Friday, September 22, 2023

One Smart Sheep, written by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  Wilson is one friendly, woolly, smart sheep - the friendliest, wooliest, and smartest on Abigail Atwood's farm. When Wilson discovers that the fence has been left open, he decides to walk up to Abigail's house - but instead walks up the ramp to a piano van, embarking on an adventure through the city and prompting Abigail and her dog Tippy to start a search. Written in short chapters interspersed with colorful illustrations, "One Smart Sheep" is a quick, humorous adventure burgeoning readers will love.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Wilson's journey through town is punctuated by miscommunications, humorous asides, and the search for the music he hears from all corners of the town. This short chapter book is perfect to hand to fans of Mercy Watson that are looking for a few less pictures and a few more words.

Hello, Jimmy! written by Anna Walker, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  Jack worries that his dad is lonely, since Jack "couldn't be there all the time", and when he is there, they sit quietly and live separate lives. When Jack's dad finds a funny, talkative, loud parrot named Jimmy, he suddenly seems animated again. Everyone loves Jimmy - except Jack, whose parrot-filled nightmare prompts him to let Jimmy out. The search for Jimmy provides Jack and his dad the change to reconnect and remind each other who is actually important.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  A quiet, sparse book that addresses loneliness and the search for connection, "Hello, Jimmy!" could be an important book for a student feeling distant or alienated. Jimmy is mischievous and fun, stealing Jack's toothbrush and entertaining guests, while Jack is quiet and bothered by the noise. In the end, Jack and his dad reconnect and show the importance of communication.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Dear Treefrog, written by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Diana Sldyka, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary:  This is a clever book that follows a young girl who just moved to a new home and is worried about friends and starting in a new school.  When she arrives at her new home, she finds a treefrog in her yard as she is exploring.  On the left side of the pages, the story is told in verse. It starts
“I see you
Among the tangled green
A tiny dollop of
On the bottom right of the pages, there is factual information about frogs.  It reads “Small and agile, gray treefrogs spend most of their lives on land, quietly blending into their surroundings.”  Young readers will follow the main character through the seasons and how both lives are changing.  The main character will go to her new school and make new friends.  She then brings her friends to see the tree frog which goes from being outside to hibernating to being back outside in the spring.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This book is beautifully illustrated with watercolors that both tell a story and show facts, like how frog eggs look, with labels.  This would be a great book to use for teaching poetry.  It could be used again to show how it also gives non-fiction scientific facts about treefrog lives and habitats.  The illustrations have a touch of folk art to them.  The colors also match the seasons that are happening in the book.  I think the book is unique in style.  Both the words and the colors will grab a young reader's attention.  They will end up learning a lot of tree frog facts, but also be able to talk about the emotions and experiences that the little girl when through during her move.  A must-have book for any elementary school library.

Good Knight, Mustache Baby, written by Bridget Heos, Illustrated by Joy Ang, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary:  This picture book is a continuation of the Mustache Baby series.  This particular book has a medieval theme starring Baby Billy, House of Mustache, and Baby Javier, House of Beard. They spent their days slaying dragons and they did not like bedtime. Billy and Javier had to go to bed at the stroke of 7 pm.  They could hear the Lord and Lady of the House (their parents) and various trolls and ogres (their siblings) still awake well past 7:00 pm.  One day they went to a festival (library), where there were contests, crafts, and a secret meeting of the Knights of the Roundtable!  All the Knights fell asleep during storytime, except for Billy.  He was ready for more adventures. He did everything he could to not go to bed.  However, sleep conquered Billy and he went on to have more adventures in his dreams.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This is such a cute story!  It is perfect for any young reader going through a knight and castle phase. I think both young readers and their adults will find a lot of humor in this story.  Parents will recognize the bedtime struggle as the author pokes lighthearted fun at all the things that stretch out a bedtime routine.  If you already have the other books in this series, this book is a must-have addition. It makes for a good read-aloud.  It also highlights the fun that can happen in a library.  I love that the librarian takes the knights on an adventure through storytelling.  There are also all sorts of fun things to look for in the illustrations.  I like that some of the pages are in softer muted colors to represent bedtime.  All in all, this book is sure to be a lot of fun for young readers looking for adventure.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

From an Idea to Disney, writen by Lowey Bundy Sichol, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  This well-researched narrative of the Walt Disney Company from Walt's birth in 1901 to the opening of Shanghai Disney in 2016 is a perfect non-fiction book for those who love Disney or are interested in learning about how a business is formed. The company's development and growth is told as a simple, easy-to-follow narrative, and business terms are bolded and defined in small boxes on the same page ("mortgage", "revenue", "bankruptcy", to name a few). The pages are also decorated with black-and-white cartoon sketches, quotes by Walt Disney himself, and "fun facts", trivia about the company and the parks. Extra material includes a bibliography, timeline, and source notes. The first half of the book reads like a biography of Walt Disney, and the second half runs through the next two CEOs.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Sichol certainly skips over some of Disney's - and big business's - unsavory sides (the closest she comes to criticism is stating that Walt's smoking was a "dangerous habit"), but as an introduction to how a company is formed and an homage to Disney, this book is an excellent fit. Use for reports on Walt Disney or as a simple introduction to a mini society unit. Of note: this was written in 2019, and so some sections - notably the description of Bob Iger's tenure and the statement that the only cause of Disney World's closures has been hurricanes - will require supplemental research.

When I Grow Up, written by Bob Holt, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  The half-circle cutout on the top of this board book asks readers to "place your face here!" As they flip through the pages, readers can put themselves in the outfit of an astronaut, software designer, art teacher, musician, and more. Each career comes with a colorful costume and a brief two-line description of the person's responsibilities. The repeated "I can be..." refrain ends with the promise that the reader can be "anything in the world!"

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Kids could have fun putting their face on the page to take on a new career, and this could make for a fun career readiness project. A diverse range of professions are represented, and the bodies do not show the color of their skin, so any student could feel their face fits above any career. A fun additional selection for a board book collection.

Friday, June 2, 2023

10 Spooky Pumpkins, written by Gris Grimly, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  On Halloween night, a young girl meets spooky characters and scenes in groups of ten to two, until they come across one very scary moon that scatters everyone. The illustrations are reminiscent of the "Nightmare Before Christmas" - eerie, angular shapes that would be almost too scary if it weren't for the obvious fun the girl is having! The rhythmic pattern - "7 greedy goblins full of naughty tricks / Looking for a ghost and they found six" - repeats until the culmination in a Halloween dance party.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This creepy countdown is a perfect addition to any Halloween picture book collection. Full of juicy adjectives, a predictable pattern, and spooky characters, read to any kid in the weeks before Halloween and they will be sucked in!

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Girl Who Speaks Bear, written by Sophie Anderson, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  Yanka is already different from the other people in her village: She's stronger, bigger, and a foundling from the cave of the great bear. When she wakes one day to find she's grown bear legs, Yanka decides to venture into the forest to discover the truth about where she belongs. A beautiful fantasy adventure then enfolds, in which Yanka learns she can speak to animals, meets a house on chicken legs (readers of Anderson's first novel will recognize some characters), and starts to find her own place in the world.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This fantasy adventure is woven through with magic and Russian folklore, and will appeal to fans of Anderson's first novel as well as fans of Kelly Barnhill. Hand to readers looking for a gentle adventure of self-discovery with friends appearing along the way.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Rainbow in the Dark, written by Sean McGinty, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary:  Shortly after relocating to a new town with her mom and brother, CJ, Rainbow finds herself standing in the dark, unable to remember her own name. She thinks she was headed for the beach, but she’s in a field and nothing looks familiar. As she begins to explore her new surroundings, she finds a box that issues her an ID code, a task, and a few pages of memories. It seems that in this new land, Rainbow is on some kind of quest. She meets another player named Chad01, who provides some background to the game and starts to journey with her, both hoping to accomplish the same goal - find the portal to home. They meet twins, Owlsy and Lark, along the way and they become a team, working together, taking on missions, finishing quests, all in the hopes of going home. But the longer they are together, the more intense and confusing the quests become, and as Rainbow receives more memories, she starts to wonder how much of this game is real and how high the stakes really are.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Rainbow in the Dark is one of the most unique books I have ever read. Structurally, the narration moves back and forth between first person (when Rainbow is in her memories) and second person (when Rainbow is in the game). The story itself does not remind me of anything else. Rainbow’s quests in The Wilds frequently feel like a video game, but the inclusion of more serious elements and her flashbacks into her memories mute the video game vibe and give the story a more serious tone. That being said, many of the details and interactions in The Wilds are quite humorous. The way that the world is built, the characters in it, and the rules that must be followed often made me chuckle. But there is definitely a lot of darkness to the story too. It becomes clear that mental health, and possibly suicide, are aspects of Rainbow’s life outside of the game, which leaves the reader in suspense about how those components led Rainbow to The Wilds in the first place. And as more details of Rainbow’s past are revealed, the weight of her actions, inside and outside of the game, become heavier and more meaningful as the truth of Rainbow’s reality is finally discovered. This book is quirky and interesting, but it may fly above the heads of some students. However, those who connect with Rainbow’s struggles or who are engaged by an unusual story are likely to love it. Connections to Psychology curriculum are high, and there is an opportunity to use this book or a selection from it as a mentor text on story structure and narrative voice. Add this book to any collection lacking in mental health materials or where readers seek unusual stories.

Racers, The: How an Outcast Driver, An American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best, written by Neal Bascomb, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary:  The Racers is an exciting piece of narrative nonfiction that builds to the culminating event of the 1937 European Grand Prix. But before readers get to that momentous race, we meet the drivers, teams and cars that participated. Hitler was reveling in his power and trying to prove the prowess of the Third Reich in motor sports. The Nazi German driver, Rudi Caracciola, and his line of vehicles drive one piece of the narrative. We also follow Rene Dreyfus, a French driver of Jewish heritage who is barred from racing for most teams despite having much success in racing. He finds a spot with Ecurie Bleue, a team run by Lucy Shell, an heiress and racer in her own right, who wanted to make her mark on the sport. As the Grand Prix approaches, the book becomes more and more exciting as readers wonder if the underdog team of Dreyfus and Shell stands a chance against the powerhouse force of Nazi Germany.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  This book is incredibly detailed in its description of the cars and races in which each of the drivers competed. This reader, who is not a car or racing enthusiast, occasionally felt mired by the profuse details, but fully recognizes that the many middle school and high school readers who are fans of cars and racing will be delighted by the level of detail included. The historical context of the story is incredibly interesting, focusing on the power dynamics in Europe during the late 30s and the many ways in which the Nazi power overwhelmed nearly anyone or anything that crossed its path. There is plenty of room for curricular connections to world history, and the inclusion of an exciting tale of racing and power dynamics may be just the thing students need to add excitement to their curriculum. The connections between many still existing car companies and the Nazi regime were also fascinating to learn, and are rarely discussed, even in suburban Detroit, the Motor City, where this reviewer lives. Ultimately, this book is an underdog story, following scrappy Rene Dreyfus and determined Lucy Shell as they pursue their dreams in the face of immense power, fear and hatred. If students are interested in the first half of the story, they will certainly stick around for the heart-pounding finish. Recommended for libraries where car and racing books are popular and for collections in need of additional perspectives on World War II.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Circus Rose, written by Betsy Cornwell, reviewed by Bethany Bratney

Summary:  Rosie and Ivory are twins who have grown up in the circus with their mother, the bearded lady and ringmaster. The sisters are extremely close, but incredibly different. Ivory is the primary storyteller, a lover of engineering and the circus stagehand. Rosie is the secondary storyteller, a performer in the show who becomes so overwhelmed after appearances that she must retreat to a dark room. After traveling for years through Fey lands, the circus has returned to its home city, Port’s End, which the performers expect to be a joyous occasion. But the city has changed while they were gone, and is now filled with religious fervor and zealous preachers who speak out against those who are different, like many in the circus family, especially Tam, an agender Fey magician with whom Ivory begins a relationship. When mysterious events befall the circus, Ivory must discover who is responsible in order to save the lives of many that she loves.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  There are some clever devices at play in this story. Ivory, the analytical sister, tells her chapters in prose, while Rosie, the creative sister, tells her chapters in beautiful verse. The effect is interesting, but also leaves the reader feeling like they understand Ivory much better than Rosie. One of the story's greatest strengths is its seamless inclusion of characters that represent many different gender identities and defy traditional gender norms. We see this most clearly in the character of Tam, who is Fey, none of whom identify as male or female, and who uses fe/fer/fers pronouns throughout the book. Tam’s relationship with Ivory is very queer positive, as is Rosie’s relationship, though it is a bit more mysterious. The girls’ mother proudly sports a beard and is considered one of the most attractive women among many in society. These inclusive elements are no doubt responsible for the inclusion of The Circus Rose on the 2021 Rainbow List, along with the plot element involving the persecution of each of these people and many others by religious groups. All of these positive elements aside, the story meanders and is occasionally difficult to follow. It offers almost too many world-building details without enough explanation of most of them. Some of the books' big reveals feel extremely obvious and others seem to appear from nowhere. Many readers are likely to abandon this book before they are able to process the messages, but students who are seeking out fantasy stories heavy on queer elements are likely to appreciate this book. Recommended for collections that are in need of more queer representation.

Land of the Cranes, written by Aida Salazar, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  Betita is a nine-year-old girl in Los Angeles who loves to write poems and draw pictures - until her father is deported and she and her pregnant mother are detained in a family detention camp. Among her fellow asylum seekers, Betita meets cruel guards, unfeeling administration, and desperately seeks to get her poems and story told - and her family reunited in their home. Told through pictures and poems, Betita's story is difficult to read but ultimately hopeful.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Betita's story is hard to read, but an important view into detainment centers and the difficulties faced by detainees. A beautiful collection of poems and pictures that tells a timely story about issues and fears faced by immigrants in the United States every day. Hand to readers who won't flinch from cruelty and are prepared to read the harsh reality and frustrations of immigration policy.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Barakah Beats, written by Maleeha Siddiqui, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary:  Nimra knows that transferring to a public middle school for seventh grade from her small Islamic academy will be difficult, but she's confident that her best friend, Jenna, will help her through. When Jenna becomes distant and seems to be ashamed that Nimra is the only person at school wearing a hijab, Nimra decides to prove to her that she fits in by joining the cool kids: three older Muslim boys who form the best band around, Barakah Beats. There's only one problem - Nimra's family's interpretation of Islam doesn't allow music.

Straight Talk for Librarians:  Nimra is a refreshingly confident, proud Muslim character who has no interest in hiding herself or her religion, and readers looking for representation will flock to her. There's a lot to learn about Islam and the differences of practice even within the religion, as well as a diverse picture of the different types of people, races, and cultures that identify as Muslim. Although Nimra is wrestling with complicated decisions and issues that impact her family, friends, and religion, the story stays fun and hopeful.