Bella and I are excited to share our latest reads in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR is a community of bloggers who link up to share what they are reading. Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers and Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts decided to give it a #kidlit focus and encourage everyone who participates to visit at least 3 of the other #kidlit book bloggers that link up and leave comments for them.
A Work in Progress by Jarrett Lerner
When Will was in the fourth grade, two words uttered out of Nick Fisher’s mouth changed his life forever. Over three years later, “You’re fat” has become a part of Nick that he cannot unhear or unsee. As a result, Will hides in baggy clothes, avoids the cafeteria at lunch, and disconnects from friends. Will is a gifted artist evident by the sketches appearing on almost every page, but his negative self-image deters him from following his mom’s advice to put himself out there. He can’t get up the nerve to say hi to his crush, Jules, who also likes to draw. When he overhears two girls making fun of him, Will decides that restricting what he eats is his only solution.
At lunch behind the auditorium, he meets skater Markus. Markus is in his eighth middle school because of his dad’s job so he has a different perspective about fitting in. He shares with Will that he is a work in progress just trying to be the best “me” he can possibly be. Days later, Marcus asks him Will why he never eats during lunch. Feeling angry, hurt, and hungry, Will bolts unable yet to share his story.
Written in verse from Will’s point of view, A Work in Progress is a story that initially hurt my heart. Will is so fragile and as a reader, I wanted to dive into the book and save him from his self-loathing. When Will hit rock bottom, it was painful but it was comforting to know not only his parents but also Markus had his back. My heart began to heal once Will received the support he desperately needed. In his previous books, author/illustrator Lerner has always made my students and me laugh; A Work in Progress will make kids (and adults) think about how words can impact us as humans. The illustrated novel format also makes Will’s story more personal and poignant. Thanks to Wunderkind PR and Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy. A Work in Progress celebrates its book birthday tomorrow on May 2, 2023.
Dear Mr. G by Christine Evans Illustrated by Gracey Zhang
A friendship blossoms between Jackson and Mr. Graham after the young boy writes an apology for accidentally kicking his soccer ball into his older neighbor’s garden. Letter writing is not typical anymore so I love that the author chose this format to tell the story. The letters reveal how two people who differ greatly in age can find connections. My favorite exchange is when Jackson writes about turning seven, and Mr. Graham responds recalling getting a black and white television at the same age. In that letter, he writes Mr. G as his signature.
In the middle of the story, a page spread of only artwork reveals Mr. G leaving his home in a wheelchair and on the subsequent page, there is a For Sale sign in front of his house. The two continue their correspondence after Mr. G moves to a care facility and Jackson gets custody of the roses relocating them to his house. The budless rose bush forebodes loss; however, in their last exchange, Mr. G reminds Jackson that the flowers will bloom again in the spring and they’re always there, even if you can’t see them. Cue the tears.
Evans’ tender and touching text and Zheng’s soft and warm illustrations not only chronicle the duo’s friendship but also teach readers about the lasting power of their connection. Thanks to Union Square Kids for sending me a copy. Dear Mr. G published on April 4, 2023.
Be the Bus: The Lost & Profound Wisdom of The Pigeon by Mo Willems
Coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the iconic bird is sharing a collection of honest aphorisms to an adult audience. While some quotes may sound familiar, it is no surprise that Pigeon puts his own spin on them. For example, “It is better to give than receive. BARELY!” and “Happiness is…escaping a warm puppy.”
Since many kids have grown up with Pigeon, I love that Willems has created Be the Bus to them to enjoy as adults. Upper elementary and middle school teachers could share Pigeon’s quotes as a fun warm up discussing the thinking behind his Pigeon-isms. Thanks to Union Square & Co for sending me a copy. Be the Bus published on April 4, 2023.
I Am A Great Friend! by Lauren Stohler
Capybaras and birds have a symbiotic relationship but birds don’t want to pair up with Baby Capybara. Why? In contrast to his low-key family, Baby Capybara is rambunctious. His mama’s advice-float calmly, nap quietly, and eat slowly. After following his mama’s words of wisdom, Baby Capybara wakes up to a flock on his back. The friendship is fleeting, for once he resumes his adventurous activities, the birds fly away. Frustrated, Baby Capybara doesn’t understand why he can’t find a friend. A sulky (and loud) swim changes everything. Perhaps, Baby Capybara was just looking in the wrong place.
Stohler’s Baby Capybara is utterly adorable and his energy leaps off the pages in both the text and illustrations. I love that amid the humor, kids learn valuable lessons about acceptance and friendship which makes I Am A Great Friend is perfect story for reinforcing social-emotional skills. Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy. I Am A Great Friend published on April 25, 2023.
Bella’s Dog Pick of the Week
Wanting to spread the dog love, Beagles and Books has a weekly feature of highlighting a literary selection with a canine character.
Frank and the Bad Surprise by Martha Brockenbrough Illustrated by Jon Lau
Frank, a cat, has a good life, but that all changes when his humans bring home a box not for him to play in, but as transport for a puppy. Frank types a letter to his humans in hopes they would realize their error. The next morning, the puppy is still in the house disrupting Frank’s morning nap. As a result, Frank lightly swats her, but his humans are not amused putting him in jail (cat talk for crate). Frank makes a decision leaving another typed letter announcing his departure.
But life on the streets isn’t what Frank expected especially when one encounters a grumpy man, a yappy dog, a steady rain, and a stinky garbage truck. But when Frank sees a scared puppy in the window during the rain storm, his outlook changes. No one should ever feel scared. Change is never easy, but after Frank leaves his home, he realizes he is not only missed but also needed. At 64 pages with short chapters, Frank and the Bad Surprise is an engaging early chapter book series that will appeal to young readers who love cats and dogs. Stay tuned for a review of the second book in the series, Frank and the Masked Cat, which published on April 11, 2023.