Monday, April 4, 2022

Cow Says Meow, written by Kristi Call, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: This onomatopoeia-filled book showcases a series of animals quoted with the wrong sounds, presented in speech bubbles, followed by a child making an animal-related pun that gives a clue for the next creature up. The pictures are full-page graphic illustrations of each animal’s face with extra-large eyes. At the end of the story, the first animal – a cow – shows up again, prompting a never-ending circle that young readers will enjoy. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Preschoolers and kindergarteners will love to guess which sounds are coming from which animal, and will definitely find the large faces and mixed-up sounds silly. From a cow to an owl to a lion to a kid, a large variety of animals are represented. Use this to review animal sounds with very young children, or have them guess the next animal based on the puns to get sligh

Duck, Duck, Goose, written by Mary Sullivan, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: When Duck, Duck, Moose, and a girl realize Goose is missing, they immediately go on a hunt to find him, coming across other farm animals, a locked gate, and a hive of bees in the process - only to have Goose return the next day from his beach vacation. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: The song-like rhythm of the text and frequently repeated words make this an engaging read-aloud for younger students, who might find themselves chanting along. All words are simple, repeated frequently, and presented through speech bubbles, so young children will have an easy time following along. Although the story might feel unfinished or stir up a few questions- why do they simply give up while concerned their friend is missing, and why were they not aware of Goose’s planned vacation? – those not overly concerned with the plot will enjoy the silly hijinks and the chant-like quality of the words.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Vamos! Let's Cross the Bridge, written by Raúl the Third, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: Another great Raúl the Third Vamos! book!! This series is fun, hectic, multicultural and full of interesting easter eggs. The illustrations by Elaine Bay are so good and contribute 1000% to the fun! Little Lobo is off to a celebration so he packs his truck with piñatas, cakes and presents. His friends help him on his road trip to the celebration. And to get to the celebration Little Lobo, and thousands of others, must cross a bridge. On one side of the bridge most people speak Spanish (a dog barks: "Guau, guau") and on the other side most people speak English (a dog barks: "Woof, woof"). The illustrations are so much fun and there is so much to see on each page. The bridge is so busy that the people, whether in cars or walking, also have a lot to see with so much happening. There is a peanut vendor, a juggler and even El Toro and friends! Because the bridge is so backed up and busy Little Lobo and friends are stuck for hours. But, are they really stuck? Of course not! A celebration takes place on the bridge because everything needed is available: people, food, entertainment and friendship! The bilingual text (a glossary is included), cultural references and, most of all, FUN make this book a must have! 

Straight Talk for Librarians: A great multicultural book for young children. The illustrations are full of great easter eggs. Spanish and English is used in the text. The glossary will be fun and interesting to explore.

Mr. Walker Steps Out, written by Lisa Graff, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: Mr. Walker is the white walking symbol in the street crossing signal. He takes his job very seriously to keep people safe when crossing the street. When it is not safe he holds up a big red hand. But in watching everything going on each day, people splashing in puddles, riding bikes and eating ice cream, he wishes he could step out of his little house to join in something wonderful. One day Mr. Walker jumps out of the box and does enjoy some wonderful things like skateboarding and riding a roller coaster. Of course, Mr. Walker finds out that everything is not working out for people without his guidance. Horns honk, cars swerve and a little girl crosses the dangerous road so Mr. Walker realizes he is needed. Mr. Walker shows us that feeling needed and enjoying what you do is important. The illustrations by Christophe Jacques are very nice and depict the busy streets and activities so well. Young children will get a kick out of the walking symbol coming to life and enjoying activities that they may also enjoy. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Young children will get a kick out of the walking sign symbol coming to life. This is an enjoyable book with a lot of scenarios that may be relatable to everyone.

Best Day Ever, written by Marilyn Singer, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: This is a great story of a dog and her best friend who is a boy. The story is about the dog having a best day ever or not the best day ever. The dog wakes up happy, licks the boy's face, has breakfast and then plays, digs and chases. However, she gets dirty and smelly and her best friend scolds her and cleans her in the tub. These are some of the not so best days ever. The illustrations by Leah Nixon are perfect and show how the dog has so much fun, gets into a bit of trouble and makes up with her friend. The boy apologizes for yelling at his friend and suggests some training is in order. The story is a very good demonstration of how to treat a pet, to have fun with a pet and that training is ok if needed. The boy is in a wheelchair and it is not mentioned in the text but, instead, the reader only knows because of the illustrations. This book is highly recommended because of the themes of happiness, empathy and compassion. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: A great book for children to learn about kindness, empathy and compassion regarding animals.

Chill Chomp Chill! written by Chris Ayala-Kronos, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: Chomp is a very young dinosaur who learns how to deal with some day-to-day social issues with friends at school, playing a game at recess and when he, seems to be, the only classmate not invited to a party. In the first scenario Chomp needs one more building block to complete his castle but Camara takes that block. What should Chomp do? The big, bright, colorful illustrations by Paco Sordo are excellent as they demonstrate the possible reactions that Chomp could take against Camara. Should Chomp roar or stomp or chomp? But Chomp takes the high road and compliments Camara for creating a masterpiece using teamwork. Each social situation shows that Chomp could frown, cry, run, hide or chomp in response but instead Chomp always chills. And, in doing so, Chomp takes the temperature down in what could have been a harmful reaction that may have escalated. The social situations will, most likely, be relatable to young children and the illustrations perfectly complement the text. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: A very straightforward book for preschool and lower elementary aged children about how to deal in awkward social situations. It should get some points across.

Monday, January 3, 2022

We Are Not Free, written by Traci Chee, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary: During World War II, fourteen Japanese-American teens, living in the same San Francisco neighborhood, ranging in age from 14-20, are taken from their homes and forced into Topaz incarceration camp with their families. Though they are connected by ancestry, the kids come from very different households and bring unique perspectives and attitudes to Topaz. As their different voices tell each chapter, moving chronologically through time, readers hear about the daily struggles of their existence, the poor living conditions and limited resources, the compulsion to rebel against inhumane treatment, the desire to hold on to any small pieces of their prior lives outside the camp, and the confusion about why American citizens are being treated in such a horrible way. A government questionnaire, asking whether the incarcerated teens would be willing to serve with American forces overseas and whether they would be willing to swear sole allegiance to the U.S. Government, causes further division in the camp and amongst the group, forcing some into military service, some into more restrictive camps, and some to be left behind. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This novel is an incredibly powerful and well-researched portrayal of the varied experiences of Japanese-Americans who were detained in incarceration camps. Though some teen readers may balk slightly at the frequently changing perspectives as the narration shifts from character to character, the number of voices is what makes this book as thought-provoking as it is. Other books on the subject may offer one singular voice sharing one singular experience, but by including so many narrators, Chee sheds light on the diverse experiences amongst the individuals struggling in these camps. Students will find it eye-opening to read about the disparity and disagreements amongst the incarcerated - how some wanted to stay safe through acquiescence and some wanted to fight back against injustice, how some were willing to swear fealty to the U.S. to be seen as American and how some were unwilling to risk military service or renouncement of their heritage to do so. In any traumatic situation, different mindsets come into play, and Chee showcases that concept beautifully as we see characters adjust to life in Topaz through a myriad of feelings, from frustration to quiet optimism to rage. And the true beauty of the story lies in seeing how the relationships that had built up amongst a group of neighborhood kids continue within the camp. Friendships become stronger through adversity, crushes continue despite the circumstances, and some relationships are heartbreakingly destroyed under the weight of the experience. The book is beautiful as a whole text, but individual sections or chapters could be excerpted for use in history classes. Combine We Are Not Free with George Takai’s They Called Us Enemy or Frank Abe’s We Hereby Refuse to make compelling text sets for supplemental study. A must purchase text for any middle school or high school library.

Running, written by Natalia Sylvester, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary: Mariana’s dad is running for President and things are starting to get awkward. For as long as Mari can remember, her dad has been campaigning for one office or another, and she has always been his biggest supporter. But this time around, the expectations for Mari and her family are so much higher than ever before. She is under constant pressure and scrutiny to be the best version of herself, which makes her feel more like a political strategy than a beloved daughter. Her mother seems to understand Mari's frustrations and complaints, but ultimately, she always sides with Mari’s father. Mari is trying to make sense of her family’s new drive to win at all costs, but the more time she spends thinking about the campaign, the more she realizes that she doesn’t actually know much about her father’s policies and political views. And when tabloid photos of Mari are taken out of context, even by her family members, Mari starts to wonder if she should be putting more consideration into how she would cast her vote. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Running is a fantastic story about how today’s political climate affects young people, and about how critical it is for individuals, especially youth, to stand up for their views and beliefs. Mari’s direct connection to the candidate in question (her father) drives home a poignant message about the importance of following policies and votes, not just words and promises. Mari’s family is Cuban-American, living in Miami, and Sylvester does an incredible job incorporating real-world political issues that are deeply connected to Miami, like immigration and deportation issues, coastal water health and protection, and class and racial division. A full cast of characters, including her childhood friends, her new activist friends, and even her mother and grandfather, help open Mari’s eyes to the ways that her father’s politics affect the everyday lives of people in her community. The book ends with many issues unresolved, and a few relationships hanging in the balance, but provides a satisfying conclusion to Mari’s period of awakening, closing a chapter on Mari’s youth and opening a door toward a more engaged future. This book will be an easy sell to politically aware and active teens, and provides an interesting, fast-paced story for those who are simply looking for a good coming-of-age novel.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Who Will Pull Santa's Sleigh? written by Russ Willms, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: If you need a good, fun Christmas book for a child this is a winner. The story is interesting in how it describes Santa's first time delivering gifts and what he had to go through to find the perfect team to pull the sleigh. There are very funny lines pertaining to Santa's quest when he writes a job description that includes "Landing accuracy important" and "Magic flying dust will be provided." And the author's illustrations are very, very cute and fun and complement the story so well. Children will enjoy the variety of animal teams trying out for the job. The bats will only work at night, the sharks want to eat everything and the bunnies are too bouncy. The dogs almost get the job but a pesky squirrel distracts them too easily. When the reindeer try for the job they are perfect. Children will now know how reindeer were selected. The humor in the text and illustrations will be a hit with parents and children. This fun book is perfect for the Christmas season. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a fun book for Christmas. Very funny text and illustrations. Kids and adults reading the book to kids will love it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Five Little Monkeys Looking for Santa, written by Eileen Christelow, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: This is a cute Christmas book featuring the five little monkeys from the series of books with the same name. The five little monkeys want to see Santa in person. They creep around their home to check on noises they hear that must be Santa but, instead, always turn out to be family members. When they bump into their Grandpa and then their Mama both tell the monkeys that "Santa won't come while you're still awake." Of course, they find it hard to sleep when they are on their mission to find Santa! They have other small adventures in their quest to find Santa to no avail until they do finally fall asleep. Then they wake up just in time to catch a glimpse of Santa as he is leaving their home. The story is fun and cute and the Christmas theme should be popular with the Pre-K and early elementary aged child. The adventures of the five little monkeys will be especially enjoyable to children who are familiar with the series. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: The book is a cute Christmas story for very young children. It is not super exciting but will probably be popular with children who enjoy the Five LIttle Monkeys books. Other Christmas books may be more interesting and even more fun.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

King and the Dragonflies, written by Kacen Callender, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Summary: Grief has overwhelmed King since his brother Khalid died. Sadness has swallowed his family completely. King believes his brother has returned to him as a dragonfly. Khalid appears to him in his dreams. King comforts himself by reading the words Khalid spoke in his sleep. King escapes alone every day after school to the bayou to look for his brother. He can't lean on his best friend, Sandy anymore. Sandy's confession that he's gay shattered their friendship. King secretly struggles with wondering if he is gay, too. Sandy’s sudden appearance at the bayou shakes up everything King thought he knew. Sandy needs his help, but King is worried about the consequences. Callender’s writing is so smooth and fluid that it belies the seriousness of the subjects it tackles. The reader is gently carried along with King on his journey of self-discovery and grief. Khalid is so thoughtfully rendered that he seems almost as alive as King. He lives on in the novel in a nearly dreamlike state through King’s memories and in the journal King keeps. King is dealing with several impossible situations at once but clinging to his memories of Khalid keeps him grounded. Khalid wasn’t perfect and dying doesn’t elevate him to sainthood. King especially struggles with Khalid’s role in his decision to end his friendship with Sandy. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Callender tackles multiple difficult topics with an age-appropriate and gentle touch. King and the Dragonflies has won numerous awards including the National Book Award. It deserves every single one of them. However, not everyone will appreciate that a middle-grade book is tackling the topics of grief, homosexuality, and abuse all in one book. The reality is many students in upper elementary school and middle school are struggling with t

Maya and the Rising Dark, written by Rena Barron, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Summary: Maya is a girl who is obsessed with superheroes. She can't wait to attend Comic-Con with her dad. One day, the world suddenly turns gray, and time seems to freeze. Maya tells her friends but not her parents what has happened. Later, a shadowy figure invades her dreams. A terrified Maya finally tells her dad about the strange occurrences. Her father warns her to avoid the Lord of Shadows. Her father's sudden, mysterious disappearance causes Maya to realize her dad's stories aren't just stories. The creatures and the tales are real. Maya and her friends Frankie and Eli decide to attempt a daring rescue. Maya must summon all of her courage to rescue her dad from the clutches of the Lord of the Shadows. If she fails, the life she knows it may be gone forever. Maya and the Rising Dark has all the elements of a great middle-grade fantasy novel. The main characters are brave but not perfect. The monsters are frightening but not too scary. People in the neighborhood are not as they seem. Barron shatters the typical outsider’s view of Maya’s Southside Chicago neighborhood. It’s not a place riddled with gangs and crime, it’s home. Maya is a realistic, strong character with courage and compassion. Barron infuses the novel with struggles relatable to any middle schooler: being stuck after school with a teacher working on math problems, trying to find your place in the world, and parents who hide things from their children for their own protection. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: Barron mixes in a hearty dose of humor with the action. Even the minor characters are memorable. Maya and the Rising Dark fills a void in middle-grade fantasy: books with strong, nerdy, superhero-obsessed female characters. This book is a welcome addition to both classroom and school libraries. I highly recommend this book for middle school-aged readers who love fantasy and mythology. Give this book to fans of Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond who are looking for a book recommendation.

Your Mama, written by NoNieqa Ramos, reviewed by Judy Hauser

Summary: Your Mama is a wonderful take on Yo Mama jokes. One example of the twist on the Yo Mama jokes is "Your mama so sweet she could be a bakery." In this book the mama and daughter have a close, fun, interesting and important relationship. The illustrations by Jacqueline Alcantara depict that loving mother-daughter relationship beautifully. Even though "Sometimes your Mama's cray cray" if you "Got math problems? She could solve 'em." "Woman catches all your vibes; must read minds." The text is funny and strong and poignant. The daughter in the book absolutely adores her mama and the mama absolutely adores her daughter. The mutual love and respect comes shining through. This is a glorious story of mothers and daughters. 

Straight Talk for Librarians: A great book about motherhood.