Rick by Alex Gino (9781338048100)
The author of award-winning George returns with another story that explores identity and what it takes to be a good friend. Rick’s best friend Jeff is someone that makes rude comments, makes others the butt of his jokes, but is still pretty nice to Rick most of the time. Now that they are in middle school, Rick is noticing new opportunities. He is drawn to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club and lies to Jeff about where he is going once a week. In the club, Rick discovers a space where everyone is welcome and accepted. He also learns a name for his own identity which lets him realize that there is nothing wrong with him. As he makes new friends in the club, Jeff starts to target their posters for his bullying and hate. It’s up to Rick to decide if he can stand up to Jeff, his best friend, or if he will continue to stand by and stay silent.
Gino’s writing is a delightful mix of depth and lightness. They keep their tone light throughout the book and yet explore deep subjects of bullying and identity. Gino incorporates so many different characters who identify as part of the LGBTQIAP+ community. It is lovely to see so many different representations in one book, while insisting on using inclusive terms and respect for everyone’s identity. There is even the surprise of Rick’s own grandfather and how he identifies himself, deftly showing that this community has existed for some time.
Rick is a great protagonist, exploring his own identity as someone who doesn’t relate to others falling for girls or boys that they have never really met. He explores the possibility of being asexual or ace, demonstrating on the page what questioning looks like.
Another winner of a rainbow book from a great middle-grade author. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.
The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa (9780525555827)
A little boy lives with a bear, who sleeps in the room next door. The bear is big, with sharp teeth and strong arms. It runs really fast, is bossy and loud. When the boy tries to tell his family that they live with a bear, they tell him not to be silly and to go play outside. Outside on the swings, the boy is approached by some bullies. Luckily though, the strong, mean, big, fast bear is nearby. The bear also shows how it can be pretty fun to have a bear, or big sister, in the family after all.
Younger siblings will adore this book about living with a rather cranky older sibling. It shows both sides of having a bear in the family, from the disruption and orders to the fun games and protection they offer. The tone of the book is just right, using the bear analogy to show the sibling relationship as it becomes strained and then later when peace is made. The final little twist at the end adds to the fun.
The digital art in this picture book is done with handmade textures that add an organic appeal to the images. With a feel of watercolor complete with colors bleeding into one another, the illustrations are colorful and funny.
Missing this one might be unBEARable. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Dial Books for Young Readers.
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly (9780316519007)
This picture book by Olympic medalist Muhammad tells the story of two sisters going to the first day of school as the older sister wears a hijab for the first time. Faizah has a new backpack and new light-up shoes for her first day of school. Asiya looks like a princess though with her blue hijab as they walk to school together. When some of her classmates start asking questions about the hijab, Faizah gets worried and heads over to check on Asiya. Faizah watches her sister handle bullies with calmness and certainty, standing strong and continuing to inspire her little sister with her royal bearing.
There are several picture books about family members wearing hijabs, usually mothers. This one directly takes on the confusion and hurt of hateful reactions. Laced with quotes and insights from their mother, the book offers wells of strength, confidence and self-esteem to the girls that they carry with them.
The illustrations by Aly move from the straight-forward school images of the girls together to more dramatic depictions from Faizah’s imagination about the beauty of the blue of her sister’s hijab. The book also shows the determination and resilience of the girls in their facial expressions as well as sharing their special bond with one another clearly.
This is a book that clearly is both a window and a mirror and one that will offer opportunities for conversations too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome (9780823439607)
After Langston’s mother died, he and his father moved from rural Alabama to Chicago. Langston misses his mother and grandmother as well as their way of life in Alabama. In Chicago, it’s hard for him to make friends and lonely in the apartment when his father is gone. Even the food that his father provides is nothing like the skilled cooking of the women who raised him. But there is one part of Chicago that makes up for all of the changes. The public library branch in his neighborhood is not whites-only like the one in Alabama. Hiding from bullies after school, Langston soon discovers the beauty of poetry, particularly that written by a man with the same name, Langston Hughes.
Cline-Ransome is best known for her picture books and this is her first novel. The skilled writing here would never lead anyone to believe that this is a debut novel though. The prose has the flow and rhythm of poetry as it plays out on the page. The connection to Alabama is also strong in the prose, the way that Langston speaks and the way he sees the world. Somehow Cline-Ransome makes all of that clear in her writing alone.
Langston is a fascinating character living in a very interesting time in American history, the Great Migration when African Americans left the south and headed north to cities like Chicago. Langston’s love of reading and books is not only a way for him to find a home in the local library branch but also eventually a way for him to connect with peers over a love of the written word.
Skilled story telling and a strong protagonist make this book a very special piece of historical fiction. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Super Manny Stands Up by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin (9781481459600, Amazon)
Manny has a collection of superhero capes that he wears to fight different foes. He wears his blue cape to fight sea creatures, his red cape to battle zombie bears, and his yellow cape to bring down cloud monsters. Manny always wore his top secret cape to school. It was invisible and he wore it on the playground to fight the monsters there. When a big kid starts to pick on a smaller child in the lunchroom though, Manny didn’t do anything at first. Then he remembered that he was wearing his invisible cape and stood up. It let all of the other children in the room also remember that they could be heroes too!
As always, DiPucchio writes with the ease of a master storyteller. Manny is a delightful new character whose imaginary world also bridges into the real world in tangible ways. His capes are an inventive way of showing this, including his invisible one for school. The scene with the bully is powerful as is the way that the other children stand up once Manny does. It is with one simple protest that bullies are stopped, something we all need to remember.
Graegin’s illustrations create a visible imaginary world for readers to share. The villains that Manny battles in his capes match color with each cape. Manny as a raccoon is a very friendly protagonist and one that children will relate to easily. Make sure to check out the end pages too for even more Manny (and friend).
A heroic new book that will fly off library shelves. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books.
While my “10 Great” series so far has focused only on picture books, I want to share some great books for older children as well. Here are some wonderful books about bullies and bullying to share in classrooms and families:
Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
Maxi’s Secrets by Lynn Plourde
My Heart Is Laughing by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy
As I look at our nation and what this election showed us, I see a tolerance for bullying that is concerning and frightening. Yet, it gives me great joy to see that we are teaching our children to reject bullies through the picture books they read. Here are some great picture books to share:
The Artist and Me by Shane Peacock, illustrated by Sophie Casson
Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Bully by Patricia Polacco
Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats
I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel & Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
I’m Number One by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Bob Graham
Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman, illustrated by Chris Case
Red by Jan De Kinder
The Ugly Duckling by Jerry Pinkney
Willow Finds a Way by Lana Button
Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel
Lucy just knows that this is the biggest recess of her life, because at recess she will kiss Tom and cement herself as a popular fourth grader along with her best friend Becky. But after the kiss happens, all she has is a ring that turns her finger green and a sinking feeling about what just happened. Soon after the kiss, Lucy’s baby sister is born. Her parents are shocked to have a baby with Downs Syndrome and are caught up in coping with the surprise. That leaves Lucy alone to cope with the sudden turn of events at school where over the course of a few days she goes from being cool and popular to being one of the lamest kids in the class. Becky calls Lucy at night to tell her all of the mean things that the other kids are saying about her, claiming that she is still Lucy’s friend but can’t be her friend at school anymore. In the meantime, Lucy starts to make friends with some of the other kids in her class. She does a project on wolves with Sam, a very quiet boy who is bullied by the same kids. Out of that project and her growing group of outcast friends, Lucy decides that the only solution for them is to become their own pack.
Vrabel captures elementary school perfectly with its confusing social pressures that keep people conforming to the norm. She manages to keep everything at just the right level, never becoming melodramatic about the situation. At the same time, it is clear how devastating the bullying is to Lucy. While she has a supportive family, they are distracted by the new baby and rightly so. Her new little sister helps be a guide for Lucy forward, and is a very smart addition to the story, allowing Lucy her growth and also serving as an example of someone who will also need their own pack to support her.
Lucy is a character who becomes more likeable as the book progresses. At first with her quests for popularity and kisses, Lucy is shallow but after she becomes shunned by the popular crowd she immediately reveals how smart and strong she actually is. Vrabel’s brilliant combination of wolf packs and middle school bullies adds strength to the entire novel.
A smart book on bullies, differences and disabilities, this novel is one that will make a great read aloud for elementary classes. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from library copy.
Miss Brooks’ Story Nook by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley
A sequel to Miss Brooks Loves Books, this picture book celebrates story telling. Missy loves going to Miss Brook’s Story Nook right before school each day. She takes the long way to school, because otherwise she has to go past Billy Toomey’s house and he steals her hat and yells at her. Then one day at Story Nook, the power goes out so they have to tell their own stories. Missy though insists that she’s a reader not a storyteller. But soon she is telling her own story, inspired by Billy Toomey. It is the story of an ogre named Graciela who has a pet snake that escapes. The trick is that Missy needs to figure out a satisfying ending to her story of an ogre and a bully.
Bottner has created another engaging story filled with humor and clever solutions. Miss Brooks is inspiring with her enthusiasm for books and stories and the way she encourages the children to keep making their stories better. It’s a joy to see Missy tell her very creative story, struggle with some of it but persevere and create a satisfying tale for the entire class to enjoy.
Emberley’s illustrations add a lot of zing to the book. He captures moods so clearly in his characters from the jaunty excitement of Miss Brooks to Missy’s ever-changing moods. They are told through expressions and also body language.
Smart and funny, this is a book to inspire young readers to create their own stories just like Missy. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.