Children’s Book News: September-October 2023

A new school year has begun for our children. A combination of jitters and excitement mixed in with a bit of apprehension is felt by all – children and teachers! The books below revolve around such feelings starring a variety of characters as they confront the challenges which new school experiences can produce.

Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd

Suggested ages: 8-12 years

Olive has successfully convinced her parents that she is ready to attend Macklemore Midschool. This is a major milestone because Olive has always been homeschooled due to her being fragile. Olive has brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta). She has experienced frequent broken bones and moves about in a wheelchair. Her parents have been reluctant to expose her to environments where the hustle and bustle of moving students might increase the likelihood of such accidents. But Olive is determined and more than anything else she wishes for a BFF – her own best friend.

Hummingbird is told in Olive’s spirited voice filled with energy and pluck. One can’t help but become her cheerleader! Her first weeks of school bring new voices into her life – Mr. Watson, her sixth-grade teacher (“Miracles are all around us”) and Grace Cho, a special classmate (“The magic is real”). Other characters who have been part of Olive’s life evolve and take on added meaning for her as the story develops.

The “miracles” and the “magic” play a role in the search for a magical hummingbird that grants a wish to whoever finds it. It is said to be in a spot that reflects both fear and wonder. And as the plot progresses, we see that the mixture of both feelings can create amazing outcomes. The reader will enjoy the ride as Olive finds her wings for her own miracle!

The Year of Billy Miller, A Newbery Honor Award winner, by Kevin Henkes

Suggested ages: 6-8 years

Billy Miller, who is beginning second grade, is preoccupied by the premonition that he is not quite smart enough. On the way home from a vacation to South Dakota, his family had stopped to see a statue of the Jolly Green Giant and it was there that the wind picked up his new Black Hills baseball hat. Billy had reached over the guardrail to grab it and found himself falling, hitting his head. The result was a goose egg, but doctors assured them all that Billy was otherwise unharmed. Still, the newness of second grade made him worried.

Billy, however, finds that all is well as he navigates his 2nd grade year.

He survives know-it-all Emma who sits in his classroom group. While creating his bat habitat diorama, he learns to persevere, turning an unexpected accident into a positive attribute. Billy even begins to appreciate his younger sister, Sal, after their failed attempt at staying up all night. And after frustrating efforts, he creates a poem to honor his mother. Even his casual idea for his stay-at-home artist father, who is hoping for a breakthrough, leads to an artistic success.

Henkes has a quiet, direct writing style that evokes the day-to-day life of a 2nd grader in a natural, realistic way. The short chapters and larger print, with occasional line drawings, are approachable for young readers who have begun to investigate longer chapter books. The Year of Billy Miller successfully reflects the varied relationships which are inherently a part of early school days along with the dependable warmth and support of family.

Narwhal’s School of Awesomeness, (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #6) by Ben Clanton

Suggested ages: 5-8 years

This is the sixth book in the zany and humorous Narwhal and Jelly graphic novel series. But instead of seeing school days through the eyes of a student, Narwhal and Jelly become the teachers – substitute teachers! A school of fish are without their teacher, Mr. Blowfish, and so Professor Knowell (Narwhal) and Super Teacher (Jelly) save the day. From Wafflematics to a science scavenger hunt to a hilarious game of tag at recess, the two buddies make for a creative school day. Humor and positive thinking are sprinkled throughout.

Besides this graphic novel series which are cataloged as EASY, there are also a couple of Narwhal and Jelly board books in our collection.

Children’s Book Reviews are by Nancy Guist.