to be. Learning to be confident with who you are and find kindred spirits who reflect that back to you is such a gift and this book is an excellent reminder that it is possible, even if it’s hard.
Who it’s great for: Unique young ones who may doubt themselves. Anyone who remembers wondering if they were enough as a child, and hopefully found out they were.
What it’s about: A boy who leaves his cramped, chaotic life in NYC to survive in the Catskills.
What made me pick it up: I remember this being my brother’s favorite book when we were little. I was recently talking about it and Hatchet with someone and realized that while I knew the premise and a lot of details, I couldn’t remember reading it myself. So I did.
My favorite parts: Any book that can make me feel like I’m in the middle of the woods surrounded by nothing but nature is pure magic. This not only makes you feel that way but convinces you that you, too, could forage and hunt and trap and fish and live off the land. It will make you feel carefree and hopeful and want to go take a walk in the forest. The ending is bittersweet, but strikes a good balance between the importance of self reliance and the importance of human connection. Also, this takes place in my beloved home state of New York and any reminder of the extensive natural beauty there is welcome.
Who it’s great for: Nature lovers. Adventurers. New Yorkers spread far and wide.
What it’s about: A boy who wants to be friends with a girl in his class but is too nervous to talk to her. And his friend, who is a psychic. And the class bully.
What made me pick it up: It beat Long Way Down for the Newbery and WHAT KIND OF BOOK CAN DO THAT? I had to find out.
My favorite parts: This book has four main characters and they are all wonderfully fleshed out. The bully is a cringingly accurate portrayal of fragile mscunlinity and bravado/posturing. The other three are excellent weirdos in their own way learning how to be brave enough to reach out to others in the morass that is middle school. OMG I love this book so much. I love the strength it takes for these characters to step outside their comfort zones and how they are such individuals. Middle school to me felt like the time to blend in and try to be as homogenous as possible. But not for these kids. They have special circumstances that make them unique and it’s wonderful. And I love the tiny fragment of hope the book ends on. You will want to know how the story continues after this heartwarming adventure.
Who it’s great for: Upper elementary and new middle school readers.
My favorite parts: You be you. That’s the message. One I want to tell every young impressionable unsure girl. And also the ones who haven’t yet learned to be unsure. You’re the only you there is. Be that, whatever that looks like.
What it’s about: A young boy who wishes to be a mermaid like the performers he sees at the pool.
What made me pick it up: I’d seen it well reviewed online.
My favorite parts: Obviously the entirely accepting and incredibly sweet abuela is my favorite. Instead of yelling at the child for taking the curtains down to make a tail and using the fern as a headdress while she’s in the bath, she gets him a necklace to compliment his outfit. Then she takes him to a parade to see other mermaids like him. The acceptance is almost too beautiful to read without tearing up.
Who it’s great for: Everyone. Littles who do their own thing.
What it’s about: A group of kids have to prove their library benefactor, Luigi Lemoncello, hasn’t stolen intellectual property in a high-stakes trivia scavenger hunt.
What made me pick it up: It was recommended to me by a young reader from the library.
My favorite parts: This book is incredibly fun! Not only does Grabenstein weave in details from other children’s books but he makes his characters continuously profess their admiration for libraries and librarians. I’ll read any book that is essentially a love letter to my profession. But more than that, this book is wildly entertaining. Outlandish? Sure, but we’re dealing with a fictional bazillionaire here. I really liked how even though I expected things to turn out ok in the end, I wasn’t really sure they would and remained on the edge of my seat down to the final pages. It also has a nicely done information literacy storyline that emphasizes over and over to the characters the need to search for reliable sources and consider alternative explanations before jumping to conclusions. Since this is book #3, I’ll head back to the beginning and work my way through the other two books.
Who it’s great for: Upper elementary readers on up.
What it’s about: Being kind in the face of bullying.
What made me pick it up: I can’t quite remember. I think I saw it on Twitter. Wherever it was, the person was raving about it.
My favorite parts: This sweet and brief picture book contains no words. And it doesn’t need to. The story is told perfectly through the illustrations. When a young child is antagonized by a bully she finds an ally in another child who witnessed the bullying. And they walk to school together. Then another child joins, until everyone chooses to support the bullied child. It’s powerful and lovely and all kids and adults alike should read it.
What it’s about: The last living dinosaur and the little girl who lives next door and is trying to prove he exists.
What made me pick it up: A coworker gave this five stars on Goodreads so I had to see what all the fuss was about.
My favorite parts: No one has ever really noticed a dinosaur living nearby. Why not? Because they are too busy! It was a gentle reminder to look up once in a while and really notice what’s going on around you. You might see a dinosaur! I also like the tenacity of the little girl. No one believes the dinosaur she keeps talking about exists but she doesn’t give up. Parts of this are hysterical and I won’t ruin the dinosaur’s best joke for you. It’s more illustration heavy than text heavy, which is perfect for beginning or struggling readers. And for avid or older readers, it goes very quickly. I finished it in like 20 minutes tops. Then I immediately checked it out to Abby. It’s so good it must be shared.
Who it’s great for: All ages, but especially curious, imaginative, and/or literacy-challenged young readers.
What it’s about: A novel in verse about a teen boy coping with the sudden loss of his father.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Alexander’s and read whatever he puts out. It helped that it was National Poetry Month and I was looking for books in verse.
My favorite parts: I really like the depiction of how sincerely mixed up this boy is since his dad’s death. He’s trying to be good but also he is having trouble coping and expressing his grief especially when everyone around him is afraid to bring up the subject or show their grief, even his mother and friends. Part of his grief is having panic attacks when sirens sound, and I appreciated the description of them and the understanding of the situation by supporting characters. You will really cheer for him to find his way forward with help from good friends and love of family. There is also a positive portrayal of using a journal to express your thoughts and feelings. You might cry — especially if you’ve read The Crossover.
What it’s about: A little girl has to draw a picture of where she is from but she left her homeland when she was only a baby so she can’t remember. She turns to neighbors and family members to help her create her picture.
What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Díaz and was delighted when I found out he was turning his talents to picture books.
My favorite parts: I loved the beautiful descriptions of her place of birth, and the way the illustrations show how a young child might literally interpret them. I also like the use of a general “monster” to simplify the explanation of conflicts that caused many people to flee their nation. The colors are lively and it will make you want to book a trip to hear the music, and revel in the pardisio. (I also listened to this on audio, which is read by the author so it is excellent for that reason and includes vibrant music which only adds to the story.)
Who it’s great for: Díaz fans. Littles who can’t quite remember their birthplace. Anyone missing the island where they used to live. Readers looking for diverse books.