Bryant, Howard. 2016. Legends: The Best Players, Games, and Teams in Basketball. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 368pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-39-916905-2.
The sport of basketball has swept across the nation and from this, basketball legends were born. From Steph Curry, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan, Legends covers it all. The history of the sport is presented in an energetic way and pulls the reader in from the turn of the first page. Bryant tells stories of the greatest plays, rivalries, and memorable moments throughout the sport’s history, such as the Lakers led by Magic Johnson and their triumphant season. Basketball fans will love the timeline of key moments and the top ten basketball legends list. It has all the information to help build a passionate and knowledgeable basketball fan. Any middle school child dreaming of playing for the NBA will fall in love with this book. (LRA)
Latta, Sara. 2017. Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider. Lerner Publishing Group (Graphic Universe). 72pp. ISBN 978-1-46-778551-8. Illustrated by Jeff Weigel.
Scientists are always asking themselves about the building blocks of the universe. Smash brings a new perspective on looking at the science of the universe by using the largest machine in the world, the Lard Hadron Collider. The information is clear and engaging. For example, it teaches students research specifics through the form of a story. Weigel’s choice to present the information in graphics grabs the reader’s attention and shows the complicated mysteries of the universe. Latta does an incredible job simplifying the information and presenting it in a way that will draw in readers of any interest level. For example, when a book is written in this form it allows for creativity and captivates the students to learn about science. (LRA)
Hanlon, Abby. 2016. Dory Fantasmagory: Dory Dory Black Sheep. Penguin Random House LLC (Penguin Young Readers Group). 176pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-10-199426-9. Illustrated by Jennifer Kelly.
Dory, otherwise known as Rascal to her family, lives in two worlds, one in reality and the other in her imagination. According to Dory, her two worlds swirl together like a chocolate and vanilla ice cream cone. She has an abundance of imaginary friends and together they get into a lot of mischief. In school, Dory makes a new friend, Rosabelle, and the two connect instantaneously because of their matching spirits and wild imaginations. Students are learning to read, which has turned out to be quite challenging for Dory. Rosabelle is at very high reading level, and to Dory’s surprise, can actually read larger chapter books, while Dory is stuck reading easy-reader books about a farm. With her lively imagination, she takes a new twist on her method for reading and goes on an imaginative and interactive quest through the books to perfect her reading skills. She uses her imagination to transform into a superhero to save the day, and improves her reading skills along the way! This story is inventive, wild, and perfect for imaginative children. It encourages literacy in a lively and exciting way, while reassuring students who are struggling to read of the fact they are not alone. Dory brings the struggles into a positive and humorous light by going on a hilarious adventure through the power of her imagination. Recommended for grades 1-3. (LRA)
Allen, Crystal. 2017. The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: The Wall of Fame Game. HarperCollins Publishers (Blazer + Bray). 272pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-234236-2. Illustrated by Eda Kaban.
Nine-year-old Mya Tibb’s life gets turned upside down in more ways than one when she discovers a new baby is on the way. Mya is determined to get some special mom/daughter time, but all that changes when she participates in a high stakes bet with her arch enemy, Naomi Jackson, to see who can win the famous fourth grade Wall of Fame Game. Mya is feeling the pressure of this game as she has her entire reputation to uphold. The studying needed to win this game halts her special time with Mom, leaving Mya very upset. Another conflict propelling the plot is when Mya wants to uphold another special mom/daughter tradition of entering the Bluebonnet’s annual chili cook-off, but Mom is feeling under the weather so Mya takes on the challenge for herself. With her older brother Nugget at her side, the Tibbs siblings put their work to the test. Mya learns very valuable lesson throughout this book such as friendship, hard-work, sacrifices, and patience. She goes through a large amount of growth through her process. She learns that in order to win the game, she has to sacrifice her special time with Mom in order to reach the goals she set for herself as studying consumes all of Mya’s free time. It takes a lot of courage, but Mya learns how to persevere. Other lessons Mya learns throughout the book are how to balance activities and the value of patience. Mya learns to balance the events in her life in order to achieve success, she learns to be patient with the chili as she learns to cook, patient with herself as she studies, and patient with the people in her life who also experience character growth. This book is great for children ages 8-12 as it touches on issues that could relate to their current lives. They can use the way Mya handles these situations as a model for their behavior and a source to connect with over the obstacles they may be facing. (LRA)
Grande, Reyna. 2016. The Distance Between Us: A Memoir. Simon & Schuster (Washington Square Press). 352pp. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-48-146371-3.
Many stories about immigrant families focus on the journey and struggles of coming to a new country. In The distance between us: A memoir, Reyna Grande instead discusses the people who are left behind. Reyna tells the story of her own parents whose lives were changed after immigrating from Mexico to America. After her parents left, Reyna and her siblings moved in with their strict grandmother and took on adult responsibilities while awaiting the return of their mother. When Reyna’s mother returns, Reyna prepares to embark on her own journey to America to live with her father who had been absent for most of her life. Although Reyna’s experience was not always positive, she adds humor to her memoir and finds joy amidst heartbreak. This novel addresses a current issue in the United States and provides a connection of despair and hope to readers who may have similar experiences. The first person point of view creates a “journal-like” style, which helps put readers in the shoes of Reyna and the experiences she went through as a child in Mexico. Grande does an excellent job of creating the setting and plot in relation to the time period where poverty, family turmoil, violence, and abuse were all prevalent in Mexico. Other information conveyed by Grande pertinent to the time period includes the value of education and life in the United States being quite different than what the family expected. Reyna depicts a clear vision of immigrant families and serves as a primary source for accurate and well-researched information during the time period in which it was cultivated. The distance between us will captivate young readers and allow them to relate to struggles which affect a person’s attitude, choices, relationships, and overall life. (JLA)
Dougherty, John. 2017. Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers. Penguin Random House LLC. 140pp. $15.99. ISBN: 978-1101996621. Jacket art, Sam Ricks. Cover design, Annie Ericsson.
Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the badness of Badgers by John Doughtery is the incredibly humorous and somewhat outrageous story of a young boy named Stinkbomb and his little sister, Ketchup-Face. In the story, Doughtery creatively gives each character a name or nickname based on a personality trait or inside joke about the character. In this particular story, Stinkbomb’s twenty-dollar bill is stolen, he believes by badgers who do “bad” things. Stinkbomb and his sister then deliver the news to the King of Kerfluffle, who sends them on a mission to get rid of all of the badgers in the land. Children will be drawn in by the humor and feel as if they are on an adventure along with the characters. Young readers who love other works with slapstick comedy such as the ever popular Captain Underpants will find it enjoyable. The simple, cartoon illustrations give readers just enough to keep them interested, but leave room for readers to delve in their own creative and imaginative thinking. Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face are relatable to readers in that they encounter problems on their quest, whether it be other characters or each other. Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face deal with “person vs. person” conflict throughout the plot and work to overcome the issues at hand created by the badgers. Young readers may be inspired by Doughtery’s silliness and creativeness and may take an initiative to create their own comical stories with unique settings, characters, and plot. Doughtry also does an excellent job of emphasizing particular words in the text to match their descriptions. For example, the word “hippity-hopped” has each letter at a varied level to show the meaning of the word. Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers will leave children giggling and allow them to see that reading and writing is not always serious. (JLA)
Lim, Celeste. 2017. The Crystal Ribbon. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 352pp. $17.99. ISBN: 978-0545767033. Book Design by Carol Ly.
The Crystal Ribbon takes readers on a remarkable quest highlighting Chinese culture and mystery along with fascinating magical elements of medieval China. Twelve year-old Li Jing is often teased at school because her last name is identical to the Chinese deity, the Great Huli Jing. At the age of 12, Jing is sold as a bride for another family’s son who mistreats her. She runs away and embarks on a quest to return to her home village of Huanan. Being from China, author Celeste Lim provides an incredible opportunity for readers to learn more about Chinese culture, as the story contains several key words from the Chinese language and addresses typical customs, occupations, and lifestyles in Medieval China. This novel addresses important social issues in the lives of young adults such as bullying, abuse, and overcoming barriers. These topics open the door for discussion among young adults and enable them to make comparisons between the world Li Jing lives in and their own world. In this fantasy novel, Lim capture readers with her ability to sustain disbelief in the plot through the magical creatures who help Jing along her journey and bringing nature to life as it is in cultural Chinese beliefs. Not only does the piece include elements of fantasy, but it also includes historical elements and relatable characters to bring the story to life and seem as if it could actually happen. Lim also does a masterful job of creating a magical setting where readers may feel like anything is possible. Take for instance the talking spider who helps Jing find her way home. At the end of the fantasy novel, readers will be inspired by Jing and her determination, while holding on tightly to faith along the way. The crystal ribbon will bring wonder, creativity, and determination to young readers who choose to take the journey with Li Jing in magical medieval China. (JLA)
Larson, Kirby. 2016. Liberty: Dogs of World War II. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 240pp. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0-54-584071-2.
This book explore two storylines. The two main characters in one account of the book are Fish and Olympia. Fish is a young boy who suffers from polio and as a result, Fish is unable to be a fast runner. Olympia is the neighbor girl who would rather help Fish build things than anything else. In the other account of the story, is seventeen-year-old Erich Berger who is fighting overseas worrying about the desert and scorpion bites. Erich is a German soldier and a French prisoner-of-war near Algiers. The style is explored by two different accounts of narration, one of an outsider telling about Fish and another describing the harsh life of Erich Berger. Both encounter physical and spiritual survival while striving to maintain pride and independence. There is person-against-society and person-against-self conflicts that develop when the characters experience and express racial prejudice and face financial hardships. The author writes about how characters in the story are affected by World War II. Fish and Erich’s perceptions of the world are transformed during the course of this book in regards to race, war, family, and friendship. Fish and his family live in New Orleans, Louisiana where they can hear the steam ships floating down in the Mississippi River. This book and other books in the series provide a slice-of-life for historical fiction along with an excellent choice for animal lovers. This book introduces readers to concepts such as segregation and World War II in a way which is appropriate for the school setting. Readers of all ages will be touched by this story of a boy and a girl and their dog, Liberty, during one of the most difficult times in United States’ history. (SA)
McCanna, Tim. 2017. Watersong. Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman Books), 32pp, $17.99, ISBN 1481468812. Illustrated by Richard Smythe.
In Watersong, the reader follows a fox through the woods as he searches for shelter from the developing rainstorm. With the turn of every page, the fox comes across other animals who are searching for shelter just like him. The fox and other animals are safe to come out once the rain has stopped. Upon emerging, he finds another fox. The two foxes go running through the forest where the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining. At the end of the story there are no longer just two foxes, but there are three. At the end, there is information about water and its importance to animals, plants, land, and people. This could provoke a discussion about aquatic ecosystems, progression of the water cycle, or the habitat of the fox.
Onomatopoeia gives life to the story with rhyming text and delightful illustrations that correspond with the mood. Word choice and illustrations engage the reader as they follow the fox through his adventure. The text is surrounded by water-color illustrations which engage the reader’s imagination. The power and charm of nature is described by the colorful illustrations filled with varied uses of line, shape, and texture. Line is used in this book to suggest direction in the flowing water and mood with the rain. Curved lines are used frequently in the illustrations to represent the water. Horizontal lines are used to represent the horizon and imply the mood of the rainstorm. The illustrator combines line with color to complement the mood, characters, and setting. The mood is represented by dark deep colors during the rain and bright tones once the rainstorm ends. The foxes are red, yellow, and orange which connote friendliness and positive energy. The setting changes within the woods, but every page has tints of blue, green, and violet to associate with air, water, and plant life. Organic shapes are used most because the of the story’s setting within nature. The design of the book demonstrates an informal design structure by having very few words on the pages. The different sized and colored words in Watersong introduce the experience of the fox in the woods. The illustrations reveal the changing landscape from beginning to end with plant and animal life of the watershed. (SA)
Wittenstein, Barry. 2017. Waiting for Pumpsie. Charlesbridge. 30pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-58089-545-3. Illustrated by London Ladd.
This fictional story is narrated by Bernard, a young African-American boy living in Boston who loves the Red Sox and all things about baseball. Bernard and his family are disappointed because the Red Sox are the only team in baseball in 1959 without a black player on the roster. Although Bernard loves to watch games at Fenway Park, he is sad that he and his family are usually some of the few African-American fans at the games. Finally, Pumpsie Green is called up to play for the Red Sox. The stands are suddenly full of more African-American fans, and the Red Sox are significantly better with Pumpsie on the team! This book contains fictional characters such as Bernard, but the historic baseball events are true! The illustrations are excellent and help to convey elements of the story, such as the ballpark being significantly more crowded after Pumpsie is added to the team and how the characters’ facial expressions change from frustration to pure joy when the Red Sox finally have a black player. This book teaches children that even though many of the current players in American sports are black, there was a time when African-Americans were not allowed to play on professional sports teams. (ARB)
Khan, Hena. 2017. Amina’s Voice. Simon & Schuster. 197 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-9206-5.
The main character of this book is a young Muslim-American girl named Amina. She lives in Milwaukee with her Pakistani family. Along with being highly involved at their Islamic Center, Amina and her family enjoy many aspects of American culture, such as food, clothing, music, and sports. One of Amina’s best girlfriends at her middle school is an immigrant from Korea who begins to talk about changing her first name to something more “American.” This makes Amina feel uneasy and gives her the impression that she must change who she is in order to fit in at school. After her family’s Mosque and Islamic Center is partially burned in an act of hate against Muslims, she and her friend realize that their culture is part of what makes them special. This book is a great way for young students to learn more about Islam as a religion. It also provides an excellent example of a Muslim-American family for students that are unfamiliar with the ways in which Muslim people live and worship in America. It further offers a perspective into the obstacles that Muslim families face. (ARB)
Keating, Frank. 2017. Abraham. Simon & Schuster. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-9391-3. Illustrations by Mike Wimmer.
This is a non-fiction, autobiographical book that tells the story of the upbringing of Abraham Lincoln. It includes topics such as where he was born and raised as well as his transition from lawyer to politician and eventually to President of the United States during the Civil War. It also depicts his passion for knowledge and books. A colorful painting accompanies every page and the writing style is similar to that of poetry although there are no rhymes present. This book simplifies the history behind the civil war and slavery. It states that Abraham Lincoln wanted to end slavery and believed that every man was equal which was not necessarily true. However, the book was accurate with its depictions of Lincoln’s childhood in the Midwest. It tells the triumphant story of perseverance and embodies the belief in the American Dream. (ARB)
Ward, Jennifer. 2017. Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear. Simon & Schuster. 48pp. $23.99 ISBN 978-1-4814-3081-4. Illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong.
This is a nonfiction book which helps children to understand that each animal has a different type of outerwear to help protect them in their environment. Some examples that the author mentions are feathers, hair, spines, shells, scales, and fur. Each page contains a colorful picture of an animal displaying their respective coats. The texture of each illustration is drastically different as some animals have fur and hair which look soft and others have hard shells and spines which are drawn to look rough or sharp. Animals such as porcupines and octopuses are part of a diverse array of species represented and appreciated by Ward. The book ends by mentioning that there is only one animal that wears clothing from head to toe and that is humans. (ARB)
Gyeong-hwa, Kim. 2017. Leather Shoe Charlie. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers), 36pp, $10.00, ISBN 978-080-285-4735. Illustrations by Anna Balbusso and Elena Balbusso.
This book tells the story of Charlie, a young boy from a small, rural town in England. Charlie’s grandfather works as a cobbler and makes Charlie a pair of leather shoes which he proudly wears every day in his village. During the industrial revolution and the rapid growth of cities, Charlie and his family must move to Manchester to find factory work because there are not enough people left in their village to buy shoes. Charlie quickly discovers that the big city is very different from the small town where his family lived while his grandpa worked as a cobbler. His family’s tenement is old and ill-equipped, the factory work is difficult, his entire family is forced to work long hours and receive little pay; his mother soon becomes ill due to the poor factory conditions. Charlie continues to wear his leather shoes while he works in the factory in Manchester and soon earns the nickname “Leather Shoe Charlie.” After his mother becomes ill, Charlie overhears other workers saying that tea might help with her terrible cough. Charlie knows that his family does not have enough money for tea, so he goes to the market and exchanges his leather shoes for a box of tea. Charlie’s mother is grateful for the tea, and Charlie vows that although their lives have changed significantly since moving to the big city, he will return to shoemaking again one day. Charlie sacrifices his leather shoes in order to help his mother, teaching children about the value in prioritizing those we love over personal possessions. This is also a great classroom resource for young children learning about the Industrial Revolution. The original story is written in Korean and was translated and edited for English readers. (ARB)
Resau, Laura. 2015. The Lightning Queen. Scholastic Inc. 336pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-545-80084-6.
This book is categorized as historical fiction and fantasy. The story depicts many realistic events set in the 1950s as well as several exaggerated or magical occurrences. Teo is named after his grandfather who grew up in a small village in rural Mexico. In his village, a group of gypsies pass through their village each year and one particular Gypsy is Esma, Queen of Lightning. Esma is full of energy and spirit when she tells Teo that she was once struck by lightning, leaving her with a limp but electrifying her soul! Teo has three pet animals including a duck, a three-legged skunk, and a blind baby goat. Teo has the natural ability to understand and translate Spanish, Mixteco, and English. At one point in the story, Teo becomes ill and is dead for several minutes until Esma sings and brings him back to life. The story is inspired by rural Mexican traditions and legend. The characters are unique and bold and the story focuses on the importance of trust and friendship. (ARB)
Hurtz, Kellen. 2017. Tenney. Scholastic Inc. 172pp. $9.99 ISBN 978-1-338-11755-4.
Tenney is an American girl living in Nashville with her mom, dad, brother, and younger sister. She is in 6th grade and loves to sing, write songs, and spend time with her best friend Jaya. Tenney has always dreamed of performing one of her songs in front of an audience and suddenly has the chance to perform at her school’s Jamboree. Her mom warns her about the music industry and their ability to take advantage of new, young singers as she once recorded a song with a record company and they stole the rights to her songs. Tenney sings in front of a large crowd at the jamboree and is offered a record contract. She is nervous about going into the industry after what her mom told her, but her parents promise that they will protect her. This book is quite unrealistic as Tenney is only in 6th grade and she is offered a record deal by a producer who happens to be in the audience at the middle school Jamboree. Additionally, Tenney travels with her father’s band on the road for part of the story when she should be in school. This book could potentially give young girls the impression that it is easy to be discovered and become famous. (ARB)
Doughty, Rebecca. 2016. Before You. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-544-46317-2.
This book uses simplistic illustrations to show the importance of having people in your life whom you love. It uses blank, empty pages when describing his or her life alone. When the narrator finds the “you” character, the pictures become colorful and vibrant, showing the joy that friends and loved ones bring each other. It could also be interpreted as a parent’s love for their children. The appropriate age group for this book would be young readers ages 4-7. (ARB)
Scattergood, Augusta. 2016. Making Friends with Billy Wong. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 224pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-0-545-92425-2.
This book tells the story of Azalea, a young girl going into the 6th grade, who is forced to spend the summer in Arkansas with her grandmother. Azalea is a shy girl who only has one close friend back in her Texas hometown and does not enjoy conversing with strangers or meeting new people. She especially does not like when her grandmother tells her to pick up groceries from the local grocery store which is owned by a family of Chinese Americans. Throughout the summer Azalea helps her grandmother tend to her garden with other neighborhood children, including Billy Wong whose family owns the main grocery store in town. Azalea quickly learns that Billy speaks perfect English just like her and that they are similar in many ways. Throughout the summer, she learns the power of new friendships and the value of meeting people that come from different backgrounds and places. The story is realistic fiction and takes place in the 1950’s when Chinese American students in the American South were finally integrated into public schools. (ARB)
Shannon, David. 2016. Duck on a Tractor. Scholastic Inc. (The Blue Sky Press). 40pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-0-545-61941-7.
This is the story of a duck that lives on a farm and always has crazy ideas. One day he decides he wants to drive the farmer’s tractor. His other farm animal friends climb aboard and ride with him including the dog, cow, pigs, chicken, mouse, goat, horse, and cat. They pass through the town and everyone including the farmer who owns the tractor cannot believe their eyes! The author introduces each character by providing a line of dialogue followed by what the character is thinking. The illustrations contain vibrant colors such as red, yellow, pink, and orange for the tractor and farm animals, blue and green for the sky and grass on the farm. The shapes of the farm animals and people are organic and irregular with a soft but uneven texture. Diagonal lines present on each page represent constant motion, change, and unpredictability. At the end of the story the duck and all the other farm animals run away; the townspeople convince themselves that seeing all the animals and the duck driving the tractor was just a delusion! Young readers will be able to differentiate between thoughts and spoken words after reading this book. (ARB)
Chang, Raymond & Margaret Chang. 1994. The Cricket Warrior: A Chinese Tale. Margaret K. McElderry Books. 32pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-1-4814-8890-7. Illustrated by Warwick Hutton.
This story based on a Chinese folktale tells the tale of an emperor who loves to watch crickets fight. He taxes his people with crickets; each family in his kingdom is forced to pay a number of crickets each year to the magistrate. Cheng Ming, a poor farmer whose crops have failed the past three years, is about to lose his farm. The only way his family can avoid eviction is by capturing a large cricket for the emperor. They find a large cricket in their garden which they know will impress the emperor. Cheng Ming’s son wants to see the cricket and foolishly opens its container, allowing it to escape. He runs away from his house, ashamed. An old man asks if he would like to take the cricket’s place to fight for the emperor and save his family. Wei nian agrees and is transformed into a cricket. He is presented to the emperor as a fierce competitor. The cricket (Wei nian) travels with the emperor to the palace and defeats the court champion cricket, thus honoring and saving his family. The old man turns him back into a human and he returns to his parents, who are overjoyed to see him. His parents realize that Wie nian was the cricket warrior and are immensely proud of all he has accomplished to save the honor of their family. This book shows the importance of bravery, generosity, faithfulness, and devotion. The illustrations use thin, diagonal lines to convey the instability and uncertainty on the farm. Jagged lines are used to represent danger in one of the cricket fights. The illustrations feature a variety of colors, including red, green, orange, yellow, and purple. The characters at the beginning of the book are rigid and hunched over. At the end, they are more circular and curved, revealing that their burden has been relieved. (ARB)
Rocco, John. 2015. Percy Jackson’s Greek heroes. Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 516pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-4847-7643-8.
This book features the character Percy Jackson as the narrator of the tales of ten Greek Heroes. The stories are presented in a contemporary style that is accessible and relatable to students. The Greek gods represented in these stories are Perseus, Psyche, Phaethon, Otrera, Daedalus, Theseus, Atalanta, Bellerophon, Cyrene, Orpheus, Hercules, and Athamas. Percy’s commentary provides a unique retelling of the traditional myths and encourages readers to think critically about the stories. There are identifiable themes and morals from each myth that Percy points out. For example, the myths argue that you cannot alter your destiny, it’s important to know all the facts before jumping to conclusions, and power does not necessarily yield happiness. This book provides students with the opportunity to learn about Greek Mythology through the eyes of an engaging, relatable narrator that is close to their own age. (ARB)
Simon, Seymour. 2017. Tornadoes. HarperCollins Publishers. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0064437912.
Tornadoes is one of dozens of scientific picture books written by Seymour Simon, focusing on tornadoes and, as the subscript states “all about their formation, destruction, warning signs, and more!” The book is wide-reaching in terms of the topics concerning tornadoes. Simon describes the many characteristics of tornadoes including their destructive power. Facts about their wind speed, size, and how quickly they can move are fascinating. He includes a brief explanation of the meteorological science behind tornadoes, and North American weather and storms overall. The book includes a recounting of historically dangerous and damaging tornadoes. Simon finishes by addressing commonly held myths about tornadoes, ways to protect oneself during a tornado, and ways to predict when a tornado will occur. Tornadoes is very comprehensive, covering nearly everything a young reader might want to know about tornadoes, and offering an engaging, real world picture with every two-page spread. Simon uses scientific facts about tornadoes to ultimately tell a story about these powerful weather formations, organizing a significant amount of information in a way that is logical and interesting for the reader.
Unfortunately the science behind tornadoes is hurriedly described on just two pages, with one unlabeled picture of a tornado with some arrows acting as a model for students. Simon ultimately presents a shallow model and visual interpretation of what causes tornadoes, and this could easily confuse young readers, especially considering Tornadoes is described as appropriate for readers ages 6-10. Furthermore, most of the scientific information throughout is buried in pages of all text, sometimes 19 lines long. And while the font is large, there often is too much print for an emergent reader to comprehend or read independently. Often there is only one image that takes up one whole page. While Simon’s usage of real-world pictures is appropriate, it is highly likely that students, even if being read aloud to, would be daunted by the amount of text and not be engaged by just one photo, usually one of a tornado. Simon does cover a lot of material concerning tornadoes and present it in a logical way, but he does not format it in a way that makes it easily consumable by young readers. (OB)
Elliot, David. 2017. Bull. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 200pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0544610606.
Bull is a retelling of the Grecian myth of the Minotaur in poetry from the New York Times bestselling author David Elliot, who brings the characters of this classic myth to life through reimagining their personalities and motivations. The book relies on Poseidon as a narrator, who is portrayed as the classic god who enjoys meddling just to stir up trouble. The book switches between his narrative point of view to the points of view of various other characters central to the myth. Each character uses a different form of poetry to narrate their thoughts and feelings, creating a different tone for each different character and crafting their unique personalities from the beginning of the novel. Throughout Bull, Elliot explores different forms of poetry and uses text in unique and interesting ways. Some examples include a single word occupying a page, words being bolded or crossed out, and poems organized as a word cloud. Especially interesting is how pages from the perspective of Asterion, the Minotaur, have a grey background at the opening of the novel, which slowly gets darker and darker until it is completely black with white text at the end of the novel, mirroring his mental deterioration.
Readers already familiar with mythology will be easily engaged by Elliot’s fresh interpretation that, while it remains in the ancient setting, uses modern language to better understand the characters’ motivations and fully explore unexplained parts of the myth. Those new to the myth will easily relate to Elliot’s well-developed characters. Many readers, young and old alike, will find a bit of themselves within the characters in Bull, and will find truth within the plot of a centuries-old story that has stood the test of time. While Bull might not necessarily have a place in the classroom because of the occasional curse words and sexual content, younger readers will appreciate the truth in Elliot’s poetry and the consideration he gives each character. While the myth of the Minotaur is centuries old, Bull is fresh and unique in a way that brings the myth to life again, making it a poetic work of art that will engage and entertain any reader. (OB)
Haring, Kay. 2017. Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0525428190.
In Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, Keith Haring’s sister, Kay Haring, introduces young readers to the iconic pop artist who was her brother. The book follows Keith Haring from his childhood into his worldwide fame in the late 80s, focusing on Keith Haring’s passion for art, consistently repeating that he, “just kept drawing.” Young artists will connect with Keith Haring’s constant desire to doodle as a youth, or his passion for ciphers and symbols. Readers will follow him as this passion takes him to art school then New York, where he becomes well-known for his drawings in subway stations. As Keith Haring’s fame continues to grow, readers will be able to join in his passion for art, as the book carefully incorporates real images of Keith Haring’s artwork into the illustrations. Readers will be able to view a selection of Keith Haring’s work, watching as he develops as an artist and a person. Kay Haring has carefully sifted through the events of her brother’s life to present its most fascinating elements to young readers. Kay Haring does not gloss over sensitive details of Keith Haring’s life during AIDS, however she keeps the focus of the book on Keith’s ultimate message, “everyone needs art.” Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing turns the complex events and ideas from Keith Haring’s life and work and turns them into an engaging picture book appropriate for young readers or old fans of Keith Haring. Kay Haring’s work is further elevated by Robert Neubecker’s illustrations, which rely heavily on line and color, practically emulating Keith Haring’s famous style. The hard, defined lines of each object is reminiscent of Keith Haring’s famous drawing of faceless, dancing people. The vibrant, yet simple color scheme makes the book feel almost like one of Keith Haring’s murals itself. Kay Haring’s first picture book, Keith Haring: The Boy Who Just Kept Drawing, is a brilliant testimony to her brother, one that encapsulates his spirit and passion for artwork, something that will hopefully inspire young readers everywhere. (OB)
Reich, Susanna. 2017. Stand Up and Sing! Bloomsbury. 48pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0802738127. Illustrations by Adam Gustavson.
The subtitle of Stand Up and Sing! is “Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path of Justice.” Susanna Reich almost perfectly sums up her biographical picture book of Pete Seeger in those nine words. This book would be a good tool to introduce children or new listeners to Seeger, a world-renowned American folk artist. The book follows Seeger through his childhood in New York and his passion for the banjo and music. Readers learn about the influences of Seeger’s music, the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and--eventually--the Vietnam War. Reich highlights Seeger’s rise to popularity through his performances with Woody Guthrie and, later, the Almanac Singers. Stand Up and Sing! also avoids the problematic trend in biographical picture books, where sensitive topics are glossed over, with readers never truly understanding their real influence. Reich strikes an honest tone about the truth behind the Great Depression, the animosity towards Seeger after he performs with African American musicians, the government’s censorship of Seeger, Selma, the Vietnam War, and the realities of, as the subtitle puts it, “the path of justice.” While the book highlights Seeger’s struggle and persistence in the name of his music, it is still appropriate for younger readers, as Reich describes these conflicts in simple, understandable language, giving them only the consideration they deserve. Ultimately, Seeger’s passion for music, for hs beliefs, and for sharing his talent with others shines through, and readers will be touched by Stand Up and Sing! just as they were once touched by Seeger’s music and his message that, as Reich put it, “in times of hatred, the world needs love.”
This message is further enhanced by Adam Gustavson’s vibrant and immersive illustrations. Every page features a painting corresponding with the current events in Seeger’s life, especially making use of color and the layout of the images to create mood and a focus. Scenes where Seeger plays banjo for children, builds a house with his wife, or reflects on his lifetime of music-making are full of bright greens, blues, and oranges. Gustavson also adds tension and chaos in Seeger’s life, using dark, muted colors as Seeger stares down a camera alone in a TV studio or when the Seegers’ car has rocks thrown at it; glass shatters off the border of the image, suggesting motion and disorder. These paintings are further supplemented by pencil sketches on the opposite pages, further drawing the reader in and immersing them in the realistic and meaningful life story of Seeger. (OB)
Svingen, Arne. 2016. The Ballad of a Broken Nose. Simon & Schuster. 224pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1481415422.
The ballad of a broken nose is a critically-acclaimed coming-of-age Norwegian novel. The story’s protagonist is 13-year old Bart, who remains optimistic despite the difficulties of caring for his diabetic and alcoholic mother, failing to find his biological father, living in public housing, and participating in dozens of boxing classes without landing a hit. Bart is motivated by his love of opera singing. Because of his incredible talent, he was asked to perform the finale at the end of year talent show. The only problem is that Bart has never sung in front of anyone due to his paralyzing stage fright. Throughout the novel, Bart navigates his struggle at school and home with his new-found friend Ada. While Bart says he sometimes feels like “Wolf Boy,” raised by wolves and unable to understand societal constructs, he ultimately manages to overcome his fears and become his own person. Readers will easily relate to Bart his desire to fit in and successfully navigate both his junior high and complex home life. Svingen does not sugarcoat the realities of Bart’s irresponsible out-of-work mother, his neighbor and good friend struggling with a heroin addiction, or Bart’s disappointment at being unable to find his biological father. The honesty of Svingen’s writing makes The ballad of a broken nose believable for young adult readers in the modern world. While the narrative could easily fall into despair, Bart’s optimism helps readers see his situation in new light; he still finds joy in visiting his grandmother, singing opera, organizing a cleanup for his apartment complex, learning how to ride a bike, and going to the movies with Ada.
However, the book may not be appropriate for all young readers or the classroom. Aspects of the book may be too vulgar, such as explicit descriptions of an overdose, discussions of heroin and syringes found on the steps of Bart’s building, and the approximately dozen swear words included in the dialogue. While in some ways these aspects of the novel make it more realistic and honest, for some audiences it would detract from the overall narrative by either problematically stereotyping public housing or introducing sensitive topics incongruous for all preteen audiences. (OB)
Shange, Ntozake. 2002. Float like a Butterfly. Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-13800827-3. Illustrated by Edel Rodriguez.
Then known as Cassius Clay, the young Muhammad Ali struggled to find his way in the pre-civil rights South of Louisville, Kentucky. Upset by segregation and its effects, Cassius knew freedom was worth fighting for and used the power of words and his desire to become the greatest boxer of all time to demonstrate resilience in the face of controversy. He began working hard to develop his own style; he was lightning quick on his toes, brave, cool and disciplined. Cassius won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games at 18 years old. Upon adopting Islam, Cassius, now Muhammad Ali, did not let others discourage him and his new faith. Even after losing his medal for refusing to fight in Vietnam and suffering a defeat in the “Fight of the Century,” Muhammad fought for what he believed in, inside and outside of the ring by becoming an advocate for people all over the world.
Shange’s Float Like a Butterfly tackles many issues of segregation and Civil Rights that are discussed with children. The story has themes like perseverance, courage and resilience. Cassius, who eventually becomes Muhammad, provides a realistic voice as he paves his way through a segregated and broken world in his rise to becoming the Heavyweight Champion of the World. The illustrations, combining pastel, woodblock ink, and spray paint all represent Muhammad Ali’s power, beauty and spontaneity. Shange’s Float Like a Butterfly exposes young readers to the harsh realities of the pre-Civil Rights era and ideas like resilience and perseverance. (MLC)
Hopkinson, Deborah. 2016. Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific. Scholastic Inc. 367pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0545-42558-2. Jacket art by Mike Heath.
Following the Japanese’s deadly and devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II begins in December of 1941 with a severely weakened US navy. Despite decimated battleship fleets, the heroic sailors of the US Submarine Force use all of their might to put an end to the coming Japanese invasion. The brave submariners became frontline warriors on the ocean. Faulty torpedoes, lack of clear information, deadly depth-charge attacks and difficult conditions created many challenges for the Navy. With the odds in the Japanese favor, the sailors of the US Submarine Force did not back down and faced their enemy with unbelievable courage and resilience.
Using first-person accounts, archival materials, official US Navy documents, and photographs from the war, Deborah Hopkinson’s Dive! World War II Stories of Sailors & Submarines in the Pacific creates a tale of the extraordinary men who fought on the seas during World War II. Hopkinson’s weaving together of the voices and exploits of various men involved in this fight brings their stories and the lessons they teach to life and teaches children important lessons. While many children cannot relate to the struggles of being a soldier or submariner, readers will be able to relate to common themes like courage, resilience and perseverance. This novel does a great job of providing realistic voices for children so they can imagine what life was like as a World War II sailor and submariner in the Pacific. (MLC)
Reidy, Jean. 2016. Busy Builders, Busy Week! Bloomsbury Children’s Books. 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1681190297.
This story follows a team of animals as they take on a big building project in their neighborhood. Each day, the team has a new adventure. Their plans involve gathering a team, digging, mixing, fixing, hauling, painting, and working together. When the animals finally finish all of the construction work, they reveal a park for playtime fun for everyone! This story teaches the importance of collaboration and teamwork through rhymes and vivid illustrations. It shows that any accomplishment takes a significant amount of work and effort. The project goes faster when working together! The book effectively teaches the days of the week while showing its readers the process of a team project and how rewarding and fun it is when finally finished. (MLC)
Zoboi, Ibi. 2017. American Street. HarperCollins Publishers (Balzer + Bray). 324pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-247304-2. Typography by Liz Dresner.
Eager to find “una bella vie,” or a good life, Fabiola Toussaint and her mother leave behind their native Port-au Prince, Haiti and head toward a new life in Detroit, Michigan. When they reach their new home, Fabiola’s dream of starting new is crushed as her mother is detained by U.S. immigration. This turn of events created even more challenges as Fabiola was now forced to adapt to American life by herself. She starts by living in the west side of Detroit with her American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess. When she begins to feel comfortable in her new life, Fabiola realizes that her cousins are engaging in illegal activity that eventually results in the death of one of their classmates. The American dream had come at a price. Fabiola must make a decision about her role in America.
American Street’s protagonist, Fabiola, provides a vulnerable and inquisitive voice in telling this coming-of-age tale as a Haitian immigrant adjusting to life in Detroit, Michigan. Fabiola’s honest recount of immigrating to the United States without her detained mother will expose readers to the reality of both immigration policy and the American dream. By combining the style of magical realism with Vodou culture, Ibi Zoboi’s contemporary novel is authentic and fascinating for young adults. (MLC)
Himes, R. 2017. Princess and the Peas. Charlesbridge. 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-58089-718-1.
Written and illustrated by Rachel Himes is a pastiche of the traditional Princess and the Pea story. This new version takes place in South Carolina during the mid 1950’s and features a mother who loves to cook, specifically black-eyed peas, and a son named John who wants to be married. The son’s mother wanted to make certain her precious son was married to a woman who knew how to cook. She planned a time when all interested women in the town could come cook for her. Three women showed up at the house and prepared dreadful black-eyed peas. When it looked as though John may never find a suitable wife, a woman named Princess entered the house with impressive cooking skills. The mother was so amazed by this woman’s cooking she encouraged Princess to marry her son.
The story is based off a 1950’s African American family. Conflict is present between the multiple women interested in John who cannot cook to please his loving mother. The conflict in this story is reflective of other traditional stories where a mother does not want her son to get married. This plot is not necessarily based off of real life events, yet it is based off the traditional values observed by many families during this time period.
The setting plays an important role in this story book. Charleston Country, South Carolina appears to be a charming and welcoming town to all. The historical background plays a significant role in the story as well as the traditional 1950’s family values and ideas of community. Himes includes historical background in the back of the text. The illustrations also add to the setting and mood of the story.
In picture story books, characters have specific personality traits which are interesting to young readers. In Princess and the Peas, the mother and son develop some as characters, but primarily maintain their similar characteristics. They do experience different types of emotions which young readers may be able to relate to such as love and concern for family members, as well as stubbornness. Most students can also relate to being passionate about something they really enjoy which in this case is cooking.
The theme of Hime’s book holds meaning for young readers. Young readers can understand the idea of wanting to protect their family members and ensure they have the best. Having someone care about you is a common theme in picture story books. The style of Himes’ work includes a lot of dialogue with several repeated phrases throughout the book which make it easy to read.
Himes was also the illustrator of Princess and the Peas where she produced gorgeous paintings of the setting, characters and emotions using a vivid color pallet. The illustrations allow the reader to feel as though they are in South Carolina during the 1950’s including the style of clothing, hair and buildings. The many emotional expressions give her characters life, for example, the disgust of the mother after eating disgusting black-eyed peas, the disappointment of the women not pleasing John’s mother, and the love between Princess and John. (MSC)
Watson, R. 2017. Piecing Me Together. Bloomsbury. 264pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-68119-105-8.
Piecing Me Together written by Renee Watson focuses in on a high school girl named Jade who lives in a poor neighborhood of Portland, Oregon with her mother and uncle. Jade attends a private school in the wealthy part of the city because she is an incredibly bright young girl full of potential in her studies and in art. Jade struggles with her identity because she is an African American in a predominately white school. She is self conscious of her body image and her background. In Piecing Me Together Jade joins this organization called Women to Women where she is given a mentor who attended the same high school as her. At first Jade is very uncertain of her mentor and believes she can never truly understand what she is going through at home and in the rest of her life. However, through this experience she learns the importance of speaking out for herself, learn about new relationships, understand the world and finding other opportunities.
Regarding the plot of the story there is a lot of conflict which arises in school, at home and in all aspects of Jade’s life. To Jade, her biggest conflict is internal. She struggles with the fact she does not look like other people at her school and the fact they do not understand what her life is like being a person of color. She also struggles with the idea her family is broken and has very little compare to others. Jade’s friend from school, Sam, really struggled to understand why Jade was so upset about an event which took place in a store due to Jade’s skin color. This caused a lot of tension and miscommunication in their friendship. Jade begins to understand the importance of herself in society and what she is capable of.
Characterization plays a large role in this story as the reader can witness Jade developing into a woman. In realistic fiction there is typically a lot of complex characterization which then leads to self-discovery which could be observed through Jade. Throughout the novel Jade begins to build more relationships with people and pushes away some of her fears from earlier. Jade overcomes adverse experiences throughout the story, specifically with her own internal conflicts. She begins to realize what she truly is capable of and she is indeed a beautiful woman, artist and friend. Watching Jade develop into the woman she becomes is an inspiring read.
There were many reoccurring themes such as race, privilege, body image and relationships. Jade learns about the strong impacts each one of these separate ideas and themes have on her own life and others. In realistic fiction a lot of books have themes which can be related to young readers. Many young children can relate to the reoccurring theme which are present in many of their own lives. These themes can also provide student an insight to a life which may be different than their own. These themes all allow Jade and young readers to learn more about themselves through self-discovery.
Watson’s writing style lays out a story of a young girl struggling to find herself in a large city where she needs to overcome stereotypes and internal conflicts. Since Jade is into collage and poetry every few chapters is a piece of Jade’s homemade work which relates to what is currently happening in her own life including her struggles and successes. These poems and collage pieces add a fun literary style of Watson’s work. It appears Jade wrote the book herself. Also, every chapter is entitled with a Spanish word and its translation. Jade loves learning different languages and hopes to some day study abroad to continue to develop her language speaking abilities.
Some of the controversial issues which take place in this book would be regarding the racist and sexist comments made throughout the book. Language was not an issue, yet there were some incidents where Jade had an encounter with another person who oppressed her due to her race and gender. This is unfortunately the reality of what Jade’s life was like. Sexism did play a role in the story which also shows how gender roles are still around, even in today’s society. Another controversial issue in the story is about Jade’s family problems. Her parents are no longer together, they have very little money and her uncle is living with Jade and her mother. A majority of the conflict which occurs in the story are related back to Jade’s family and home life situation.
Typical subject in realistic fiction are children who have been through a lot of struggle and are currently trying to overcome their adverse experiences. Jade comes from a family where she does not see her father very often and her mother is constantly working trying to make sure Jade has a good future ahead of her. Young readers will be able to relate to a young girl with divorced parents and living in a single-parent home. Grown up for Jade also provided insight on peer relationships which all children can relate to. Jade’s friendships show the curiosity, challenge and sense of security and quality within a friendship. Jade also experiences some emotional changes throughout the story. She learns a lot about herself, but also society.
Murphy, J. 2017. Revenge of the Green Banana. Clarion Books. 224pp. $16.99. ISBN 987-0-544-78677-6.
Revenge of the Green Banana written by Jim Murphy is a story about the author’s life growing up in a Catholic school. The story takes place when the main character, Jimmy, begins sixth grade. Jimmy has always been a troublemaker in the Catholic school and this year he continues to find himself getting in trouble with his nun teachers. His new teacher, Sister Angelica, always finds a way to embarrass Jimmy to be mean to him in front of his sixty classmates. Now, Jimmy has to play the role of “Green Banana” in the second grade play. Jimmy and his friends plan a plot of revenge targeting Sister Angelica. However, right before they plan to take revenge Jimmy has a pleasant connection with Sister Angelica making him feel upset about wanting to embarrass her. The story concludes with Jimmy being the hero in his green banana costume and still gets in trouble, but he has learned a lesson. (MSC)
Mafi, T. 2016. Furthermore. Dutton Children’s Books. 401 p. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-101-99476-4.
Alice is a young girl who lived in Ferenwood, a magic land where color means power, talent and beauty. However, unfortunately for Alice she was born without any color atomically making her an outcast in her home unaccepted by all, even her mother. Her father ran away when she was young and she had no idea where he went or why. One day an old enemy of Alice, Oliver Newbanks, arrived at Alice’s home and asked her to help him on his task which was to find her father. She agreed to go retrieve her father from the horrible Furthermore, a place filled with dark magic, bizarre creatures and adventure. Olive and Alice experience many near death experiences as they adventure into the land of Furthermore where they develop a close friendship and eventually find her father who was imprisoned by the Furthermore people. The story ends with Alice, Oliver and her father returning back to Ferenwood.
The plot of Furthermore involves the consistent use of magical land and creatures. The author, Tarhereh Mafi, constructs a logical framework where the characters all develop together along with the transition of their adventure through the mysterious Furthermore land. The suspending disbelief of the plot allows the reader to accept the story could mostly likely not have happened and instead invited the reader to enjoy the adventure of experiencing a new world filled with strange characters, land and opportunity. The plot includes a lot of difficult and unrealistic tasks.
Despite the idea Furthermore and Ferenwood are imaginary places, the characters do appear to be real and could be real people. Their stories are indeed believable and a lot of younger children could relate to the struggles of Alice and Oliver. Both of the main characters in the story develop throughout their adventures. Alice in the beginning is very self-conscious of her appearance as she believes she is ugly. She also is rather immature and does not have proper social skills. At the end of the story Alice has developed into a confident and strong young woman who found her father and is for once proud of her accomplishments. Oliver on the other hand was a compulsive liar and very selfish where in the end he becomes a loving friend for Alice and truly cares for her and her family.
Mafi created a world of magic, paper animals, colorful people and land in the sky. The two primary places within the storyline are Ferenwood and Furthermore which are enemies and very different from each other. Young children while reading this book know anything is possible in this kind of setting as Mafi designed. The reader can see, hear and feel the location of Alice and Olivia. The reader can taste the tulips Alice is eating and can feel the fluffy cloud Oliver is leaning on. All the details allows the reader to experience Furthermore’s scariest moments and Ferenwood’s colorful beauty.
Fantasy focused on the universal theme of struggle, values, emotions, good vs. evil and obstacles. In Furthermore the reoccurring themes the impact the main characters are power, color and beauty. The people in Ferenwood value the idea of color and power. Color means good whereas Alice does not have any color making her an outcast to the rest of society. The theme of friendship is also essential in the story as Alice and Oliver develop their loving friendship throughout the storyline.
A typical type of fantasy stories are mythical quests and conflicts. In this story Alice and Oliver are going on a magical quest to find Alice’s missing father. The story revolves around two opposite forces and in this case two opposite lands: Ferenwood and Furthermore. There is also the theme of heroism and Alice believed her job to returning her father will make her appear to be a hero to her mother and the rest of her home town. She will finally be recognized for her natural talents which everyone else seemed to overlook based off her appearance. Fantasy revolves around magical settings and characters which create a world of enchantment. Through Alice’s and Oliver’s quest they encounter multiple conflicts, but gain knowledge which help them with their future adventures and conquests.
This story involves many preposterous characters and situations which young readers highly enjoy. This is a story which is exaggerated with very descriptive characters. Alice and Oliver have an experience in the clouds, underground and in the most blizzard towns imagined. The characters also have preposterous actions such as when Alice looses her right arm in a fight with a paper fox. The author also creates a strange and curious world filled with unimaginable places, characters and situations making it enjoyable and unpredictable for the reader. (MSC)
Gidwitz, Adam. 2016. The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog. Dutton Children’s Books. 340 pp. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42616-5. Illustrated by Hatem Aly.
The inquisitor’s tale: Or, the three magical children and their holy dog takes place in thirteenth century France in a small inn. Everyone in the inn begins sharing stories about three children and their dog. There have been rumors about this odd grouping. There is Jeanne who is a peasant girl and can see the future, William who is a giant, African monk who has unimaginable strength and there is Jacob who is a Jew and has the power to heal any wound. The group is also accompanied by Jeanne’s village’s holy greyhound, Gwenforte. The group has been considered saints and have the ability to communicate with God. They meet after tragedies in their home lands and learn how to overcome their differences and develop a deep and trusting friendship. The three children and their dog go on many adventures throughout France and encounter knights, a dragon and even the king. However, they run into conflicts and tragedies as they are attempting to accommodate for their differences within society. Their final stop on their journey is to the beach of Mont-Saint-Michel where they meet the king with an enormous army.
The plot is a large part of the story. Multiple main events take place to all of the children individually and while together. The story is told from different people who have entered the inn and share what they know about the three children and their dog. The plot does go in consecutive order of events; however it is split up into different perspectives. This is a unique way of portraying the story as there are almost two different stories in the whole book; one of the children and the dog and the other of the residents in the inn.
As the story developed the characters do as well. The characters change throughout the story and their journey together. They also learn how to accept themselves within society. Before they met they were the outcast of their home - the different or strange child. All three of the children are afraid of each other when they first meet in the forest, but develop a friendship as their story progresses. The children have memories of their past home life and family often and feel as though their childhood happened so long ago. They have grown up a lot from this journey and events. All three of them have amazing gifts which are inhuman, but each still have their own problems with themselves as they are growing up. They have each other to help guide their next move on their journey.
There is an obvious theme of good versus evil throughout the book. God and the Devil are consistently brought up as religion is a large aspect of all of the characters’ lives despite what religious background they possess. This theme ties the plot, characters and setting together to create the meaning of the story as a whole. A majority of the citizens of France follow the Christian beliefs and are attempting to convert the rest of the country from Judaism to Christianity. In the eyes of the Christian population in France Jews represent the evil as they do not believe in Jesus or the holy spirit. Evil may also be portrayed in magic or witchcraft which Jeanne possesses. Being from Africa also appears to be evil, especially in the eyes of a faithful monk. These differences and evils are what brought our three saints and heroes together as they celebrated their differences together. Due to the reoccurring theme of God within the text, this may not be appropriate for some academic settings such as public schools. However, there are multiple elements and developmental aspects can be taught while using this book, there is a highly emphasis of God and religion.
There is a distinct style presented by Gidwitz throughout the novel. Gidwitz has the story told from multiple civilians in the country inn. There is even a different font used to represent a story being told in the past and the present tense which takes place in the inn. This creative form of writing promotes a deeper development of the plot and characters. Each new story told in the inn provides a different story with different language based off each of the different civilians. It is apparent to the reader when one of the story tellers in uneducated or poor based off their wording and phrasing. This is also how Gidwitz incorporates humor into the novel in order to adapt to his audience.
Social development can also be promoted through this book. The social aspects is about accepting others differences and finding common ground to relate to. Socialization is a big part of social development and how to appropriately interact with others and how groups of people interact with each other. In The inquisitor’s tale: Or, the three magical children and their holy dog the three children learn how to interact with people who are different than themselves. In this case, these children were taught negative connotations about these different groups of people including Jews, Christians, females and people of African descent. Students can learn how to accept others based off their differences and learn about someone who they normally would never interact with.
Gidwitz wrote, “William, Jacob, and Jeanne, despite their differences, found it remarkably easy to talk to one another. As if,, despite their different accents, they had finally met someone who spoke their native tongue” (p. 101). In The inquisitor’s tale: Or, the three magical children and their holy dog, the three children find themselves struggling to fit into their society back home, but somehow find themselves content with two other individuals who are nothing alike themselves, along with a holy dog. A large teaching point could be made from this book is to accept others despite their differences and embrace those differences as is what makes an individual special and unique whether meaning the individual has dark skin, can heal wounds, has visions of the future or is a canine. Despite those differences there are still similarities which bring people together. (MSC)
Trillin, Calvin. 2016. No Fair! No Fair! And Other Golly Poems of Childhood. Scholastic
Inc. (Orchard Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-582578-8. Illustrated by Roz Chast.
Growing up can be difficult. There are many challenges people experience before becoming an adult. Luckily, Calvin Trillin creates humorous poems in his book No Fair! No Fair! reflecting on the everyday struggles and joys of being a youngster. The poems featured in the book range from getting a new baby brother, to learning how to tie shoes, to time spent outside at recess. Most of the poems are written in a narrative or limerick style. Children will enjoy these poems because of the rhymes included with the witty humor. The illustrations also add to the humor because the characters are overly expressive, and almost cartoon like. This book will make both children and grown-ups laugh out loud as everyday topics are expressed in clever and entertaining ways. Recommended for grades 2-5. (KMG)
Mickle, Shelley Fraser. 2017. American Pharaoh: Triple Crown Champion. Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division (Aladdin). 224pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-148070-3.
American Pharaoh tells the true story of an American race horse with the odds against him as he wins the Triple Crown. A misfit in the racing world, American Pharaoh stuns crowds when named the Triple Crown Champion in 2015. This nonfiction book gives an insight from the trainer, jockey, and owners who all interacted with American Pharaoh. Throughout the text there are quotes, passages, and photographs enhancing the true story. Animal lovers, especially horse fans, will connect with this book. American Pharaoh is another example where dreams can come true by hard work, dedication, and passion. Recommended for grades 3-7. (KMG)
Berkes, Marianne. 2017. Baby on Board: How Animals Carry Their Young. Dawn Publications. 32pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-58-469593-6. Illustrated by Cathy Morrison.
Baby on Board is a delightful read-aloud book about how mother animals carry their young. Children are exposed to unique animals by informational stanzas that rhyme. Colorful life-like illustrations enhance the book. The friendly illustrations help children to see the motherly nature of all the animals featured. Though designed for a younger audience, the text is still very rich on how animals care for their young. Students, teachers, and families alike can bond over this lovely tale because the book acknowledges how all young, people or animals, are taken care of and loved. The end pages offer resources for families and teachers to continue a discussion on animal babies. Marianne Berkes’s book would be the perfect companion for animals and nature lovers. (KMG)
Levinson, Cynthia. 2017. The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-48-140070-1. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton.
Audrey Fay Hendricks is famous because she is one of the youngest children to march during the Civil Rights era. As a nine-year-old, she was willing to go to jail to protest the Birmingham segregation laws. She wanted everyone to be equal and thought this would be the best way to fight for what she believes in. The illustrations are able to capture people's emotions building up to the march and once all the children were put into jail. The illustrations also capture the time period depicting the style of clothing and Jim Crow signs. Though the text is sometimes complex, students will be able to visualize themselves going through the children’s march. Levinson enlightens readers on Audrey Hendricks’ life and encourages readers they too can make a difference. An influential story for both adults and children to understand the power of their actions.(KMG)
Tarpley, Natasha. 2017. The Harlem Charade. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 320pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-54-578387-3.
Natasha Tarpley’s newest novel for intermediate readers: The Harlem Charade, is the unlikely intertwining of three children living in Harlem, New York. Once just neighbors, these three children: Jin, Elvin, and Alex embark on a mystery within their historic town to investigate what happened to Elvin’s grandfather. Tarpley offers themes about the need of community and empathy in her novel by highlighting the unlikely friendships made with Jin, Elvin, and Alex because of their ability to look past their differences. This novel falls into the realistic fiction category because of relatableness of the characters and the ability to imagine oneself walking along the streets of Harlem. With that being said, prior knowledge of the culture and history of Harlem would be beneficial. There are some unique vocabulary and cultural references many readers would not understand if they did not have any context to the neighborhood of Harlem. However, students who do pick up this book will feel empowered to make a difference no matter their age. Not only did Tarpley write about an enticing mystery, but also a call for social justice in one’s own neighborhood. (KMG)
Paulsen, Gary. 2016. Fishbone’s Song. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 160pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-48-145226-7.
Fishbone’s song is the author’s most recent book for young emerging readers with the charm of adventure, wilderness, and relationships. Fishbone’s song holds an emotional appeal because of the tales of an orphan boy raised by an old man deep in the woods. Though they did not have many possessions, they had each other and the boy learned important life skills by the best teacher: nature. This thoughtful tale will draw in young readers through the voice of the boy and the wisdom from the old man. As a main theme of the story, Paulson shows readers the importance of building intergenerational relationships. Readers will find a good rhythm while reading this book because it is lyrically written, taking the reader from page to page. This is one of Paulsen’s most tender books that would be a moving experience for young girls and boys alike. (KMG)
Palatini, Margie. 2016. Isabella for Real. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing (HMH for Young Readers). 208pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-54-414846-8. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham.
Isabella for Real connects with pre-adolescent children by going on a wild yet realistic adventure of social media stardom. Isabella has recently moved to a new town and new school. As an 11-year-old, she was nervous about the big move and questioned if she were going to make new friends. In desperation, she lied about her identity at her new school and how her ‘friends’ believe she is more famous than she actually is. She tries to keep up her image by becoming a YouTube sensation. Eventually her double life is too much, and realizes she only needs to be Isabella, for real. This book, another coming of age story, is a good reminder for all emerging teenagers that it is important to be true to oneself. Though sometimes lacking in literature substance, the author creates an interesting story through the humor of an average 11-year-old child. Throughout the book there are comic book illustrations of different scenes. This makes the book even more funny by helping the reader to see what is happening in the story. Isabella for Real is well-written book for today’s millennial population. (KMG)
Stine, Megan. 2017. What Was the Age of the Dinosaurs?. Penguin Random House LLC (Penguin Workshop). 112pp. $5.99. ISBN 978-0-45-153264-0. Illustrated by Gregory Copeland.
Dinosaurs are a difficult topic from a historical standpoint, but Megan Stine did a successful job in creating an interesting non-fiction book for young elementary students. The large pocket size book intrigues students with the front cover displaying a large T-rex. The sharp teeth and large mouth will interest readers because of the balance between cartoon and realistic illustrations. Illustrations are distributed throughout the book, being realistic pencil sketches. There is no color (besides black and white) because of the historical setting it is attempting to create. With only black and white illustration readers can either put themselves is this time period or use their creativity to paint the picture themselves. The illustrations lack color but are full of detail with thin pencil sketches that pair nicely with the text. This text requires reading skills from readers as the illustrations alone cannot tell the story, but assist the text in setting the scene and helping the reader picture what times could have been like. The black and white illustrations help to ignite a reader’s imagination when reading about pre-historic times. As mentioned before, allowing students minds to wander (to a certain extent) will enhance their creativity and deepen their understanding of the material. Paired with the unique illustrations, the bold black text fills the page appropriately as to not overwhelm the reader. The table of contents displays engaging titles which intrigue readers to continue with their reading. Each title is specific to a section of text and builds on one another. The progression of chapter titles leads the reader on a path the author chose to write, focusing on brief information about dinosaurs and what their life was like.
Most importantly, the plot is appropriate for young elementary readers. Characterization is distributed among the dinosaurs (given expression through illustration) as well as several students who become interested in dinosaurs. Including a various amount of students throughout, without a strict plot line, allows readers to put themselves in their shoes– picturing how their experience would play out and depict what they find interesting. The plot accompanied with this non-fiction text engages a young reader while dispersing small amount of information pertaining to dinosaurs. The limited amount of information will help not to overwhelm students and instead intrigue them to follow allow students who are similar to them on their journey of learning about dinosaurs. (BAH)
Thompson, Lisa. 2017. The Goldfish Boy. Scholastic Inc. Pg. 313. $16.99. ISBN 9781338053920.
The spooky and unlikely tale of a boy named Matthew Corbin engages readers, ages 12 – 16, from the first page. The titles of the chapters are interesting and set the reader up for a mystery in what is to come next in this novel. The cover of the book immediately depicts a boy, Matthew Corbin, who keeps himself in his house because of a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Fortunately Matthew had been observing his neighbors for an extended period of time before a young toddler from next door goes missing. He is then depended on to help recover the boy, as Matthew was the last one to see him alive. The Goldfish Boy is an intriguing, unlikely story that will have the reader wanting to read more.
The plot of The Goldfish Boy brings the reader along on two journeys: the journey of Matthew Corbin and his battle within self suffering from OCD and the possibility of him having to leave his home and the journey of finding Teddy Dawson, the missing toddler. Exposing children to a mental illness was well incorporated by Lisa Thompson in a way that the reader can develop compassion for such a situation. Socioemotional learning is possible to take place upon reading this novel by incorporating respecting others, being compassionate, and coming to terms that OCD (and other mental health issues) are real and the reader is able to process people in their lives can have it too. Matthew then finds another battle but it is within himself. His blistered hands may help to solve a mystery of a missing child but that means he must leave his house. Again being another teaching moment, readers are able to ‘step into a character’s shoes’ and imagine themselves in that situation- and what they would do.
Along with the plot, the main characters were built with a strong back stories. Both characters have numerous characteristics that set themselve apart from others. Not all the characteristics are considered positive, which then again exposes the reader to a variety of scenarios and not just happy endings. Between characterization, plot building, and exposing students to conflict this novel does a successful job in engaging the student appropriately to the measure they can handle.
The Goldfish Boy allows a reader to follow the mystery of a plot and follow the progression of the character in their development.The reader can open their perspective to mental health issues, in an appropriate way, while being exposed to problems that the real world faces. (BAH)
Freeman, Martha. 2017. Effie Starr Zook has One More Question. Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman Books). 224 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-48-147264-7.
Effie Starr Zook is equally as interesting as the title of this story. As a young girl who was raised in the city, Effie is now forced to spend a summer in Pennsylvania with her extended family. She was unaware of a family feud and secrets which soon would be revealed. Being curious, her endless questions will help her to find out missing pieces to her puzzle. With her new bike and a list of questions, she was ready to solve the family mystery.
Throughout the book, the storyline and mystery twist into a normal summer. Around the ages of 8-12, children typically start to form a preference to genres, a majority being mystery. Mystery allows a reader to both analyze and hypothesis simultaneously, evaluating the plot line and information presented. Effie Starr Zook has One More Question is classified as contemporary fiction because its storyline holds both realistic characteristics as well as out of this world situations. Being a young child in today’s world does not hold as much freedom (roaming around new territory digging for clues) or does not have the amount of connections as Effie does in the book. She explores throughout the whole book having no boundaries set in place at the start of the summer. For many reasons this story is not realistic, but it also holds a story the reader can relate to. For example, not wanting to go to a family member’s house, uncovering new information, or simply having the freedom of riding your bike around a neighborhood. Although the situation is realistic, the dark mystery is not likely to happen to the reader.
Even with the far fetched storyline, the author does an excellent job of intriguing the reader to continue. The light hearted mystery of the family allows children to critically think of themselves. Tough, unrealistic decisions had to be made which then will spark class discussion about the process of making the correct choices.
Overall, Effie Starr Zook has One More Question was not a realistic situation for a typical 8-12 year old reader to relate to, but in minor ways they can. Discussing the thought process of decision making will impact their cognitive and social development significantly. Effie Starr Zook is relatable to readers when they are willing to expand their boundaries and be able to put themselves in another person’s shoes. (BAH)
Lee, Michelle. 2017. Play With Me!. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers). 32 pp.. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-39-954601-3. Illustrated by Ryan Thomann.
Play With Me! incorporates multiple opportunities for students to learn about themselves while being conscious of others. Nico and Pip cannot agree on one game to play, and after many suggestions Pip becomes frustrated, which causes Nico to offer an alternative. Because it applies to children ages 3-5, asking them to hypothesize Pip’s reaction makes them aware of their peers while also themselves. Critical thinking could take place, asking the students why they thought Nico rather play his cello instead of the various other options. Or possibly discussing how Pip’s reaction to Nico saying no was not appropriate.
Along with cognitive development being a focus, social development makes a great impact of a child. In Play With Me! Nico and Pip have trouble agreeing on a game, after multiple attempts Pip finds a way for them to play together. If teaching, asking your class how they would respond to someone telling them ‘no’ or having a conversation about playing games others prefer is highly beneficial for their social development. In preschool/pre-kindergarten years, acquiring the skills of respecting others and their wishes will develop vastly through the years to come. Being aware of others at 3-5 years is not a developed trait. Talking about Nico and Pip’s feelings will allow the students to critically think, putting themselves in Nico’s or Pip’s shoes. Throughout the book there is continuous conversation, between Nico and Pip which allows a child to organize who is talking along with categorizing their reactions. Along with language development, the book exposed children to different ways to play. Typically playing is sought as being outside (or playing a sport) but incorporating various activities and having music be a main focus allows a student to open their mind to new opportunities. (BAH)
Wymer, Tracy. 2016. Soar. Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 288 pp. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4814-4711-9. Illustrated by Brian Biggs.
Soar is capable of igniting a child’s imagination while heightening interest in science, specifically birds. The plot moves quickly enough to keep one engaged and eager to find out what happened next. With the combination of information in Soar, as well as the relatable storyline for many children, it is a book that would be recommended for a classroom.
After losing his dad, Eddie struggles with middle school in making friends. For years Eddie has wanted to win the blue ribbon prize at the Science Symposium held yearly for 7th graders, after being partnered with his enemy (Mouton) it seemed nearly impossible. To Eddie’s disappointment and Mouton to blame, they did not win blue ribbon. Mouton showed up with a painting of two young boys instead of the focus of their project, a golden eagle. It was days after the Science Symposium went horribly wrong that Eddie’s mom threw him a surprise birthday party in which Mouton arrived at, with a beautifully done painting of a golden hawk. Mouton claimed there was a sighting near his house, which interested Eddie. They both left the surprise party, in hunt of golden eagle. Hours later, there was a speck in the sky that grew significantly, it was not stated to be a golden eagle but instead it was Eddie’s dad. He was watching over him, guarding him, and guiding him through Eddie’s life.
Throughout the plot the ‘golden eagle’ hold much importance, Eddie’s father swore there was sighting of one, yet the whole community was in disbelief. After this father’s passing, Eddie took it upon himself to earn the respect his father deserved by finding the golden eagle. Creating a symbolic image engages the reader’s creativity and allows them to sharpen visualization skills that are often forgotten about. There were many examples in which Eddie learned about himself and often recognized other’s emotions as well. Having to cope with multiple problems, readers are able to discuss if his actions were correct or incorrect, or what they would have done differently.
If used in a classroom, the vocabulary of the book would interest readers because of both daily vocabulary being developed and the scientific vocabulary that is presented throughout Soar. Hoping to guide students to evaluate the literature they read, in seeking that Soar is both informational as well as entertaining is a hard balance to come upon. It is a good inlet to a science project or a free read book that a reader is interested in. Being that Soar was unable to fulfill multicultural literature standards, it could be suggested as an individual reading book as opposed to a class reading book.
The titles of Soar for each chapter are capable to sparking discussion as well as educated predictions. In an upper elementary classroom, the students are capable of critically thinking and adjust their predictions based on evidence given. Organizing thoughts as a class or individually can be incorporated through a numerous amount of activities. Soar’s timeline is well organized which allows a student to summarize well and sort out important and relevant facts. Tracy Wymer did an excellent job in creating a book that intrigues a student while challenging them to recognize social cues. Social development is one of the most vital areas that must be attended to through literature. (BAH)
Smith, Alex. 2015. Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 26 pp. $17.99. 9780545914383. Thomas and Euan Smith.
Detailed, vibrant art dominate each page. Allowing time for the students to observe all of the page’s minor details and appreciate the detail of the work. The recommended ages for this book is 3-5 years, so allowing more time to analyze the page will be beneficial. Through Little Red’s journey to her Aunt’s house, the story line takes the reader through the safari, watering hole, and through her Aunt’s house. In doing this, it will encourage readers to use their imagination and put themselves in the story.
Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion is a unique story, but a much similar plot to Red Riding Hood. With the similarities of the two, it allows the students to draw connections while recognizing a story can be altered and then creating a whole different story. Having student acknowledge they are powerful writers will allow them to test their boundaries and explore their creativity. The plot being a universal story line will make conclusions easier to draw as well as allow more growth for creativity.
This story portrays the character (Lion) as a realistic person, along with the other animals on pg 5 and 6. The illustrator did a detailed job of including minor characteristics to ensure their emotions through facial expressions. The illustrations enhanced the experience the student will have reading and allow the student to develop their social development/ skills while being aware of others.
Every page of the story is different, the illustrations are drastically different along with the display of words. Descriptive words are written as their meaning, and words such as ‘stop’, ‘no’, and ‘disgusting’ are written in big bold letters, leading to the emotion they should be read with. This book hold so much creativity that as an educator, time must be allowed for a student to grasp the full concept of the illustrations. With the storyline being similar to Little Red Riding Hood students are able to make connections about the plot quicker, allowing them to observe the illustrations to a deeper depth. (BAH)
Anderson, Derek. 2016. Ten Hungry Pigs. Scholastic Inc. (Orchard Books). 40 pp. $16.99. ISBN: 9780545168489. Illustrated by Derek Anderson.
Ten Hungry Pigs is an entertaining concept book. It immediately grabs a reader’s attention with its colorful pages, gradually building a story line. The illustrations incorporate soft lines as well as bold distinction between shapes, which keeps the pages simple and young reader friendly.
A concept demonstrated through this book is counting in which allows the reader to follow the interesting yet fun process that it takes the ten pigs to make a sandwich. Cognitive development is the focus in this concept, to grab the reader’s attention with pleasing illustrations and a storyline, while attempting to teach counting 1-10. Personification is displayed through the pigs. In doing so, he is able to draw in the student’s attention while implying a relevant concept, counting. Several other animals are personified as well, such as the Hungry Pig’s friend, Duck. The focus of Ten Hungry Pigs is to expose readers to age appropriate counting lessons as well as an entertaining story. (BAH)
Gallino, Sue. 2016. Pug Meets Pig. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN: 9781481420662. Illustrated by Joyce Wan.
This is a beginner level short picture book story. It allows a reader to witness their relationship through ups and downs. The easy-to-read book captures the reader’s attention because of the unlikely match between a pig and pug and its child friendly illustrations.
Beyond hypothesizing and summarizing, a reader could develop socially from Pug Meets Pigs as well. One side being Pug who has to welcome a new member of the family and share its things. The other being the Pig who takes Pug’s personal items without asking. It is an important topic (from both sides) to discuss with young students as to what is and is not socially appropriate. Along with what is socially accepted, and what they would do in those situation could spark classroom discussion as well as higher order thinking.
One of the most attention grabbing aspects of a book to young readers is characterization and personification. Animals are most appealing to children, especially when they are then created human like. Characterization was established within the first two pages for Pig, and then soon followed by Pug. Personification was displayed when giving the animals noticeable and similar facial expressions to humans also when Pig was stuck in the door, the compassion Pug had for him and chose to help.
Pug and Pig demonstrated multiple concepts while creating a simple, yet intriguing storyline. This easy to read book allows a child to experience conflict and resolution, while developing social tools as well as emotional maturity. (BAH)
PoPoblocki, Dan. 2016. Shadow House: The Gathering. Scholastic Inc. 224 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-33-809127-4.
Five young children, all with unique and troubling back stories, are all brought to a house without knowing one another previously. None of them know why they are summoned or the consequences they soon will face. Throughout The Gathering a reader is taken on an eerie journey through a haunted house full of ghosts and disappearing children.
This book challenges a reader to hypothesize about future chapters. Appropriate for ages 11-13, students will be capable of constructing an educated hypothesis demonstrating their understanding of the storyline. Summarizing may take place because the book is lengthy, and challenges the children to retain information and create connections over an extended period of time. Along with summarizing the storyline, a reader will have the opportunity to compare the main characters, their background stories, their similarities (or lack of), attempting to figure out why those children were chosen.
The Gathering creates questionable outlooks when ghosts become a main role in the story. Characters either believe in ghosts or do not, and this will spark interest from the reader. In creating disbelief, the fantasy story sets a specific scene which allows readers to ‘hear,’ ‘see,’ and ‘feel’ as if they are there. Capturing readers’ attention and mind will engage them, and allow them to become invested in the story. The reader is capable of relating to the characters by seeking similarities and differences. For many children, books can be an escape where they can develop socially and cognitively.
Establishing an emotional connection is vital for a reader, and will then spark an interest in future readings too. A whole new world is created starting from the first page with the faded gray pages and the unique illustrations. The watercolor paintings look old and haunted, helping to set the scene for the reader.
Themes in The Gathering allows children to become wrapped up in the series, the mysterious house which calls upon random children to terrorize. The greatest impact this book will have on children is igniting their imagination. The spirits, haunted houses, and mysterious characters allow room for creativity and unique storylines which most children do not typically read. The Gathering provides a reader with endless opportunities to connect with the character and become wrapped into the storyline. In entering a whole new world, the scene is set specifically to help readers feel as if they can hear it, feel it, and see it. (BAH)
Drury, Bob and Clavin, Tom. 2017. The Heart of Everything That Is. Simon & Schuster. 432 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-6460-4.
Red Cloud and his story has been largely forgotten or ignored until just recently. Found autobiographies and the work of two authors give Red Cloud a voice to have his story told. This biography tells of events that happened during Red Cloud’s life, such as problems with the U.S. government, who was taking land away from the Sioux tribe, and Red Cloud’s War, which occurred when the government started building forts throughout the Black Hills, which was sacred Indian land. The whole novel revolves around the struggles Red Cloud and the Sioux dealt with trying to preserve their Indian ways of life. The novel also tells of the people that Red Cloud inspired, such as Crazy Horse, Jim Bridger, and William Tecumseh Sherman. The setting of this novel takes place during the mid 1800’s and in the midwestern United States, which gives the events depicted in the novel familiarity, especially when talking about the Black Hills. Readers will understand where that is and be able to pinpoint where exactly events took place. Because of all that Red Cloud did and the people he inspired, he was one of the most remarkable leaders at that time in history. The fact that his story was untold and even lost at a point in time is quite saddening. But now that he is able to make his voice heard, he is given the recognition he deserves for being a fearless leader and key individual in preserving the Indian culture. Determination and not fearing power gave Red Cloud the courage to be that fearless leader he is now remembered for today. (JLH)
Heos, Bridget and O’Keefe, Alejandro. 2017. Queen Dog. Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 40 pp. $12.67. ISBN 978-148472852-9.
For as long as she can remember, Queen Dog has been served fancy food, bought presents, and given royal baths by her servants. She has never had to worry about anyone else but herself. So when a young girl arrives at the castle, Queen Dog does not know what to do; especially because the girl did not have royal manners. Although the relationship started out rocky, it blossomed into a loving one. Queen Dog now had a princess in training. This story can be relatable for many young children, especially ones who are going to be or are big brothers or sisters. The story’s plot is even if a relationship starts out rocky, it can foster into a loving one; and that is important for young children to remember. The illustrations in this story are filled with vivid colors, especially on Queen Dog. This is because Queen Dog sees herself as important, and therefore should have the brightest and prettiest colors on her. Throughout the story, the vivid colors take up more of the page. That is because Queen Dog is realizing that she is not the only important individual in the castle. Sharing can also be an important lesson to teach young children. The lesson could be that sharing is expected everywhere, not just at home; sharing can be difficult, but so worth it. The setting of the story is in a house, and that will be relatable to many young children. They can all relate to being in a house and either having to share physical items or attention. Although Queen Dog is not the “queen” of the household anymore, she is finding her princess in training to be good company and likes to have her around now. Every young child can relate to something in this story, but even if it may be hard, the end result is completely worth it. (JLH)
Fox, Mem and Horacek, Judy. 2017. This & That. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 32 pps. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-338-03780-7.
Simple illustrations with a variety of colors truly make the pages easy to scan for young readers. The use of lines also does that well; the straightforward shapes of the illustrations are appropriate for young elementary students. As a story with a unique style, this children's’ story focuses especially on rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. The repetition of the phrase “I’ll tell you a story of this, and I’ll tell you a story of that” makes it easy for young readers to follow along with the story and allows them to know what is coming next. Rhyme is also especially apparent; after the phrase is repeated, the sentence on the next page always rhymes with it. That sentence structure is fun for young children because it creates a humorous effect, as well as a specific pattern to the story. Rhythm also helps creates that certain pattern by keeping the story moving; it does this by continuing the second part of the sentence on the next page. This, in turn, will help young students with their sequencing skills. Even after each of those rhyming elements in this narrative poem, it still tells a story; it tells a story of two mice who tells stories of chimps with a hat, crazy giraffes, and even chatty kings and queens all before they go to sleep. The point-of-view through the mice gives this story a personal feel, because it feels almost as if the mice are speaking directly to us. The setting of this story seems to take place all over, even if they are just telling stories. The mice are always in their house, but seem to be in many different places throughout the pages. This story not only has many different elements of rhyme, but it also has many other elements that contribute to the splendid nature of this book. Young children will not only get a kick out of all of the adventures the mice seem to go on, but they will learn the idea of sequencing through them as well. Children will be learning as well as being entertained. (JLH)
Hughes, Dean. 2016. Four-Four-Two. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 272 pps. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-6252-5.
Set during World War II, Four-Four-Two by Dean Hughes shows the story of two Japanese-American men who enlist in the 442nd regiment. This story is a prime example of conflict; person against person as well as person against society. These two men are put through the ringer by their white officers and by others who feel they are less because of their ethnicity, and even see them as the enemy. It is also an example of person against society because they deal with racism and hatred. This story is also an example of historical fiction; not only because it is set at the time of World War II, but because it is dealing with present issues of racism and fear for one's lives. The setting is also rooted in World War II and places the soldiers in areas they would have definitely been at this time of war. Characterization is an important part to this novel; it allows readers to see the perspective of individuals who were seen as an enemy by some Americans, including the government. It also gives readers a look at the internal conflicts going on inside of the two soldiers, their fears, and their thoughts on each situation they are put through. Although the point-of-view of the story is from a third person party, readers are still able to see the thoughts, feelings, and conflicts among the characters. The style influences the mood. The truth of war is expressed and described, and the gut-wrenching reality of how it affects those individuals is front and center. The mood is fearful and dark because of those realities. Even though most readers did not live during WWII, they can live vicariously as they read the story because of the details. Overall, the novel is an accurate representation of what life was like for specific individuals during this time of war. At some points in the novel, the representation was almost too accurate for it describes events that many do not want to believe truly occurred. Readers are battling alongside the soldiers throughout this novel. (JLH)
Coe, Victoria J. 2017. Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers). 192 pps. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-101-99633-1.
Fenway may be a little dog, but he certainly has a big personality! His inner dialogue shows us that he has a lot to say, and is the way the author suspends disbelief.. The plot of this story involves Fenway, his best friends Hattie, and bunnies. A gang of evil bunnies wants to invade the dog park, but Fenway will not let that happen. Although Fenway is only trying to protect the park, Hattie seems “anxious” (page 81) and will not allow Fenway to cover up any holes. Fenway is confused, until Hattie shows up with a caged bunny of her own. He believes the bunny is part of the evil bunny gang, until it is obvious that Hattie enjoys the bunny. Jealousy starts to arise within Fenway, which could be relatable to many young children. Actually, there are many emotions depicted in the story that could be relatable to many young children; jealousy, excitement, confusion. The author also uses the character of Victoria to build suspense with the weather. The setting of this story takes place mostly in a house or in the dog park, because that is where animals usually spend most of their time. Readers also have to keep in mind that Fenway’s perspective on different situations is a good reminder to all, including animals, view different situations differently. Although there are no pictures in this novel, the descriptions and narration give us and a look into the world of being an animal and what goes on in their lives. (JLH)
Markle, Sandra. 2017. Thirsty, Thirsty Elephants. Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-58089-634-4. Illustrated by Fabricio VandenBroeck.
Elephants are affectionate creatures depending on their family for food and protection. In this fictional story, elephants in Tanzania need to find water during a drought. The genre is clearly fictional because the elephants are able to speak to one another in English. Also the storyline is about an adventure to finding water. The illustrations in this book create an enjoyable atmosphere for the reader interested in associating the images with the dialogue. The overall lessons would help develop social-emotional learning because the reader learns how to depend on others, just like the elephants in the story. (AML)
Hodgin, Molly. 2017. Tenney’s Journal. Scholastic Inc. 160 pages. $11.99. ISBN 978-1-338-13704-0.
American Girl, Tennyson Grant, takes the reader into her journal filled with recipes, diary entries, crafts, and, most importantly, song lyrics. The journal uses rhymed verse, appealing to 12 year olds with experiences like Tenney’s. Young adults enjoy poetry expressing feelings and experiences similar to their own. Tenney shows frustration with others, loneliness, and admiration towards others through her songs. Children reading the lyrics can find new inspiration to express their own, similar feelings through poetry.
Since the book is the main character’s journal, Hodgin made the entries also contain edits from Tenney, including crossing out words and arrows pointing to important thoughts. This feature is helpful for younger readers interested in journaling or song-writing because edits prove it is okay to make mistakes or that reviewing and editing will always improve the final product.
The friendships in the journal seem genuine and relatable to young readers. Jealousy and disappointment prove to the reader that even good characters will fight with each other. Tenney goes out of her way to become friends with others and make amends with her best friend, Jaya.
Her journey to forgiveness involves her speaking with an old bully. The journal entries help show other characters developing and becoming nicer to one another. In the end Tenney befriends the bully by putting the past behind her. This small interaction can encourage young readers to give others opportunities to improve and change for the better.
American Girl accurately portrays a young girl trying to get her music out and into the world. Other readers can relate to Tenney and appreciate the strides she makes because the readers can relate to her lyrics and poetry. Although the poetry itself is rather simple due to its simple rhyme scheme and familiar lyrics, young girls reading Tenney’s Journal will be inspired to write their own poems or even journal about their own lives. (AML)
Meltzer, Brad. 2017. I am Jim Henson. Penguin Young Readers Group. 40 pages. $14.99. ISBN 978-0-525-42850. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos.
Jim Henson was the creator and producer of The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. These beloved puppets shaped the industry by teaching and entertaining children around the world. Meltzer follows in Henson’s footsteps by teaching and entertaining the reader. He uses quotes and stories that were recorded in Henson’s lifetime. His retelling of Henson’s life is accurate and authentic because of his sources cited, Meltzer was also the host of the History Channel television shows. Many children could benefit from reading this nonfiction book because it helps teach kids that hard word and perseverance can lead to success. The illustrations done by Eliopoulos also interest younger readers. The drawings show happy, well-known characters and the actors who bring them to life. They also help clarify and extend the text by showing detailed descriptions for the visual learners. Overall children would benefit from learning about the great, successful Jim Henson. (AML)
Markle, Sandra. 2017. The Search for Olinguito: Discovering a New Species. Millbrook Press. 40 pages. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-5124-1015-0.
Children interested in animals or paleontology would be drawn to the journey of discovering a new species: the Olinguito. Markle makes the smart decision to use real photos in order to accurately show and explain the observations that lead to the discovery of the Olinguito. A helpful aspect of the book is the definitions provided for a young reader. Science books can be discouraging for developing readers, but the immediate definitions help children adapt to and develop an advanced vocabulary. Markle is a credible author for her numerous award-winning children’s books, her nationally known title of science education consultant, and her award-winning foundation: the National Science Foundation. These titles shine in her easy-to-read writing about a complex journey to discovery. (AML)
Lasky, K. 2017. Night Witches. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 224 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-545-68298-5.
Night witches were an all-female group of pilots during World War II. The main character, Valya, sees her sister, Tatyana, as a competition. This story builds quickly beginning with the first chapater. The reader discovers the grandmother and mother of Valya die because of debris and gunfire. The characters exist on the Russian side of history, which is an interesting take of events. Typically, American stories about World War II focus on locations such as England, Poland, Germany, or France.
Although this story quickly builds there is no major climax, just various climaxes throughout the plot. The plot itself is rather incoherent as well. The story does not have an overarching plotline that the audience can look forward to and follow. This can lead to an occasional lack of interest typically, however for this fast-paced story the reader is continuously hooked because of the lack of downtime.
As for historical accuracy, there is no doubt that Lasky spent plenty of time and effort into getting the exact details correct on every page. This type of research is evident, but not always in the best way. Lasky is guilty of telling the readers what is happening instead of showing the readers. In the second paragraph, the author throws facts and background information forcefully at the reader: “The Germans set up the searchlights to defend their fuel depots, ammunition dumps, ground troops, and support vehicles-all tactical targets for our Russian enemy. But that won’t stop the Noch’ ved’m, the Night Witches of the 588th Regiment, who weave through the sweeping beams of light in the loom of the Stalingrad night. The young women who attack Hitler’s forces from the sky” (pg 1). While this information is relevant and important to the story, younger readers could easily feel like they are being left in the dust.
The most important element of Night Witches is the characters. Rarely do young readers get a powerful heroine to inspire them. Valya proves that females have the power to change and inspire others, even if the world discourages women. Valya was discouraged by her mother and the rest of her family, but proves them wrong in the end by creating a powerful impact in World War II by joining the Night Witches. (AML)
Poskitt, K. 2016. Agatha Parrot and the Heart of Mud. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 240 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-50879.
Agatha Parrot, the main character and narrator, finds herself causing mayhem in Odd Street. Her family and friends are described in an easy-to-read and funny manner. A young reader would enjoy the playful use of capitalization and onomatopoeia. The use of spelling is crucial for Agatha and her friend Martha. Martha is forced to stop playing football (soccer) with her friends and has to perform well in a spelling club instead, although Martha cannot spell well. Agatha uses her brother, James’s, email to send love letters to Bella in order to find out the star words for Martha. Agatha decides this is not cheating and chooses to focus on the end goal. In the end, Bella meets James and quickly realizes he is not as charming as his emails. In the end Bella uses soccer to win James’s heart, Martha is put back on the team, and everyone remains happy. Any young reader would enjoy the humorous personality and ridiculousness of Agatha and her friends. The plot is quick and entertaining, which will grab and maintain the attention of a reader looking for an enjoyable book. This is a novel written in British-English so a young American reader might have trouble with the different spelling of words. (AML)
Yeh, K. 2016. The Friend Ship. Disney Book Group. 32pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4847-0726-5. Illustrated by Chuck Groenink.
In the children’s story The Friend Ship, written by Kat Yeh, readers follow a lonely hedgehog travel on a boat looking for friendship. Although he never finds it in the story, it becomes clear to the reader that the hedgehog has been on the friend ship the whole time. The illustrations for the story are bright and attention grabbing for the reader, they also point out that the animals aboard the ship are friends in order to help the reader make the connection they are on the friend ship already. The story helps children develop their cognitive and social development. Observation is emphasized in the book because the reader learns how to infer how the animals are feeling through the illustrations. Hypothesis is also a critical element of The Friend Ship because the reader needs to guess what happens next, especially while the reader guesses what happens after the book ends. Summarization also can be used in this story if the child is asked to explain the events from the book. The Friend Ship also ties in with social development because it can help the reader understand what friendship is and how it can be created. Since analytical and social skills are crucial for a child to develop, and the illustrations are interesting for children, this book would be helpful for any child to have in order for them to learn and develop their cognitive and social abilities. (AML)
Nall, Gail. 2016. Out of Tune. Simon & Schuster, Inc. 336 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-4814-5818-4.
Maya’s life starts looking up with her best friend Kenzie at her side and the Dueling Duets right around the corner. But her chances of fame and winning her crush’s heart are lost when her parents uproot the family with a road trip in the world’s ugliest RV. Three days before the competition Maya attempts to make her way back home in time for the competition, but after going through pain, stress, new love, and new friendship, she realizes that it is possible to have two homes. Out of Tune aims for a reader around age 12, just like the main character’s age. Maya has relatable traits such as jealousy, loyalty, and stubbornness. Her characterization is a key part of the story because the biggest conflict is person vs. self. Of course her parents seem like the antagonists in the beginning but as soon as Maya accepts the new challenges that come along with moving she is able to grow and become more kind and understanding towards other characters. Therefore the theme is revealed through personal development: making the best out of unfortunate circumstances. This book would be beneficial for preteens going through any big change in life like moving or making new friends. (AML)
Agee, Jon. 2017. Life on Mars. Penguin Random House LLC. 38 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-53852-0. Illustrations by Jon Agee.
Jon Agee shows a young boy going on a rocketship to Mars in order to find life. Throughout the book it is evident an alien is following this boy. The only life that the boy finds, however, is a plant. Children reading this book will easily develop their observing skills by seeing the alien even when the boy does not notice it. Other important skills that are enhanced are hypothesizing and summarizing because the reader will guess what happens next while also getting the opportunity to explain what happened in the story. A critical element of this story is point of view. Since the story is only told from the boy’s perspective readers know what he is thinking, however readers also gets the ability to see things the boy does not notice, such as the alien. Overall, the biggest part of this book was the illustrations. The color changes the story because the alien is a distinct color, helping the reader spot the creature at any given moment. The colors surrounding the bright orange creature are muted in order to accentuate the high energy of the alien. The thick, bold, lines help the reader see the movement with the child’s footsteps on Mars. Also movement is clearly conveyed with the jagged lines. Finally shape plays an important role in the story because all the geometric shapes around Mars are used to convey complexity whereas the alien is an organic shape portraying uncertainty. It is uncertain because the boy feels uncertain about life on Mars. (AML)
Ferrier, K., & Ferrier, F. 2012. Hotel Strange: His Royal Majesty of the Mushrooms. Lerner Publishing Group (Graphic Universe). 40 pp. $7.99. ISBN 978-1-4677-8586-0.
Kiki finds himself in an unlikely situation: ruling a kingdom of mushroom people. The old king was “eaten” and now Kiki and his friends must save their kingdom from the evil croco-mites. In the end the mushroom people’s old king is found alive with a cure for the croco-mites. This story is portrayed in a comic-book layout filled with pictures and quick dialogue. Many drawings help the reader make inferences about necessary plot points. For example, when Kiki goes missing the words never explicitly state he was found but it shows other characters see him in a bucket. This story emphasizes social development through showing how working together is more helpful than working alone to solve a problem. The images from this picture book are also crucial in telling the story. However, there are a few times where the lines did not accurately represent the feelings. For example, on page ten Marietta says “They’re going to drive me nuts!!” but she continues to have a bright smile on her face. This type of illustration would be confusing for children trying to understand accurate and specific facial expressions. (AML)
Manley, C., & Wang, L. 2017. The Crane Girl. Lee & Low Books Inc. 40 pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-8850-0857-2.
This Japanese folktale, The Crane Girl, focuses on popular Japanese symbols in order to teach children how to trust and care for others. Yasuhiro finds a crane with a leg caught in a trap, after he frees the bird out of the goodness in his heart, Hiroko shows up at his door. Yasuhiro and Hiroko grow closer and she decides to help him and his father make money by weaving silk for them. Her only rule is that they cannot look at her while she weaves. After her silk makes the father rich, he begins forcing her to create more and more silk. Eventually he looks at her working to see why it is taking so long. Hiroko is discovered as the crane in disguise. She flies away from the family, breaking Yasuhiro heart. Quickly, she returns to him and turns him into a crane as well so that they can live together. Hiroko was looking to repay Yasuhiro for helping her escape the bird trap, the idea of repaying a favor in Japanese culture is called “on.” This story would help teach children to help others and repay favors. In Japanese folktales, it is common for animals to turn into humans, but it is unlikely that a human will turn into an animal. This story was adapted in this way to help the boy find happiness in a non-greedy way. Being grateful and straying away from greed is also a popular aspect of Japanese literature. The text in this story was relative to Japanese writing styles because there was an alternation between prose and haiku. The prose was used as a means for narrating the story, but the haikus were meant to represent the individual thoughts that characters in this story have. The characterization was a major factor of this story, as well. Since the father went from a humble man to a greedy waster the reader sees how money is not always beneficial. Yasuhiro finds a way to help a bird and grow to love it enough to become one too. Hiroko also changes as she forgives Yasuhiro and comes back for him. (AML)
Martin, L. 2016. Edge of Extinction. HarperCollins Publishers. 368 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-241622-3.
In a fantasy world, cloning dinosaurs goes terribly wrong. The dinosaurs learn they are the top of the food chain so all humans find sanctuary underground. The main character, Sky Mundy, has to escape her compound in order to find her lost father. However, escaping is much more difficult than expected when she finds herself surrounded by the Deinonychus. Martin suspends disbelief in the plot because the possibility of cloning is a real part of today’s life so the idea of cloning something, like a dinosaur, is believable. The characterization and point of view in this story also help the reader suspend disbelief. The main character is an average child who is as old as the reader. The reader will be able to relate to this type of character and connect with Sky’s feeling. The themes in this story such as friendship and family are relatable for the readers because themes can help the reader understand the important bonds that they make while connecting with people that surround them. A common topic that this fantasy has is a mythical quest and conflict. Mundy searches for her lost father into the dark world in order to overcome the scary dinosaurs in his path. Sky’s character develops throughout the story as she faces new types of challenges that require her to become braver and face her fears. This book could help children understand a new perspective on difficulties that they face daily. They could relate the extreme challenges to their everyday struggles. (AML)
Schaub, Michelle. 2017. Fresh-picked poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market. Charlesbridge. 32 pp. $16.99. 978-1580895477. Illustrated by Amy Huntington.
A lyrical ode to farmers’ markets everywhere Michelle Schaub presents a chronological series of short poems describing a day at the farmers’ market. Her fresh-picked poetry comes alive with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes that abound. From "Is it Ripe?" to "Delightful Bites" and "Sally's Sweet Corn" each poem has a rhythm suggesting excitement! And just like a trip to the farmers’ market the poems are illustrated with bold colors and done in a looser, energetic style. The illustrations also match the imagery in each poem. This cheerful collection of verse offers an enticing introduction to farmers’ markets that even includes an endnote with reasons why readers should attend their local farmers’ markets. In addition to supplying lyrical poetry and vibrant illustrations it is also a vehicle to discuss healthy eating or sustainability. (CAM)
Graff, Keir. 2017. The Matchstick Castle. Penguin Random House LLC (G. P. Putnam’s Sons). 288 pp. $16.99. ISBN 9781101996225
Brian has been shipped off to live with his aunt, uncle, and cousin for the summer in Boring, Illinois, while his dad goes to the South Pole to be a scientist. He is on track to have the worst summer ever until he and his cousin, Nora, discover a house in the woods. Cosmo von Dash, the boy who lives there, calls the house The Matchstick Castle, where he resides with his eccentric family full of explorers, writers, thinkers, dreamers. Cosmo invites Brian and Nora on adventures where they explore the house to recover a lost uncle, run from wild boars, trap giant Amazon bees, and even fight a bureaucrat. Even though Brian thought it would be the most boring summer, the von Dashes bring color and life back to Brian’s world and, in doing so, bring him closer to his cousin, Nora, while also giving Nora permission to let loose and have fun. The story is told in the first person with Brian as the narrator who is a likable character with occasional bursts of common sense and intelligence that are quite realistic. Upper elementary schoolers with vast imaginations will enjoy joining Brian and Nora on their numerous adventures. (CAM)
Varian, H.K. 2016. The Hidden World of Changers: No. 1: The Gathering Storm. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division (Simon Spotlight). 176pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1481466165.
In this first installment of The Hidden World of Changers: The Gathering Storm adolescents are invited to join Mack, Fiona, Darren, and Gabriella on their dangerous quest to save their town from a warlock. The story mysteriously begins when all four students are assigned to an independent-study gym class, which no other middle schoolers seem to have. They barely know each other, but Mack, Fiona, Darren, and Gabriella all become connected when they learn they are Changers. Each of them has the ability to transform into mythological creatures but they must figure out how to harness their powers in time to defeat the warlock! This mythological fantasy novel is realistically set in present day at a middle school. The characters in this novel are diverse. It incorporates mythology from Japan, Mexico, South Africa, and Ireland. This cultural approach differentiates Mack, Fiona, Darren, and Gabriella’s adventure from similar shape-shifter tales. The story features an intriguing mix of characters, all coping with complicated home lives and the politics of middle school; this narrative is infused with energy. Overall, this book is suspenseful, gives a fresh twist to a familiar concept, and leaves readers craving more. (CAM)
Berkes, Marianne. 2016. Over in the Grasslands: On an African Savanna. Dawn Publications. 32pp. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-58469-568-4
Come on a safari in the African Savanna! On this safari you will meet zebras, giraffes, hippopotami, and many more animals. This book displays the diversity of the African Savanna. The story is also set to the tune of “Over in the Meadow” a familiar children’s song. The book is rounded out by vibrant illustrations of African Savanna animals, and an abundance of information about life on the African Savanna, the animals, and the author, and illustrator. Young readers ages 3-8 will be intrigued by this story because of the colorful illustrations, and information about African Savanna animals! (CAM)
Hutchins, Pat. 2015. Where, Oh Where, is Rosie’s Chick?. Simon & Schuster. 32 pgs. $17.99. ISBN 1481460714.
Join Rosie as she searches for her chick that has just hatched. She looks everywhere- under the hen house, in the basket, across the fields but she cannot find her baby chick. Finally, she and her baby chick are reunited at the end of the book. The illustrations of this book are captivating and without them the story would be incomplete. Through the illustrations the texture of the trees, grass, and hay become palpable. The lines and shapes show that Rosie is worried and rushing to find her chick. The colors of the illustrations, hand drawn by Pat Hutchins, are also bright and bold, making them appealing to every reader young and old alike. (CAM)
McLaren, Meg. 2016. Rabbit Magic. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 40 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-0544784697.
Magician Monsieur Lapin and his faithful rabbit, Houdini, find their roles reversed when a magic trick goes wrong. Monsieur Lapin turns into a rabbit and Houdini is forced to take over the magic show. At first he flourishes in the limelight, with his wonderful and daring tricks, the excitement dwindles as Houdini sees how much the former magician misses performing for audiences and being a human. Houdini and the other rabbits troupe together to perform their most difficult magic trick, turning Monsieur Lapin back into a magician. This picture storybook’s text is brought to life with visually rich and comically energetic illustrations set in the style of a vintage cartoon, and most appealing to children ages 4-7. (CAM)
Rustgi, Jennifer. 2016. A Moon of My Own. Dawn Publications. 32 pgs. $8.95. ISBN: 978-1584695738. Illustrated by Ashley White.
A young girl explores the world with the moon as her companion. This book is especially helpful for children who are beginning to inquire about the moon. The end pages further explain each topic the girl wonders about, describes and maps the places she visits on her adventure, describes the phases of the moon and gives further facts, and provides activities to help children understand why the moon appears to change. Although the story is simple and brief the illustrations and index make up for what is not written. The illustrations are in dark blues with black silhouettes displaying famous places around the world with a picturesque representations of the moon on each page. A perfect drowsy bedtime story for children ages 4 to 10. (CAM)
Cameron, Anne. 2016. The Lightning Catcher: The Fire Dragon Storm. HarperCollins Publishers (Greenwillow Books). 464 pgs. $16.99. 978-0062112866.
The fourth installment of the The lightning catcher series The fire dragon storm is a mythical quest fantasy novel. Unlike, futuristic science fiction novels the main characters and best friends Angus McFangus, Dougal Dewsnap, and Indigo Midnight live in a strange world where weather can be controlled by both good and evil people. Angus McFangus is the last storm prophet alive and therefore is hunted by the main villain, Scabius Dankhart. Angus, Dougal, and Indigo must escape Scabius and try to find dragon scales Angus could use to save their school from a deadly storm and perhaps defeat Scabius and his gang of mongrels once and for all. The characterization of Angus is realistic because he is not the perfect protagonist. He often refuses to follow the instruction of his teachers and is not afraid to break rules. These characteristics make him intriguing to young readers who are up for reading a daring story. Angus’ friends also represent an endearing group of young readers would also admire. The story is set in a world where vicious storms dominate over the weather and students go to school in a castle. This does not make the setting as relatable as the characterization but through detailed descriptions the world is quite easily imagined. Upper elementary students craving a mysterious, mythical quest, fantasy novel will likely delve into this story. (CAM)
Copeland, Misty. 2016. Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina. Simon & Schuster (Touchstone). 192 pp, $17.99. ISBN 978-1481479790
In Misty Copeland’s biography, she describes her early childhood of poverty and abuse, her first time touching a barre, and her rise to becoming a professional ballerina in just 5 years; something most ballerinas start working on at a very young age. Copeland is writing on her own life, and therefore there is no one more qualified to write this book, creating accuracy and authenticity. The information is very current as Copeland danced her revolutionary role as the Firebird in 2012. The book also deals with racial problems, making it very relevant. Copeland often says in the novel “this is for the little brown girls”. Her purpose in life, and the purpose of the book, is to inspire all children, but especially African Americans, to do what they are told they cannot accomplish. This book is very suitable for middle school and young adult readers. Though some tough topics are brought up (abuse, racial discrimination), Copeland describes them in an easy to comprehend matter. In the middle of the book, Copeland supplies some photographs. These include the first time she wore pointed shoes, family photos, and photos from performances. She refers to these photos throughout the book, which helps the reader understand and visualize the story. This book is most suitable for grades 3rd through 7th and ages 8-12 years. (EAM).
Ward, Jennifer. 2017. What Will Grow? Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 40 pages, $16.99. ISBN 978-1681190303. Illustrated by Susie Ghahremani.
This informational, picture book is part of a series of books, including What Will Hatch? What Will Grow? brings readers on an adventure through a garden, and teaches readers about the characteristics of different seeds, and what will grow from them. Author Jennifer Ward has written several books on nature, including What Will Hatch? and Feathers and Hair: What Animals Wear. The illustrator, Susie Ghahremani, is an award-winning illustrator and a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. In the last few pages of the book, the author provides more characteristics on each seed, as well as instructions on how to grow and take care of each plant. Information is current and appropriate for the age level, as many science standards for early elementary deal with the growth and development of plants. The purpose of the book is to teach readers about different seeds and the plants that stem from them, as well as how to take care of the plants. Information is presented very clearly, with just a few descriptive words per page. The language is precise, informational, and vivid. When the author is describing an acorn she writes “Shiny, brown. Bumpy crown.” These few words help readers visualize the seed. The illustrations of the book are beautiful, and seem to leap off the page. Many pages have page flips, where the reader can flip one page to discover the plant the seed will create. The size relationship between seeds and plants is made clear, as the seeds are always much smaller than the plant. This book is best suited for grades preschool-kindergarten and ages 3-6. (EAM).
Bang, Molly & Chisholm, Penny. 2017. Rivers of Sunlight. Scholastic Inc (The Blue Sky Press). 48 pages, $18.99. ISBN 978-0545805414. Illustrated by Molly Bang.
This nonfiction, informational, picture book explains the water cycle and stresses to the reader we must be careful with our water use. Molly Bang, the author and illustrator has written and illustrated numerous other children’s books and author Penny Chisholm is a professor of ecology at MIT. The qualifications of both authors lead the book to be accurate and authentic. Adding to the book’s accuracy is the extensive information that is given. Despite being a picture book, deep knowledge of the water cycle is poured into the book for the reader to learn. In the back of the book is six pages of additional information on the water cycle, backing up the facts presented in the story. The purpose of the book is to provide readers with an understanding of the water cycle, and the interrelationship between us and the water cycle is shown at the end of the book when the authors ask readers to be good stewards and watch their water use. Illustrations, while sometimes busy, help readers to visualize the water cycle. Bang uses boxes and magnifying glasses to highlight specific pieces of illustration, such as water molecules being lifted from the ocean. Color is used to show different parts of the water cycle and different parts of the world. For example, dark blues, greys, and black are used to illustrate how cold and deep the ocean is. The recommended age range for this piece of literature is ages 4-8, but because of the amount of words on the page and the complexity of the information, ages 7-12 may be more appropriate. (EAM).
Gary Golio. 2017. Strange Fruit. Lerner Publishing Group (Millbrook Press). 40 pages, $19.99. ISBN 978-1467751230. Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb
The life of Billie Holiday is told in the informational picture book Strange Fruit. The book tells the story of how Billie got started in music, became frustrated with segregation, and her song “Strange Fruit”. “Strange Fruit” is a haunting song, written by Abel Meeropol, about lynching of African Americans. Author Gary Golio is an acclaimed writer known for his books on musical legends. The last few pages provide supplemental information on Billie Holiday, and Golio also lists the sources he used, validating his information. While the story takes place in the 1930s, the theme remains current, as the African American community, and many other minorities, are still discriminated against. Golio uses appropriate language for the intended audience, and words that may be new to readers, such as improvising, are italicized and defined. The song, “Strange Fruit”, is provided on the last page. Lynching is never specifically defined in the book, and may be confusing to some younger readers. The illustrations are vivid and represent jazz. The wide array of colors in sweeping brushstrokes of different widths and lines make the pages seem as if jazz music is coming straight off of them. The use of the color red for the lyrics of “Strange Fruit” connects to the meaning of the song. This book is best suited for grades 3rd-6th and ages 8-12. (EAM).
Coats, J. Anderson. 2017. The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 288 pp, $16.99. ISBN 978-1481464963.
This historical fiction novel tells the story about a young girl’s move from the east coast to the up and coming city of Seattle. Jane Deming is a preteen girl who lives with her 22-year old stepmother, Mrs. D, and her 2-year old brother, Jer. Jane’s father died in the Civil War and the small family has agreed to go on an expedition to Seattle with other children and War widows. Seattle, a new and dirty city, is a disappointment to the family. However, the family, specifically Jane, learns and grows in their new home. One of the strongest aspects of the novel is the characterization. Jane grows as a character, both academically and emotionally. She learns many academic skills, and ends up teaching two boys how to read at the end of the novel. She also learns many wilderness skills, such as how to build a canoe. At the end of the novel, Jane remarks, “the whole Pacific coast is my schoolhouse, though, and I’ll never be done learning.” In other parts of the country during this time period, it may have been unheard of for young women to do some of the activities that Jane does. However, things were different in the west, and Jane’s hobbies and love for trying new things can spark readers attention and inspire them to try new things as Jane does. This novel is best suited for ages 10 and up. (EAM)
Gayton, Sam. 2016. Hercufleas. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 272 pages, $16.99. ISBN 978-0544636200.
This story follows two unlikely friends, a girl named Greta and a fly named Hercufleas. Greta’s town, Tumber, is plagued by an ogre every full moon. The ogre destroys homes and kills the townsfolk, including Greta’s parents. Greta sets off on an adventure to find a hero, and weapon, to save her town. Hercufleas becomes the unlikely hero in this story explores what it means to be a hero. The setting begins in Greta’s home town, Tumber, and Hercufleas home, a hat. By creating Hercufleas’ home as a very realistic place, a physical location with parents and siblings, readers’ disbelief is suspended. Hercufleas is also a realistic character despite the fact that he is a fly. His siblings debate his gender before he is born, he has parents, and he has hopes and dreams for adventure, just like other children. This established a credible and accessible characters to readers, while still suspending disbelief. Greta is also believable and accessible to readers. Greta mourns the death of her parents throughout the whole book. Readers can put themselves in Greta’s shoes and understand the characters point of view. One main theme of the book is that it is not the strength of the weapon or stature of the hero, but the ability to persevere. A second theme is the importance of remembering that there is always a possibility for change. This book falls under several different categories of modern fantasy, such as articulate animals, preposterous characters and situations, and strange and curious worlds. This book is best suited for grades 3rd - 5th and ages 8 - 11 years. (EAM)
Fishman, Jon M. 2017. Simone Biles. Lerner Publications 32 pp, $8.99. ISBN 978-1-512-44897-9.
Simone Biles’ story is told in this book, part of the Sport All-Stars series. Readers will learn all about Biles’ career as a gymnast, which included many hours of training, numerous world championship meets, and a notable appearance at the 2016 Olympic Games, where she won five medals. This biography also gives information about Biles’ life outside of the gym, such as what she likes to do for fun and how she eats healthy food. The book is organized into chapters, each on a different topic about Biles. The sources of the information for the book are listed at the end, as well as additional sources where readers can get further information about Simone Biles and other Olympic athletes. It also includes a glossary with definitions of words readers may not know, which are typically gymnastics-specific words. This would be a helpful source for children or those not as familiar with the sport to better understand the text. In addition, there is a good balance between pictures and text. The photos are large enough to see all the important details and correspond with the information in the book. Each picture includes a short caption describing it, which is also helpful for readers. Overall, this biography would be a great addition to a classroom library for middle elementary students. Simone Biles is a great role model for preteens through showing the value of hard work and determination as well as how to stay mentally tough in difficult situations. (MKS)
Thrasher, Travis & MattyB. 2016. That’s a Rap. Simon & Schuster (Gallery Books). 272 pp, $19.99. ISBN 978-1-501-13379-4.
Matthew David Morris, better known as MattyB, was virtually unknown years ago; however, he shot to stardom after posting his first rap cover on YouTube when he was only 7. Today, as a 13 year old, MattyB has appeared in shows, recorded songs, and has over 3 billion viewers on YouTube. This biography is written as if MattyB is talking to the reader himself, which will be appealing and relatable to tween readers. He opens up about his journey of becoming a star, what it’s like to have a sister with Down Syndrome (and how he uses his music to spread awareness of Downs), and the heart going into his music. The book is organized into short chapters of only about 1-4 pages, which makes it an easy and fast read. It also includes a lot of pictures of MattyB throughout his “normal” life as well as his experiences as a famous musician. Some have captions, and those which do not go right along with the text, so a caption is not really necessary. These pictures function to help readers understand one of the main themes of the biography: that MattyB is a regular kid just like them in many ways. For preteens, seeing famous people have also had struggles in their life and have gone through many of the same life experiences as they, can be comforting as they develop their identities. Additionally, MattyB’s biography can work to motivate preteens and develop their self-esteem, as each chapter begins with a motivational quote or Bible verse. Through the telling of his life story, MattyB shows readers they can do anything they put their minds to. (MKS)
Turner, Matt. 2017. Crazy Creepy Crawlers: Deadly Spiders. Lerner Publishing Group, Inc (Hungry Tomato Ltd.). 32 pages, $7.99, ISBN: 9781512430806. Illustrated by Matt Turner.
Drawings and detailed photographs fill the pages of this informational nonfiction children’s book. The style of the text invites reader involvement in a conversational manner with comic style speech bubbles from the critters. The illustrations accompany the extremely close-up images well as not to frighten young readers. The structure of the book is organized into common themes, such hunting and venom. Additionally, reference aids are helpful to readers and provide supportive information in the index and glossary. Students will enjoy learning facts about a variety of unique spiders through the interactive images and information. The author includes relevant points of reference among the new information by visually comparing spider size to a human hand or a paperclip. (MRM)
Maraniss, Andrew. 2017. Strong Inside: Young Readers Edition. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 272 pages, $17.99, ISBN: 978-0399548345.
This non-fiction biography powerfully retells the inspiring story of Perry Wallace as he desegregated the Southeastern Conference as a basketball player for Vanderbilt University. The book includes all important aspects of Wallace’s life as he faces hateful experiences. Specifically, he perseveres through the challenges as an athlete and civil rights trailblazer. Students will connect to Wallace’s dedication and love for basketball and his personal struggles to be courageous despite dangerous obstacles. Teachers can utilize the biography to teach about past, as well as current, race relations in the United States. (MRM)
Frazier, Sundee. 2017. Cleo Edison Oliver: In Persuasion Power.Scholastic Inc (Arthur A. Levine Books). 256 pages, $16.99, ISBN:9780545822398.
Cleo and her friends work together to design a commercial in an attempt to win a contest of a powerful business woman. Throughout the story, Cleo struggles with deciding if she should meet her birth parents. The realistic novel is rich with the everyday realism of a young girl as she faces problems related to day-to-day occurrences with friends and family. The contemporary world comes to life through Cleo’s strong-willed character as she develops throughout the story while growing up and experiencing deep emotions about her birth parents. The story is racially diverse and reflective of our contemporary society. Additionally, the families do not always follow the “typical” family structure. Cleo’s confidence and maturity throughout the novel provide readers with an alternative view of solving conflicts within their own lives. (MRM)
Gratz, Alan. 2016. Projekt 1065. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 320 pages, $16.99, ISBN: 9781619633766.
In an attempt to gain insider information, Michael O'Shaunessey and his Irish parents live in Nazi Germany as spies. Michael joins the Hitler Youth and must convincingly participate in activities and prove his loyalty, while collecting information for the Allies. Readers are invited to learn about Nazi Germany through a spy in the Hitler Youth. However, framing the serious issues in Nazi Germany at this time through a focus on the minority of “good guys” may not provide students with an accurate understanding of the Holocaust. Students must be aware that although there may have been a few spies or potentially hopeful scenarios, the story of the Hitler Youth and the Nazis incorporated mass destruction and hopelessness. However, the novel may be an engaging and age-appropriate entrance to later learn about more serious issues.
The plot is fast-paced and incorporates new conflicts within each short chapter. The action-packed, highly intense scenes may be captivating for young readers. However, the short chapters do not seem very realistic as they always seem to work out in Michael’s favor-sometimes due to the convenient trait of having a photographic memory. The stylistic qualities of vivid descriptions influence the mood of the novel and keep readers interested in reading more.
The setting is authentically developed and incorporates relevant experiences of the time period. Alan Gratz succeeds in incorporating specific information about WWII and the Hitler Youth. Michael’s struggles of how far to go in order to do the right thing are present in themes of friendship and loyalty - and are relevant in today’s society. Although not on a similar scale of intensity or importance, young people can relate to Michael as he battles the price he is willing to pay in order to do what is right despite obstacles. (MRM)
Messner, Kate. 2016. The Seventh Wish. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 240 pages, $16.99, ISBN: 9781619633766.
Messner fearlessly incorporates heroin addiction into her young adult novel The seventh wish. Surprising readers and characters, the main character Charlie’s older sister is found to be addicted to heroin during her first year in college. The novel begins by establishing a relatable character in the teenager Charlie as she worries about an upcoming dance competition and science fair. In an attempt to make more money to afford a nice dress for the dance, Charlie goes ice-fishing and plans to sell her catches. However, a small fish explains he will grant wishes for Charlie in exchange for his safe release.
One of the wishes involves Charlie’s sister, Abby, to return home from college to drive Charlie and her friend to the dance competition. Unfortunately, the reason for her return is not one she had intended. Incorporating taboo issues relevant to families, such as addiction, is a bold move by Messner and should be applauded. Teachers can use Charlie’s reaction and struggles as a valuable opportunity to bring serious issues of addiction into a classroom discussion. Additionally, the inclusion of a friend struggling to learn English and pass an English Second Language exam is another relevant challenge many young people face. Educators and parents should take advantage of the opportunity to expose young people to realities of contemporary society by reading The seventh wish.
Readers suspend disbelief and accept the possibility of the talking fish due to the strong character established in the beginning of the novel and her universal struggles and emotions of wanting to find her place while growing up. Instead of telling the story from Abby’s point of view, Charlie’s perspective provides valuable commentary on the struggles for families to support their loved ones battling addiction. The modern fantasy is realistic and memorable in the way themes of hope and self-reliance develop through the effects of Charlie’s wishes as she learns to persevere in light of life’s obstacles. (MRM)
Kang, A. N. 2016. The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon. Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 40 pages. $12.67. ISBN-13: 978-1484717981
This book is about a very fluffy white cat named Papillon. Papillion really wants to float and fly away but his owner keeps trying to weigh him down with different outfits. One day, Papillion floats away from his owner Miss Tilly. When he is away from his house he realizes that no one is as nice as Miss Tilly and that he would rather be at home with her. Along the way he meets a little red bird that follows him around. When he gets home his owner gives him a hat that is a bird house. So then his bird can have a home on his head, and he won’t float away anymore. The illustrations in this book were really nice. The pictures were soft and comforting. The colors that were used were pastel blues and greens and some nice neutral tan. But when Papillion floated away from his owner and was lost and sad in the forest the colors were dark green, browns and blacks, except for Papillion who was white and the little red bird that he found. This is a good book for always finding your way back home. (HMN)
Jeter, Derek and Green, Tim. 2017. Baseball Genius. Simon & Schuster (Jetter Publishing). 352 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 9781481468640
Jalen DeLuca is just your average teenage boy who loves to play baseball, but he cannot afford to pay the fee to play on his travel team. His dad works very hard at his diner but only makes enough to pay the bills. Jalen thinks if he steals some baseballs from New York Yankee’s star second baseman, James Yager, he could sell them and make enough money to stay on the travel team. Eager catches him and wants to turn him in, but before he can do that, Jalen shows him that he can analyze and predict what pitch a pitcher is going to throw. Since Yager is struggling with batting they are able to help eachother out. The plot of this book is very well done. The author does a good job of teaching some life lessons throughout the book, especially how to work together as a team and as friends. (HMN)
Wissinger, Tamera. 2017. Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers). 112 pages. $15.99. ISBN: 978-0544638730.
Using various aspects of poetry, such as verse, this novel tells its story in a unique way. Each page is similar to different types of poems, making it more enjoyable for young readers. The storyline is told through each page’s characteristics. Although the storyline is continuous, each page's’ style is different than the one before. This book would be a great addition for any classroom or home where learning poetic aspects is important. This book would work for teaching beginning poetry. At the end of the book, there are definitions and examples of each kind of poetry that is shown in the book. Also, if this read after poetry was introduced, you could read this book to a class and have them guess which style of poetry it is as a type of formative assessment. The illustrator and author did well working together to have the illustrations flow really well and go along with the poems. The fonts correlated nicely with the style of poem as well. (HMN, AMB).
Nolen, Jerdine. 2017. Calico Girl. Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman Books). 192 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1481459815.
Callie Wilcomb is a twelve-year old slave. One of her jobs is to care for her master’s white daughter, Suse, who tells Callie that she can’t be “real” friend with her because her daddy said that would be crossing a bad line. The Civil War gave Callie and her family hope for a freedom and a better future, but when Virginia ratified their vote and succeeded from the Union, Callie and her family were given a chance at freedom. They went to a Union outpost and Callie was given a chance to study with a school teacher and hopefully go on to be a teacher. This book is historically accurate and includes dates at the beginning of each chapter along with a little blurb from history of that day. The book was written from a few different perspectives, allowing readers to experience different sides to history. This book is fiction but grounded in historical events, making it a great addition to Civil War curricula. (HMN, AMB)
Farndon, John. 2017. Plague! Epidemics and Scourges Through the Ages: The Sickening History of Medicine. Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. (Hungry Tomato). 32 pp. $26.65. ISBN 9781512415575. Illustrations by Venitia Dean.
This nonfiction book gives readers a chance to dive into different plagues present throughout time. Readers are given snippets of information from the Black Death to the Spanish Flu. The illustrations provided by Venitia Dean create comedy as the reader tries to make sense of the horrible plagues described in the book. This book gives different information for each plague and creates a new understanding for children ages eight to eleven. The use of small subheadings creates an easy flow for readers as they learn about each plague or illness. Each subheading comes with a brief explanation, making it easier for readers to understand. Farndon has effectively written a book to inform children on the effects and outcomes of each different plague in his book. (HMR)
Alexander, Kwame. 2017. The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in this Game Called Life. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 176 pp. $14.99. ISBN 9780544570979. Photographs by Thai Neave.
This nonfiction book encourages readers to know the rules of basketball and applying them to life. Kwame Alexander finds the perfect balance between using rules for ball and quotes from poets and other high society figures in this book. Through the use of the rules, readers will be encouraged to be a team player as well as a good sport in life. While the book is divided into four quarters, each quarter focuses on a different theme that is beneficial for the reader to acknowledge. Each quarter begins with a short motivational story in order for the reader to make a connection to what the author has to say. Kwame Alexander is known for his twenty one best -selling books on the New York Times as well as for his 2015 John Newbery Medal. He collaborated with Thai Neave, a former SportsCenter anchor for ESPN, to create a meaningful book for children ages ten to twelve to connect to. Through the use of sports, readers will connect the rules of ball to the ways of life through an entertaining and meaningful way. (HMR)
Bishop, Nic. 2017. Penguin Day: A Family Story. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 32 pp. $16.99. ISBN 9780545206365. Photographs by Nic Bishop.
Nic Bishop takes the reader on an adventure through the average day life of southern rockhopper penguins with his beautiful photography, bringing the reader’s attention the routines and daily threats these penguins face throughout their lives. With his doctorate in biological sciences, Bishop augments his knowledge with beautiful photographs of these animals in their natural habitat in New Zealand. This informational book is perfect for young children learning about penguins living on the coasts in the southern oceans near Antarctica. The loose story line of the penguin family gives children the chance to create meaning and connect to the story as it is told, but they are given true facts about the penguin’s daily lives. The clear photographs give the reader a chance to observe the penguins in their natural habitat and in the natural state. The story gives the idea of predators to these penguins in order to give some drama, but this effective use adds to the facts that children will learn as they read through this book. From the beautiful photographs to the loose story line, children will learn much information about the daily lives of southern rockhopper penguins. (HMR)
Barretta, Gene. 2017. Muhammad Ali: A Champion is Born. HarperCollins Publishers (Katherine Tegen Books). 40 pp. $17.99. ISBN 9780062430168. Illustrations by Frank Morrison.
Readers will be taken back to the time when Muhammad Ali began to realize he wanted to be a boxer in this nonfiction book. Gene Barretta provides the reader with dates and locations in the beginning of the book in order to give context to the boxer’s life and his wins and loses. But when readers believe they will only learn about Ali’s victories, Barretta takes them back in time to when Ali was nothing but a boy with his bike. Through the use of painted pictures, Frank Morrison creates detailed pictures of Ali in his young life. The bright colors provide a welcoming and spontaneous feeling as readers explore Ali’s early life. The use of dark backgrounds during Ali’s later life create an emphasis on Ali himself. The reader will be taken back to a time when Ali did not think about boxing, that is, until the day his bike was stolen. The cumulative story comes from a mixture of Muhammad Ali’s own autobiographies as well as a biography written by Thomas Hauser. Barretta brings together these resources to give children ages four to eight a chance to go back to when a boy’s life was transfromed. The encouraging story gives the reader a new view into the life of Muhammad Ali which helps to humanize him and make him relatable to readers. (HMR)
Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk. Making Bombs for Hitler. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 240 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0545931915.
Going back to the time of the Holocaust and World War II, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch creates a tale of historical fiction able to pull all readers in. Lida, a young Ukranian girl, is ripped away from her little sister Larissa and taken by the Nazi’s to work in a camp. While at the camp, Lida becomes friends with children she was once only acquainted with and with people she has never before met. These friends give Lida hope as she lives through the horror that is working for the Nazis. She is given a job of mending clothing until one officer believes she is too comfortable in the laundry house. Lida is removed from her job and placed in a factory. In this factory, Lida discovers the true horror of what slaves like her have to do. Because of her talented fingers, Lida is given the task of creating bombs for Hitler’s army. But when bombs strike the factory, Lida finds herself struggling with the conflict of staying or fleeing from the grasp of the Nazis. When the Americans finally come to the rescue, Lida is challenged with trust and hope as she begins to live yet another new life. Upon rescue, Lida finds herself going from refugee camp to refugee camp in search of her sister and of her friends. But trouble comes back when the Soviet Union comes looking for people who rightfully belong to them. This tale will bring the reader into a dramatic telling of what could have happened during the time of World War II. Though the events that happen to Lida seem outrageous, they are grounded in the facts found about similar events at camps during the war. Preteen children may find this book relatable as they read through the eyes of ten year old Lida and her views of what is happening during this horrid time. Though the story may be slightly far-fetched, it will encourage the reader to think about what they would do in order to survive. (HMR)
Wells, Marcia. 2017. Eddie Red Undercover: Doom at Grant’s Tomb. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 208 pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0544937338. Illustrations by Marcos Calo.
With a photographic memory, nothing can get by Eddie Red unnoticed. Eddie is once again recruited by the NYPD to help solve a crime involving the notorious art thief, Lars Heinrich. Bombs are placed throughout the city with the same, eerie note bringing Eddie into the circle of the police world. Upon reentering the world of crime fighting, Eddie is repeatedly told Lars is not in the country and he is safe. While working with the NYPD, Eddie notices he is constantly under surveillance from his parents or from the NYPD itself. But with no one answering his questions, Eddie is left trying to solve why he would need protection if Lars is not in New York. Eddie and his friend begin to work undercover and search for the answers that the adults are keeping from them. Clues begin to pop up left and right for Eddie as he receives odd texts from a “Fox” that lead him to solving the mysterious crime that is going to take place. But as Eddie figures things out, he finds himself in danger when he comes face to face with Lars Heinrich. Readers will enjoy Wells’ story as they try to figure out what the crime of the century is. With helpful graphics provided by Calo, readers will be able to identify key locations and characters in the story. This will help to keep locations and characters straight as Eddie rushes to put all of the puzzle pieces together. Wells creates a fantastic mystery story that readers will want to finish in one sitting. Children entering their preteen years will find this story captivating and enticing as they try to picture themselves as Eddie Red: NYPD Camera Man. The light humor and typical preteen ways of Eddie will create a connection between the reader and the main character. Eddie Red will continue to live on in his novel and will capture the reader into wanting to read more from the series with the perfect cliffhanger left at the end. (HMR)
Oliver, Lin. 2017. Steppin’ Out: Jaunty Rhymes for Playful Times. Penguin Random House LLC (Nancy Paulsen Books). 32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0399174346. Illustrations by Tomie DePaola.
Readers will ask for more poems after they read the jaunty rhymes in this collection of poetry. Lin Oliver creates witty, child friendly poems full of life lessons. Through the use of rhyme, each poem flows nicely through the standard ABAB style with some slight variations depending on the poem. With consistent rhyming throughout the book, children will be searching for the word to connect to the first rhyme in order to make sense of the line. This will provide a fun challenge as the child searches for new vocabulary and understanding through the use of the poems. The rhythm is easily kept as the reader goes from one line to the next. Each poem can be read quickly or slowly depending on the reader’s mood, but the ever present rhythm allows for a steady pace that tends to come with reading poems. Onomatopoeia is used within some poems to give the child a stimulus of senses as they can picture the object and its sound that it produces. The “woof woof” or “honk honk” of the poem Outside Sounds will allow the children to visualize the dog or the car that creates the noises. Each poem gives the reader a small life lesson, which range from sharing toys to exploring the library or being active. These positive encouragements give children realistic options to choose from in their everyday lives. Tomie DePaola’s illustrations provide calming and inviting effects on the reader through the use of pastel colors and vivid outlines of each shape. Children ages 3 to 5 will be begging their parents to read one more poem from this book as they will fall into a trance from the rhymes in each poem. This book will be useful as a stand alone book for free read or as a bedtime story to help children relax as they reflect on their day and how the poems could intertwine into their own lives. (HMR)
Williams Jackson, Linda. 2017. Midnight Without a Moon. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pp, $16.99. ISBN 978-0-544-78510-6.
Rosa, a thirteen year old African American living in Mississippi in the 1950s, dreams of life in the North, where she would be able to go to school and live a life with less discrimination. However, she is stuck working in the fields on her grandparent’s sharecropper farm after her mother remarried and left with her new husband. Rosa understands the heavy racism present where she lives but her world is rocked when she finds out how Black people have been getting killed for registering to vote. She then discovers the White men who killed a black teen in her town were declared “not guilty” by the jury, causing her to question why some Black people, such as her grandparent, seem to believe that nothing should be done and are against organizations such as the NAACP. Throughout the story, Rosa grapples in developing her own viewpoints on life and what is happening in her society.
The plot of this novel is credible. The experiences, conflicts, and resolutions of the characters reflect the time period of the 1950’s in the Deep South. The conflicts Rosa faces in the story are typical for people like her during that time. She is forced to do hard work in the fields instead of going to school, she has to deal with insults from racist White people, and she has to deal with the harsh realities of the discrimination of society while deciding if it is worth it to fight against it. The characterization of this novel is also credible as the actions, beliefs, and values of the characters are realistic for that time period. For example, the dialogue is written using grammar and spelling/pronunciation that was typical for that time. This creates a more authentic historical experience for the reader. Additionally, the values of Rosa’s family members and grandparents accurately portray common beliefs and values for those populations at this time in history.
While this novel is historically accurate and credible, the themes transcend to today’s society and are still applicable to the lives of the readers. For example, Rosa struggles with self-acceptance, as she believes that she is too dark to be pretty. Preteen readers will be able to connect with this feeling, as this is a typical thought for children that age. Another big theme of the novel is embracing difficulties and working hard to overcome them. Rosa realizes that stars shine brighter in darkness, or in a “midnight without a moon”, and is inspired to continue fighting against the challenges of her life. People everywhere at every time are facing obstacles in their life, making this theme applicable to all readers.
Overall, Midnight Without a Moon contains an accurate depiction of history. Its plot, characterization, and setting are credible, and it does a great job at giving readers a glimpse into the individual experience of racism. In addition to this, it also contains themes and central ideas that are applicable to readers in today’s world. (MKS)
Fantaskey, Beth. 2015. Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 352 pp, $17.99. ISBN 978-0-544-58249-1.
Isabel lives in mob-crazy Chicago during the 1920s and dreams of being a newspaper reporter. One day, a grim situation brings an opportunity for Isabel to put her investigating and reporting skills to the test. While selling newspapers, Isabel hears a gunshot coming from an alleyway and decides to check it out only to find one of her favorite customers, Miss Giddings, standing next to a dead man! As Miss Giddings is framed for the murder, Isabel is sure she is innocent, and works alongside a famous female newspaper reporter to solve the mystery. Along the way, Isabel makes friends and works towards becoming a star reporter.
The plot is full of interweaving situations characters must learn to navigate, including conflicts with difficult decisions. Isabel faces conflict with adult characters who do not take her seriously and doubt her abilities. Many young readers can relate to these feelings and become inspired from Isabel’s determination. There is also person versus setting conflict as this novel takes place in the 1920’s, women and girls are not taken as seriously in “manly” jobs such as newspaper reporting, and especially reporting about murders. Isabel also comes from a poor family, and cannot attend school because she has to sell newspapers to make money. The character Isabel is relatable to many preteen readers who have high aspirations and want to be taken seriously by adults. Isabel also grows as a character throughout the novel as she learns more about the “adult” world and gains some new perspectives on how society functions. While this book is not necessarily historical fiction, the setting of 1920’s Chicago can give readers a small glimpse into what life may have been like during that time. There are a couple references to prohibition and mobsters, which can be interesting topics for further discussion and research for middle-elementary students. In addition, the theme of this book sends a positive message to children to chase their dreams, no matter how unlikely the circumstances seem. (MKS)
deGennaro, Sue. 2012. The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog. Simon & Schuster. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-14-81471305.
Camille really loves math! She even speaks by just using numbers some days, (23-yes 17-no) and sings her six times tables when she is hungry. Camille’s best friend also has distinctive traits and enjoys dressing up in animal costumes all day. After wearing a cat costume and constantly being chased by a puppy, Camille convinces him to try another costume. Following a few failed attempts of an alligator, shark, and a giraffe, Camille comes up with the perfect costume… a frog! Since frogs are not solitary characters, Camille has to dress up as one as well. A sewing and measuring conflict arises between the two, but is happily resolved at the end of the story. With the straightforward language and simple illustrations, young students would connect to the story well. (KW)
Davies, Jacqueline. 2016. Nothing but Trouble. HarperCollins Publishers (Katherine Tegen Books). 320 pp. $61.99. ISBN 978-0-06-236988-8. Illustrated by Jacqueline Davies.
Welcome to Odawahaka, where nothing exciting happens… or so Maggie thought. Maggie’s concluding friendship with Allie and Emily isn’t the only thing happening. This is the last year Odawahaka Middle School will exist, and the sixth grade class is the last one. Classrooms have been closed, programs have been cut, and the science labs are gone. As Allie and Emily find new interests, Lena, the new girl, becomes a part of Maggie’s life. Lena is a unique artist, who is interested in photography, and the Dada movement. She is very different from the other residents of the small town of Odawahaka, and wants to be Maggie’s best friend. Maggie, who is holding some pretty heavy secrets is unsure about this new change, and how much she can tell her new friend. Maggie lives with her cranky grandpop and her mom who frequently disappears into her room at night with something other than Moxie (the town drink). Maggie has also been working on a secret website selling her grandpop’s vintage auto-parts. Finally, there is her father’s hacker bible. Maggie’s dad died before she was born. He used to be an intelligent engineer from MIT who brilliantly pulled off insane hacks. Maggie is determined to get into MIT, make her father proud, and spend her last year at Oda Middle School, just as he would. Through chaos and many adventures, Maggie and Lena learn more than any middle schooler would about school spirit, friends, family, and themselves. Every character’s journey throughout the story demonstrates learning, conflict, friendship, and overcoming challenges they never thought they would ever experience. Nothing But Trouble is the beginning of a new and seriously engaging series that encompasses discovering that everyone has a story to share. (KLW)
Singer, Marilyn. 2017. Feel the Beat. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers) 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0803740212. Illustrated by Kristi Valiant.
The book begins with two poems explaining the joy of dance experienced all around the world. In the remainder of the text, Singer jumps into the rhythms of dances from around the world including the cha-cha, hip-hop, foxtrot, samba and many more through cheerful poems. Children are introduced to the ways dance enters the lives of people from different places. While the poems are inventive, the different rhythms may be difficult for students to fully understand. Each poem is displayed in a different rhythm based on the dance style. The CD included helps students learn more about each dance. Rhyme is an important aspect of the text, but varies from poem to poem. Some of the language used in the poems may be unfamiliar to elementary age students. Valiant illustrates the poems with energy and excitement as the characters spin and twirl off the pages. The lively illustrations embrace varied cultures and costumes introducing many perspectives to students which highlight each dance style. While every poem is different, the style of all of the poems is similar. Attached at the end of the book are brief descriptions of each dance which explain where each dance originated. Feel the Beat would work well as a read aloud for younger elementary grades including ages 5-8, but would be challenging to teach students about each dance. (KLW)
Lloyd, Carli. Wayne Coffey. (2016). All heart: My Dedication and Determination to Become One of Soccer’s Best. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 304pp. $16.99. ISBN 9781328695703. Photographs by Stuart Franklin & Nicholas Kamm.
Hard work. Diligence. Ambition. Determination. These words describe the tremendous performance by midfielder Carli Lloyd, the captain of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team who won the 2015 World Cup. Scoring three goals in the first sixteen minutes became the greatest scoring effort in any World Cup final. Unfortunately life hadn’t always this glamourous for Lloyd. Between an imbalanced life at home and continuous destructive feedback, Lloyd had to put everything aside to solely focus on her dream of playing for the Women’s National Team. Because of self-doubt and low confidence, Lloyd even thought about quitting the game all together. The journey it took Lloyd to get where she is today is truly inspiring. She credits her determination not to give up from her trainer James who steered Lloyd in the right direction. When Lloyd finally received the credit she deserved from all-around supporting coaches, her passion and heart for the game finally came into place. From frustration to unbelievably ecstatic. From pre professional to undoubtable professional soccer, Lloyd faced mountains of self-doubt and criticism which eventually presented her true self. Readers go inside the aggressive world of elite soccer and Lloyd’s mind who pushed herself passed the limits of excellence. Lloyd’s partner in crime, Wayne Coffey is an award-winning sports journalist and author to more than thirty books. (KLW)
Winchester, Simon. 2017. When the Sky Breaks. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 96pp. $22.99 ISBN 978-0451476357. Pictures provided by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
When most people talk about the weather they tend to use the terms sunny, rainy, cloudy, windy, warm and cold. All people look at weather differently and take note of various aspects of it. Simon Winchester takes a major twist on observing the weather. Winchester has seen some of the craziest and worst possible weather conditions anyone could ever imagine, throughout the world. Winchester is an avid weather watcher. When the weather is bad, Winchester is there. With the amount of disastrous events that have happened around the world, one begins to wonder if this is how it always has been. Why did these tremendously dangerous and horrific events happen? From the help of Winchester, his amazing stories, and his research why these events happen, students can learn all about it through this extremely dangerous and detailed adventure. Simon Winchester was first a scientist before becoming a journalist and writer. It shows well as he approaches this subject. It is evident that Winchester has strong understanding of violent weather through bringing both scientific knowledge and historical perspectives to the subject of storms. He intertwines all of this information; the story of weather into an overarching issue of climate change. Winchester’s writing style, strictly speaking is of a storyteller. He uses writing techniques that challenge, yet fascinate young readers’ ages ten and up. Winchester’s stories are supported by unbelievable photographs of storms, the damage after it all, and visuals of historical past times. Winchester puts readers directly into the storms as he describes them which leads to a very impactful audience who go on the thrill of a lifetime. (KLW).
Lakin, Patricia. (2017). Bicycles Made by Hand. Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 32pp. $17.99 ISBN 978-1481478960. Photographs by Aaron Dykstra & James G. Howes.
While it may not seem to challenging to put a bike together by hand, there is a strict process. Lakin introduces readers to an energetic entrepreneur and bicycle maker, Aaron Dykstra. The text provides a brief history of the bicycle before moving into Dykstra’s transition into bicycle making where he had the opportunity to work with Kochi Yamaguichi. At the beginning of the book there is a diagram of a bike which labels the basic parts of the bike. This would be helpful for elementary students because it is not too complex or detailed for them. It works well as a beginning regular bike which outlines the basic parts of a bike. It is fairly easy to follow the process of building a bike. Again, there is not an overload of information that would turn students away from reading. There are many steps to building a bike by hand, which could affect how much information students end up reading, and information they actually learn. Another concern about this text is that is does not define specific terms as they are introduced to readers. If students are unfamiliar with important terms on a bike. They will struggle to comprehend and understand what they are reading. The information presented is supported through photographs and informational visuals. The pictures correlate with the steps which differentiates to meet different learner’s needs. At the end of the text there is an advertisement for the foundation that Aaron created for middle school aged students. It focuses mainly on bikes which may attract many readers. I think this information could have been implemented earlier in the text to teach students more about Aaron and what he accomplished. There is a timeline of bicycle history also at the end of the book which may have better been implemented throughout the text to teach students even more about bikes. Students may not get to the timeline unless they read all the way to the end. At the very end of the text are bike related defined terms that would have been beneficial to have as the terms were introduced. Just because there is a glossary in book, doesn’t mean that it will be used properly among students. Teachers would want to point out the helpful information at the end of the book before students begin to read. This book would be appropriate from students in fourth through seventh grade since it is heavily an information book where students need to understand the new and unfamiliar concepts they are learning. (KLW)
Starr Rose, Caroline. 2017. Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine.Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). 304pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-0399168116. Design by Eric Ford. Map illustration by Richard Amari.
Ever since the tragedy of losing their mother, eleven year old Jasper and his 16 year old brother Melvin, have dreamed of leaving their drunkard father and heading north to Alaska to chase riches beyond their imaginations. The Klondike Gold Rush of July 1897 creates the opportunity for Jasper and Melvin to escape their Washington home and father forever. Melvin knows he has to leave immediately because he will not have this opportunity again, even if it means leaving Jasper behind. As Melvin takes off, Jasper chooses not to be left behind and follows him. Jasper eventually ends up on the same steamer as Melvin as a stowaway. He hears stories from everyone in search of the gold aboard the steamer, and learns about One-Eyed Riley, a miner who is long since gone, though holds the secret location the gold that is worth millions of dollars. The first person to solve the riddle will become exceptionally rich. Jasper is confident he and Melvin will find the gold. The boys just need to survive the challenging native land of Alaska and fight off criminals they face along the way. Every challenge Jasper and Melvin encounter becomes increasingly worse. They use their strength to get closer and closer to the best thing that could ever happen to them. From Jasper’s point of view, Starr Rose brings the characters to life with their drive and spirit. While some of the characters are created by pure imagination, others represent true historical figures. Jasper and Melvin form a bond that grows stronger throughout the novel. Starr Rose creates a story with rich details in a historical setting through mystery, deceitfulness, and danger. Jasper and Melvin learn about the true meaning of friendship, family and riches through their determination not to give up and finding a way to happiness. Recommended to grades 5 and up. (KLW).
Oatman, High, Linda. 2017. One Amazing Elephant. HarperCollins Publisher. 272pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-0-06-245583-3. Typography by Erin Fitzsimmons.
Riding an elephant is not as glamorous and exciting as it seems, especially to 12 year old Lily Pruitt. Lily’s grandparents have owned Queenie Grace for thirty years. Her grandfather and Queenie Grace perform in the circus which Lily fears. Lily’s mother is very distant and left Lily and her father to be a trapeze artist with the circus. Lily lives with her dad in West Virginia, a much simpler life since her mother is so neglectful. She is also trying her best to stay far away from Queenie Grace, who she dislikes. Lily’s life unexpectedly changes when her grandfather dies. Queenie Grace and Lily lose someone who was very special to them. She cautiously makes her way to Florida for the funeral to be with her grandmother, with anticipated fear of encountering Queenie Grace who lives in her grandmother’s backyard. Things begin to change for the better when Lily meets Henry Jack, who is also part of the circus due to his rare skin condition. Henry Jack helps Lily overcome her fear of Queenie Grace, learns about forgiveness, understands the importance of friendship, and finds the strength to try new things. The alternating perspectives of Lily and Queenie Grace provides readers with a great relationship that forms between the two main characters. Readers are also provided with a deep understanding of Queenie Grace, from her perspective. Readers learn how much she cares for her young through a poem where she repeats “Little Gray, my baby!” When Queenie Grace becomes part of a plot that would take her away, Lily knows that this is the time to act in order to save her new friend. Through this, Lily learns if the power of friendship of enough to save everything that she has worked for. High explores the tangled ties between Lily and her mother through an emotional whirlwind of an adventure of Lily’s life, tapping into the lasting impact of relationships between humans and animals. This novel is relatable to students and it is a great book for students ages 8-12. (KLW)
Williams Beckhorn, Susan. 2016. The Wolf’s Boy. Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 240pp. $16.99 ISBN 978-1484725535. Illustrated by Maria Elias & Rachna Chari.
Meet Kai, a young boy who wishes more than anything to be a hunter. Unfortunately there is one problem that ultimately stops him from becoming a hunter. He was born with a club foot. Kai wasn’t supposed to survive with his condition, but somehow defied the odds. His mother left him with the yellow wolf mother believing that Kai would die. Instead, the yellow wolf mother cared for Kai. When Kai’s birth mother learns he is alive, she takes him home. This transition leads to Kai being bullied by the other boys including his older brother Sen. Kai learns that life back home is just as it would be, uneventful and rejection from everyone. He finds company back with the yellow wolves, the only place he feels at home. When Kai encounters a pup in need, he makes a dangerous choice to care for it himself. Beckhorn explores the relationship between Kai and his pup Uff, as the relationship between a person and their dog, which eventually leads to Kai and Uff forming a strong bond. As Uff grows, she becomes more threating and is a danger to the community that Kai lives in. Kai learns he must leave with Uff and embark on the adventure of life on their own to the North even with the fear of the ice men. Beckhorn provides of a prehistoric world with currently extinct animals, immaculate landscapes, and survival techniques, where readers will be astonished as they experience the journey with Kai and Uff. Beckhorn creates a relatable novel for young readers who understand the challenges, fears, and doubts Kai faces just as other young adolescents who are trying to find their role and place in the world. The decisions Kai makes ultimately directs him in the right direction where he learns about his talents and himself. (KLW).