Vol 2 Issue 12 December 2022

Are you in the holiday spirit full force yet? Has it made a triumphant return after a few years of melancholy? Luckily, 2022 started to feel like a return to normalcy. Emphasis on "started to." And when I say normalcy, I mean those routines and traditions in your life that got detoured since 2020. I don't know about you, but I've been using what I have learned since 2020 to take stock of what "normalcy" I want to return. I want less noise, more learning, and loads of laughter to be my new routine. I find so much of that in hilarious picture books, great novels, and informative texts from various traditionally and independently published authors. Melancholy seems to melt away when one is engrossed in a character's adventure, and laughter is the remedy for holiday stress.

ChildrensLit Now is winding down 2022 by looking back at some of our reviewers' favorite books from the year. We're sharing some 2022 holiday titles that you may want to add to your holiday reading list for your library sessions, class read-aloud, or family storytime.

We at Children's Literature wish all of our readers and their families and friends a peaceful yet exciting Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year, filled with surprising new stories to read and memories to cherish.

Best to you all,

Shelley Oakley


Children's Literature


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ChildrensLit Notable Reviews

Reviewers' 2022 Favorites

Children's Literature reviewers invite you to look at some of the great books they loved reviewing this year. These books were selected for another look based on keeping readers entertained, bringing awareness to a timely issue, supplementing curriculum, and offering opportunities for reader growth.

Bella Loves Bugs
By: Jess French
Illustrated by: Duncan Beedie
Publisher: Happy Yak
ISBN: 9780711265622
Reviewer: Kristen Bowman

Explore the wonderful world of bugs with a young girl named Bella in this educational picture book for young nature lovers. Bella introduces the readers to caterpillars she is nurturing in her home, then heads out on an adventure. She fills a backpack with supplies, including a collecting jar, a sweep net, magnifying glass, an identification guide, pond dipping kit, and notebook. She also prepares herself for rain or sunshine! She meets up with a friend named Billy, who loves birds. Bella and Billy explore ants and then bees. The pair meet another friend named Pedro and learn about grasshoppers and butterflies. Then Bella goes with her dad to use her pond dipping kit and magnifying glass. Bella continues to explore bugs on her adventure. When she arrives home at nighttime, she finds that one of her caterpillars has hatched into a butterfly! The illustrations are detailed and provide a beautiful accompaniment to the text. The author includes helpful captions and labels throughout the book. The book reads as a story and an information text. A section about how to be a nature hero is included at the back. This book is part of the "Nature Heroes" series. A must-have for all young children to encourage them to get outdoors and enjoy nature!

Fashion Forward: Striving for Sustainable Style
By: Raina Delisle
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
ISBN: 9781459825802
Reviewer: Annie Masters

Fashion, as it turns out, dear fashionistas and fashionistos, is contributing to a host of environmental problems, such as water pollution, global warming, and worker exploitation. The author takes a topic that affects everyone and is perhaps even beloved by her target tween audience and adroitly shares what is wrong with an industry that provides both needed and recreational clothing. Readers are told the history of fashion in a brief and succinct manner so as to only resound as interesting and worthy of further exploration. The author examines our relationships with clothing as well as our clothes shopping behaviors. It turns out that after centuries of fashion choices existing for the rich, a global economy has created a glut of fashion options at very affordable prices. The author warns that our habits of consumerism are not good for anyone. We need to become eco-friendly clothes shoppers who are concerned not only about our home environments but also about the global environments in which our clothes are made. She shares many resources on how to take action to ensure sustainable fashion and better working conditions for those who make the shirts on our backs. She is so adept at inserting resources that the book reading experience becomes interactive as the reader begins to find the sites of the cited resources. Reading this book will teach readers about the negative impact the fashion industry has had over the years and how it is working to evolve into an eco-friendly industry, speared on by activists of all ages who are becoming conscious of how their fashion choices may negatively impact our global society at large. This book is a call to action, and it succeeds. Photographs and teen activists spotlighted throughout the book accentuate the author's purpose and further the call to activism. The author shares a list of resources at the end for further inquiry, and a glossary explains the subject-specific terms that have been boldfaced throughout the book. This appealing informational book has much relevant information to be learned and acted upon. This excellent book succeeds in upper elementary and middle school classroom libraries.

Life With My Dragon: Five Heart-Warming Tales
By: Didier Levy
Illustrated by: Fred Benaglia
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN: 9780500653128
Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green

Although this colorful picture book promises five tales, the stories bleed into each other, and it's likely many will read it in one sitting. The tales are short and delightful, so this will be a problem for absolutely no one! The first story is The Cold, and it begins with the dragon's enormous, fiery sneeze. The child must first fight the resulting fire, then don a doctor's outfit to provide medical care. Once more, the firefighting gear comes in handy; finally, with the problem solved, it's time for a superhero costume. The second tale, The Checkup, focuses on maintenance of the dragon's inner workings, with a nod towards the importance of self-care. The third story, The Fire, sees the child and dragon racing to respond to a fire in town. The following story features Christmas fun, and the book wraps up with a bedtime tale. Translated from French, this is a delightful buddy tale with a light-skinned child of undetermined gender and their sizeable, colorful, somewhat goofy-looking dragon. Other people in the story have a variety of skin tones, including brown, teal, pink, green, and more. Illustrations are cartoonlike, with some highly detailed elements, including the scorch-mark heart on the book's cover. An imaginative tale that takes some laugh-out-loud unexpected twists, this is a story children will request over and over again. Best if shared by a parent and child--young readers will enjoy voicing the sounds and cheers--but suitable for independent reading by beginning readers as well. Recommended for library collections or as a gift to any creative child.

Manatee Summer
By: Evan Griffith
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780063094918
Reviewer: Hiawatha Smith


Peter is an 11-year-old boy with clear goals to complete during his last summer before entering middle school. These two goals include being a good caregiver to his grandpa, who has Alzheimer's, and spending lots of time discovering new wildlife with his best friend, Tommy. Life is about challenges, and that is what happens for Peter after he finds discovery #95, a manatee in the nearby canal. These changes create an opportunity for optimistic Peter to mature and succeed in handling his secret of grandpa's declining health, navigating his best friend Tommy's secret, and fighting for a hurt manatee named Zoe (and his new local fame). However, through all this, the reader is constantly reminded Peter is just a kid who is doing his best to ignore things so he can make it through the summer in his Florida town. While the chapters within Manatee Summer are quick to read, the author does a phenomenal job using the space wisely. First, he creates rich and vivid details about the characters within these pages representing a few months of the summer. Readers can picture Tommy as the shy friend, grandpa rummaging through a bucket of screws, and Peter with the wetness is his eyes from his allergies. Second, the author presents advocacy and environmentalism in a way adolescent readers can understand and think about ways to apply within their own lives. Last, he gives a great representation of the theme of friendship, including how friendship grows, develops, and changes.

One For All
By: Lillie Lainoff
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374314620
Reviewer: Kasey Giard

Tania's father has been her sole source of support and the only person to believe in her. After he is murdered, she learns his last wish was for her to journey to a ladies' academy seemingly devoted to preparing its students for a proper marriage. As a chronically ill young woman, Tania struggles to believe anyone will want to marry her. And she feels angry that her father—who she believed saw her greater value—seems to have wanted her to be matched to a husband. When she reaches L'Académie des Mariées, she discovers it is a secret society of women highly trained to spy for and protect the king of France, with sword and dagger if necessary. Tania embraces her new sisterhood and her first assignment: a charming young man who seems to care for Tania like she never believed possible. But as she draws closer to Etienne, the mystery of her father's murder looms before her. She must decide to whom she will pledge her highest loyalty. To her father? To the king? To her sisters-in-arms? Or to the man who declares his love for her? In her masterful debut, Lainoff delivers a heroine both fierce and vulnerable. Tania's illness remains ever-present without defining who she is. As the story unfolds, Tania learns she must face her doubts, and she finds that success as a Mousquetaire requires her to stand alongside her sisters-in-arms and help each other. The plot advances quickly, with adventure and mystery at every turn. Lainoff strikes the perfect balance between Tania's inner journey and the unraveling of the mysterious plot to assassinate the king and the quest to apprehend her father's murderer. This story is a powerful tale, boldly told. Highly recommended.

Punky Aloha
By: Shar Tuiasoa
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN: 9780063079236
Reviewer: Mary Lanni

Punky Aloha has not always been brave, but one fateful day, a loaf of fresh banana bread is the catalyst to inspire her to change. Punky's grandmother needs fresh butter to top off her famous banana bread, and Punky must make the journey to the local market on her own for the first time. Donning her grandmother's special glasses, Spunky hesitantly ventures into the world with the intent of sharing her Aloha by being helpful, giving, and brave. Though the journey to the corner market is not long, Punky meets important friends along the way that help bring out her inner courage. This heartfelt story is an excellent fit for readers who have ever felt nervous encountering new people. Punky retells her story directly to the reader, breaking the fourth wall and showing them firsthand how sharing one's Aloha can lead to a positive outcome for everyone. A limited color palette of neon greens and oranges flavors the illustrations, giving the book a unique and distinctive appearance. Also, each of the characters has an accessible and cheerful design that will keep readers coming back for more. The text is narrative in style, and it builds a well-rounded story with just enough words to convey its intent. This design enhances the book's appeal to a wider audience thanks to the thoughtful balance of straightforward text with a universally relatable message. Whether or not Punky's grandmother's glasses are really magical, readers will appreciate the underlying theme of sharing kindness with others to inspire kindness in return. With Punky as a guide, even very shy children may be willing to show a little courage of their own. This is a unique and positive

By: Nicola Skinner
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
ISBN: 9780008295363
Reviewer: Joyce Rice

Every life has a story filled with people, events, and storms. Frances, also known as Frankie, was born on a beach in a storm. Her parents were not only unprepared for her birth, but they were also unprepared to be parents. When Frankie's temper would get the best of her, even as a tiny baby, her parents would just smile and say, "What can you expect? She was born in a storm." When Frankie reached her teen years, her temper would sprout when her little sister, Birdie, took too long to answer her, or when her mom and pop wouldn't let her do something she wanted to do. Frankie didn't realize that they were only trying to keep her safe. The last thing Frankie remembers is people talking about the storms along the coastline, and then suddenly, everything is gone. Author Nicola Skinner is a lover of beaches, writing, and books. Her story of Frankie and the journey that will become a part of who she is will entice middle school readers to follow this author. The beach setting, the various historical perspectives, and the friends that join Frankie are well-developed characters who bring depth to the story. This is Frankie's story, and readers will not be satisfied to read it just once.

Swim Team
By: Johnnie Christmas
Publisher: HarperAlley
ISBN: 9780063056763
Reviewer: Molly Callender


Bree and her dad move from Brooklyn to Florida, and she experiences all the new feelings of nervousness and inferiority as she starts a brand-new middle school. Bree is an excellent math student and plans to take a math elective. However, much to her dismay, she finds out that the math team and every other elective is full except Swimming 101. Bree doesn't know how to swim, and the negative thoughts about it overpower her. She ends up skipping most of the swimming classes. One day, Bree falls into the pool at their apartment complex, and through a series of lucky events, her neighbor Miss Etta, a swim star, saves her- AND agrees to teach her how to swim. Miss Etta explains to Bree that many people who are black don't know how to swim because segregation prevented them access, but that she also is descended from swimmers. It's time for Bree to reclaim this! Bree realizes that she CAN swim and ends up joining the swim team. Could she and her friends possibly make it to state? This graphic novel is stunning. The artwork is beautiful and is structured to enhance the story. Bree is an incredibly relatable character, her insecurities and negative thoughts, being ones that everyone experiences. The secondary characters are well-developed and interesting. The author effectively touches on segregation in the past, and how black people did not have access to pools easily, therefore not learning to swim. This gives readers a gentle and poignant history lesson. The entire plot of the book is well-laid out and moves quickly and easily. This book is highly recommended for elementary and middle school students as an independent read.

While You Sleep
By: Jennifer Maruno
Illustrated by: Miki Sato
Publisher: Pajama Press
ISBN: 9781772782677
Reviewer: Karla Fasso

The power of storytelling and its transcendence into the world of dreams are at the center of this enchanting story. Utilizing imagery as part of her storytelling, Maruno tenderly, poetically, and rhythmically tells the narrative of a child ending her night of playing and getting tucked into bed while listening to a bedtime story. Along with her stuffed animals and pet cat, the child experiences wonderful dreams as she starts to doze off. The bedtime story tells of how the world is kept up by the assistance of the night-helpers, who tidy it up while she sleeps. The child's dreams become intertwined with the story and its characters as it is being told. After the tale ends with the child asleep, the parent gives her a loving kiss and invites her to think about her own job in the world. Through gifted wordplay, Maruno transforms what many parents and caregivers experience as a difficult task—that of getting a child in bed—into a delightful journey. Maruno has created a tale that feels like a love letter, or a poem, from a parent to a child. Any child will love listening to this as they get lost and travel away with it in their sleep. Sato's magnificent collage-based illustrations are filled with color, texture, complexity, and feeling. The combination of text and art makes this book one that should not be missed. This is a story that takes all readers into a world of wonder and inspiration, and it is a memorable book that leaves a lasting impression while conveying the meaning of love, along with the power of the imagination and bedtime stories. Needless to say, this is the perfect bedtime read and a must-have book!

Books & Curriculum

2022's Christmas Selections

Classic Christmas books like The Christmas Carol, The Polar Express, Elf on a Shelf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas adorn home bookshelves and library displays throughout December. But have you checked out the newer Christmas titles? We are sharing seven titles, all published this year, that you may want to add to your treasury of Christmas stories. Maybe they will become a Christmas classic for you, your family, your library, or your classroom.

Goats for Christmas: Calpurnia Tate, Girl Vet
By: Jacqueline Kelly
Illustrated by: Jennifer L. Meyer
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
ISBN: 9781627798792
Reviewer: Kathryn Sadakierski

Christmas is a time of surprises, but in the case of Jacqueline Kelly's new book in the Calpurnia Tate series, goats take the cake. More accurately, they take the local church's Christmas pageant. When Calpurnia and her brother, Travis, are lent a neighbor's two baby goats, they strive to train them in preparation for their debut in the live outdoor nativity, though the goats prove to be more unruly than the pair could have anticipated. Humorous hijinks ensue in this historical fiction novel with an energetic pace and joyful mode of storytelling that will be enjoyed by young readers, especially those with a soft spot for creatures great and small. Written in first-person perspective employing a vibrant voice, the text is elevated by soft, expressive pencil sketches depicting vivid scenes of rural life that allow for further immersion in the rollicking narrative. Aspiring veterinarian Calpurnia, the book's inquisitive protagonist, has many laudable qualities, from compassion to ingenuity, that make her a positive role model. Calpurnia's relationship with her brother, Travis, who is equally passionate about caring for animals, demonstrates teamwork in problem-solving. The industrious siblings resourcefully apply STEAM skills in determining how to use available materials to make something new, including Christmas pageant costumes for other farm animals. While the book may be read as a standalone, it is best read after prior books in the series, as some details about Calpurnia and the age she lives in are not reinforced. However, the absorbing, relatable story is accessible, with a realistic heroine whose moxie will inspire students interested in the sciences as they follow Calpurnia in making observations, pursuing her research questions, and achieving goals against a delightful backdrop of holiday traditions that illuminate Calpurnia's ability to keep the true Christmas spirit, one of kindness and generosity, at the center.

It's Christmas Everywhere: Celebrations From Around the World
By: Hannah Barnaby
Illustrated by: João Fazenda
Publisher: Phaidon
ISBN: 9781838665395
Reviewer: Shelley Oakley

What a fun addition to any home library, and sure to be displayed each Christmas for years of Christmas joy! Told from the point of view of a pine tree that feels plain and wishes to be a Christmas tree, the tree counts down the ten days before Christmas. Each day brings a new guest to the bare tree. Each new guest comes from a different country, bringing a traditional Christmas adornment or gift from their country. Each adornment builds to create the perfect Christmas tree. This book can be read in several ways- read the left side only, which is the rhyming, counting text; read the right side only, which educates the reader on different country-based Christmas customs; or read the book front to back, associating each represented child with their country. Sharing newer traditions, such as China's modern tradition of apple giving, and lesser known (to Americans) traditions, such as Greeks decorating boats and using them to collect treats as they go caroling on Christmas Eve, make this a positively exceptional book. The global focus helps children understand how our cultures are the same yet different, fostering inclusion, diversity, and an interest in people and places different from one's own. Each child adding something special to the tree stresses the personal touch that each child can add to holiday traditions. The book's shape and vibrant colors are a holiday feast for the reader. A magnet inside the front and back book covers creates a sturdy free-standing, 3D Christmas tree that will surely be a favorite family decoration for years to come. Rhyming text, a Christmas countdown, and various other ways to count through the illustrations make it a fun book to share with toddlers. It's also great as a gift for Christmas lovers of all ages. With a focus on non-religious Christmas traditions, this book is accessible to all, making it perfect for all homes, schools, and libraries. This a beautiful book to add to your family or classroom's Christmas reading. Highly recommended.

The Littlest Night Before Christmas
By: Mary Engelbreit
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
ISBN: 9780062969330
Reviewer: Polina Mann

If you are a fan of Englebreit's illustrations, this book delivers another hit! With rhyming text, and gorgeously detailed illustrations, children everywhere will delight in reading this book. The classic Moore poem is given a new light with Engelbreit's illustrations, which seem to make any text extra magical! This book differs from the original in that a family of mice is the center of the action when a happy intruder enters their home. Great for keeping a steady beat while you read the rhyming text. Also, a great read for young children before they go to bed during the Christmas season or any time you want to relive the magic of Christmas. Highly recommend this title around the Christmas season. For filling out a library's Christmas collection, Engelbreit has also illustrated editions of The Nutcracker and Merry Christmas.

The Night Before the Nutcracker (American Ballet Theatre)
By: John Robert Allman
Illustrated by: Julianna Swaney
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9780593180914
Reviewer: Kathryn Sadakierski

Leaping its way through preparations for a performance of the Nutcracker ballet, this fiction book provides children with a sparkling introduction to the story of "The Nutcracker" through the eyes of cast members. A delectable confection combining sweet words and illustrations, it is peopled with diverse characters supporting each other in their creativity, working together to put on a show that will delight audiences. Just as they do in the Nutcracker ballet itself, all of the mechanics of this story cohere splendidly. There is always something new to notice in the expressive drawings, which use sweeping lines to create movement mirroring the graceful postures of the ballet dancers. A plethora of colorful patterns conveys texture, creating visual interest that will captivate young readers. Interesting use of perspectives brings readers into all of the theater's angles, adding to the feeling that the reader is there, experiencing the excitement of opening night. Complementing the lively energy of the illustrations is the text's lilting rhyme scheme. Children will enjoy the rich alliterative language peppered with descriptive vocabulary words, including ballet terms. Ideal for teaching pre-kindergarten and lower-elementary school students about the arts, especially during the holiday season, the book nurtures a love for dance in boys and girls. Readers learn about the details of staging a production, from music and lighting to costumes and choreography. Including real-life costume designs from a professional with factual information about the ballet, the book would lend itself well to a culminating project, serving as a model to students of how they can collectively contribute their talents to creating a work of art. The wonder of being an artist is captured as readers watch child performers rehearse, polish their skills, and realize the rewards of their hard work at the finale: the joy of making others happy.

No Peeking at Presents
By: Alastair Heim
Illustrated by: Sara Not
Publisher: Clarion Books
ISBN: 9781328809599
Reviewer: Karina Hernandez

When Christmas Eve arrives, the number one rule these three children need to follow is “no peeking at presents!” They fall asleep and a few hours pass, when two of them are awakened by a squeaking noise. They get out of bed to see what the noise is, and the oldest child follows to stop them from peeking at presents. The younger children explain that they heard a noise, but the older sibling tells them it was probably their imagination. He decides to place a chair at the bottom of the stairs to stop them from peeking at presents if they leave their bedroom again. The children all fall back asleep, but then the two youngest children hear the squeaking noise again. They tip-toe down the stairs, hoping their older sibling won't wake up. He does. This happens two more times; each time, the older sibling doesn't believe the younger children and thinks they are trying to trick him so they can peek at the presents. Then, out of nowhere, the older sibling hears the noise himself. Curious, he approaches the Christmas tree and opens the present that appears to be making the squeaking noise. The younger siblings come running down the stairs only to find their older sibling peeking at a present. He tells the younger children it's only ok to peek at presents if the present peeks at you first and turns to show them the puppy their parents have gifted them. Heim’s story would make a wonderful addition to any household this Christmas season. It is a humorous tale that depicts the special relationships siblings share with one another. Heim’s writing and Not’s illustrations exude the excitement and joy of the holiday season.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Winter Night
By: Megan Litwin
Illustrated by: Nneka Myers
Publisher: Clarion Books
ISBN: 9780358572046
Reviewer: Kate Kupiec


A favorite nursery rhyme enjoys a seasonal twist during a winter nighttime that is special and filled with much light. The moon brings a stillness that is only rivaled by its brightness, and falling snow gently lands to decorate the world below in glitter and lace. The magnificent light doesn't stop with nature, though—the town center is bustling with its own extraordinary glow, and even all the decorated homes shine bright. Looking in every direction, one can see the many lights that have been strung and the candles that have been lit. It's a beautiful sight! After enjoying all the splendor, the animals and children snuggle down under their own joyous blankets of light. From quiet corners to lively city centers, there is light for everyone (and every creature) to celebrate throughout the season. Rather than focusing on one holiday, the cheerful illustrations showcase all the lights that winter brings for us to celebrate, from nature to Christmas, Hannukah, Diwali, and Kwanza. In this way, the book is inclusive for a diverse audience and can subtly remind readers to think of the light inside themselves, which adds to the season's radiance and connects us all without boundaries. Whether sung aloud or quietly read, this book would make a fun bedtime read during the height of winter festivities.

What is Reindeer Going to Do?: Lift the Flap and Find Out!
By: Carly Madden
Illustrated by: Caroline Dall'ava
Publisher: Happy Yak
ISBN: 9780711274280
Reviewer: Mary Lanni


Christmas is full of fun and exciting activities, and one little reindeer is at the center of them all. What is Reindeer going to do with a shiny ball? Why does Reindeer look surprised? What happens when Reindeer gets sleepy? These questions are all answered behind large flaps that children can turn by themselves as they read this board book with a treasured caregiver. Built on sturdy board pages, this book is designed to be well-suited to young children who do not yet have the dexterity to manipulate traditional picture book pages on their own. Rounded edges make the flaps more accessible, allowing young children the opportunity to grasp and turn the flaps independently. Over time, the large flaps in this book will wear down on their hinge element, but the book will be fun while it lasts. Using repetition and familiar holiday experiences, this book introduces readers to new vocabulary as it describes actions involving reindeer and Santa. On the left side of each spread, an initial line of text comments on what Reindeer is doing in the picture and invites readers to speculate about what might be taking place behind the flap. Beneath the flap on the right side, a complementary phrase elaborates on the action and connects the first image to its more complex counterpart. This design encourages young children to practice the concept of object permanence while simultaneously improving their narrative skills in a fun and repetitive way. Alongside the text, cheerful illustrations utilize bold colors and recognizable shapes, which make the book visually approachable and interesting to investigate, especially as the hidden images are filled with intriguing details. Families with young children who celebrate Christmas with Santa will enjoy adding this book to their holiday reading collections.

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