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Best New Books for Back-to-School 2021

10 BACK-TO-SCHOOL BOOKS

∼A ROUNDUP FOR 2021∼

 

 

backtoschool pencil clipart

 

 

Back-to school this year is not only the start of a new school year, for many it’s also a return to in-person learning in over a year. For others, it’s really the first time ever to attend daycare, preschool, or elementary school. This selection of ten assorted books highlights all the things that returning to school means for kids.

 

 

MEET YOUR SCHOOL!: An All About Me Book
Written by Cindy Jin

Illustrated by Melissa Crowton
(Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 1-5)

Cindy Jin’s upbeat 12-page school-shaped board book, Meet Your School!: An All About Me Book, features a variety of animals making their way through a school day. A nice overview is given of what kids can expect, from the main classrooms to the art room, gym, cafeteria, library, and music room. The rhyming couplets reinforce what can be found in each area: “The library is filled with books of all kinds / to teach and inspire bright, young minds.”

The illustrations by Melissa Crowton depict cute, colorful animals interacting happily in various situations. Each page has fun lift-the-flaps for further exploration. Overall, this book has a lot to discover while also providing a positive message as to what school is all about. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

HowtobeKindinKindergarten cvrHOW TO BE KIND IN KINDERGARTEN:
A Book For Your Backpack
Written by D.J. Steinberg
Illustrated by Ruth Hammond
(Grosset & Dunlap; $8.99; Ages 3-5)

 My eyes were instantly attracted to the colorful book cover illustration of an apple being shared on the school playground with a new friend, while classmates throw balls and glide down the slide, introducing readers to acts of kindness in How To Be Kind in Kindergarten: A Book for Your Backpack.

A book for your backpack is a perfect subtitle for this small hardcover book that reads rhythmically, teaching hidden lessons to kids first entering the new world of school. The fun-to-read story includes a diverse mix of abilities, races, and genders. Kids should have no problem finding themselves in one of Hammond’s realistic drawings.

Steinberg opens the story with the question, “Are you in kindergarten? Is that really true? How in the world did you get so big? So smart and funny, too!” The story moves into the classroom with posters of 1, 2, 3, and ABC so a child sees what a kindergarten classroom looks like. Kindness is threaded through each page as Steinberg points out, ‘Cause you’re the kind of kid who always shows you care.

This book shows kids what an impact they can make in their new school, whether cheering up a sad new friend or including a shy friend in a game. This truly is an ideal backpack book and should be read on the first day of school, the middle of the school year, and at the end of the school year because kindness is needed year-round. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

whats in dragons backpack coverWHAT’S IN DRAGON’S BACKPACK?
Written by Joan Holub

Illustrated by Christopher Lee
(Little Simon; $8.99, Ages 3-5)

The eye-catching cover of Joan Holub’s, What’s in Dragon’s Backpack? gleams with metallic dragon scales and the backpack-shaped 14-page board book has a cut-out handle just the right size for small hands. Inside, the fun rhyming couplets give us a glimpse of what Dragon’s got in there: “Stickers, charms, a message, and some homework that he fried. Oops!”

Each page has lift-the-flaps for further exploration adorned with Christopher Lee’s adorable art. The faces on his dragons, such as on the mock A Dragon’s Tale book, are top-notch. I also really like the subtle math lessons showing three flames equals one on-fire number three. Other teaching elements include groups of shapes that, once you peek beneath the flap, combine to make a sword.

Educational, interactive, and fun, this engaging book is sure to be a hit with kids who are starting school and donning backpacks. It can also be a conversation starter about what should be inside your child’s backpack to make school days a success. – Review by Christine Van Zandt

 

ISABEL AND HER COLORES GO TO SCHOOL
Written by Alexandra Alessandri
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

It’s the first day of school, an English-speaking school, but Isabel only speaks Spanish. Isabel is a charming and irresistible main character and I cared about how she felt going into unknown territory, alone. Her reluctance is understandable. She doesn’t know English and is scared of what it will be like. Isabel sees things in gorgeous colors and through art and doesn’t realize how quickly she will pick up the new language. “English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites.” Isabel preferred the warm, cheerful colors of Spanish.

Ultimately her language learning is facilitated by one good friend but her limited grasp of English initially gets in the way. Isabel’s thoughtful art saves the day and new friendship blossoms. The interplay between Alessandri’s beautiful prose and Dawson’s flowing art makes every page a delight to behold. This cleverly presented bilingual picture book also includes Spanish to English translations in the back matter but for English speakers, most of the Spanish words can be understood in the context of the story. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

My School Stinks! coverMY SCHOOL STINKS!
Written by Becky Scharnhorst
Illustrated by Julia Patton
(Philomel; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

School really does stink when one classmate is a skunk and the teacher is unBEARable. So, when little Stuart tells Mom his classmates are wild animals she says all kids are wild animals in debut author Becky Scharnhorst’s hysterical read-aloud with drawings by Julia Patton.

The originality of this story told in diary form starting on the first day of school and ending at Open House, when Mom and Dad realize they have sent their young child, Stuart, to a school full of animals, takes the reader through the first seventeen days of school. Stuart attempts to play along with his classmates when the monkeys hang him upside down. He’s then caught by Patricia the Porcupine pricking him with her many quills. Stuart journals P.S. The deep breaths still aren’t working. P.P.S. Neither are the happy thoughts P.P.P.S. I’m not going back tomorrow!

As Stuart continues to journal he also begins to make friends. Charlie the Crocodile apologizes for biting his fingers and becomes Stuart’s new best bud. This sweet story can be read for school storytime or by a parent before bed. I laughed on entry September 15 when Scharnhorst writes P.S. Mom doesn’t understand how a skunk got in the storage closet. I guess she’ll find out at Open House. I was anxious for Open House to find out how Mom and Dad would react to realizing they sent their child to the wrong school, but Stuart repeats what they told him on the first day of school Mom and Dad told me to take deep breaths and THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS. This was a great lesson for his parents. I just hope they let him stay friends with a crocodile! Patton’s detailed artwork adds to the whimsy with letters written on notebook paper and characters drawn with big teeth and round glasses. The P.S. notes were a fabulous extra touch. – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

WE WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL:
The Fight for Disability Rights
Written by Maryann Cocca-Leffler + Janine Leffler
Illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler

(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Oh, how I’d love for this nonfiction picture book to be required reading in all schools! I could not believe as I read it that prior to President Ford signing the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) in 1975 with its Individualized Education Plan (IEP), children with disabilities did not have the right to a free, appropriate, public education. But the book really focuses on the lawsuit in 1971 called Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia, the District Court ruling in 1972 that led to this important act being implemented, and the seven school-aged children and their families who made it happen.

We Want to Go to School is narrated by author-illustrator Cocca-Leffler’s daughter, author Janine Leffler, whose own inclusive experience as a student with Cerebral Palsy (CP) receiving various special assistance in school contrasts to what students prior to her would have experienced.  She explains how prior to the ’70s, students with disabilities either didn’t go to school, stayed in hospitals, or were sent to special schools at a huge expense to families. If they were allowed into some schools, these children were segregated in separate classrooms. There was little chance to interact with mainstream students. That is until Peter Mills, Janice King, Jerome James, Michael Williams, George Liddell, Jr., Steven Gaston and Duane Blacksheare decided they’d had enough of being left out. Of course, the schools objected, finding reason after reason why students with disabilities should not be able to attend. Their parents were having déjà vu.

Wasn’t public school supposed to be for everyone? Wasn’t that the lesson learned in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation because of the color one’s skin was the issue. So the families fought back. They began to meet others facing the same school challenges and there was power in numbers. The news of the lawsuit spread so that pretty soon “more families joined the lawsuit.” It then became a class action suit. “18,000 students from the Washington, D.C. area were also not receiving a public education because of their disabilities.” Would the judge presiding over the case agree? YES! And the positive outcome of this lawsuit led to big changes for students with disabilities with “federal laws guaranteeing public education for all children.

I loved the energy of Cocca-Leffler’s art, especially the spread where she’s filled the page with faces of 1,000 kids and tells readers to imagine those 18,000 DC students, and the 8 million US students denied an education because they had disabilities. Powerful! Five pages of back matter include information on Disability Education Rights, a timeline, Author Notes, and an enlightening Note from Paul R. Dimond, Plaintiffs’ Attorney in the Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia. I’m grateful for these change-makers. They paved the way for future students with disabilities who continue to benefit from their commitment to equal rights in education for all. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

TheNightBaaforetheFirstDayofSchool coverTHE NIGHT BAAFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
Written by Dawn Young
Illustrated by Pablo Pino
(WorthyKids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

The Night Baafore The First Day of School blends the counting element, the rhyme and hilarity of Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk with the irresistible art of Mark Teague’s Pigsty. As the main character Bo—the star of two previous books I haven’t yet read—attempts unsuccessfully to fall asleep due to day-before-school-starts jitters, he calls on sheep to help. The catch is they make it more difficult to sleep with the ruckus they create. Poor Bo, aware of the hours slipping away, is desperate. He offers them a snack if they’ll stop, but when that doesn’t work he calls an emergency meeting. Only then a mysterious shadow of a monster appears further exacerbating the chaos. 

There’s as much for readers to enjoy in Young’s wild storyline as there is in Pino’s zany and action-packed illustrations. The counting of sheep from 1 to 10 as they get up to no good adds an engaging layer to the book. Then, reversing that to eventually count back down as it gets later and later, is such fun and a great way to involve young readers. I love how the 10 sheep all wear number necklaces to identify themselves. Kids may want to study each spread more closer upon further reads to see what each individual sheep is doing with the supplies Bo has prepared for his backpack. The massive mess is mighty fun to look at. Tension builds with each page turn as we wonder if Bo will get any shut-eye and manage to catch the bus to school. And the humor surrounding every sheep-filled episode encroaching on Bo’s time to sleep is a delight in this rhyming romp of a read-aloud. – Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

NORMAN’S FIRST DAY AT DINO DAY CARE
Written and illustrated by Sean Julian
(NorthSouth Books; $17.95, Ages 4-8)

Norman, a very small, almost invisible dinosaur compared to all the other dinos at Mrs. Beak’s play group, is shy. This may resonate with young readers experiencing a similar emotion when just starting school and being away from home. Julian’s rich artwork is charming in how it depicts Norman hiding (except his tail always adorably sticking out) in various situations where the text also states “he was very good at hiding.” In the beginning, before Norman makes friends, parents can ask children to see if they can spot him in the illustrations as he avoids interaction.

My favorite part of the picture book is when Norman confides in Mrs. Beak that he really wants to join the other dinos but feels shy. “It’s okay to be shy,” Mrs. Beak replied. “It’s a special part of who you are.” When she asks the dinos to perform in pairs, Norman teams up with big, loud Jake who despite his size, admits he’s rather nervous too. The two share a laugh and come up with a magical performance that not only satisfies (and perhaps comforts) children but provides the perfect conversation starter for parents and teachers to discuss shyness. I’m not sure it was deliberate, but I appreciated Mrs. Beak’s rainbow door and her rainbow mug, another welcoming feature to this warm and reassuring read. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

SCHOOL IS COOL! (A Hello!Lucky Book)
Written by Sabrina Moyle
Illustrated by Eunice Moyle
(Abrams Appleseed; $16.99; Ages 5-9)

School Is Cool was written and illustrated by sisters Sabrina Moyle and Eunice Moyle founders of Hello!Lucky, their award-winning letterpress greeting card and design studio.

Targeting the child who has already had some school experience, this story begins on the beach where the rhinoceros, dog, and platypus are chilling out until they realize Tomorrow’s the first day of school! The expressive drawings tell it all when the dog almost drops his ice cream cone and the rhino jumps from his floatation device. The friends are worried kids won’t like your hair. Or how they talk. Or what they wear.

Eunice Moyle’s bold, captivating illustrations depict all sorts of animals arriving for their first day by school bus and bikes. They line up awaiting a handshake from the animal teacher, in popping bright greens and oranges and a happy yellow sun, a perfect complement to the welcome the smiling animals.

This book expresses the true feelings many kids have when it’s time to say goodbye to Mom and home now replaced by an unfamiliar teacher and classroom where they must learn the new rules. What if your teacher calls on you—and the answer is five, but you said … 2. It’s ok to say “I don’t know.” Everyone is here to grow.”

The back flap states that the Moyle sisters use their creativity and humor to inspire kindness, empathy, self-awareness, and service and in doing so dedicate this book to teachers everywhere. You are the coolest! Thank you for all you do! – Review by Ronda Einbinder

 

TWINS VS. TRIPLETS #1:
Back-to-School Blitz

Written by Jennifer Torres
Illustrated by Vanessa Flores
(Harper Chapters; HC $15.99, Paperback $5.99, Ages 6-10)

It looks like it’s going to be three times the trouble at school for David Suárez. With new neighbors, the Benitez triplets adding to what’s already an annoying presence by his other neighbors, the Romero twins, David must navigate third grade and not lose his cool. His goal after all is to be captain of the Globetrotters, the geography club, and that requires an uncluttered mind. Except the Benitez triplets and Romero twins are messing with him and everyone else.

When David is tasked with monitoring the playground (trouble maker prime turf), he fears it may be made off-limits for everyone if the five tricksters continue getting up to no good. And that is looking more and more likely when both sets of mischief-makers aim to rule recess with their pranks and pushy personalities.

This early chapter book, filled with humorous black-and-white illustrations, works well with its mix of Spanish words and expressions along with comments at the end of most chapters noting a reader’s progress. I like how Back-to-School Blitz includes a diverse group of students and some interesting geography information (David’s favorite subject) that ends up playing an important part in keeping the bullies in check. A couple of things jumped out at me like having the triplets together in one class which I thought wasn’t typically done. Another time, after causing a distraction, the triplets sneak out of class early without the teacher, Mr. Kim, noticing. But I’m an adult and if the kids reading this first book in a new series don’t mind, that’s great because as the book ends, there’s some unusual digging going on in the sandbox, and surely more pranks to come in book #2. – Review by Ronna Mandel

 

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Picture Book Review – Brave as a Mouse

BRAVE AS A MOUSE

Written and Illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi 

(Random House Studio; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

BraveasaMouse cover

 

Starred Review – Booklist

 

A brave hero doesn’t always mean a big hero in Nicolò Carozzi’s beautifully worded and illustrated picture book Brave as a Mouse, his debut picture book in the US. 

Through simple text and stunning art, Carozzi draws our attention to Mouse’s new friendship with the homeowner’s fish. Mouse asks the fish, “Would you like to play?” and with a simple “YES!” both creatures enjoy each other’s company, swimming together. Mouse blows through a straw, and the fish enjoys jacuzzi-style bubbles. 

 

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Interior spread from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

However, the fun stops when other housepets want to “play.” Three ominous shadows cast on the wall next to the fish’s bowl are plain but powerful images foretelling of the dangers ahead. 

As the homeowner’s beloved fat cats encircle the fishbowl, Mouse has a “wild … bold … [and] brave idea” to entice the three to follow him, all the way to the pantry where they gorge themselves on cat food.

 

BRAVEASAMOUSE_int2
Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

While the felines sleep off their big meal, Mouse uses the time to fulfill an even wilder, bolder, and braver idea that includes the help of other mice living in the house. Straight lines, calm, muted colors, and minimalist illustrations keep us focused on the rescue plan. Children and adult readers will enjoy the action-packed adventure as Mouse risks his own safety to protect his new friend. A more subtle, though important theme is the infectious nature of Mouse’s bravery and kindness.

 

BRAVEASAMOUSE int3
Interior art from Brave as a Mouse written and illustrated by Nicolò Carozzi, Random House Studio ©2021.

 

For those interested in quieter books on themes of friendship and compassion as well as those who like a good old fashion story when the good guys win, this picture book will delight again and again. 

 

  •  Reviewed by Armineh Manookian 
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Three Children’s Books for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

A ROUNDUP OF RECOMMENDED READS

FOR

ASIAN/PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

 

 

tiny feet between the mountains cvrTINY FEET BETWEEN THE MOUNTAINS
Written and illustrated by Hanna Cha
(Simon Kids; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

Author-illustrator Hanna Cha’s debut picture book, Tiny Feet Between the Mountains, tells the tale of Soe-In, the smallest child in a Korean village. But, being little doesn’t slow her down. Soe-In manages burdensome chores using wit and perseverance. When the sun disappears and the chieftain needs a volunteer, only Soe-in steps forward.

In the forest, she finds the spirit tiger is real, and in really big trouble—he’s swallowed the sun! Like the villagers, the spirit tiger first discounts Soe-In’s ability to help. However, brave, imaginative Soe-In saves the day.

Cha’s art shows the movement and mood of this powerful story. I enjoyed the images of the tiger because feline fluidity is difficult to capture. Her Author’s Note explains tigers are revered by Koreans; their country is shaped like one. The tiger as their spirit animal appears in countless Korean stories as a symbol of respect, strength, and dignity, both as a deity and a threat.

bilal cook daal coverBILAL COOKS DAAL
Written by Aisha Saeed
Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
(Salaam Reads; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

A Kirkus Reviews Best Picture Book of 2019
Starred Review – Kirkus

An Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Book 2019

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed is an upbeat picture book about friendship and cooking. When Bilal’s friends wonder why it takes his Pakistani family all day to make daal, he introduces them to the process, letting them choose the color of lentils for the stew they will enjoy together at dinnertime. As the day goes by, Bilal worries a bit that his friends won’t like the taste, but the delicious dish pleases everyone, demonstrating how food brings people together.

Anoosha Syed’s art focuses on the kids enjoying their day of play, a variety of emotions clearly captured. The daal’s vivid descriptions (“small like pebbles, but shaped like pancakes”) come to life through the illustrations. Close your eyes and let the simmering daal awaken your senses.

The Author’s Note explains daal is a staple food in South Asia, but lentils are enjoyed in many other places. Saeed’s recipe for Chana Daal is similar to what I grew up with in my household, bringing back warm memories. In these months of the pandemic where many of us are cooking wholesome meals, this hearty and healthy dish will please while filling the house with amazing aromas all day long.

summer bird blue cvrSUMMER BIRD BLUE
Written by Akemi Dawn Bowman

(Simon Pulse; $18.99 HC, $12.99 PB, $9.99 eBook, Ages 12+)

A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman opens with a car crash. Seventeen-year-old Rumi Seto loses her only sister Lea, who’s also her best friend. Their mother, unable to deal, puts Rumi on a plane to Hawaii for an indefinite stay with Aunty Ani, their Japanese-Hawaiian side of the family.

Lea, two years younger, was the outgoing, happy-go-lucky sister. Rumi, the opposite personality type fits her “ruminating” name; often, she’s stuck in her head, turning things over, unable to step forward into everyday life. Though quite different, the sisters, shared a love of music, playing instruments together. They would randomly come up with three words, then write a song about it. (Summer Bird Blue, refers to the unwritten song that haunts Rumi after Lea dies.)

Rumi suffers in the angry and depressive stages of grief, vacillating between lashing out and crawling into bed for days on end. Her new surroundings include neighbors Mr. Watanabe (a grumpy octogenarian who becomes an unlikely companion) and Kai (the too-handsome, too-cheerful boy next door). As Rumi becomes closer to Kai, they go on a date, but kissing surfaces her confusion over her possible asexuality. Believing other teens have easy crushes and romance, Rumi’s self-doubt compounds after losing Lea.

The story’s lovely scenes centering around Rumi’s deep bond with music resonated with me. The moving descriptions include Rumi’s regard for Lea’s guitar, and Mr. Watanabe’s piano and ukulele. When transported into this world, Rumi’s passion ignites. However, anything musical involves Lea, and Rumi cannot process what to do without her sister, which furthers the painful introspection and turmoil.

I appreciate Bowman’s choice to spotlight a troubled, roughhewn protagonist struggling with a complexity of issues. Writing about grief, sexuality, and trying to understand life itself are ambitious undertakings, yet Bowman succeeds in weaving a truthful, heartfelt story that includes both honestly bitter moments and lyrically beautiful ones.

 

Find out more about Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month here and here.

 

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Children’s Picture Book Review – Caspian Finds a Friend

CASPIAN FINDS A FRIEND

Written by Jacqueline Véissid

Illustrated by Merrilees Brown

(Chronicle Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

 

Caspian Finds a Friend cvr

 

Starred Review – Kirkus

Written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Caspian Finds a Friend begins with a quotation on its dedication page that captures the essence of the book:  “What you seek is seeking you.” Written by the Persian poet Rumi, this profound statement hints at our deep connection to each other, even if we may not quite understand or see it yet. Through patience and quiet determination, we will certainly experience this truth.

 

CFAF int.pt01
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

From the first page, Brown’s illustrations are completely mesmerizing. The vastness of the “cold gray-blue sea” speaks to little Caspian’s loneliness and longing for a friend. The soft color palette and gentle lines indicating movement radiate outward. Everything in Caspian’s environment is casting out a light, past the great beyond of the sea. The lighthouse where he lives and even the sun are reaching out to seek love. Nearly every page is a double page spread helping readers connect with Caspian’s gentleness and faithfulness in “wondering, waiting, wishing for a friend.” 

 

CFAF int.pt02
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

Though “no one arrives,” the little boy does not grow disheartened. Instead, he has a “new thought” and sends out to sea a message in a bottle. There’s an undeniable meditative quality in this process. We see Caspian emptying out his vase, rolling up his note to put inside, and placing the flower back in the vase-perhaps a gift to the receiver and a sign to us readers of his generous heart. In this step by step way, Veissid’s lyrical language slows us down, helping us feel safe and calm.

As days “sink into weeks [and] weeks into months,” Caspian’s hope never falters; his patience for a response gets rewarded. The little boy rows out to sea to meet his new companion, a bear who is just as eager as Caspian to make a new friend. 

 

CFAF int.pt03
Interior spread from Caspian Finds a Friend written by Jacqueline Véissid and illustrated by Merrilees Brown, Chronicle Books ©2019.

 

Caspian Finds a Friend is excellent for bedtime or anytime parents and caregivers are looking to settle little ones down. Themes of love, patience, friendship, and mindfulness will encourage readers (and listeners) to return to this story again and again. I find this book especially relevant for our current time as it shows us the power of our imagination to bring healing and comfort.

• Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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Kids Picture Book Review – Mr. Scruff

MR. SCRUFF

Written and illustrated

by Simon James

(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 3-7)

 

MrScruff book cover

 

Junior Library Guild Selection

In this heartwarming story about companionship, award-winning author and illustrator Simon James shows readers that you don’t have to be perfect to find your perfect fit. Mr. Scruff tells the story of a large, scruffy dog who had no one until he finds his certain someone, even if it’s someone that may not have been initially considered the perfect match.

 

MrScruff int.1
MR. SCRUFF. Copyright © 2019 by Simon James. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

The  story opens in a park setting of fall colored leaves and happy people walking their children and pets. Running ahead on the grassy pathway is a little dog named Polly, with her curly hair and red ribbon on top of her head. We turn the page and see a woman walking Polly in a stroller, who also has curly hair and a red ribbon on top of her head. “She belongs to Molly.” Simon’s illustrations clearly show that these two are visually quite the match.

They say dogs start looking like their owners and that is definitely the case with the dogs we meet. (My own dog Bailey had red hair matching my husband’s!) Eric, hairless, with his nose pointed in the air, is on a leash crossing the street with a hairless man. “He belongs to Derek.”

“But who’s this? It’s Mr. Scruff …” We find the unkempt bottom heavy beige dog with a long face sitting alone inside a cage surrounded by a dog bed, a bowl and a toy ball. The next room shows the vet with a small boy and his small dog.

 

MrScruff int 2
MR. SCRUFF. Copyright © 2019 by Simon James. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

 

Page after page of adorable artwork in ink and watercolor with a warm Quentin Blake quality introduces readers to various dogs whose names and features resemble their beloved owners. “But things are looking rough for poor old Mr. Scruff. Wait a minute! Who’s this?”

The seemingly sad story of Mr. Scruff takes a positive turn when an unsuspecting new character is introduced. He is small, not big; black not beige; young not old and his name does not rhyme with Mr. Scruff. But “They seem to like each other.” The boy, Jim, and his parents know Mr. Scruff “needs a place to call his very own and that is what matters.”

This poignant story of companionship is a super fun read with its uplifting rhymes. The drawings and story left me with a smile on my face, demonstrating that we can always find friends that are both similar and not so similar. Teachers and parents alike can share the message that we are surrounded by a whole world of people who may look different than us, but who still may be our most perfect companions. Jim gave Mr. Scruff a chance and together they became an absolutely perfect fit! And what happens to the little dog named Tim and scruffy, old Mr. Gruff? Shhh! You have to read the book to find out …

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Read a review of another picture book about friendship here.

 

 

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Best Health and Well-Being Books for Tweens and Teens

A ROUNDUP OF NONFICTION BOOKS

ABOUT GROWING UP, FRIENDSHIPS & FEELING GREAT

 

Bunk 9's Guide to Growing Up cvrBUNK 9’S GUIDE TO GROWING UP:
Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good,
the Bad and the Awkward
Written by Adah Nuchi
Illustrated by Meg Hunt
Vetted by Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar
(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8-12)

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

Bunk 9 at Camp Silver Moon is traditionally a bunk for 12-year-old girls who experience their first kiss or get an unexpected visit from their first period. But this summer the Silver Moon Sisterhood, 16-year-old C.I.T.s (Counselors in Training) take over their former bunk and are reminded of what it was like to be twelve. Bunk 9’s Guide To Growing Up written by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Meg Hunt, with medical supervision from Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar, takes an innovative approach to answering age-old questions about puberty.

“While there are a whole lot of changes that happen on the road to womanhood, they’re all leading somewhere completely wonderful. (And once you get the hang of them, tampons aren’t scary at all),” inspiring the teens’ idea for a book because the Sisterhood says, WE’RE HERE TO HELP.

The girls of Bunk 9, I mean young women, leave behind “the book” that contains magical and non-magical secrets, tips and expert advice for girls on the good, the bad, and the awkward, for the next groups of girls the following summers. Each girl has her own unique personality from Brianna the social butterfly, Emma L. the science wiz and Makayla the expert bra shopper.

The composition style book begins remembering Week One when the C.I.T.s were a mere twelve. It was the fourth Summer the girls would spend together, and they were anxious to meet each other as they were dropped off. But when Abby runs to meet Brianna she discovers that her old friend towers above her. Abby looked like a stick figure. As they unpacked their belongings, Emma R. displayed a stick of deodorant, while Emma L. had a little razor. As the reader turns page after page, she learns about the very beginning of puberty through a drawing of a real-life girl whose body changes as her hair starts to grow in new places and her hips begin to widen.

Hunt brings the reader into the story with colorful comic book art depicting the first time caring for your hair entirely on your own; saying no to zebras and getting white marks on your shirt (or how to put on a shirt without getting deodorant on it) with drawings of a zebra and a girl struggling to put her shirt on over her head. The drawings allow the reader to see pictures of women’s breasts and men’s unclothed bodies without feeling embarrassed seeing real life photographs.

Each C.I.T. journals her own tips. Abby tells the reader what it’s like to be a late bloomer and we learn about the disastrous results of Grace stuffing her bra. With sticker art of cacti, butterflies and rainbows you would place on a school book, the reader encounters real-life stories that all tween and teen girls will eventually experience. The reader learns about pads and tampons; cramping remedies; and various diets and feelings.

One of my favorite chapters is Week Six where the 16-year-olds discuss health. The reader learns that “staying healthy is about more than eating right; it’s also about getting regular exercise.” And as we encounter Jenna and Grace not getting along, we see that young bodies aren’t the only thing that changes during puberty― feelings and emotions change too. Explained in a way that all preteen girls can relate to, these not so easy topics are discussed in a manner that allows the parent to teach these necessary topics while the girls see that they may have differences but they should never allow them to tear them apart. Girls will walk away feeling like they, too, are part of the Silver Moon Sisterhood.

All About Us book coverALL ABOUT US:
Our Dreams, Our World, Our Friendship
Written by Ellen Bailey
Illustrated by Nellie Ryan
(Andrews McMeel Publishing; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

There’s nothing better than sharing your most precious thoughts, feelings, and dreams with your best friends. Writer Ellen Bailey with illustrator Nellie Ryan, have created a wide variety of games, quizzes and questionnaires to play along with your BFF to find new ways to discover why your friendship is so special in All About Us, a companion book to All About Me.

Ryan’s illustrations welcome the reader to two diverse teenage girls surrounded by water colored painted red, pink and blue hearts who are happily asking and answering questions on knowing me and knowing you; special memories of when they met; and what does the future hold for them.

Friends are asked to individually make a playlist of their top ten tunes marking Hit or Miss on the side, letting the BFF choose if your songs are a hit or miss, and the BFF gladly does the same for your list. Daydreaming about your future children wouldn’t be fun without listing your top boy and girl names, and seeing if your pal and you will both have daughters named Emma!

With hours of questions displayed on lavender and white pages to keep best buds occupied, tween readers can complete the questions page by page or skip around to find what interests them. From drawing silly sketches of your friend to choosing their top movie choices for movie night, the reader creates a lasting record of their friendship. Ryan allows plenty of space to complete quizzes and fill-in sections. Knowing that girls will find a page that fits the mood and moment, each page ends with date, time and place and completed by which is a great way for friends to remember the day with fondness.

Bailey gives preteens a chance to walk away from the computer screen and spend time together learning things they never knew about their BFF, while rediscovering new details of what they already know. This is a great book to bond girls together and use their imaginations by exploring their artistic and writing skills.

Project You Book CoverPROJECT YOU:
More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress and Feel Great
Written by Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD
Illustrated by Veronica Collignon
(Switch Press/Capstone; $14.95; Ages 14 and up)

Starred Review – VOYA

Growing up is hard and learning to feel good about yourself under everyday stressors is something everyone needs tools for to lead a happy, healthy life as broken down by children’s book author Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD in her latest book Project You, with a mix of photos, and illustrations by Veronica Collignon.

Andrus breaks down 50 ways to simplify life for the young adult reader, acquainting them with concepts of mindfulness, breathing, healthy eating and finding balance. Chapters such as the physical practice of yoga, demonstrates photographic poses for relaxation and stretching. Photos of young girls journaling in foreign cities and then a drawing of a girl holding a gratitude journal gives a wide assortment of visuals to reach various moods. The reader is given ideas on ways to de-stress with recommendations for happy music from the ’60s to present to change your mood, and finding a new hobby such as photography or learning a new tune on the guitar.

“The more you stay in the present moment, the more you’ll let go of stressing about things that may happen in the future or things you might regret about the past. This is why a lot of research has shown that people who practice mindfulness are less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed.”

This book lists activities, exercises, crafts and recipes that can help all ages transform their mindset and their emotions. Mindfulness tips are displayed throughout the book, such as in the chapter “Find A Furry Friend”, Andrus says, “Whether it’s your pet or an animal in a petting zoo or park, take time to just observe the animal. If you notice that your mind starts to drift as you are watching, gently bring your attention back to that animal.” As I read through the book, I skipped chapters then returned to them later; checked out the songs she suggests to uplift my mood and put ingredients on my shopping list for her smoothie recipe.

Adults can read the book and make suggestions to their teens, or teens can read and create their own gratitude journal. “The Wellness Check” was a great way to review what may need improvement and how you can make these changes. The last chapter “How To Ask For Help” gives the reader resources she can turn to whether it’s a doctor, social worker or school counselor she knows asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker. It’s a great book to keep on the bookshelf and return to when you need that extra support.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

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