Maybe

You are the only you there ever has been or ever will be. You are unique. Just the odds of you being here at this exact place and this exact time are so great and so rare that they will never happen again. This is a story for everything you will do and everything you could be. It’s for who you are right now, and it’s for all the magical, unbounded potential you hold inside.

Unlike most picture books, Maybe isn’t a story with a plot. Instead, the book gives advice interspersed with questions to consider. The text asks, “Maybe you will help others to see the beauty of each day? Maybe you are here to shine a light into places that have been dark for too long.” While all of the advice and questions encourage readers to think about their unique abilities, many of them are deep questions that require thought and meditation. Because of this, younger readers might have a difficult time staying focused through the end of the book.

The whimsical illustrations focus on a girl and her pig. The young girl has a cap made of leaves with a beak-like beak. While the illustrations are beautiful and interesting, some of them are odd and do not match the words. For example, in one picture the girl is standing inside a giant flower and watering it. In the picture, the pig is chasing a ladybug. The text asks, “What if you are only scratching the surface of what you can do and who you can be?”

Another negative aspect of the story is the quickly shifting focus. The questions do not seem to flow naturally but instead jump from thought to thought. Instead of having a unified theme, Maybe reads like a motivational speech from a stranger. Because of this, young readers may wiggle and squirm throughout the reading of the book. If you’re looking for a motivational picture book, you should bypass Maybe and instead check out I Believe I Can by Grace Byers and The Power of One: Every Act of Kindness Counts by Trudy Ludwig.

Sexual Content

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Violence

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 Drugs and Alcohol

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Supernatural

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Ty’s Travels: Lab Magic

Corey and Ty take an exciting trip to the museum, where they get to be scientists. First, they study bugs. Then, they study the wind. Ty is disappointed when he discovers that he is too little to do science experiments at the museum. But Ty doesn’t let that spoil his day.

Once Corey and Ty get home, Momma helps them set up a science experiment that is perfect for younger kids. Before they begin, Corey and Ty make sure they are safe by putting on a lab coat (Dad’s shirt), goggles, and gloves. With their parents’ help, Corey and Ty learn that they like being scientists.

Lab Magic is part of the My First I Can Read Series, which uses basic language, word repetition, and illustrations that are ideal for emergent readers. Each page has one to four simple sentences with large, brightly colored illustrations. The illustrations will introduce different types of science such as using test tubes or learning about butterflies. Plus, the pictures will help young readers understand the plot.

Young readers who are learning how to read will enjoy Lab Magic. The short sentences and large illustrations make the story accessible to emergent readers. Like the other books in Ty’s Travels Series, Lab Magic shows Ty’s two-parent family in a positive light. Readers will enjoy learning about Ty’s adventure and all of the different ways science can be studied. For more science fun, check out Cece Loves Science by Kimberly Derting & Shelli R. Johannes.

Sexual Content

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Violence

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 Drugs and Alcohol

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Supernatural

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Spiritual Content

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Players in Pigtails

Did you know that one of America’s favorite songs, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” was written about a girl? And that in the 1940s girls all across America were crazy for our country’s favorite game?

These little known facts inspired Shana Corey to imagine a story about how one determined girl made her way to the big leagues & found a sisterhood of players in pigtails. With the same exuberant spirit that fueled the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, Players in Pigtails celebrates these brave girls’ love of the game & the league they called their own.

Players in Pigtails begins with Katie Casey, who “wasn’t good at being a girl.” The story explains the 1950s view on women in a way that is both relatable and understandable. In order to play baseball, girls had to attend charm school and wear dresses as uniforms. Despite society’s views about girls and baseball, the players in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League showed that they could play baseball. During the first game, “no one was asking what good baseball was to a girl. They were all too busy talking about how good girls were for baseball.”

The bright full-page illustrations reflect the clothing and culture of the 1950s. However, some of the illustrations use humor to show Katie Casey’s plight. For example, the pictures show how Katie Casey couldn’t knit and her dancing was horrendous. Even though Players in Pigtails is a picture book, it is intended to be read aloud instead of having the child read it independently. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of them are complex. In addition to needing help reading, young readers may also need help understanding societies’ views on women. Younger readers may have a difficult time listening to the entire story because of the text-heavy pages.

Younger readers may wonder why girls had to learn how to drink out of a teacup and have good posture in order to play baseball. However, Players in Pigtails shows how women overcame obstacles to play the game they loved. The charming story will encourage readers to chase their dreams even when they may seem impossible. Anyone who loves baseball should read Players in Pigtails because of its historical value. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an encouraging book to read to your baseball-loving child, Players in Pigtails is a must read. Readers may also want to check out Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard and Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki which are wonderful and motivational baseball picture books.

Sexual Content

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Violence

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 Drugs and Alcohol

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Supernatural

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Spiritual Content

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Knight Owl

Since the day he hatched, Owl has dreamed of becoming a real knight. He may not be the biggest or the strongest, but he believes that his sharp nocturnal instincts can help protect the castle, especially since many knights have recently gone missing. While holding guard during Knight Night Watch, Owl is faced with the ultimate trial—a frightening intruder. It’s a daunting duel by any measure. But what Owl lacks in size, he makes up for in good ideas.

Owl’s story comes to life in beautifully detailed illustrations that are shades of brown and blue. Owl’s small size is shown when he is working with the other knights, when he needs a ladder to see over the castle wall, and when a dragon towers over him. Despite his size, Owl reminds himself that he is a knight and knights are brave. When the dragon first appears, his face takes up an entire page, which allows his scales, angry eyes, and large teeth to pop off the page. Even though the dragon is frightening, Owl finds a way to connect to the dragon. Soon the two are talking about “how each of them had hatched from eggs [and] how much they liked the night.”

The story incorporates humorous wordplay. It also shows how Owl’s owlish traits help him be a good knight. For example, “the other knights usually fell asleep during the long Knight Night Watch, but Owl didn’t mind.” The illustrations also have fun elements such as the huge dragon reclining on the castle wall while enjoying a pizza.

Even though Knight Owl is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 4 sentences. The story’s word play and onomatopoeia make Knight Owl a fun book to read aloud.

Young readers who dream of dragons and knights will fall in love with Owl. The relationship between Owl and the dragon is endearing and it teaches the importance of not making assumptions based on how someone looks. Once Owl and the dragon talk, they discover “they really had a lot in common.” Owl doesn’t save the day by using his strength or a sword, but by being brave enough to befriend the dragon. Readers who love dragons should also read When Dragons are Dreaming by James Mayhew & Lindsey Gardiner. Readers ready for chapter books should read Roland Wright: Future Knight by Tony Davis.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • It is implied that the dragon ate some of the knights.

 Drugs and Alcohol

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Language

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Supernatural

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Spiritual Content

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Ancient Animals: Terror Bird

It has a sharp beak that cuts flesh and splits bones. It runs fast. It cannot fly. It can be as tall as a basketball hoop. It is the biggest meat-eating bird that lived on earth. What is it? It’s a terror bird.

Terror Bird will appeal to young readers who are interested in dinosaurs and other extinct animals. Readers will learn about top predators and how they helped their environment stay in balance. The book briefly covers the birds’ migration and reasons the species went extinct. Plus, the end of the book compares the terror bird to other large birds such as the emu and ostrich.

The book’s easy-to-read format will appeal to even the most reluctant readers. Each two-page spread has a one-page picture and one page of text. Each page has 3 to 5 sentences typed in oversized text that is surrounded by white space. The large pictures show the terror birds hunting different types of prey and a few of the pictures show blood. The pictures also show the sheer size of the terror bird by showing it next to other animals that the bird hunted.

The mix of text and illustrations is both appealing and educational. Readers will learn about the only bird that was a top predator and they’ll be amazed by the gigantic size of the bird. The easy-to-read format breaks the text into manageable sections so beginning readers will not get bored. Readers who want to learn more about prehistoric times may also want to read Don’t Disturb the Dinosaurs by Ada Hopper.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • The terror birds’ hunting habits are discussed. “A terror bird chased prey on long, strong legs. It could break bones with one kick. . . The heavy head swung down like an ax. The deadly beak cut flesh and split bone.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

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Supernatural

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Spiritual Content

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Mirror Magic

Do you believe in magic? Mia and her friends do! And when they meet the Star Animals, a whole world of magical adventures unfolds in this new chapter book series, accompanied by black and white illustrations throughout.

Mia and her Star Animal, a fox named Bracken, must use their special powers to stop the forces of dark magic. Mia’s older sister has started acting strangely and the Star Animals sense dark magic is at work. Soon Mia discovers that the new compact mirror that her sister, Cleo, has been using must be to blame. Can the girls use their newfound Star Magic to help make things right?

Mirror Magic will appeal to young readers who love animals and magic. The story focuses on Mia, but it also revolves around her two friends, Lexi and Sita. Most of the story centers on the girls meeting the magical animals and learning how to use their own magic. However, Mia’s sister, Cleo, adds suspense and mystery to the story and in the end, the girls discover that a Shade has been manipulating Cleo.

In the story’s climax, the Star Friends and their animals, fight with the Shade. The scene with the Shade is scary and may upset some readers. Despite this, Mirror Magic does an excellent job of introducing the main characters, the magical animals, and the conflict with Violet, who turns out to be a Star Friend too. Mirror Magic sets up a world that is slightly predictable, but also full of mystery and adventure.

Mirror Magic is the first in a chapter book series that focuses on three friends—Mia, Lexi, and Sita—who are illustrated with different skin tones. The cute black and white illustrations appear every two to seven pages. Even though Mirror Magic will appeal to readers who are six and up, younger readers may have a difficult time with the more advanced vocabulary.

Star Friends will appeal to readers who enjoyed The Rescue Princesses Series and The Rainbow Magic Series. The story portrays Mia’s family in a positive manner, and while Mia and her friends are kind, they are not perfect. The girls clearly want to help others and they are even planning a baked food sale with the proceeds going to help an organization that protects endangered animals. The simple plot and sweet characters will appeal to animal loving early elementary readers.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Mia’s sister had a magical compact with a Shade trapped inside. When Mia looks into the mirror, “The handsome face and sympathetic brown eyes melted away under her gaze, becoming a gray skull with glittering red eyes.” Mia throws the compact on the ground and “gray smoke started to seep out through the cracks in the broken glass. . . The smoke swirled together and formed a very tall, thin figure with gray skin, a skull-like face, and ragged clothes. The figure’s slanted eyes glowed red in his bony face.”
  • When the Shade is set free, he steps towards the Star Friends. Bracken (a magical fox) “growled. . . Darting forward, he grabbed the Shade’s leg with his teeth. At the same moment, Willow [a magical deer] charged and butted the Shade.” The Shade swiped “at them with his long nails.”
  • Mia jumps in to help the animals fight the Shade. “She threw herself at the Shade. He stood his ground and, as she hit his chest, he threw her backward as easily as if she weighed no more than a piece of paper.” The Star Friends and the Shade’s fight is described over four pages.
  • Violet captures the Shade in her phone. “The Shade’s face pulled into a grimace as the camera on her phone flashed. With a scream he dissolved into smoke and was sucked into the screen of the phone.” Violet sends the Shade back into the shadows.

 Drugs and Alcohol

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Language

  • OMG is used as an exclamation once.

Supernatural

  • Magical animals from another world come into the human world looking for a Star Friend. Each animal must “find a human child to be your Star Friend—a child who is kindhearted enough to use magic for good and brave enough to defeat someone using dark magic. When you meet a child. . . speak to him or her with your thoughts. If they are open to magic, they will hear you.”
  • The magical animals can appear and disappear. They also each have a unique magical ability.
  • Dark magic also exists in the world. “It comes from the ground, and it is magic that can be used to hurt people and make them unhappy.”
  • Cleo has a mirror that has a Shade in it. “Bad people can conjure Shades—evil spirits who exist in the shadows.” It brings misery and unhappiness. “It can also be trapped inside an object, like a necklace, book, or toy that the person using the dark magic will give to someone they want to harm in some way.”
  • The Shade in Cleo’s mirror pretends “to be that person’s friend, but then they start twisting their minds, making them jealous and angry.”
  • Mia’s magic allows her to “see what’s happening elsewhere really clearly, and you’ll be able to hear what’s being said and look at the details of a scene.” She can also see the past and future.
  • Sita has the ability to “comfort people and heal them.”
  • Lexi’s magical abilities have to do with agility. “She’ll be able to do things a normal human couldn’t.”
  • Violet is a Spirit Speaker who has “the magic ability to command spirits.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Clovis Keeps His Cool

Clovis has a terrible temper. He’s been learning how to control it with calming tea, deep breaths, and his beloved late granny’s wise words in mind: “Grace, grace. Nothing broken to replace.” His new job running her old china shop helps put him at peace.

But when bullies from his football days come to heckle him at the shop, Clovis faces a big challenge that even deep breaths and Granny’s words might not be enough for. Will Clovis give in to the urge to charge even if it means destroying something he loves?

In stressful situations, Clovis tries his best to stay calm. However, when heckler’s break his granny’s teacup, Clovis charges. When he has the hecklers cornered, Clovis is reminded of his granny’s words, which allows him to calm down. In a unique twist, Clovis invites the hecklers to have a cup of tea with him. In the end, the hecklers help Clovis clean up the mess in granny’s shop. “Little by little, they helped Clovis pick up the pieces, putting right what had gone wrong. And always Clovis served tea. By the time his shop reopened, a few things had changed. Clovis had old hobbies, new friends, and plenty of grace to go around.”

Through Clovis’ experiences, the reader will learn ways to destress. For example, Clovis listens to soothing music, he does yoga, he has chamomile tea, and he breathes to the count of ten. However, Clovis isn’t perfect and he loses his cool, but he finds a way to make everything right. When Clovis was being bullied, he could have retaliated, but instead, he treats the hecklers with kindness and they find common ground. Some younger readers may not understand all the underlying themes in Clovis Keeps His Cool, but it will give parents the opportunity to discuss anger, bullying, and forgiveness with their child.

While Clovis Keeps His Cool is an entertaining story on its own, the illustrations are wonderfully fun and humorous. For example, the contrast between Clovis’ large size and the tiny china in the tea shop will make readers smile. Clovis’ facial expressions are detailed and help the reader understand his varied emotions. Readers will also enjoy looking for the cat that pops up in several pages.

Even though Clovis Keeps His Cool is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences. However, some of the sentences are complex and readers may need help understanding some of the vocabulary. The varying size of the text adds interest to the page and also helps reinforce when Clovis is angry. The story’s alliteration, onomatopoeia, and dialogue make the story fun to read aloud.

Clovis Keeps His Cool will resonate with every young child because everyone gets angry at times. The unique setting, animal characters, and entertaining story will keep readers engaged as it teaches the importance of staying calm. Whether you’re looking for an educational book or a book to read just for fun, Clovis Keeps His Cool is an excellent choice.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Hecklers come into the tea shop and one throws a teacup at Clovis. Angry, Clovis “tore through town, hot on the hecklers’ hooves. The stampede didn’t stop until he’d chased them to the end of a dark alley. . . Clovis snorted and pawed the ground.” Clovis controls his temper before he hurts anyone.

 Drugs and Alcohol

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Language

  • Someone calls Clovis a wimp.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

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The Perfect Birthday Recipe

Summer birthdays can be lonely, but not when you have great friends like Beaver’s! This year Tortoise, Bird, Rabbit, and Squirrel insist on baking Beaver’s birthday cake, but Beaver isn’t so sure. He is the ultimate perfectionist and would rather do it himself, following the recipe exactly. Will Beaver’s nitpicky ways ruin his birthday and his friendships? The Perfect Birthday Recipe is the fourth and final story in Katy Hudson’s best-selling set of seasonal picture books, which include Too Many Carrots, A Loud Winter’s Nap, and The Golden Acorn.

 Every perfectionist will relate to Beaver, who makes step-by-step plans and wants everything done exactly as specified. When his friends insist on helping, Beaver worries and frets and grumbles his way through the process. Readers will giggle as each of Beaver’s friends “helps” make the cake. Tortoise works slowly and messily. Bird adds her family’s secret ingredient to the cake mix—pickled worms. Once Beaver sees the finished cake, which looks nothing like the recipe picture, Beaver “snaps” and yells, “This is the ugliest, most disgusting cake I have ever seen!”

Beaver leaves his friends and goes off in a huff to create a new, perfect cake. When the new cake is complete, Beaver cries because he has no one to share it with. In the end, Beaver learns that a perfect birthday only needs one ingredient—his friends.

Hudson’s seasonal picture books capture readers’ hearts as they teach about the importance of friendship. Each page is beautifully illustrated in bright colors and contains wonderful details. For example, when Rabbit misreads the cake recipe and adds two hundred carrots, the illustration shows Tortoise and Squirrel trapped under a mound of carrots with only their heads peeking out. Readers will want to look at the illustrations again and again, finding new details every time.

The Perfect Birthday Recipe will keep young readers engaged until the story’s end. Most of the text is dialogue and some words are bolded for added emphasis. Each page has 1 to 3 sentences, which makes it a quick read. The Perfect Birthday Recipe will please parents and children alike because of the adorably cute animals, a relatable conflict, and a positive message. Plus, Beaver’s story highlights the downfall of perfectionism and the importance of friendship.

Sexual Content

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Violence

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 Drugs and Alcohol

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Supernatural

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Spiritual Content

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Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah

Born in Ghana, West Africa with one deformed leg, Emmanuel was dismissed by most people—but not by his mother, who taught him to reach for his dreams. As a boy, Emmanuel hopped to school more than two miles each way, learned to play soccer, left home at age thirteen to provide for his family, and, eventually, became a cyclist. He rode an astonishing four hundred miles across Ghana in 2001, spreading his powerful message: disability is not inability. Today, Emmanuel continues to work on behalf of the disabled.

Even though Emmanuel only had one good leg, he was determined to do what the other children did—go to school, play soccer, and ride a bike. Unlike most children today, Emmanuel also had to work shining shoes and selling vegetables to help support his family. Because of his disability, people told him to “go out and beg, like other disabled people did.” However, Emmanuel refused to give up, and his experiences led him to ride 400 miles across his country to show that “being disabled does not mean being unable.”

Even though Emmanuel’s Dream is a picture book, most young readers will not be able to read the book independently because of the advanced vocabulary and text-heavy pages. Each page has 2 to 4 sentences and many of the sentences are long and complex. The simple illustrations use bright colors and show Emmanuel’s world. Through the pictures, readers will get a brief look at Ghana’s culture.

Because of his disability, Emmanuel faced many hardships and discrimination. However, his story focuses on how he overcame each difficult situation. Emmanuel’s Dream will entertain readers as it teaches them the importance of perseverance and hard work. Because of Emmanuel’s dedication, he was able to succeed in spreading his message. “He proved that one leg is enough to do great things—and one person is enough to change the world.”

If you’re looking for more inspiring sports related books that focus on people overcoming difficult situations, pick up a copy of She Persisted in Sports by Chelsea Clinton and Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

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Supernatural

  • When Emmanuel was born, most people thought he would be “useless, or worse—a curse. His father left, never to return.”

Spiritual Content

  • Emmanuel was given his name because it means “God is with us.”
  • Emmanuel asked the king of his region “to give him a royal blessing.”

 

Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

Sonia and her friends are planting a garden, and each one contributes in his or her own way. Rafael has asthma and sometimes must stay calm so he can breathe, which gives him time to paint beautiful rocks for the garden. Anthony uses a wheelchair to get around and can move super-fast, directing the group. Anh has a stutter and prefers to listen, so she knows just how to plant each flower. All the friends are different, but they all have one thing in common: they like to ask questions and learn about one another!

This inclusive story is told by US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and inspired by her own diagnosis of diabetes. Readers will see differently abled kids use their strengths to work together and learn about each other. The book shows that differences are wonderful and that all you have to do when you don’t understand something is ask.

Each page of the picture book focuses on nature and the children who are working in the garden. The illustrations are brightly colored and show some imaginative elements as well. For example, Jordan loves dinosaurs, and in his illustration, he is walking over a rainbow and is surrounded by dinosaur shaped plants. Readers will enjoy finding all the animals that appear throughout the book such as a squirrel, a grasshopper, and birds.

The book uses a similar format on all the pages. Each two-page spread has a paragraph about a different person who has a disability. Each page also has a question for readers to consider. For example, “I also love reading and writing. What about you?” Even though each page only has 2 to 5 sentences, parents will need to read the book to their child rather than having the child read it independently. The complex sentence structure and advanced vocabulary will be difficult for beginning readers.

Just Ask uses an extended metaphor that compares people to a garden. For example, Sonia must take insulin because “my body doesn’t make insulin naturally like other people’s.” The full-page illustration that accompanies the words shows Sonia sitting in a flower, giving herself a shot of insulin. Just Ask introduces readers to a wide range of differences such as autism, stuttering, and needing to use a wheelchair. Plus, the children who appear in the story are diverse and have many different skin tones.

Parents and educators who want to educate readers about people with different abilities should put Just Ask on their must-read list. Unlike most picture books, Just Ask isn’t necessarily entertaining, but it teaches important lessons about being inclusive and shows how everyone can contribute in different ways. While young readers may not understand the connection between people and different types of plants, Just Ask is the perfect book to use as a discussion starter. While the story encourages readers to ask about people’s differences, it does not explain how to ask in a polite and kind manner.

The beautiful and creative illustrations, the diverse characters, and the positive message make Just Ask an excellent book to read to young children. The picture book gives information about different disabilities as well as food allergies and encourages readers to be inclusive.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Hello Goodbye Dog

For Zara’s dog, Moose, nothing is more important than being with his favorite girl. So, when Zara has to go to school, WHOOSH, Moose escapes and rushes to her side. Hello, Moose!

Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed at school and Moose must go back home. Goodbye, Moose.

But Moose can’t be held back for long. Through a series of escalating escapes, this loyal dog finds his way back to Zara, and with a little bit of training and one great idea, the two friends find a way to be together all day long.

Hello Goodbye Dog is a super-cute picture book full of fun illustrations that show Moose repeatedly escaping his house and running to Zara’s classroom. The brightly colored illustrations are often humorous. The characters’ faces are expressive and show a wide range of emotions. Another positive aspect of the illustrations is that the children and staff are a diverse group, including Zara, who uses a wheelchair. Each page has two to four short sentences that use easy-to-understand language.

Young readers will laugh at Moose’s antics as he continually runs to Zara’s school because he enjoys being with Zara and the other children. The conclusion shows a unique solution to the problem when Moose attends therapy dog school. Once Moose graduates from therapy dog school, he is welcomed to Zara’s classroom by everyone, including the adults who once chased him out.

Dog-loving readers will love Hello Goodbye Dog and will want to read it again and again. If you’re looking for another fun dog-related book add Shampoodle by Joan Holub and Marley Firehouse Dog by John Grogan to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins never wanted her wheelchair to slow her down, but the world around her was built in a way that made it hard for people to do even simple things like go to school or eat lunch in the cafeteria. This is the true story of a little girl who just wanted to go, even when others tried to stop her.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was proposed, requesting that Congress make public spaces accessible to everyone, Jennifer joined activists in Washington, D.C. for what became known as the Capitol Crawl. To bring attention to the dilemma, Jennifer and others crawled all the way to the top of the Capitol Building,

All the Way to the Top begins by exploring the discrimination Jennifer was faced with because she was in a wheelchair and how this led her to participate in organized protests. A major portion of the book focuses on the protests Jennifer attended, the goals of the protests, and the reasons Congress was against the ADA. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, it covers complicated topics like the ADA, activism, and the role of Congress.

The picture book’s illustrations focus on Jennifer whose facial expressions clearly show a range of emotions from joy to determination to sadness. Some of the pictures show large groups of people protesting. In these illustrations, the protesters are not clearly defined and are one color which allows the focal point to stay on Jennifer. Each page contains 2 to 6 sentences; however, the complex sentence structure makes some of the pages appear text heavy. Even though All the Way to the Top is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently.

Jennifer is an admirable person, who was determined to show people how passing the ADA would help people with disabilities. However, the story acknowledges that “laws like the ADA don’t change things overnight. Entrances have to be rebuilt, sidewalks redesigned, buses reengineered. Slowest of all, minds have to change.” The book ends with three pages that explore the topic in more detail, a timeline that shows the milestones of the disability rights movement, and a picture of Jennifer climbing the steps of the Capitol.

All the Way to the Top shows how one person can make a positive impact on the world. All the Way to the Top is an excellent book to use in an educational situation, for research, or as a conversation starter. Plus, Jennifer’s story highlights the importance of dedication and giving voice to a cause. All the Way to the Top received the Schneider Family Book Award which honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Readers who want to read another biographical picture book that shows how one person overcame a disability should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability

“My name is Shane, and I was born with a disease that makes my body grow smaller and weaker as I get older instead of bigger and stronger. Living with this disease means that I’ve used a wheelchair for most of my life and often rely on my family and friends to help me do all my favorite things—like eating pizza, participating in sports, and playing video games. Since many people are curious about me, I decided to answer some of the questions I’m asked head-on in this book. Go ahead and take a look! Although I need a little more help than you might, you’ll see that I’m not so different.”

Shane talks about his disability in a conversational tone and with humor. Shane’s family helps him with many of the day-to-day tasks that most people complete easily. “My brother helps me brush my teeth, but he loves to joke around, so I don’t let him help me get dressed or he makes me wear ridiculous outfits.” The book explains the importance of Shane’s wheelchair, his friends, and his family. Like most young people, Shane likes to play sports and eat pizza. But when people make fun of him, “it hurts my feelings because if they knew me a little better, they would see that I’m not so different!”

Each page has a full-page illustration that is often humorous. For example, Shane shows himself next to a T-Rex and the dinosaur is saying, “My head is big and my arms are short too, but I’m still awesome.” Each two-page spread has a question in a quote bubble, and the text answers the questions. Most pages have approximately five sentences, but some only have two sentences.

Shane uses a matter-of-fact tone to put readers at ease while he explains his disability. Shane doesn’t go in depth about the medical aspect of his disability, and he never complains about the things he cannot do. Instead, Shane uses humor to show that even though he looks different than other people, he really isn’t different on the inside.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Save the Sanctuary

Former Army rescue dog, Sgt. Rico, a bomb-sniffing Malinois, is on his first mission in Washington, D.C. to save The Sanctuary animal shelter from the evil Mr. Mocoso. But does Rico have what it takes to lead the Pawtriots to victory and save his fellow canines?

Throughout the story, Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage—are demonstrated through the animals’ actions. In addition, the importance of putting the mission first is reinforced when Chaps, a disabled military dog, gives his life so his friends can escape. In the end, it is the military’s values that allow Rico to become a hero by helping him realize that “soldiers don’t give up on themselves and they don’t’ give up on their fellow animals.”

Army sayings and terminology are used throughout the story. For example, when Rico feels like giving up, another military dog says, “I need you to embrace the suck.” Each time an army word or phrase is introduced, Rico explains what it means. For example, Rico explains that north south is “Army-talk for ‘nodding your head when you understand something.’”

Each chapter starts with the location, date, and military time which makes it easy to follow the timeline. Black and white illustrations appear every 1 to 6 pages and show the animals in action as well as some of the dangers they face—including the villain, rats and crocodiles.

Even though Pawtroit Dog is an illustrated chapter book, it hits on some difficult topics that may upset readers. For example, the dog catchers, which are called “Snatchers,” chase after the animals with the intent to capture and kill them. However, the animals manage to stay safe because they help each other and work as a team. The overall theme that is reinforced repeatedly is “it doesn’t matter if you’re small, young, weak, or even missing a leg—it’s what’s on the inside that counts. You have to have heart! That’s what makes a true Pawtriot.”

Save the Sanctuary is an action-packed story that revolves around two, three-legged military dogs. Readers will enjoy seeing Rico’s growth from a despondent dog to a true hero with a mission. Readers who want a patriotic story that is told from a dog’s point of view should put this highly entertaining story on their reading list. If readers like Pawtroit Dog, they should check out the G.I. Dogs Series by Laurie Calkhoven, which is also told from a dog’s point of view.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • While on a mission, Rico accidentally sets off a bomb. “The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was ringing in my ears. . . The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.” The blast is illustrated and shows Rico and Kris being thrown from the impact.
  • Mocoso was angry with his pet monkey, Simon. “He grabbed Simon by the throat and squeezed him so hard that he turned blue. Simon managed to escape and nobody’s heard or seen him since.” Later, Rico finds out that Simon is at the zoo.
  • In order to intimidate Rico, Hans (a dog) approaches Rico and “presses his big wet snout against mine, but I don’t back down. Then he pushes me. I stumble to the ground because I don’t have the balance I used to without a front leg.”
  • The Snatchers “snatch up” the animals from the sanctuary and take them to the pound. Rico watches “as they snatch up each of my fellow animals with pole nets and lock them up in cages, one by one.”
  • While at the pound, “the Snatcher grabs the helpless cat by the scruff of its neck and hauls it away.” Rico realizes that the pound is a “kill shelter. If an animal isn’t adopted in thirty days, then that’s the end of the line.”
  • The animals break out of the pound and run from the Snatchers. The Snatchers finally locate the animals and try to capture them. Rico sees “the Snatchers tear through the woods and start racing towards us. Three of them have hand cannons that shoot nets. A Snatcher fires one at use and I watch it fly through the air.”
  • The animals make mud balls and hurl them at the Snatchers. “Penny quickly sends another one across the field, hitting another Snatcher in the face and sending him tumbling to the ground.” Rico and Sawyer create a diversion. Rico and Sawyer “weave in and out across the field as the Snatchers try to snag us with their nets.” The animals go into the sewers to escape the Snatchers. The scene is described over four pages.
  • While in the sewers, the animals are surrounded by rats until “suddenly a deafening roar breaks the chaos of the chase. . .The ground shakes and the water ripples as a massive reptile, the size of a crocodile, covered in scars and sludge stomps his way towards us.”
  • A dog named Chaps tries to stop the reptile from hurting the others. Rico sees Chaps. “He’s exhausted struggling to catch his breath and has cuts all over his snout.” Chaps gives Rico his prosthetic leg and then Chaps gives Rico “a soldier’s salute and turns to face the Beast. We all watch as he charges right at the massive reptile . . . I knew that was the last time any of us would ever see Chaps. But he went out like a true soldier and put the mission first.”
  • The animals break into Mr. Mocoso’s mansion in order to find a will. When Mr. Mocoso sees them, “Simon swoops down from the chandelier, sending Mr. Mocoso to the ground knocking him out cold.”
  • Mocoso’s Doberman Pinschers surround Rico, but then his friends arrive and surround the Pinschers. Rico tells his friend, “Franny, tie them up so they can’t follow us. And don’t worry, once Mr. Mocoso wakes up, he’ll free them.”
  • When Franny ties up the Pinschers, she uses an electrical wire. The wire starts a fire, and Rico saves Mr. Mocoso and his dogs.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Two mean dogs, Hans and Heinz, call Rico a “three-legged freak.”
  • Heinz calls the animals at the sanctuary knuckleheads.
  • One of the animals calls Mr. Mocoso a jerk.

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs

Mia Mayhem is learning to control her x-ray vision! She can’t wait to see through walls and crack secret codes. There’s only one problem: her glasses are way too big, clunky, and totally not cool! But she knows that if she wants to keep up with her classmates, she’ll have to adjust quickly. Will Mia be able to look past her obstacles and see things through?

A large part of the storyline follows Mia and her classmates as they try their supervision. Mia doesn’t want to admit that she doesn’t have x-ray vision. Instead of being truthful, she lies and says she sees “an elephant with a hot dog.” In the end, Mia learns that she “should have never guessed during the eye exam and pretended to know something when [she] didn’t.”

Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has a diverse cast of characters which includes a girl who wears prosthetics. In addition, Ben and his seeing-eye dog, Seeker, make an appearance, which gives an added dose of interest. Readers will note how Seeker assists Ben. The story also shows how Ben’s blindness helps him hone his other senses, which in turn helps him with this supervision.

Young readers will enjoy the book’s format which has oversized text and black and white illustrations on every page. The large illustrations are often humorous, and they also help readers follow the story’s plot. Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs has an easy-to-understand plot that is perfect for emerging readers. However, some readers will need help with some of the advanced languages, with words such as connection, recognize, squinting, and officially.

Readers who are ready for chapter books will enjoy the silly storyline in Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs. Mia’s enthusiasm and friendliness make her a fun and likable protagonist. Even though Mia Mayhem Gets X-Ray Specs is part of a series, the books do not need to be read in order. While the story doesn’t have any life lessons, the Mia Mayhem Series will make emerging readers excited to see what type of mischief Mia gets into next, and with 12+ books in the series, readers will have plenty of adventure to look forward to.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • A boy yells at Mia, “Nice job using your loser vision.”

Supernatural

  • Mia finds out that “super-sight usually kicks in at age eight. . . You’ll soon be able to do awesome things like x-ray through walls and see in absolute darkness.” Later, she stares at a wall and then “a blast of heat lasers came out of my eyes! In just one shot, I burned through five walls. . .”
  • Because Ben is blind, he uses his other super senses such as being able to feel vibrations that lead him to his seeing-eye dog. Ben says, “I may not have regular vision like you, but I’m sensitive to echoes.”

Spiritual Content

  • None

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Louis Braille was just five years old when he lost his sight. He was a clever boy, determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read.

Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. So, he invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. A system so ingenious that it is still used by the blind community today.

When Louis first went blind, he felt like “the neighbor’s angry dog, chained too tight. Alone in the dark.” However, his family and people in his community taught him how to navigate in his dark world. For example, “the village priest taught me to recognize trees by their touch, flowers by their scent, and birds by their song.”

One pivotal moment in Louis’s life was when he went to school with other blind students. The children at the school were excited when “a French army captain had invented a code to send secret messages during battle. The code is read by touch, not by sight, so we might use it here.” This code gave Louis the inspiration to create his own system, where each letter was represented by dots that fit under a finger. Louis’s invention continues to have a lasting and profound impact on people today.

Six Dots educates readers about Louis Braille and gives them an idea of how it feels to be blind. While the story is interesting, the text-heavy pages and complicated cause and effect of events will be difficult for younger readers to sit through. Each page has 4 to 12 sentences. The realistic illustrations are drawn in shades of brown with light blues and greens. The book ends with one page written in a question-and-answer format that explains more about Louis. In addition, there is a list of resources to learn more about Louis and about using braille.

Six Dots is an entertaining and educational story that packs a lot of information into a short space. Louis Braille’s story demonstrates how one’s disability does not have to control your life. Despite being blind, Braille went on to master the cello and the organ, both of which he played professionally. He also was a history professor and published books on music, mathematics, and mapping. Six Dots would be an excellent resource to use for readers who want to research Louis Braille. Readers looking for another motivational picture book about a real person should read The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Louis became blind after he accidentally poked his eye with an awl and both eyes become infected.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane

Problems always set Emma “Lilian” Todd’s mind soaring—even as a girl. Growing up during the golden age of invention and born into a family of inventors, Lilian couldn’t hold strips of wire or bits of tin without tinkering. She turned toys and trash into useful inventions.

But when Lilian grew up and learned that inventing wasn’t considered women’s work, she decided to do the next best thing. She got a job at the U.S. Patent Office typing up plans for brand-new inventions—and constructing each contraption in her mind. Soon, she engineered her own fantastic flying machines, testing and tweaking her designs and overcoming each obstacle. Lilian found inspiration in nature and her many failures until her biggest dream finally took flight.

Lilian’s story comes alive in beautiful, brightly colored illustrations. Each illustration will help readers understand the plot as well as Lilian’s inventions. Each page has 2 to 8 sentences that include some complex sentences and difficult vocabulary; therefore, the picture book should be read by an adult the first time. The text includes quote bubbles that contain quotes from Lilian. The end of the story includes an author’s note with photographs, supplemental information, and a timeline.

Wood, Wire, Wings is mentioned in the Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People in 2021 and shows the importance of perseverance and determination. Lilian’s story has many interesting facts, but younger readers may have a difficult time sitting through the entire story. Despite this, Lilian’s story will motivate readers to reach for their dreams. In addition, Lilian’s story will inspire young people to try to invent things with simple household items. Young readers who are interested in engineering and creating should read the Questioneers Series by Andrea Beaty. Strong readers should also add the Ellie, Engineer Series by Jackson Pearce to their reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World

Barnum Brown’s (1873-1963) parents named him after the circus icon P.T. Barnum, hoping that he would do something extraordinary – and he did. As a paleontologist for the American Museum of Natural History, he discovered the first documented skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as most of the other dinosaurs on display there today.

Barnum’s Bones follows the fossil hunter around the globe as he searches for bones. Barnum found so many bones that some people believed Barnum was “able to smell fossils.” Barnum’s story also demonstrates the hard work that went into digging the fossils out of the dirt. In the end, Barnum realized his dream of discovering a new dinosaur species. “Just as his family had wanted, Barnum did something important and unusual: he discovered a sleeping dinosaur and brought it back to life. Sixty-six million years after extinction, T. Rex lives on in Barnum’s bones.”

Told with humor, Barnum’s Bones is a fascinating story that details how one man did “important and unusual things.” Each page of the picture book has large, detailed illustrations that add humor to the book. For example, in one picture, an iguana is looking at a newspaper story about a stegosaurus. While the story is entertaining enough to keep young readers engaged, the illustrations are so full of fun details that readers will want to take their time studying them. The amazed expression of a horse, Barnum’s bedroom overflowing with fossils, and the giant skull of a dinosaur are included in the illustrations.

Even though Barnum’s Bones is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Most of the pages are text heavy and younger readers may become squirmy before the end of the book. However, anyone who is interested in dinosaurs and paleontology must read Barnum’s Bones because it is both informative and interesting. Plus, Barnum’s story shows how one man’s dedication allowed him to live his dream and discover new dinosaurs.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

Snail Crossing

Snail sees a plump, crisp cabbage across the road. Determined to reach the tasty snack, Snail starts sliding across the road. A group of ants are trying to cross the road too. But when the rain comes, the ants are fearful they will drown! So, Snail invites the ants into his house and serves them tea.

When the rain stops, Snail and the ants are excited to continue on their way. But with cars whizzing past and a hungry bird swooping by, is there any way Snail will reach the cabbage?

Snail Crossing is an adorably cute story about friendship. At first, the ants just want Snail to get out of their way. But once Snail saves them from the rain, the ants apologize for being rude. An ant says, “We’re sorry. Terribly sorry. Sometimes we get a bit antsy.” In the end, Snail gets the cabbage in a surprising way that reinforces the importance of helping each other.

Snail’s adventure is illustrated with large, colorful pictures that will help readers see the scale of the world compared to such a tiny creature. Snail’s trip across the road may seem daunting, but he never stops moving towards his goal. The snail’s pink shell is the focal point of each illustration, and readers will grin in delight when they glimpse the inside of Snail’s shell.

Even though Snail Crossing is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 1 to 6 simple sentences that are easy to understand.

Snail Crossing is a humorous story that young readers will enjoy. The relationship between Snail and the ants is unexpected and wonderful. Whether you’re looking for a quick bedtime story or a silly adventure, Snail Crossing is sure to delight readers both young and old. If you’re looking for more fun stories that focus on a snail, add The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson to your reading list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • A hungry bird tries to eat Snail for lunch.

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

I am Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King, the world champion tennis player, fought successfully for women’s rights. From a young age, Billie Jean King loved sports—especially tennis! But as she got older, she realized that plenty of people, even respected male athletes, didn’t take female athletes seriously. She set out to prove them wrong and show girls everywhere that sports are for everyone, regardless of gender.

Billie Jean’s story shows the inequity in tennis, which at the time was played mostly by rich, white males. The story focuses on how women were discriminated against. For example, women were paid significantly less. Even though Billy Jean and her partner, Karen Wantze, were the youngest team to ever win Wimbledon, they could not afford to attend the Wimbledon celebration ball.

Right from the start, Bill Jean King’s story begins explaining what “fair play” means. Billie Jean defines fair play, saying, “In sports and in life, it means you respect the rules and treat everyone equally.” Most of Billie Jean’s story focuses on equity in sports, but it leaves out what exactly Billie Jean did to help solve the problem. However, the book’s message is positive: “All of us are powerful in our own ways. So how do you get to be your best self? By practicing, sweating, and giving everything you’ve got. And when you have nothing left, give more.” Later in her life, President Obama awarded Billie Jean the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being “one of the first openly lesbian sports figures, and for using sports to create social change.”

Colorful, full-page illustrations show important aspects of Billie Jean’s life beginning when she was a little girl. The book’s text includes speech bubbles as well as short paragraphs. Throughout the book, Sonia and some of the other characters are cartoonish. The cartoonish figure of Billie Jean does not change throughout the book; when she is an adult, she is pictured with other players who look like adults, yet Billie Jean still looks like a child which is a little disconcerting. When groups of people appear, the people are diverse and include both male and female. The end of the book has a timeline of Billie Jean’s life and six pictures of her. In the last line, Billie Jean says, “Be bold. If you’re going to make an error, make a doozy, and don’t be afraid to hit the ball.”

Younger readers will enjoy I am Billie Jean King’s fun format, conversational text, and positive message. However, the heavy focus on equity may be difficult for younger readers to understand. For these readers, parents may wish to read the book with their child and discuss some of the important achievements Billie Jean made for women. To explore equal rights further, read A Girl Named Rosa: The True Story of Rosa Parks by Denise Lewis Patrick, which is another inspirational book about fighting for equal rights.

Sexual Content

  • Billie Jean realizes that she is gay. “Being gay means that if you’re a girl, you love and have romantic feelings for other girls—and if you’re a boy, you love and have romantic feelings for other boys.”

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fox the Tiger

Fun-loving, mischievous, Fox, wishes he was a tiger. Tigers are big and fast and sneaky. So, he decides to become one! Soon, Turtle and Rabbit are joining in the fun. But will Fox want to be a tiger forever?

Young readers will fall in love with Fox as he pretends to be a tiger. Soon, Turtle joins the game and pretends he’s a race car. Finally, Rabbit turns into a robot. As the animals play dress up, Fox and his friends learn that the best thing to be is yourself.

Fox the Tiger uses simple, but adorable pictures that have a hint of humor. For example, as Turtle is changing into a race car, both Fox and Rabbit wait and wait. They wait so long that a snail passes them by. Each page has 2 to 3 simple sentences that include dialogue and fun onomatopoeia. As a My First I Can Read Book, Fox the Tiger is perfect to read to your little one. The story uses basic language, word repetition, and large illustrations on each page.

Young readers will fall in love with the mischievous Fox and want to read more adventures about him.  Even though the story is short, it has a powerful message—Fox is glad to be a fox and you should be glad to be you.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • None

Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon

Every step forward is a victory.

Fauja Singh was born determined. He was also born with legs that wouldn’t allow him to play cricket with his friends or carry him to the school that was miles from his village in Punjab. But that didn’t stop him. Working on his family’s farm, Fauja grew stronger, determined to meet his full potential.

Fauja never, ever stopped striving. At the age of 81, after a lifetime of making his body, mind, and heart stronger, Fauja decided to run his first marathon. He went on to break records all around the world and to become the first person over 100 years old to complete a marathon.

The picture book begins with a forward by Fauja Singh where he writes about his disability. Despite people teasing him, he never stopped believing in himself. Fauja says, “Doctors couldn’t figure out why I had trouble walking as a child, nor could they figure out why I was able to begin walking and, eventually, running. I think of it as a reminder that all of our bodies are different—and so are our experiences with disabilities.”

Every reader can benefit from Fauja’s story, which highlights the importance of perseverance and determination. Despite his disability, his mother continued to remind him, “You know yourself, Fauja, and you know what you’re capable of. Today is a chance to do your best.” With every small step, Fauja became stronger and eventually reached each of his goals—to walk, to farm, and to run a marathon.

Fauja’s story comes to life with fun, brightly colored illustrations. For example, when Fauja is stretching, a bird perched on his arm does the same stretch alongside him. While most of the illustrations focus on Fauja and his family, illustrations that portray more people show diverse groups. Even though Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 2 to 7 sentences, and some sentences are complex.

If you’re looking for a motivational biography, Fauja Singh Keeps Going is the book for you. Even though Fauja faced hardship and discrimination, he focused on the positive and kept working to achieve his goals. He did not let the negative comments of others bring him down. Instead, “As he ran, Fauja thought about all the things people from his village said he would never do. . . They thought he was too old to run and yet, here he was, running 26.2 miles at the age of 100.”

Fauja Singh Keeps Going is a must-read because it shows the power of positive thinking and believing in yourself. In addition, Fauja’s story will encourage readers to “try your hardest, and always choose yes when you meet a challenge.”

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • When Fauja lived in England, he “learned that some people in the United States were attacking Sikhs for how they looked.”
  • While running a marathon, “someone shouted racist and hateful words at him. Other people joined in. Fauja brushed it off. He knew he had a strong spirit.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • When Fauja began to walk, “his parents were so happy, they shared prayers of thanks and distributed parshad to the entire village.”
  • At the end of the book, there is a one-page section that gives more information about Fauja and how his religion, Sikhism, affected his life. “Sikhs believe in treating everyone equally, serving others, working hard, and living with honesty and integrity.”

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten was only a little girl when she picked up a guitar for the first time. It wasn’t hers (it was her big brother’s), and it wasn’t strung right for her (she was left-handed). But she flipped that guitar upside down and backward and taught herself how to play it anyway. By the age of eleven, she’d written “Freight Train,” one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. And by the end of her life, people everywhere—from the sunny beaches of California to the rolling hills of England—knew her music.

Libba’s story, which conveys her love of music, is both beautiful and motivational. As a child, “Libba Cotton heard music everywhere. She heard it in the river when she brought in water for her mother. She heard it in the ax when she chopped wood kindling.” Libba grew up in a poor neighborhood in the segregated South, but she still found the time and the scarce resources to teach herself how to play the guitar. To buy herself that guitar, she swept floors, picked vegetables, and set the table to earn money. Readers will admire Libba’s hard work and perseverance.

As Libba became older, she stopped playing music to work and care for her family. It wasn’t until Libba was in her sixties that she began to record and tour through the United States and Europe. Her story shows that the true beauty of music has no age. “Libba believed that people could accomplish anything at any age.” Even though Libba is known for her music, the story also focuses on her kind and caring personality.

Libba’s story comes to life in muted illustrations that show her day-to-day life. Even though Libba is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. Each page has 3 to 7 sentences and some of the sentences are complex. The book repeats part of Libba’s most famous song “Freight Train.”

While Libba’s story will appeal to music lovers, it is also an important story to read because it highlights the importance of never giving up on a dream. Despite growing up poor, Libba’s positive attitude carries her through life. Libba’s story teaches young readers that dreams can come true with a good mix of work and dedication. If you’re looking for another motivational biographical picture book, add Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker to your must-read list.

Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • None

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • Dang is used four times. For example, when Libba broke a guitar string, her brother said, “Dang. She’s done it again.”

Supernatural

  • None

Spiritual Content

  • The author’s note explains that “the pastor at [Libba’s] church urged her to give up playing guitar, saying it was ‘the Devil’s music.’”

 

Long Road to Freedom  

Ranger is a time-traveling golden retriever with search-and-rescue training. In this adventure, he goes to a Maryland plantation during the days of American slavery, where he meets a young girl named Sarah. When Sarah learns that the owner has plans to sell her little brother, Jesse, to a plantation in the Deep South, it means they could be separated forever. Sarah takes their future into her own hands and decides there’s only one way to escape – to run north.

Told in third-person, Long Road to Freedom includes the inner thoughts of both Ranger and Sarah. Sarah’s thoughts add suspense by focusing on her fear of being caught and sent back to her master’s plantation. Ranger perceives other characters’ emotions through smell, which conveys people’s feelings to the reader in a non-scary way. For example, when Jesse runs into the forest alone, Ranger goes to look for him. “Jesse’s scent was still there, with a mix of new smells that make the hair on Ranger’s neck stand up. Deer. Blood. And wolves.” Unfortunately, Jesse is snotty and stubborn. His behavior almost attracts the attention of slave hunters. Jesse’s attitude is annoying, and readers may wonder why he isn’t willing to save himself.

Long Road to Freedom explores the Underground Railroad in kid-friendly terms. As they run north, Sarah and Jesse find safe passage with people who are willing to hide them. When a group of men tries to bully their way into a barn where the two children are hiding, Ranger alerts the neighbors. When the bad men are surrounded, they back down. Ranger thinks, “They didn’t have tails to lower, but Ranger understood that they were submitting. The challenge was over.”

The Ranger in Time Series format will appeal to young readers. The book has large text and full-page, black-and-white illustrations that appear approximately every six pages. The author’s note includes information about the historical people and places in the book, as well as a list of resources for readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad.

Even though readers will learn many facts about the time period, the facts are integrated into the plot, so the book never feels like a history lesson. Readers will fall in love with Ranger, who loves squirrels, his family, and helping people in need. Long Road to Freedom uses a lovable dog and a unique premise to teach readers about history.

 Sexual Content

  • None

Violence

  • Sarah and Jesse are hiding in a barn when a group of men appears, demanding to see what’s behind the stacked hay. The farmer tries to stop the men but is unable to. Ranger knows the kids are in trouble so he “leaped out at him. The man started and fell. Ranger stood over him, barking his toughest bark. He turned and saw another big man holding Mr. Smith with his arms pinned behind him.” Ranger jumps on the man holding Mr. Smith, who manages to free himself from the man’s grasp.
  • Ranger wakes up the neighbors, who come to Mr. Smith’s aid. “Men and women streamed into the barn, carrying farm tools—axes and hoes and pitchforks.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • None

Language

  • None

Supernatural

  • Ranger travels through time with the help of a first aid kit. When the first aid kit hums, Ranger puts the strap over his head. “The box grew warm at his throat. It grew brighter and brighter… He felt as if he were being squeezed through a hole in the sky. . .” When Ranger opens his eyes, he is in the past.

Spiritual Content

  • Sarah heard stories about the Quakers helping runaway slaves. “But when Master Bradley brought Reverend Hayworth to give a sermon on the plantation, he preached how slaves ought to obey their masters. He said those who didn’t would see the wrath of God along with the overseer’s whip.”

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