The Dinosaur Expert by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780553511437)
In this new book in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, the class visits the natural history museum. Kimmy loves fossils and has been to the museum many times before. She can’t wait to share everything she knows about dinosaurs with the others. But when she starts to tell the others about dinosaurs, Jake tells her that girls can’t be scientists. As the children walk through the exhibits, Kimmy sees only men’s names on the displays. Kimmy stops talking about what she knows, even when Mr. Tiffin tries to get her to share. When they enter a new special exhibit, Mr. Tiffin points out that a female paleontologist was the one who discovered it. Inspired, Kimmy starts to talk about what she knows.
A book about the power of modeling to inspire young people, particularly girls to get involved with science, this picture book forgoes subtlety and takes the issue straight on. The strength of other children’s opinions is shown very clearly but so is the ability to suddenly shrug that off and be who you are without hesitation when you are inspired by another female scientist. Don’t miss Kimmy’s list of her favorite female paleontologists and their discoveries. Karas’s illustrations are done in his signature style. He shows Kimmy’s emotions very clearly as she moves from questioning herself into owning her knowledge.
A great book to share and inspire science exploration. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Random House.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (9780525579649)
A diverse group of students start a new school year in their bright and busy classroom. The urban school has students from around the world, all of them safe in school and welcome to be there. All of the students wear different kinds of clothes to school and bring different food in their lunches. They play together, learn from one another, and celebrate their various cultures. When the children head home, they all make their way to bed thinking of the new friends they have made that day.
Told in rhymes, the text uses “All are welcome here” as its chorus. The focus here is on how different the children are from one another and also how inclusive their school is, making children of all backgrounds, faiths, cultures, and abilities welcome in the same room. The bright illustrations add to the celebration of diversity with children in dark glasses or in wheelchairs and wearing different sorts of headwear that reflect their faith. Throughout, there are big smiles and a lively energy that feel like an active class on the page.
A great book to start the school year and promote acceptance and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (9780763690496)
Merci’s life starts to really change during sixth grade. She doesn’t fit in at her private school with the other kids, mostly because she is a scholarship student. Her brother Roli seems to be able to fit in naturally thanks to his love of science. As part of her community service for the school, Merci is a Sunshine Buddy. When she is paired with a boy to guide around school, Merci is shocked but opinionated Edna is bothered by how much time and contact Merci now has with the new cute and popular boy. Meanwhile, Merci’s grandfather is struggling. He has started to forget things, calls people by the wrong name, can’t ride a bike anymore and get angry over small things. Other times, he is just as he has always been, immensely patient and loving. Middle school is always a confusing time, but Merci has a lot more to deal with than other kids. Can she navigate family and school without losing who she is?
Medina has created an engaging middle-grade novel that grapples with several big topics. There is a theme of bullying at school, particularly because of differences in social status and culture. At the same time, readers will notice long before Merci does that she is deeply liked by many of her classmates and forms connections with ease as long as she is herself. There is her grandfather’s Alzheimer symptoms, something that Merci tries to figure out but is not told directly about until late in the novel. Her confusion and concerns turn to anger when she discovers that she is being treated like a child and not included in knowing about the diagnosis.
Throughout the novel, Merci is a strong character who has a lot more going for her than she realizes. Bringing people into her life and allowing her family and school life to become one is a skillful way to show that being ashamed of one’s family is actually not the solution. Merci takes the novel to figure things out, a steady and organic evolution for her character, a character that young readers will relate to easily.
A winning middle-grade novel that is part of #ownvoices, this is a must-read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Candlewick Press.
Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (9780763662387)
Released on September 11, 2018.
On Friday nights, a little boy goes with his father to work. They leave after dark on his father’s motorcycle, head across the bridge, and enter the closed school. His father has a big ring of keys to open the door. They clean the gym first, while the little boy plays basketball. They bring a radio with them from room to room, listening to baseball games. At ten at night, they eat the lunch they brought with them. While his father cleans the library, the boy falls asleep reading on the couch. His father wakes him at four in the morning to head back home, across the bridge. The two fall asleep together curled in the big recliner.
Newbery Medal winner Hesse captures the wonder of going to work with a parent and brings in the beauty of being out at night as well. Along the way, the work of a parent who has a night job is honored. As a child of a teacher, I enjoyed the empty hallways of a school closed for the weekend or summer. It’s a beautiful thing to have those areas be silent and just for you. That feeling is shown here clearly, as the boy makes the spaces his own.
The connection between father and son is a focus of the story and the illustrations. The pictures by Karas are done in his signature style and use darkness and light cleverly. The father and son are shown as a pair throughout the book, highlighting their special time together whether in the bright gym or on the dark road.
A quiet book about jobs, connections and families. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (9781368003551)
Penelope Rex is starting school. As a dinosaur, she was very surprised when her classmates turned out to children! Delicious children! Immediately, Penelope ate all of the children. She did spit them out when her teacher told her to though, but it was not a good start to the school year. Penelope noticed that the other children were make friends with one another but not with her. Her father offered the advice that children and dinosaurs are just the same on the inside, but Penelope could still not control her eating. It wasn’t until Walter, the class goldfish, took a bite of Penelope that she realized what it was like to be someone’s snack. Penelope got a lot better after that, though barbecue sauce incidents were still far too tempting to pass up.
Higgins, the author of the Mother Bruce series, has brought his signature humor to new characters in this picture book. The text moves along briskly with splashes of humor, saliva and sauce adding to the zing. The illustrations will work well with a group. They show a class of human children who are very diverse too. Penelope is a dinosaur who is charming, if at times a little chompy. Readers will adore her and her attempts to fix what she has done and make new friends.
A great pick for a new school year. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.
Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien (9781580898317)
There are three new children in classes. Maria is from Guatemala and can’t speak English, so she stays quiet all the time. Jin is from Korea, he loves stories but can’t read or write enough English yet to share. Fatima is from Somalia; she dresses differently than the others in the class. The children in the different classes want to reach out, but they don’t know how. As time goes by, the children learn more English. Soon Maria is playing soccer with everyone. Jin starts to share his stories and also how to write in Korean. Fatimah connects through pictures she draws and shares. Maybe making friends isn’t so hard?
The author focuses on what all children whether new and learning or already comfortable in the class can do to bridge the divide when someone who is learning English joins them. The book follows her previous one, I’m New Here. With very simple text, the book is accessible for learning readers and offers clear ways to make connections with one another that don’t involve words. The illustrations show the isolation of the new children and the dismay of the others at not being able to be as welcoming as they’d like to be. Even in the early illustrations though, the distance is bridgeable and children will be able to see clearly the hope depicted.
An important book for all communities that celebrates immigrants entering communities and schools. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka (9781484750223)
When Mrs.Giordano has to stay home sick, a substitute comes to run the classroom. Unfortunately though, all of her changes are really disruptive for the very young students in the class. So one of the students writes a series of poems to Miss Pelly, the substitute. Miss Pelly doesn’t know how to pronounce their names, doesn’t collect the homework that is due. The class doesn’t visit the library on their scheduled day, the turtle tank isn’t cleaned, and turns at being line leader are disrupted. Miss Pelly even laughs too often, but she does share a great book of poems with the class and it might just be alright if Mrs. Giordano takes another day off to get well.
The authors capture the confusion at having routines disrupted by a substitute teacher. Through the vehicle of short poems, this picture book is approachable and gives voice to a child’s frustration at things being changed and grappling with being flexible and understanding. The illustrations have a childlike whimsy to them, with noble turtles, red-glasses wearing crocodiles, and a substitute who looks kind even when the child is unsure.
A winner for classrooms preparing for substitutes or other big changes. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from ARC provided by Disney Hyperion.)
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)
Released August 28, 2018.
In her first middle-grade novel since her award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson speaks to the greatest challenges of our society through the viewpoints of six children. When their teacher creates a special time every Friday for six of her students to spend time together with no expectations and no adults, a safe space is created. It’s a space where Esteban can share that his father has been picked up and taken for deportation. It’s a space where Amari can talk about racial profiling with his best friend who happens to be white. Haley records their conversations, capturing them all so that they can remember this time. But she too has a secret to share, if she is brave enough to tell the truth.
Woodson writes with such ease, digging deeply into the emotional state of these young people as they share their stories with one another. She shows the United States through their eyes. It’s a place of opportunity worth risking your life and family to come to, but it’s also a place of immense danger. People are deported, families separated, and others are shot. Woodson captures all of this through the eyes of Haley, a girl who lives with her own secret. Through Haley, the story of children visiting parents in prison and eventually reunited with them is told in all of its mixed emotions.
Each of the children in the story is so very different that they can never be confused with one another. Woodson gives each a distinct voice and set of opinions, shares their stories. They are presented as full human beings with histories, families and struggles uniquely their own. Woodson also offers here a voice for children who are not great at school for one reason or another.
A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard (9780062652911)
Robinson tries to behave in school so that her grandfather doesn’t have to leave his work at the garage and come to the office. She worries that the principal and teachers will notice that his memory is not that good anymore, particularly in the afternoon. But when the class bully won’t leave her alone, Robinson speaks with her fists and lands in trouble. Assigned to a special group that meets in the school counselor’s room, Robbie has to figure out whether she can trust the others. To make it harder, one of them is the bully whose been tormenting her. As Robbie’s grandfather’s memory gets worse, Robbie knows that she has to keep her secrets from everyone, until that becomes impossible.
In this debut book by Stoddard, she writes with a great confidence, allowing Robbie and her unique family to reveal themselves to the reader. The writing is strong, showing complicated relationships, a loving family and a school that steps up to help children in need. Stoddard deftly shows how assignments like a family tree can be daunting to a number of children whether they are dealing with a dying parent, an impossible older sister, divorce or a lack of knowledge.
Robbie is an important protagonist. It is great to see a young female character having to deal with anger issues that she resolves at first by hitting others. The solution to her anger and fear is slow and steady, with set backs along the way, making it a very organic and honest depiction. Robbie also doesn’t look like her grandfather, since she doesn’t appear to be African American, another aspect of the book that is handled with sensitivity.
A brilliant debut novel with changing families, lots of maple syrup but one that isn’t too sweet either. Appropriate for ages 9-12. (Reviewed from copy provided by HarperCollins.)