New Release Spotlight: January 7, 2020 (Picture Books)

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I must have been in a mood this week because I got so annoyed with some of the publisher’s summaries on this week’s picture book list. Publishers, please just tell us what the book is about and let the reviewers do the editorializing. I don’t mind some glittery language in a summary–I expect it really–but when the whole summary reads more like a fangirl gush, it’s hard to take it seriously. One summary this week was nearly 100% gush and almost no actual summary. It was so bad this week that I’m planning to write a post addressing it more formally.

Anyhoo. This week’s picture book list is chock-full of starred reviews and multicultural titles! All of this week’s three Spotlights are awesome, but I’d say the picture book list is my favorite this week.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. This week’s YA and middle grade Spotlights are linked at the bottom of this post. And don’t forget The Ginormous book list, which is now up to well over 300 titles!

*The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard (Author), Oge Mora (Illustrator)

In 1848, Mary Walker was born into slavery. At age 15, she was freed, and by age 20, she was married and had her first child. By age 68, she had worked numerous jobs, including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, and selling sandwiches to raise money for her church. At 114, she was the last remaining member of her family. And at 116, she learned to read. Mary Walker’s long life spanned from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, and who–with perseverance and dedication–proved that you’re never too old to learn.

Mary Walker apparently lived to be 121 years old. I had no idea a person could live that long! This is an excellent choice for upper-elementary library time, especially to kick off discussions about the value of literacy and how you are never too old to learn.

Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grade 1-4
  • Themes: literacy, slavery, women’s rights, education, Alabama, elderly

Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III

Did you know that it takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup? “How many pancakes can I eat with that gallon?” wonders Dog.
Every step of the process of making maple syrup is covered in this sweet (but never saccharine) informational picture book. It begins with Bear assembling the tools she’ll need for the project, continues with a discussion of the types of maples found in the area and why sugar maples are best for tapping, then on to drilling, tapping, evaporation and at the end of the process, real maple syrup and best of all, PANCAKES!

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor, comics
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: sweet, pancakes, maple syrup, bears, dogs, squirrels

*Lizzie Demands a Seat!: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson (Author) and E. B. Lewis (Illustrator)

One hundred years before Rosa Parks took her stand, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jennings tried to board a streetcar in New York City on her way to church. Though there were plenty of empty seats, she was denied entry, assaulted, and threatened all because of her race–even though New York was a free state at that time. Lizzie decided to fight back. She told her story, took her case to court–where future president Chester Arthur represented her–and won! Her victory was the first recorded in the fight for equal rights on public transportation, and Lizzie’s case set a precedent.

Booklist and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: civil rights, public transportation, African-Americans, prejudice, racism, Rosa Parks, Black History, US presidents, Chester Arthur

Humpty Dumpty Lived Near a Wall by Derek Hughes (Author) and Nathan Christopher (Illustrator)

“Humpty Dumpty lived near a wall…” begins this well-known fable. But this time Humpty is ready for battle, with a secret mission and a touch of mischief. Can all the King’s horses and all the King’s men help put Humpty together again? Or maybe the mission, no matter how small, is simply to question the point of a wall.

Wow, can you say “allegory”? No doubt this wall will remind older readers of Trump’s wall between Mexico and the USA. A great springboard for immigration and border wall discussions among older readers. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6 (you could read this with little ones, but it’s really juicy for middle and high schoolers!)
  • Themes: nursery rhymes, allegory, Humpty Dumpty, picture books for older readers, borders, walls

Mamie on the Mound: A Woman in Baseball’s Negro Leagues by Leah Henderson (Author) and George Doutsiopoulos (Illustrator)

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson had one dream: to play professional baseball. She was a talented player, but she wasn’t welcome in the segregated All-American Girls Pro Baseball League due to the color of her skin. However, a greater opportunity came her way in 1953 when Johnson signed to play ball for the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns, becoming the first female pitcher to play on a men’s professional team. During the three years she pitched for the Clowns, her record was an impressive 33-8. But more importantly, she broke ground for other female athletes and for women everywhere.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, sports
  • Recommended for: Grades K-7
  • Themes: baseball, Negro League Baseball, All-American Girls Pro Baseball League, baseball pitchers, Indianapolis, Indiana, African-Americans, sexism, racism, female athletes

*The Old Truck by Jerome Pumphrey (Author) and Jarrett Pumphrey (Author)

When is an old truck something more? On a small, bustling farm, a resilient and steadfast pickup works tirelessly alongside the family that lives there, and becomes a part of the dreams and ambitions of the family’s young daughter. After long days and years of hard work leave the old truck rusting in the weeds, it’s time for the girl to roll up her sleeves. Soon she is running her own busy farm, and in the midst of all the repairing and restoring, it may be time to bring her faithful childhood companion back to life.

Four starred reviews! I love that it’s an African-American girl running the farm and repairing the truck.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: farm life, trucks, repair, African-Americans, persistence, hard work, perseverance, dedication, growing up, aging

Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight by Michelle Lord (Author) and Alleanna Harris (Illustrator)

Born in the 1940s, Patricia Bath dreamed of being an ophthalmologist at a time when becoming a doctor wasn’t a career option for most women–especially African-American women. This empowering biography follows Dr. Bath in her quest to save and restore sight to the blind, and her decision to “choose miracles” when everyone else had given up hope. Along the way, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, invented a specialized laser for removing cataracts, and became the first African-American woman doctor to receive a medical patent.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: African-Americans, sexism, racism, women, Dr. Patricia Bath, ophthalmology, inventors

*Magnificent Homespun Brown: A Celebration by Samara Cole Doyon (Author) and Kaylani Juanita (Illustrator)

I’m going to have to write a blog post/rant about flowery, sales-y publisher’s summaries. This book looks fantastic, so my rant has nothing to do with this particular title. I can’t fault the author or the book for the publisher’s marketing choices. But I can’t tell you much about this book based on the summary alone.

According to the PW review, the book is in poem format. It features girls with a wide variety of skin tones and includes a girl with vitiligo, a girl wearing a hijab, an adult without a hand, and a girl in a wheelchair. It’s too bad the publisher’s summary didn’t tell us any of this. If I take all the “marketing language” and the bold Walt Whitman comparisons out of the description, this is all we’d get:

“With illustrations by Kaylani Juanita, Samara Cole Doyon sings a carol for the plenitude that surrounds us and the self each of us is meant to inhabit.”

Seriously, what does that so-called summary even mean?

Two starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly Annex and Kirkus.

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-7
  • Themes: diverse characters, all about me, celebrating ourselves

*Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Author) and James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

In poems and illustrated with collage art, a perceptive girl tells the story of her train journey from North Carolina to New York City as part of the Great Migration. Each leg of the trip brings new revelations as scenes out the window of folks working in fields give way to the Delaware River, the curtain that separates the colored car is removed, and glimpses of the freedom and opportunity the family hopes to find come into view.

Publishers Weekly and Kirkus starred. It’s also an upcoming JLG selection.

  • Genre(s): picture book, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: Great Migration, sharecropping, segregation, family, Black History, racism, prejudice

The President of the Jungle by André Rodrigues (Author), Larissa Ribeiro (Author), Paula Desgualdo (Author), and Pedro Markun (Author)

Lion may be King of the Jungle, but lately he only seems to care about himself. His subjects are fed up, so they decide to try something new–hold an election! Once Owl explains the rules, the fun begins, and Snake, Sloth, and Monkey all announce they will be candidates. But oh no, Lion is going to run too! It’s a wild campaign season as the animals hold rallies, debate, and even take a selfie or two, trying to prove why they’d make the best president of the jungle.

Now this is a summary! Read this one for the 2020 election season. Pair with Duck for President. Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, humor, animals
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: elections, voting procedures, power, corruption

*A Ride to Remember: A Civil Rights Story by Sharon Langley (Author), Amy Nathan (Author), and Floyd Cooper (Illustrator)

When Sharon Langley was born in the early 1960s, many amusement parks were segregated, and African-American families were not allowed entry. This book reveals how in the summer of 1963, due to demonstrations and public protests, the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Maryland became desegregated and opened to all for the first time. Co-author Sharon Langley was the first African-American child to ride the carousel. This was on the same day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Langley’s ride to remember demonstrated the possibilities of King’s dream. This book includes photos of Sharon on the carousel, authors’ notes, a timeline, and a bibliography.

I have shivers right now because I’ve seen this carousel on the National Mall! I really wish I had known this story the last time I visited DC. I grew up just a few hours from DC and have walked by this carousel many times without even a second glance. Oh, well, I know it now! Kirkus and Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades K-4
  • Themes: segregation, memoir, Black History, carousels, amusement parks, civil rights, National Mall, Washington, DC, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Big as the Sky by Carolyn Rose (Author) and Elizabeth Zunon (Illustrator)

In a small African village in Malawi, Prisca and her brother Caleb work together and play together, chasing each other as fast as they can. But when Caleb has to leave home to attend a good school, Prisca misses him terribly. Hoping to earn enough money to visit him, Prisca begs a local peddler to sell her crafts–but no one buys what she’s made. However, thanks to Prisca’s kindness and compassion, her dreams of reuniting with Caleb just may come true.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades K-3
  • Themes: Africa, Malawi, siblings, play, crafts, resourcefulness, ingenuity, malaria, developing countries

*A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Author) and Laura Freeman (Illustrator)

Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, a legend. But before she became a star, she was a shy little girl with a voice so powerful it made people jump up, sway, and hum along.

Raised in a house full of talking and singing, Aretha learned the values that would carry her through life–from her church choir in Detroit to stages across the world. When she moved to New York City to start her career, it took years of hard work before she had a hit song. In the turbulent 1960s, she sang about “Respect” and refused to perform before segregated audiences. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha always remembered who she was and where she came from.

SLJ and Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, singers, African-Americans, civil rights, Detroit, Michigan, Ney York City, women’s rights, music, church, choir

Where’s Baby? by Anne Hunter

This one is another publisher’s summary with flowery, sales-y language, so I’ve edited it a bit. It’s not as bad as the earlier title on this list though–at least this one tells us something real about the book.

In this introduction to prepositions, a near-sighted Papa is looking for his baby. Is Baby up in the tree? Is Baby under the log? Is Baby around the corner? Where could Baby be? Readers can spot the little fox on every page as Papa wanders the forest, encountering other animals all along the way, but never quite able to spot his own baby.

Publisher’s Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 1
  • Themes: prepositions, foxes, forest animals, fathers, near-sightedness, hide-and-seek

Are Your Stars Like My Stars? by Leslie Helakoski (Author) and Heidi Woodward Sheffield (Illustrator)

No matter where they live, all children gaze at the blue sky, bask in the warmth of the golden sun, dig in the rich dirt, and watch clouds grow soft and rosy at end of day. Through the eyes of one inquisitive and thoughtful young narrator, young readers explore the idea of perspective, and come to realize that all of us, everywhere, share the colors of the world. The poetic text and collage-style illustrations make this just right to say goodnight.

Early reviews praise the book’s use of color, but Kirkus mentions that the print is small and sometimes gets lost on the page.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: bedtime, rhyme, perspective, colors


Looking for more? Here are this week’s new releases for middle grades and picture books:



Product categories


  • I look forward to your book highlights! Your honesty and perspective are always refreshing. I love adding gems from your list to my library. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Debra! I enjoy writing them and have missed it these past few weeks.


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