So Big and So Small, by John Coy/Illustrated by Steph Lew, (Oct. 2020, Beaming Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781506460581
A young boy considers perspective: he’s so big next to a baby, a puppy, a kitten, or a bumblebee; he’s giant compared to a seashell or a speck of sand. But when he goes to the zoo, he’s so small compared to the animals, or next to a tree or waterfall. Compared to a mountain or the universe? He’s so tiny! But when he considers his place within his family, he’s the perfect size. A sweet concept story that celebrates a child’s place in the world and in his world, So Big and So Small has charming illustrations of characters with expressive, friendly faces, and sweetly present the concepts of big and small. The large-scale illustrations of mountains, waterfalls, and the night sky are beautiful and give us a real sense of our place in the world. There’s so much to think about, and so much to talk about with our Kiddos here. A nice addition to concept collections.
Dress Coded, by Carrie Firestone, (July 2020, GP Putnam), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984816436
I’ve been killing myself with anticipation over this book since I received the early galley last year. I finally put everything else aside and finished this in a day, because it’s that good. Told in short chapters and including podcast transcripts, text messages, and letters, Dress Coded is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like being a young woman in middle school today. Molly Frost is fed up: fed up with her vape-addicted brother, who’s wreaked havoc on her family; fed up with feeling invisible at school, and fed up with the school’s dress code, which seems hardwired solely to embarrass and harass female students of a certain body type. It all blows up the day her friend Olivia is humiliated by the dean and principal for wearing a tank top at school and refusing to take her sweatshirt off her waist to put it back on – a reason that makes itself clear as the story progresses. Several of Molly’s friends have been “dress coded” for similar offenses, and the humiliation and frustration are far greater than the suspected offense. Molly starts a podcast, Dress Coded, where girls speak up about their dress coding experiences and the mental and emotional fallout from run-ins with staff. The podcast grows into a movement to remove the dress code, and Molly, at the center of it, finds the power within her to stand up to her brother and the school bully, and the ability to help other girls find their voice. A primer in middle school activism and a scathing indictment of how women’s bodies are weaponized and sexualized from a young age, Dress Coded is simply essential reading. Please, educators, put this on your summer reading lists!
Dress Coded is author Carrie Firestone’s middle grade debut. I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to give my middle graders. The book is a Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection, and a Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Submit your own dress coding story at Carrie Firestone’s author webiste, and learn about her other books, workshops, and author inspiration, too.
Little Kid, Big City: New York, by Beth Beckman/Illustrated by Holly Maher, (Feb. 2021, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683692447
A travel book for kids that includes tips and tricks for navigating New York City, Little Kid, Big City: New York is set up like a choose-your-own-adventure book – just like New York! Most of the action is concentrated in Manhattan, but there are highlights in the outer boroughs, like Rockaway Beach and the Unisphere in my ‘hood, Queens; Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and so much more! There are great little inside secrets to New York, too: what makes our bagels taste so good? The water! The pizza? Foldable! Underground art galleries? Check the subways! Read the book straight through, or follow the prompts that give you a choice to wander all over the city. Colorful illustrations capture the buzz of New York by day, and the rhyming text lets little readers enjoy a story about New York City! The book is a spin-off of the Little Kid Big City website, which also has a wealth of information perfect for families traveling to New York, London, Amsterdam, and Washington, DC, and the Instagram account, which has gorgeous photos, guides, and reels.
Let the kids plan the next adventure when we can travel again – many of these sites are still closed at the moment – and you can’t go wrong. Until then, download a free Travel from Home Activity Kit. Back matter includes an “Adventure Index” that provides more in-depth detail about each of the sites visited in the book, and there’s a fold-out map of New York and the boroughs to hang up. Bundle this with Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s graphic novel, Lost in NYC, for a full New York experience.
Finding My Yip (Boomers Tales, Book 1), by Christine Isley-Farmer/Illustrated by Taylor Bills, (March 2021, Wandering in the Words Press), $8.95, ISBN: 978-1733212663
Boomer is a young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, adopted by Nana Weathers and her nine-year-old orphaned granddaughter, Chloe. Chloe has a stutter and wants to sing like her Nana, a music teacher, and Nana is confident that Boomer – a puppy who can’t “yip!” just yet – and Chloe can help one another. Chloe and Boomer quickly bond and discover other friends at dog obedience classes. Nana’s magic ring helps her communicate with Boomer, and Chloe’s love encourages Boomer to keep trying and find his Yip; Boomer’s and Nana’s love and encouragement help Chloe find the confidence to be part of the school talent show. Narrated by Boomer, the story is a cute intermediate read for animal lovers with likable characters. Black and white illustrations are cartoony, cute, and will keep readers turning pages.
My Name is Layla, by Reyna Marder Gentin, (Jan. 2021, Touchpoint Press), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1952816086
Hitting right in the middle school hard-to-read spot, My Name is Layla is the story of 12-year-old Layla, an eighth grader living with her single mother and older brother, who has a secret: she has a hard time reading. The letters move on the page; she has to fight to focus, and it takes longer than the turnaround time to complete an assignment. When a new English teacher, Mr. McCarthy, sees her potential, Layla is terrified: she can’t have promise, can she? The teacher has to be imagining things! As parent-teacher conferences draw closer, Layla’s fear over her grades and her learning struggles being discovered, and she makes a choice that has big repercussions for herself, her family, and her relationship with her best friend. My Name is Layla is a realistic portrayal of a young woman living with dyslexia. Supporting characters all feel real, with back stories and realized lives off-page. Good for YA collections and middle school collections.
Shhh, by Fred Paronuzzi/Illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson (Feb. 2021, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764361067
This mostly wordless book contains all the ambience noise that provides the soundtrack to our days: from the “brrrring brrrring” of an alarm clock, the “plop!” of a morning tea bag and the “pop!” of the toaster, through the “blah, blah, blah” and “rumble” of street sounds, a child and their family go through their day; at night, the child opens a book and, in the quiet, their imagination is unleashed. Splashed across a dark spread, the child’s imagination gives rise to mermaids, volcanoes, exotic foliage, and more. A tip of the hat to our everyday hustle and bustle and the unexpected moment when we open a book and are swept into a magical world of our own, Shhh is a story of everyday magic. The artwork is cheery, colorful, and moves across the spreads, giving a feeling of motion to go with the sounds. A fun book to invite toddlers and preschoolers to chime in with their own everyday stories and sounds.
Robobaby, by David Wiesner, (Sept. 2020, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544987319
Three-time Caldecott Medalist David Wiesner is back! Robobaby is the giggle-worthy story of the chaos a new baby brings to the family, set in a robot world. Baby Flange arrives at his family’s home; he’s got great packaging and he’s a big baby: 278 pounds! Big sister Cathode, nicknamed Cathy, is positively aglow at her brother, but no one is letting her help: until a series of hilarious catastrophes, that is! Remaining calm and relying on her tools and tech smarts, she manages to make sure updates are installed, instructions are followed, and brand new Robobaby is adorably – and correctly – assembled. Perfect for a STEM/STEAM storytime, this loving tribute to girls in science is also a great idea for Women’s History Month storytimes. The artwork is incandescent, with bright yellows and artistically placed shadows to provide depth and interest. Barely-controlled chaos reigns across the spreads, which you can play for laughs during a readaloud. Sparse text is relegated to word balloons from characters, further proving the David Wiesner doesn’t need words to tell a great story: he does all the talking with his artwork. Kids will recognize and enjoy the familiarity of new baby pandemonium: the relatives arriving en masse, everyone contributing opinions, and most importantly, kids being shuttled aside in the interest of letting the grownups talk. Having Cathode triumph over the adults to bond with her brother is such a lovely, respectful way to let kids know that we see them. Must-have for collections.
Robobaby has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist.
Bump, by Matt Wallace, (Jan. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063007987
MJ is a twelve-year-old wrestling fan who is dealing with loss in her home life and racism in her school life. She feels isolated, alone, with only her wrestling show for company until she notices a covered wrestling ring in her neighbor’s yard. Turns out, her neighbor is the owner of a wrestling school, and after some intense discussion with her mother and some successful nudging on MJ’s part, Mr. Arellano – Papí, to his wrestling students – agrees to take her on as a student. At the Victory Wrestling School, MJ finally feels like she’s part of something, but an investigator from the state Athletic Commission is doing his best to shut Mr. Arellano down. MJ is determined to get to the bottom of some shady business and save the school and her wrestling family.
I loved Bump, because it’s such a good mix of family stories – the family we have and the families we create – plus the fun and work of the wrestling business. MJ knows that the bruises are real; she loves the rich history of the luchadores, and she loves being part of this history. Wrestling fans will enjoy all the nuances and peek into the ground floor of the industry, and sports fans will enjoy the heart and guts that comes with dedication. Matt Wallace addresses the casual racism that exists in our schools, and all too briefly looks at the issues with racism within MJ’s friend group. The action is fast-paced, and there’s a wild moment that belongs in a wrestling storyline that brings the story to its conclusion. A good read that I’d hand off to my library kids. Add some luchador coloring masks to your book discussion activity and invite the kids to explain why they chose the designs they did; make the masks an extension of their personalities. There’s a good explanation of lucha libre and its place in Mexican culture at SpanishPlayground.net. Not an #OwnVoices book, but a good read that kids will like.
Measuring Up, by Lily LaMotte/Illustrated by Ann Xu, (Oct. 2020, Harper Alley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062973863
Twelve-year old Cici is a Taiwanese girl whose parents are moving to Seattle. She’s not thrilled about leaving her life behind in Taiwan, especially her A-má, the grandmother that helped raise her. While she and A-má video chat, she misses her grandmother terribly and wishes she could bring her to the States. School is okay, but there are the inevitable comments from bullies; even her new friends tend to lump her in with “Chinese” as opposed to “Taiwanese”. Cici wants so much to bring A-má to Seattle to celebrate her 70th birthday, and a kids’ cooking contest offers her the perfect chance to do it: the grand prize will pay for A-má’s ticket! Cici has a few hurdles to overcome, though: her father’s insistence on prioritizing schoolwork over everything else, including cooking; the fact that she only knows how to cook Taiwanese food, and being intimidated by one of the other contestands, a girl named Miranda, whose family owns a popular restaurant and who was practically raised in kitchens. With some help from a friendly librarian (hi!) who introduces her to Julia Child, Cici begins finding her own “courage and conviction” – and that inspires her as she finds herself in her new country.
Cici navigates two worlds in Measuring Up: her Taiwanese world and her new, American world; neither of which make her entirely comfortable all the time. She struggles to “fit in” with her American friends, with new activities like sleepovers – that don’t sit so easily with her parents – and her discomfort with her friends seeing “how Taiwanese” her home life is. Learning to cook with Julia Child’s recipes, and Child’s willingness to not be perfect, gives her the confidence to step outside her comfort zone. Working with Miranda is intimidating at first, but with her newfound confidence, Cici begins trusting herself and finds her voice in the competition and with Miranda, too. It’s an exciting development to watch unfold across the pages, and the colorful artwork is eye-catching. Readers who enjoy slice-of-life, coming of age books like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends books, Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School, Remy Lai’s Pie in the Sky will love Measuring Up. The New York Times has a great article on food-related novels for kids, too; it’s a great piece on how we connect food, family, and culture. and and Visit author Lily LaMotte’s webpage and find out more about the book, including a recipe from the story.
No Ordinary Jacket, by Sue-Ellen Pashley/Illustrated by Thea Baker, (Aug. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536209662
Amelia’s got a special jacket. It’s no ordinary jacket; it’s “soft, like dandelion fluff… warm, like the afternoon sun… comforting, like a hug from y our favorite teddy bear. And it had four dazzling buttons down the front”. She wears the jacket everywhere, but eventually, she grows out of it. Her sister Lilly inherits the jacket, and she loves it, too. Lilly also grows out of it, but she puts it on her favorite doll, and later, uses the jacket to keep her cat and brand new litter of kittens warm. When Mom rediscovers the old, dirty jacket covered in cat fur, she decides it has to go. But how can you let go of such a wonderful jacket with so many memories? Luckily, Mom comes up with an even better idea that makes everyone happy. A heartwarming story about memories and physical objects, readers will love this comforting story. It’s reassuring to know that favorite objects don’t have to outlive their use and can take on new life as something different; sharing and making new memories as the years pass. The collage artwork is beautiful, giving texture and life to each spread. The tapestry jacket looks comfortable and warm; you can almost feel the soft cuffs and the woven cloth of the jacket.
These days, upcycling is even more popular; I’ve been making sure to suggest crafts using common household products when I’m doing virtual programming. There are great upcycling ideas for kids all over the Web: Red Tricycle has some good ideas here.