Yay, it’s finally Spring! April is one of my favorite months. After a long winter, the weather has finally started warming up, and flowers are beginning to bloom. It’s a great time to dust off picnic blankets and take the reading outside! April’s children’s book releases are sure to be some of my favorites of the year.
In picture books, several books deal with social-emotional learning, from childhood depression to coping with failure and anger at a sibling. There’s also a fantastic disability-themed picture book biography, a delightful 92-page choose-your-path book, and a beautiful picture book about a young boy visiting his grandmother in Korea. My middle grade choices have lots of amazing books, too, from new fantasies by award-winning authors to books that beautifully manage to juggle heartwarming with important social issues. I also include a nonfiction biography collection for young readers.
In children’s book news, book censorship in schools and libraries continues. In my home state Tennessee, the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 passed the Senate and House of Representatives and now is on Governor Bill Lee’s desk. Unless he chooses to veto it, it will be made into law. Once it passes, Tennessee schools will have to post all their library materials online, and the local board of education will be required to review and determine if all the materials are age-appropriate. I am extremely dubious board members will actually read all or any school library materials, which would be nearly impossible. The people who have read library materials and determined if they’re appropriate for inclusion in the library are already in place — the librarians themselves. Kelly Jensen has an excellent resource for fighting against book censorship.
And here are my reviews for April children’s book releases!
April Picture Book Releases
A Blue Kind of Day by Rachel Tomlinson & Tori-Jay Mordey (April 5; Kokila)
Book Riot contributor Megan Mabee recently wrote about why children’s books need to feature more negative emotions, and this picture book does just that. Coen is depressed. Everything feels murky and heavy and blue, and instead of playing, he goes back to bed. One by one, his family tries to cheer him up and get him out of bed. His mom tells a joke, his dad tries to get him to go outside, his sister shares her favorite stuffed animal, but all Coen wants to do is huddle under the covers and feel his emotions. When his family gives him space, quiet, and snuggles, his blue feelings slowly dissipate and he’s ready to emerge from his cocoon, feeling much lighter. Everyone experiences sadness, and sometimes that sadness is explainable, but other times it’s just an overwhelming emotion that doesn’t have a single root cause. I love how this book explores sadness and shows children and adults how to respond to sadness and depression — by giving the person space, listening, and offering unconditional support.
Listen: How Evelyn Glennie, a Deaf Girl, Changed Percussion by Shannon Stocker & Devon Holzwarth (April 12; Dial Books)
Evelyn Glennie is an award-winning solo Scottish percussionist who is also deaf. As a child, she learned piano and clarinet and loved playing music, but when she began to go deaf at age 8, she was told she should no longer pursue music. But a music teacher believed in her and helped her to listen by feeling sound. This picture book biography does a fantastic job of making sound come alive on the page. I had never heard of Evelyn Glennie before reading this, but after reading this picture book, I decided to find out more and watched this TED Talk she did in 2007 and this clip of her playing xylophone. It would be a fantastic book for classrooms!
Molly on the Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal & Diana Mayo (April 12; Roaring Brook Press)
Science fiction and fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal makes her picture book debut in this imaginative book about siblings, children’s creativity, and space. Molly, her mom, and her little brother Luke live in an underground module on the Moon. It’s a tiny place, and they could only bring one toy each. Molly brought a stuffed lamb, but her creativity allows her to invent all sorts of toys, like a fort out of food boxes and a witch’s cape out of a solar panel cover. When Luke plays in her fort with her lamb, Molly gets angry and accidentally sends Luke flying through the air when she grabs her lamb back. In her remorse, Molly realizes that Luke could only bring one toy too, and he didn’t have other toys like Molly’s fort and cape. And maybe it’s more fun to play with someone you love? This book really reminded me of the hot/cold relationship between my middle sister and me. It’s an excellent book for siblings!
Mommy’s Hometown by Hope Lim & Jaime Kim (April 12; Candlewick)
This sweet picture book tells the story of a boy and his mother visiting Korea to see his grandmother, but nothing is how his mother described it. In her memories, she raced down dirt streets with mountains watching nearby, but now the mother’s village has been transformed into a city filled with skyscrapers. The skyscrapers block the mountains, and the roads are concrete instead of dirt. However, some things haven’t changed, and as mother and son splash in the same river the mother splashed in as a child, the son can imagine his mother’s childhood and what it would be like to have played with her. I just love this beautiful picture book! The illustrations are warm and welcoming, and the story perfectly balances playfulness with nostalgia.
Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder & Dan Santat (April 19; Chronicle Books)
This is one of my daughter’s favorite books right now. We’ve been reading it endlessly (ba-dum-ching). If you love chose-your-path books but need something for a younger audience, this is a must! The book opens with Little Red Riding Hood’s mother telling her to take a cake to her sick grandmother. The reader’s first choice is which coat LRRH should wear — the stylish red cape or the warm faux fur? What proceeds is a mishmash of fairytales as LRRH journeys to grandmother’s house, often getting wildly sidetracked as readers make choice after choice. Amazingly, Snyder writes all 92 pages in rhyming verse! I am in awe. There are so many choices and options in this book. It’s one children will want to read endlessly.
Together We Ride by Valerie Bolling & Kaylani Jaunita (April 26; Chronicle Books)
Together We Ride is a simply written yet lyrical picture book about learning how to ride a bike. There’s lots to love in this one: a loving and supportive father/daughter relationship, its depiction of a child failing at something and getting back up to try again, and Kaylani Juanita’s expressive illustrations. Juanita is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite illustrators. She illustrated another book releasing this month that was on my longlist for this post — Racing Ace by Larry Dane Brimner, an early reader about a girl who loves to race cars. She also illustrated Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle, my favorite March picture book release. I had to include Together We Ride because it instigated a great conversation between my daughter and me about failure.
April Middle Grade Releases
A Duet For Home by Karina Yan Glaser (April 5; Clarion Books)
Karina Yan Glaser follows up her fantastic Vanderbeekers series with this complex but heartwarming standalone middle grade. After their father’s death, June, her sister Maybelle, and their mother move into Huey House, a homeless shelter. June’s Cantonese-speaking mother has shut down after her husband’s death and struggles to get moving every day. June wouldn’t mind living in the shelter so much if she could bring the viola her father gave her, but there’s a “no instruments” rule. However, one of the staff sneaks her viola into her. Tyrell is June’s age and has lived in the shelter with his mother for a few years. He’s always longed to play the violin, and with the help of June’s sister, they manage to both get musical lessons from a classical musician who lives next to the shelter. When city authorities decide to move all the shelter residents into permanent housing, June and Tyrell decide they must find a way to protest the move. Glaser bases the novel on her experiences working in New York City’s transitional housing.
The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat (April 12; Candlewick)
Twelve-year-old Sai comes from an impoverished family and her father is a conman, but she longs for a different kind of life and sets out to fulfill her dreams by forging a different past for herself. She becomes an apprentice to the mapmaker Paiyoon and receives an opportunity of a lifetime: to travel on the ship Prosperity, captained by a war hero, and draw official maps of their voyage. The ship also aims to explore the mythical Sunderlands and the dragons they might find there. However, some of the ship’s crew know the secrets of her past, and if they were to come to light, she’d be ruined. This Thai-inspired swashbuckling fantasy is perfect for readers who love adventure stories.
We Have a Dream by Mya-Rose Craig & Sabrena Khadija (April 12; Magic Cat)
Ornithologist and environmental activist Mya-Rose Craig’s first book is a collection of 30 biographies about young indigenous people and people of color fighting to protect the environment. Craig shows that indigenous people and people of color are disproportionally affected by climate change, yet non-white climate activists rarely receive the same attention as young white activists. Craig includes a broad range of activists, from Ecuadorian environmentalist Sumak Helena Sirén Gualinga, who protects the rainforest by standing against oil companies and deforestation, to Bangladeshi women’s rights and environmental activist Rebecca Sabnam, who advocates for zero waste in schools. Vibrant illustrations accompany these brief but powerful biographies.
Different Kinds of Fruit by Kyle Lukoff (April 12; Dial Books)
Sixth grader Annabelle Blake starts the school year expecting everything to be just as boring as the year before, but when she meets the new kid, Bailey, her life becomes anything but boring. Bailey is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, and it’s the first time Annabelle has met anyone who’s nonbinary. She finds she’s more comfortable with Bailey than anyone she’s ever met, but when she introduces them to her family, her parents act weird, and Annabelle worries they might be homophobic. But then her parents reveal a secret that changes everything Annabelle thought she knew about her boring family. This latest middle grade novel by Stonewall Award winner Kyle Lukoff is a heartwarming read and great for younger middle grade readers.
The Lucky Ones by Linda Williams Jackson (April 19; Candlewick)
Most days are a struggle for 11-year-old Ellis Earl Brown and his family, who live in rural Mississippi in 1967. His father died in a tractor accident years earlier, and now his large family struggles to find work and keep everyone fed. On top of that, their house frequently leaks, it’s impossible to leave when it rains due to flooding, and Ellis is constantly hungry. A bright spot for Ellis is school, and his teacher Mr. Foster does much to help Ellis and other students in his class, such as providing meals and driving them to and from school. He invites Ellis and four other students to greet Senator Robert Kenney and Civil Rights Activist Marian Wright, who are touring the rural South, at the airport when they arrive. Rich in character development and history, this is a beautiful historical middle grade about hanging onto hope in the midst of poverty and racism.
Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods by Catherynne M. Valente (April 26; Margaret K. McElderry Books)
Valente’s Fairyland series is one of my all-time favorite fantasy middle grades, so I was delighted to find out she was writing another. Osmo Unknown lives a quiet life in Littlebridge Village, though he longs for adventure. When his hunter mother accidentally kills a Quidnunk — forest-dwelling intelligent creatures that have a treaty with Littlebridge — Osmo’s wish for adventure comes true, though he would never have chosen for it to happen in this way. Now, as the son of the hunter who broke the treaty, Osmo is given as a groom to the creature’s ghost, and he must journey to the mythic Eightpenny Woods, where Quidnik’s go after death, to find the ghost. A half-badger and half-wombat named Bonk and a pangolin named Never accompany him on his quest. While I’ve yet to snag a copy of this to read, I’m sure it will have Valente’s trademark lyrical prose and be steeped in folklore.