Best Elementary Fiction 2019

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin

Beastly Puzzles by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Fun and frustrating at the same time, much to everyone’s delight.

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works.

Gittel's Journey An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman

Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Amy June Bates

A lovely look at immigration through the eyes of a child.

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Harold & Hog Pretend for Real by Dan Santat

Smart, funny and just what Mo would want.

Juana & Lucas Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Medina focuses on hope and love throughout the book, never allowing it to bog down and keeping the pace brisk.

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier.jpg

Mister Shivers Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories by Ma Brallier, illustrated by Letizia Rubegni

This easy reader is a wonderful choice for older children who need a simpler text. The book is full of shivers and delights for those who love a good creepy story.

This Is MY Fort by Drew Daywalt

This Is MY Fort! by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

What Is Inside THIS Box? by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

A wild and interesting new easy reader series.

Best Nonfiction 2019

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico

A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction.

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave, fierce and incandescent.

The End of Something Wonderful by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos

Funny and frank, this funeral guide is just what we all need.

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Profoundly honest and full of heart, this book is one that all teachers and librarians need to read to understand the children they serve.

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray

A beautiful nonfiction picture book about an amazing tiny bird.

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

His writing is a study in how to have a strong voice in a children’s book, a narrative point of view, and yet also avoid being didactic at all, insisting that young readers think for themselves.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni

With a diverse cast of children, this picture book deftly explains gender identity.

Moth An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a very special nonfiction picture book.

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

A must-purchase for all public libraries.

Nine Months Before a Baby Is Born by Miranda Paul

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

A great book for children who are expecting a new baby in their family, this book is a lovely mix of science and love.

Not My Idea A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

The book has just enough history to clarify that this is a long-standing problem and is systemic. Yet it is not willing to rest there, calling for action, clarity around the subject and a responsibility to step up.

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia.

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Superb both in writing and illustration, this is one for every library.

planting stories the life of librarian and storyteller pura belpre by anika aldamuy denise

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar

The deep impact and life of librarian Pura Belpre is shown in this picture book biography.

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola   

A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library.

This Place 150 Years Retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold 

One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations.

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Two amazing book creators come together in this nonfiction picture book celebrating the resilience, talents and perseverance of African-Americans throughout history.

Review: Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel (9781534418882)

The introduction to this book tells of the impact that Muslim woman have had throughout history. Inside the book, the focus is on modern Muslim women who are currently making their own impact on the world. Each woman or girl is given a two-page spread with an illustration on one full page and then a quote and biography on the other. There are women you will have heard of like Malala Yousafzai, Ibtihaj Muhammad, and Ilhan Omar. Others may be new to you and include authors, chefs, activists, athletes and more.

Written in a matter-of-fact tone, this book allows readers to turn pages and discover more and more incredible Muslim women and girls. Each one displays their own unique skills and lifestyle, each dresses in their own way, and all have made a difference in our world, whether large or small. The book shows again and again that being Muslim is diverse and inclusive.

The art by Jaleel is done in an approachable and light way. Still, each of them women is recognizable as themselves, as you can see from the cover image. The larger format of the portraits of each woman in the book is very impactful.

A must-purchase for all public libraries. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.

 

Review: The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer

The Story That Cannot Be Told by J. Kasper Kramer (9781534430686)

Ileana was a storyteller who collected stories, but stories were dangerous in Communist Romania. When her uncle disappears and their apartment was bugged, Ileana’s father destroyed her book of stories that she had been collecting for years in order to protect them all. Then her parents decide to send Ileana off to live with her maternal grandparents whom she has never met. The rural village is very different from the city that Ileana grew up in. After a period of anger, she gradually adjusts to life in there. But there is no escape from the brutality of the Romanian government. Ileana discovers her uncle, broken and ill, hiding nearby. When he is rescued by her grandparents, Ileana is given a valuable set of papers to protect. As the government tightens its hold on the country and on Ileana’s village, she finds herself at the center of her own story where she can choose to be a heroine or not.

Kramer’s middle-grade novel is nearly impossible to summarize because it is so layered and has such depth. The book focuses on the Communist period of Romania’s recent history and yet also has a timeless feel that pulls it back into a world of folklore and tales. The focus on storytelling is beautifully shown, illuminating not only Ileana’s mother’s story but the entire village’s history. There are stories that are dangerous, ones that connect and a single one that must not be told, but serves as the heartbeat of the entire community.

This book has a lot of moments that are almost tropes, like Ileana being sent to live with her grandparents in the mountains without knowing them at all. But in the hands of Kramer, these moments become opportunities to tell a story that is unique. Readers will be surprised again and again by the directions this novel takes and the stories it tells. It’s an entirely fresh and fascinating book.

Proof that stories are powerful, both to connect and to fight back. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

 

Review: Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb

Chapter Two Is Missing by Josh Lieb, illustrated by Kevin Cornell (9781984835482)

The book begins with Chapter One, of course, where it is discovered that Chapter Two is missing! A phone number for the police, an email and even a place to tweet is offered to the reader. When the page is turned to Chapter Two, the reader only sees some erased and illegible text on a few pages. Then the book picks up again in mid-story. The chapters move past quickly, with even the characters noting the brisk pace. The detective arrives, the janitor redecorates with M’s and messes with punctuation. Another story merges in for some chapters and then some are blank as characters think hard about the mystery. In the end, the culprit is identified but not caught. Perhaps the reader though can find proof in their own home. Take a look!

Lieb has written a chapter book full of wild humor and a twisting mystery. The book has only three characters: the first person narrator, the detective and the janitor. So the potential suspects are limited. The joy of the book comes with the silliness of the premise, the jaunty pace and the knowledge that each turn of the page will bring something fresh and different. Lieb uses blank pages, inserts a different genre, mirror writing, and messes with punctuation to great effect.

While this may present as a chapter book, it actually bridges between a chapter book and a picture book as it is filled with illustrations and often the chapters are single pages. Done in black and yellow-orange, the illustrations are very funny, often interacting directly with the text on the page.

Funny and fast, this chapter book is a silly mess that really works. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Razorbill.

Review: Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm (9781338233155)

This third in the Sunny series of graphic novels continues the story of Sunny, who is growing up in the 1970s. Sunny is starting middle school and things with her friends are becoming more and more confusing. There is the mystery of hair rollers, the unspoken rules of being a girl like when a boy bumps you he’s showing he likes you and that even if girls talk about boys all the time, it’s not OK to be friends with them. But there are things that make perfect sense to Sunny, like playing Dungeons & Dragons with her group of friends, who are mostly boys. When that too ends up being forbidden in middle school, Sunny must decide if she wants to be groovy or wants to be herself.

As someone of almost the exact same age as Sunny in the 1970s, one of the most charming parts of this series is how much of the seventies is captured in the stories without it becoming unnecessarily retro. I also love the inclusion of Dungeons & Dragons. Sunny is a girl after my own heart as I played a paladin always. The fact that D&D bridges from the seventies to today is impressive. The tone is just right as well, offering moments of real humor and empathy in the middle school years. As always, the art is right on, with the failures of Sunny to curl her hair, the beauty of tight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and the quiet loveliness of a paneled basement for gaming.

Bright and funny, this is another great book in the series. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

Review: I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins (9781620143117)

This wonderful collection of poems and illustrations speak directly to the poets’ cultural heritage. Each poem looks deeply at family and identity, whether it is being asked where you come from or meeting a family member for the first time. Some of the poems show the fear of being African-American in America, the oversimplification of race when filling out forms, the way food can bring people together, and the joy of summer nights. The illustrations paired with each of the poems highlight the wide variety of cultures and heritages in the texts. The result is a rainbow of skin tones and colors, weaving together to create a book that reflects the vastness of our country.

The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience. Poetry always gives a more concentrated look, a deep feel for the author, and that is certainly the case here. The illustrations are wonderful, each self-contained and presented almost as a treasure to discover along this journey.

A great compilation of art and poetry that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.

Review: The Book Rescuer by Sue Macy

The Book Rescuer by Sue Macy

The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst (9781481472203)

Aaron Lansky’s grandmother came to America from Eastern Europe. She brought with her precious books in Yiddish, which her brother threw into the sea along with her other possessions as a sign they must break with the past. Aaron grew up firmly American in Massachusetts. When he went to college he began to study Jewish scholars and had to learn to read Yiddish to be able to read what he needed to. But Yiddish books and the language were in serious trouble in the 1960s after the impact of World War II. Aaron found himself rescuing Yiddish books from destruction. He filled his apartment with books and asked the leaders of Jewish organizations across the country to help save the books. But they believed that Yiddish was no longer worth saving. So Aaron created his own space in an old factory building that he named the Yiddish Book Center. As word spread, he continued to save books from destruction and meet with people who handed their beloved books over to him. The Center continues its work to this day, having saved Yiddish books from destruction for decades.

Macy writes with a wonderful tone in this nonfiction picture book. She shares the importance of what Lansky accomplished with his work but also has a playful approach that works particularly well. The insertion of Yiddish words in the text adds to this effect. The story of Aaron Lansky’s work is one of finding a personal passion and getting swept up in it. It is a story of hard work, resilience and determination in the face of even those who should care not finding your work valuable at first.

The illustrations by Innerst move from playful in depicting things like running in pajamas at night to save books to dramatic when looking back at the Holocaust. They are done in acrylic and gouache with textures added digitally. The images suit the subject well with a feel of modern design combined with connections to the past.

A fascinating biography of a little-known man who saved a written history of his people. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Review: The End of Something Wonderful by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

The End of Something Wonderful by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos (9781454932116)

This nonfiction picture book offers a guide to planning your dead pet’s backyard funeral. It is entirely practical, offering the first step as actually having something dead. With a mix of humor and heartfelt connection to grief and loss, the book offers real ideas for what to bury the creature in, what other items that creature might like in their grave with them, and even what sorts of stories to share at the funeral with everyone. The book ends with thoughts of visiting the grave when you need to and then feeling able to move on when it’s the right time for that.

The author offers real empathy for children who have lost a pet, making sure that they feel free to express their feelings along the way and share their experiences. However, she also creates humorous moments throughout the book to make sure that it never becomes oppressively sad or morose. It’s a very readable and remarkably enjoyable guide to funerals. The art by Ermos helps with the mix of light tone and dark subject too, giving glimpses of the skeletons under ground as well as the delight of flowers and ideas for animals too large to bury.

Funny and frank, this funeral guide is just what we all need. Appropriate for ages 6-10.

Reviewed from library copy.