100 Scope Notes
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10 to Note: Winter Preview 2020-21

What’s it like to sort through 983 children’s books publishing in December, January, and February and pick just ten to talk about? Glorious punishment, is what it is.

Here are ten books to keep an eye out for in the coming months.

Picture Book

Bear Island by Matthew Cordell

January 26 | Feiwel & Friends | Grades K-3

Not a stretch to call this book the spiritual cousin of Cordell’s Caldecott winner Wolf in the Snow. Similar to that book, it’s full of kid vs. nature tension and a healthy dose of heart. Dissimilar to Wolf in the Snow, Bear Island is about loss and hope. One of the best 2021 picture books I’ve read thus far.

Chapter Book

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World by Jacqueline Davies, illustrated by Deborah Hocking

February 2 | HMH | Grades 1-3

For readers who devoured Lauren Castillo’s lovely 2019 illustrated chapter book Our Friend Hedgehog, Sydney and Taylor are here. Gentle humor and adventures abound in short chapters with full-color artwork.

J.D. and the Great Barber Battle by J. Dillard, illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts

February 23 | Kokila (Penguin) | Grades 1-3

If you tried to give someone (or yourself) a quarantine haircut in 2020, you can related to this chapter book (the first in a series). A kid turns a bad home cut into a successful bedroom barber biz. Pair this with Crown, a.s.a.p.

Middle Grade

Shaking Up the House by Yamile Saied Méndez

January 5 | HarperCollins | Grades 3-7

It’s tough to beat a great premise, and this book has one. The daughters of an outgoing president start a prank war with the daughters of the incoming president. Chef’s kiss.

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm

January 5 | Random House | Grades 3-7

Middle grade master (yeah, I said it) Jennifer L. Holm is back, returning to sci-fi territory. When a virus breaks out among the grownups in a Mars colony, it’s up to eleven-year-old Bell to find a solution.

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt

January 5 | Clarion Books | Grades 5 and Up

Speaking of M.G.M.s (Middle Grade Masters), Gary D. Schmidt is also a member of that group. His latest book is a return to the world of The Wednesday Wars.

Graphic Novel

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue

January 5 | Random House | Grades 3-7

Katie gets a cat sitting job to pay for summer camp. But is the owner a super villain? Contemporary fiction meets superheroes and I see this as just a good idea.

Banana Fox and the Secret Sour Society by James Kochalka

January 5 | Graphix (Scholastic) | Grades 2-5

What weirdness has James Kochalka come up with now? A fox detective that solves cases while riding a banana bike? From the guy who brought us Johnny Boo and the Glorkian Warrior, this all sounds about right.


Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

February 2 | Carolrhoda Books (Lerner) | Grades 3-6

An historical event that far too few know about is brought to life by a couple pros. Attention Sibert committee.

Brick x Brick by Adam Ward, Foreword by Rainn Wilson

December 1 | Penguin Workshop | Grades 2-5

Through my kids and my students, I’ve come to understand the creative power of LEGOs. This book feeds that urge, with great tips and ideas to build incredible things.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Travis, maybe you know the answer to my rather obvious question. Are the characters’ names in Sydney & Taylor an homage to Sydney Taylor, the author of the All-of-a-Kind Family books?

  2. Be sure to warn people to prepare to be devastated before they start Just Like That. It’s incredible and classic Schmidt. But wow it hours you right in the gut at the very beginning.