New Release Spotlight: February 4, 2020 (picture books)

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Another big list this week! I have once again split this week’s Spotlight into three groups: young adult, middle grades, and picture books. This is the picture book Spotlight. The YA and middle grade lists are also linked at the bottom of this page.

I said the middle grade list was the best I’ve seen in 2020 so far, but this week’s picture book list is also impressive. Five picture books received two or more starred reviews, with one title (Honeybee) receiving four starred reviews. We also have four new picture book biographies, two nonfiction titles, and two picture books for older readers. If you’re looking to beef up your Earth Day collection, you’ll also find five titles on this list about nature and/or conservation. Middle and high school teachers should take a close look at Imaginaries and Vote for Me!, both of which have classroom applications for English and civics classes.

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. Don’t forget to bookmark The Ginormous book list, a cumulative summary of the New Release Spotlights and other titles. The Ginormous surpassed 400 titles this week!

*Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre

A frog is a being.
It is watching.
It is seeing…

Frogs are amazing creatures, and this book offers young readers an up-close and revealing peek at their everyday lives. Follow them from egg to tadpole to froglet crawling up onto land for the first time. Watch them resting on a favorite log, searching for food, and leaping through the air. And see how frogs are unique, individual beings with rich lives all their own in the wild.

Includes an app that plays frog sounds. Three starred reviews!

  • Genre(s): picture book nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: frogs, photography, amphibians, wildlife, storytime, habitats, nature

The Girl Who Spoke to the Moon: A Story about Friendship and Loving Our Earth by Land Wilson (Author) and Sue Cornelison (Illustrator)

When Sofia dreams of visiting the Moon one night, she discovers people are hurting the Earth! With the Moon as her guide, Sofia learns how we can work together to make Earth feel better.

With rhyming text and beautiful illustrations, this sweet, environmentally friendly story is a gentle lesson and clear reminder of the importance of caring for our planet. Previously published as Sofia’s Dream, this updated edition includes bonus back matter about pollution and the simple steps we can take to protect the Earth!

This would make a great addition to Earth Day collections. SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreK-Grade 3
  • Themes: bedtime stories, conservation, Earth Day, pollution, rhyming books, activism

The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin

From mermaids and giant flowers to magical robes and mysterious characters, this full-color collection of old and new art from Emily Winfield Martin will inspire the artist and writer in you! Each image is given a mysterious or magical one-line caption–the beginning of a story, or maybe the middle–you imagine the rest.

The captions are hand-written on vintage scraps of paper, envelopes, postcards and more.

Use this with or as an alternative to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for writing prompts. SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 10
  • Themes: writing prompts, storytelling, magic, picture books for older readers

A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson (Author) and Nina Crews (Illustrator)

“Once I dreamed I swam
the ocean
and saw everything deep,cool
and was part of the waves.
I swam on by the people
A girl like you needs to
stay out of the water
and be dry
like everyone else.”

Considering this powerhouse author, I’m surprised there isn’t one starred review (though all are positive). This title debuted among a huge list of excellent picture books, but I’m including it because it’s Angela Johnson and because we can always use more picture books that empower girls, particularly girls of color.

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: being yourself, individuality, empowerment, African-Americans, girl power, feminism, dreams, goals, rhyming books

*Fly High, John Glenn: The Story of an American Hero by Kathleen Krull (Author) and Maurizio A.C. Quarello (Illustrator)

John Glenn wasn’t just the first American to orbit Earth. He was a family man, a soldier, a United States senator, and a national hero. He laid the groundwork for future star voyagers–and dreamers–everywhere.

From the time he was a child, John Glenn loved flying. Later he did so by flying airplanes for the U.S. military, and then when space travel became a possibility, he trained for years to become an astronaut. John had to push his mind and body to the brink.

But he loved his country more than anything and wanted to serve–including flying into the great unknown.

Booklist and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: space exploration, astronauts, science, famous Americans, US senators

The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull (Author) and Alexandra Bye (Illustrator)

Author Kathleen Krull has been busy! This is her second picture book biography to appear on this list.

Most people know about President FDR, but do you know the woman who created his groundbreaking New Deal?

As a young girl, Frances Perkins was very shy and quiet. But her grandmother encouraged Frances to always challenge herself. When somebody opens a door to you, go forward. And so she did.

Frances realized she had to make her voice heard, even when speaking made her uncomfortable, and use it to fight injustice and build programs to protect people across the nation. So when newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt finally asked Frances to be the first female Secretary of Labor and help pull the nation out of the Great Depression, she knew she had to walk through that open door and forward into history.

Booklist starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-6
  • Themes: Great Depression, FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, US presidents, US history, strong females, gender roles, overcoming adversity

*Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor

When Snail spies a plump, crisp cabbage across the road, nothing will stop him–not a speeding car or even a hungry crow.

But then kindhearted Snail stops to help a crew of antsy ants in a rainstorm, and he loses his way. It looks like he will never get his treat–until Snail’s new friends come up with an ingenious idea.

Great for spring read-alouds! Publishers Weekly and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: snails, ants, spring, friendship, teamwork, perseverance, kindness, forgiveness, determination

*Old Rock (Is Not Boring) by Deb Pilutti

Old Rock has been sitting in the same spot in the pine forest for as long as anyone can remember. Spotted Beetle, Tall Pine, and Hummingbird think just sitting there must be boring, but they are in for a wonderful surprise.

Fabulous tales of adventurous travel, exotic scenery, entertaining neighbors, and more from Old Rock’s life prove it has been anything but boring.

Kirkus and SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: storytelling, personification, rocks, wisdom, elderly, nature

*Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming (Author) and Eric Rohmann (Illustrator)

Beginning at birth, the honeybee emerges through the wax cap of her cell and is driven to protect and take care of her hive. She cleans the nursery and feeds the larvae and the queen. But is she strong enough to fly? Not yet!

She builds wax comb to store honey, and transfers pollen from other bees into the storage. She defends the hive from invaders. Apis accomplishes all of this before beginning her life outdoors as an adventurer, seeking nectar to bring back to her hive.

Another great title for Earth Day collections. SLJ describes it as “nonfiction at its best.” Four starred reviews!!!

  • Genre(s): picture book, nonfiction
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: honeybees, life cycles, insects, sustainability, Earth Day

Leave It to Abigail!: The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams by Barb Rosenstock (Author) and Elizabeth Baddeley (Illustrator)

Everyone knew Abigail was different.

Instead of keeping quiet, she blurted out questions. Instead of settling down with a wealthy minister, she married a poor country lawyer named John Adams. Instead of running from the Revolutionary War, she managed a farm and fed hungry soldiers.

Instead of leaving the governing to men, she insisted they “Remember the Ladies.” Instead of fearing Europe’s kings and queens, she boldly crossed the sea to represent her new country. And when John become President of the United States, Abigail became First Lady, and a powerful advisor.

SLJ starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: colonial period, American Revolution, strong women, politics, founding fathers, US history, John Adams, first ladies

‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis (Author) and Kenard Pak (Illustrator)

A cumulative rhyme inspired by The House That Jack Built.

“This is the land that’s never been sold,
where work the hands, so wise and old,
that reach through the water,
clear and cold,
into the mud
to pick the taro
to make the poi
for our ohana’s luau.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: rhyming books, cumulative stories, Hawaii, food, family, tradition, culture

Story Boat by Kyo Maclear (Author) and Rashin Kheiriyeh (Illustrator)

When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they must learn to make a new home for themselves-wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things-a cup, a blanket, a lamp, a flower, a story-can become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell- a story that will carry them perpetually forward.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: immigration, refugees, home, uncertainty, storytelling, hope, imagination

Alice Across America: The Story of the First Women’s Cross-Country Road Trip by Sarah Glenn Marsh (Author) and Gilbert Ford (Illustrator)

When Alice Ramsey was little, she loved to ride horses. As she grew up, more people were driving cars. From the moment Alice slid behind the wheel, she was crazy about cars. So when the Maxwell-Briscoe Company challenged her to drive one of their new cars across the country as a promotional ploy to prove that even a lady could do it, Alice daringly accepted. With several women by her side, these brazen drivers sustained many hardships over the course of a remarkable two-month journey and far surpassed all expectations.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5
  • Themes: road trips, transportation, gender roles, stereotypes, US history, resilience, perseverance, determination

Vote for Me! by Ben Clanton

Hey, you! Yes, you with the dazzling smile! The donkey wants your vote. So does the elephant. And each will do just about anything to win your support. Brag? Sure! Flatter? Absolutely! Exaggerate, name-call, make silly promises and generally act childish? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Soon, the tension mounts, and these two quarrelsome candidates resort to slinging mud (literally) and flinging insults. And what happens when the election results are in? Well, let’s just say the donkey and the elephant are in for a little surprise–and a certain bewhiskered, third-party candidate is in for a first term!

This picture book is great for older readers, too! I can see so many uses in history and civics classes, all the way up to high school. It’s also great for English teachers looking to teach satire.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-3 (but I recommend this up to HS)
  • Themes: satire, elections, Republicans, Democrats, two-party system, picture books for older readers, persuasion, voting, divisive politics, political name-calling, donkeys, elephants






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