We all have our TBRs. I’ve got an impressive or terrifying one, depending on how you look at it. I have such wonderful folx sending me their books, and even if it takes me a while, I do want to talk these books up; hence, the Tales from the TBR feature I’ve been running. There are some truly outstanding books here, and deserve some more face time. When you’re freshening up your backlist, consider adding some of these to your carts, or, if you already have them, put them up. Let’s rock.
I Am Smoke, by Henry Herz/Illustrated by Mercè López, (Sept. 2021, Tilbury House Publishers), $18.95, ISBN: 9780884487883
Henry Herz has been putting out some great stories over the years, but his 2021 book, I Am Smoke, is in a class by itself. Written in verse from the point of view of smoke, the story is part anthropological study, part scientific study. Smoke begins with a declaration: “I am Smoke. / I twirl in dark dance from every campfire”, alongside early Native Americans dancing by firelight. The thoughtful verse wanders through time, imparting wisdom and caution in equal amounts: “Even fearless firefighters dare not breathe me when battling flames”; “I cannot touch, but I can help ease pain”. Mercè López’s illustration is breathtaking; created by smoke, watercolor, and Photoshop to create haunting and ethereal images. Copious back matter provides deeper context and resources for further reading. A brilliant book on every level: if you haven’t added this one to your collections yet, you may want to look again.
I Am Smoke has a starred review from Kirkus and has been named to Evanston Public Library’s Blueberry List: Kids’ Book that Inspire Love of Nature and Action for Planet Earth; it was named to the ALA Children’s Notable Children’s Books of 2022 list, and selected for Notable Social Studies 2022 booklist. It also made Kirkus’s List of 150 Most Anticipated Fall 2021 Books.
Odder, by Katherine Applegate/Illustrated by Charles Santoso, (Sept. 2022, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250147424
Newbery Medalist Katherine Applegate does it again. Odder is the “Queen of Play”: a curious young otter who loves to play in the water and wander where she really shouldn’t. While splashing in the water with her best friend, Kairi, they have a run-in with a hungry great white shark, and Odder is injured. Rescued by the same humans that saved her as an otter pup, the story takes an introspective turn as Odder confronts truths about herself and life in the ocean. Inspired by the true story of a Monterey Bay Aquarium program that rescues otters, Applegate creates movement and emotion through her verse: “…there is time for a bit of deep diving / wave chasing / tail spinning / smooth gliding / bubble blowing / FUN”; “She doesn’t just swim to the bottom, / she dive-bombs. / She doesn’t just somersault / she triple-doughnuts. / She doesn’t just ride the waves, / she makes them”. Applegate makes strong points about conservation and throughout the story and in her author’s note, which provides background on her inspiration for Odder. Charles Santoso’s black and white illustrations guarantee that you’ll need to stock your nonfiction section with more books on otters; kids will fall in love with gentle story. A glossary helps readers with new vocabulary. Visit Katherine Applegate’s author website for more about her books and educator resources.
Education.com has some otter-related coloring sheets and worksheets for a book club or STEM extension activity.
Odder has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.
Pauli Murray: The Life of a Pioneering Feminist & Civil Rights Activist, by Rosita Stevens-Holsey & Terry Catasús Jennings, (Feb. 2022, little bee books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781499812510
Haven’t heard of Pauli Murray before? Remedy that and pick up this biography in verse, written by one of the civil rights activist’s nieces and Terry Catasús Jennings, author of the Definitely Dominguita chapter book series. Born in 1910, Pauli Murray chafed under the Jim Crow South and what she called “Jane Crow”: further prejudice against women. She would become a friend to Eleanor Roosevelt and a voice for the oppressed; she created arguments that would eventually form the Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka backbone (with no credit) and the 1964 decision that won workplace equality for women (credited, thanks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
Pauli Murray is told in verse, giving poetic gravitas to her life from her early childhood; the early death of her mother and separation of the siblings, which saw Pauli Murray move to Baltimore to live with her aunt, who eventually adopted her; her life in the Jim Crow South, which awakened the activist in her, and her work to dismantle the white male patriarchy that sought to “other” her and hold her, and other women and people of color, down. Queer and Black, she was a force for positive change. She went to jail for refusing to sit in a broken seat in the back of a bus long before Rosa Parks, and, like Martin Luther King Jr., was inspired by Ghandhi’s promotion of protest through nonviolence.
Back matter includes author’s notes, a timeline of Murray’s life, endnotes, and a bibliography. An eloquent, powerful biography for upper middle graders and middle schoolers.
Read more about Pauli Murray at the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice’s website and the National Women’s History Museum. VideoNotes and More has a free mini doc on Pauli Murray at TeachersPayTeachers.
My Israel and Me, by Alice Blumenthal McGinty/Illustrated by Rotem Teplow, (Sept. 2021, Kalaniot Books), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1-7350875-3-5
Told in verse through the eyes of the diverse groups of people living in and visiting Israel, My Israel is a celebration of both the ancient and modern-day country. Verse shares space with factual information about areas like The Dead Sea, the modern city and Israel’s status as a “Start-Up Nation”, kibbutzes, Biblical history, and more. Alice Blumenthal McGinty celebrates Jewish and Muslim culture and family life, and Rotem Teplow’s colorful artwork takes readers on a journey across the small country with a big history. Endpapers show a plethora of objects to take readers on a visual journey, like camels, kites, olive leaves, and cats, all of whom are waiting to be discovered in the pages.
To extend a lesson on Israel, visit TeachersPayTeachers, where you can find a map of ancient Israel from Taylor Beck; an Israel Activities Pack from Marshal Jewish Learning Center, and more! Download a free educator kit from Kalaniot’s website.
Author Alice Blumenthal McGinty is an award-winning author. You can find educator guides on her website, along with more information on her books, and information about school visits. Visit illustrator Rotem Teplow’s website for more of her artwork.
Who is Singing?, by Janet Halfmann/Illustrated by Chrissy Chabot, (July 2021, Pen It! Publications), $20.99, ISBN: 978-1954868373
Take a walk and listen on any given day, and you’ll hear a cacophony of birds: tweets, chirps, screeches, and coos abound; even city kids can hear a dove coo, a pigeon scold, and a blue jay (like the one who likes to argue with the squirrels, right outside my window). Who is Singing? is author Janet Halfmann’s tribute to some colorful, musical birds, all identifiable by their songs. Using each bird’s defining song, repetitive verse, and a noticeable characteristic for each bird, Janet Halfmann introduces readers to the gentle art of bird-watching and bird-listening, giving readers 11 fairly familiar birds to start out with. You’ll recognize pigeons, “begging for treats along a city sidewalk”; “bully loud and bold” blue jays screaming; cheery chick-a-dees, “dressed up for dinner in a black cap and bib”, and more. Ms. Halfmann encourages the birds to “take a bow”, making for a fun readaloud where you can invite your littles to take a bow – or let a bird puppet or flannel take their own bows when you announce them, too.
Chrissy Chabot’s illustrations are bright and lovely, photorealistic birds that will help readers more easily spot and identify them the next time they’re out and about. A lovely little story to read out loud, and works well with a lapsit. Print out some coloring pages and let the kiddos envision their own colorful birds and make some music of their own!
I’ve got more Mother’s Day books for the big day, but first, Everything Is Mama Activity Pages from Jimmy Fallon’s publisher, Macmillan! Enjoy three pages of activities and coloring with the kiddos!
What the Road Said, by Cleo Wade/Illustrated by Lucie de Moyencourt, (March 2021, Feiwel & Friends), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250269492
If loving advice for living a good life could be summed up in verse, What the Road Said is it. Poet, activist, and one of Marie Claire’s 50 Most Influential Women in America Cleo Wade reminds young and grown readers alike to pay attention to the journey, not the destination. Sometimes, you may think you’re on the wrong path: keep going; “sometimes we go the wrong way on the way to the right way”. You may not always move forward, and you may need help on the way or feel alone. Keep going, the poem urges. Lead with kindness and love, even when met with hate, and just keep going. Illustrator Lucie de Moyencourt’s watercolor and ink artwork begins with an urban landscape, with nature scenes painted on buildings; a child watches them as they walk, and the city streets give way to lush, green pastures, beaches, dark forests, mountains, even outer space, the child following paths up mountains and through the woods; standing triumphant on the top of the world, and meditating on the growth from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Together, Cleo Wade and Lucie de Moyencourt encourage readers to reach for the stars on their journey through life. These comforting, inspiring words and artwork are the perfect story to pass to your little ones and they’re the words we parents need sometimes, because, as Cleo Wade states in her author’s note, “Being a grownup is hard and the Road reminds me to take it one day at a time”.
I Love You, Baby Burrito, by
Angela Dominguez, (January 12, 2021, Roaring Brook Press), $18.99, ISBN:
This book is ADORABLE. A set of new parents greet their new baby – swaddled like a burrito – in this bilingual book of pure joy. Tender images of parents and baby pair with images of a new bird family in a nest outside the family’s window. The parents gaze, hold, and swaddle their little one, marveling at their new bundle, taking such care with every moment. Spanish words are in bright green, and English prose repeats the phrase, helping emphasize terms in both languages. A glossary at the end provides phonetic pronounciation. Mixed media illustrations are soft, gently colored, giving a real feeling of those quiet moments when baby and parents are still getting to know one another. I can’t wait to read this to my library families. An excellent Mother’s Day gift or baby shower gift, too; consider pairing with Hayley Barrett and Juana Martinez-Neal’s Babymoon
We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt, by Mary Hogan-Wilcox/Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, (Aug. 2020, Charlesbridge), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62354-118-7
The latest spin on the classic “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” is this Fall story about a group of animal friends who go off in search of the biggest orange and round pumpkin in town! Dressed in costumes for trick-or-treating fun, the friends wander into the “dark, shiver-your-socks night”. The story has all the sensory fun that every retelling features; in this case, squeaky gates, blinking night time bugs, tickly grass, and an unexpected surprise! Lots of repetition helps kids get into the story with you, and the check-ins – “I’m not scared. / Are you? / Not me.” – are a nice opportunity to check in with your own listeners and make sure no one feels too nervous about the story. Pen, ink, and watercolor artwork is gentle and soft. A cute addition to your storytime collections; most folks are familiar with We’re Going On a Bear Hunt and like the different variations on a familiar theme.
We’re Going on a Pumpkin Hunt has a starred review from Kirkus.
Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence, by Jacqueline Jules/Illustrated by Iris Deppe, (Apr. 2020, Albert Whitman & Company), $17.99, ISBN: 9780807567265
I’m getting that TBR under control a little more every day! Tag Your Dreams is a book of poetry about sports and play for kids, but it’s more than that. These are poems about endurance, self-esteem, community, and reaching goals. It’s about a girl reaching out to a new friend by reciting a rhyme that her Guatemalan grandmother taught her (“Clapping Hands”); it’s about a girl, swimming gracefully, mermaid-like, as she remembers being bullied for her weight earlier that day (“Mermaid Manatee”); a father and son cruising through a park on matching scooters (“Kick Scooters”), and a playground where “Spanish jumps just as high as English” as the kids skip rope and sing together. A multicultural group of adults and kids come together on these pages to play, to laugh, and to inspire readers. Jacqueline Jules, award-winning author of the Zapato Power and Sofia Martinez book series, created 31 poems about the power of play and the power of persistence to motivate readers: motivate them to play, motivate them to embrace themselves, and work as part of a team while striving to be their best. Iris Deppe’s colorful artwork shows children and grown-ups together in various stages of play: clapping hands underneath a tree, reaching for a ball in the outfield, or walking a trail with grandparents. A nice addition to poetry collections, with positive messages that we need more than ever these days.
Jacqueline Jules’s author webpage has information about her books and plenty of free, downloadable activities connected to her books.
Lights Out, by Marsha Diane Arnold/Illustrated by Susan Reagan, (Aug. 2020, Creative Editions), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-56846-340-7
A fox and a beetle are trying to settle in for the night, but it’s too bright! Lights Out, a story about the ways that light pollution affects nature, sees a series of animals set out on a journey to find out how to shut off all the lights: but they just keep finding more. “House lights / Car lights / Truck lights / Street lights… Everywhere -LIGHTS!” The artificial lights shine on, confusing birds and frogs, and keep a bear from hibernating. The group of animals travels together, looking for the source of all the light, until they discover newly hatched baby turtles, running toward the moonlit water and decide to follow. Swimming together to a small island, the animals finally discover the natural light they crave. A powerful statement on light pollution, the text reads like a lyric poem, beautiful and evocative. Susan Reagan’s artwork is soft and dreamlike, with the harsh yellow light almost intrusive to the reader as we shift to the animals’ point of view, following Marsha Diane Arnold’s words. There are breathtaking moments, like the moment the animals discover the stars after not seeing them for so long; Marsha Diane Arnold’s verse builds a yearning in readers, so the moment when they arrive at the island brings such joy, perfectly communicated by Susan Reagan’s artwork. An author’s note on light pollution begins the story.
Visit author Marsha Diane Arnold’s website for Lights Out downloadable activities!
A beautiful, poignant picture book to add to your collections. Display and read with Sue Soltis’s The Stars Just Up the Street, and Lizi Boyd’s Flashlight (I know, it’s artificial light, but we’ll keep it as non-intrusive as possible).
No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila Dawson, & Jeanette Bradley/Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $18.99, ISBN: 9781623541316
Fourteen outstanding young people who saw injustice and took action are celebrated here in poetry and art. Activists include Mari Copeny – “Little Miss Flint” – who demanded clean water for her community and got President Obama’s attention; Virsidiana Sanchez Santos, whose quinceañera at the Texas State Capitol called attention to the state’s stringent immigration policy; and Marley Dias, the girl who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks initative to collect books with characters who looked like her, and so many other readers looking for representation. These activists and 11 more find a place in the pages here, celebrated by luminaries including G. Neri, Nikki Grimes, Joseph Bruchac, and Lesléa Newman. Each profile includes a biographical paragraph; back matter explains the poetry forms used throughout the book, and profiles on each of the featured poets. Callout quotes invite readers to think about ways they can take action. The artwork showcases each of individual, and endpapers look like blackboards, with quotes from each activist in a chalk-white font. One percent of hardcover sales will go to TeachingforChange.org.