Significant Others I: Professional Reviews

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Carmen Sandiego: Endangered Operation. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 160pp. $7.99. ISBN 978-1-32-862907-4. The Carmen Sandiego choose your own adventure series will engage young readers as they  choose how the story unfolds. In her latest adventure, readers will assist superhero Carmen  Sandiego as she attempts to rescue an endangered tiger cub stolen by Brunt and the rest of the  VILE instructors. Bright cover art and cartoon style drawings throughout the novel illustrate the important scenes which add to the suspense. With twenty possible endings, readers will enjoy this work over and over as they aid Carmen Sandiego as she saves the day yet again. (BKB)

  

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 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Carmen Sandiego: The Fishy Treasure Caper. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 144pp. $10.99. ISBN 978-1-32-849507-5.This Carmen Sandiego graphic novels will captivate young readers with their adventurous  storylines and bright illustrations. In her latest attempt to stop the VILE, Carmen travels to Ecuador as they attempt to steal treasure from a sunken ship. Bright illustrations depict scenes from the novel and explanations of  main characters both captivate readers and enrich the plot. The excitement of Carmen Sandiego’s latest adventure paired with bright illustrations make for an unforgettable graphic novel. (BKB)

  

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Carmen Sandiego: Jetpack Attack. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 160pp. $7.99. ISBN 978-1-32-862909-8.

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This Carmen Sandiego choose your own adventure series engages young readers as they  choose how the story unfolds. In her latest adventure, readers will assist superhero Carmen Sandiego as she attempts to steal a jetpack that has been commissioned by VILE to aid in their  heists. Bright cover art and cartoon style drawings throughout the novel illustrating important  scenes add to the suspense. With twenty possible endings, readers will enjoy this work over and over as they aid Carmen Sandiego as she saves the day yet again (BKB).

 

 
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Carmen Sandiego: Clue by Clue. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 144pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-32-855308-9.

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This Carmen Sandiego adventure novels captivate young readers as super sleuth Carmen faces  off with VILE villains in their thieving escapades. In her latest adventure, readers assist Carmen  in an international treasure hunt using the decoder wheel included with the novel. Bright cover  art and cartoon style drawings throughout the novel illustrating important scenes add to the  suspense. Young readers will enjoy helping Carmen crack a pirate’s code on her latest attempt  to outwit the VILE council (BKB).

  

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2019. Carmen Sandiego: The Sticky Rice Caper. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 144pp. $10.99. ISBN 978-1-32-849506-8.

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This Carmen Sandiego graphic novels will captivate young readers with their adventurous  storylines and bright illustrations. In her latest attempt to stop the VILE, Carmen travels to the  city of Jakarta in Java, Indonesia in an attempt to invade VILE headquarters, where she faces  off with the evil Tigress. Bright cover art and cartoon style drawings throughout the novel  illustrating important scenes add to the suspense. With twenty possible endings, readers will  enjoy this work over and over as they aid Carmen Sandiego as she saves the day yet again  (BKB).

  

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Meriano, Anna. 2020. Love Sugar Magic: A Mixture of Mischief. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 320pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-291590-0. Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega.

Readers, ages eight to twelve, will enjoy discovering Leonora’s magical powers and culinary  abilities in the Love Sugar Magic series. In the latest installment, Leo seeks to discover her  magical powers with some help from her long lost Abuelo while also helping out in her family’s  bakery. Cover art and chapter illustrations including traditional elements of Mexican culture lend  to the magical tone of the novel. Leo’s adventures will captivate young readers as she learns  about her family’s magic and overcomes both mundane and fantastic challenges (BKB).

 

Meriano, Anna. 2020. Love Sugar Magic: A Sprinkle of Spirits. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 304pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-249849-6 Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega.

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Readers, ages eight to twelve, will enjoy discovering Leonora’s magical powers and culinary  abilities in the Love Sugar Magic series. In the latest installment, Leo struggles to find a balance  between sharing with her best friend while also maintaining the long-held secrecy of her family’s  brujeria. Cover art and chapter illustrations including traditional elements of Mexican culture  lend to the magical tone of the novel. Leo’s struggles to harness her newfound powers while  also maintaining friendships will resonate with young reader’s as they watch her overcome  struggles and grow into her abilities (BKB).

 

Mendoza, Jessica and Mendoza-Dusan, Alana.  2018. There’s No Base Like Home. Lee & Low (Tu Books). 256pp. $18.95. ISBN 978-1-62-014588-3. Illustrated by Ruth McNally Barshaw.

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Young readers will relate to twelve year old Sophia’s experiences as a middle school softball  player, both on and off the field. Amid struggles with changing friends, changing family  dynamics, and disappointing tryouts, Sophia learns to have more trust in herself and finds a way  to overcome her challenges and shine. Drawings in the corners of pages and at the start of  chapters will further draw readers into Sophia’s world. Although the novel focuses on the world  of youth softball, readers without an interest in sports will nonetheless connect with the  characters and their struggles (BKB).

 

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Acevedo, Elizabeth. 2020. Write Yourself a Lantern: A Journal Inspired by the Poet X. HarperCollins. 208pp. $14.99. 978-0-06-298227-8. 

Quotations from the poet Elizabeth Acevedo paired with stunning artwork serves to inspire artists of all ages. The journal, which includes both excerpts of Acevedo’s work and prompts, guides  young writers in creating their own work. Eye-catching watercolor paintings in the corners of  pages and as text backgrounds complement the poems (BKB). 

 
Delacre, Lulu. 2019. Rafi and Rosi Music. Lee & Low (Children’s Book Press). 64pp. $17.95. ISBN 978-0-89-239429-6.

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Young readers will enjoy learning about Puerto Rican music in culture with coquí frogs Rafi and  Rosi. Although it is written in English,
the story makes use of Spanish terms that will engage  bilingual readers and monolingual children who may look them up in the included glossary. This  dive into reading story is perfect for readers approaching fluency, complete with dialogue and a  mix of new and familiar vocabulary. Drawings illustrate lively scenes and help to explain cultural  events that may be unfamiliar to some readers. Readers, regardless of their background, will  enjoy learning about dances such as la salsa and la bomba while getting to know Rafi and Rosi  (BKB).  Edmonds, Chris and Century, Douglas. 2019.

 

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No Surrender: A Father, a Son, and an Extraordinary Act of Heroism That Continues to Live on Today. HarperCollins (HarperOne). 352pp. $29.99. ISBN  978-0-06-290501-7.

This is the true account of the life of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, as co-authored by his son. Roddie Edmonds grew up during the Great Depression and enlisted in the Army as a young man. He served and fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He was captured and spent  the winter and spring of 1945 as a prisoner of war in Germany. The majority of the book is about Edmonds’ WWII experiences as a senior non-commissioned officer of his unit. During his time as a prisoner of war, he saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish American soldiers. He refused to identify his unit’s Jewish soldiers and obey orders that would jeopardize the lives of his men, which must have taken great courage and a strong presence of mind. However, there are a few minor editorial errors. For example, on page 30, there is a reference to the presidential campaign of 1930 when Franklin Roosevelt called for a New Deal, which would have actually been in 1932. Besides this, the text appears well-researched and includes many first-hand accounts.  In addition to a list of references, the book has an index, a WWII timeline, and list of recommended further reading for those interested in learning more about Edmonds. (JAB)

 

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Baier, Bret and Whitney, Catherine. 2019. Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II. HarperCollins (William Marrow). 448pp. $28.99. ISBN 978-0-06-290568-0.

On the surface, the text seems like a simple nonfiction account of the meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin in Tehran, Iran in November of 1943. But it is more; it is a biography of the key aspects of Franklin Roosevelt’s life necessary to understanding the relationships he had with Churchill, Stalin, his wife Eleanor, and other members of his administration. This is an interesting account of the issues each leader felt were most important. The defeat of Nazi Germany was agreed upon by all parties, but each leader had their own priorities. The Tehran conference was called to brief Stalin on Operation Overload, the cross-channel invasion of France by the Western Allies. Stalin was weary of promises for a second front in France, but. Roosevelt and Churchill wanted to convince him that the invasion would occur. They feared that Stalin may be thinking of a separate peace with Germany after the Nazis were driven from Soviet territory. Roosevelt also wanted assurance from Stalin that the USSR would enter the war against Japan. The information seems to be well researched and documented. There is a glossary of terms, endnotes referencing specific points in each chapter, and an index. However, as a synopsis of Roosevelt’s life, it may be presented at times with too broad of a stroke. For example, the author states that Theodore Roosevelt was Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin, which implies a first cousin relationship. This was not true; as Theodore was a distant cousin. That aside, readers will learn details surrounding this meeting they may not have known before. (JAB)

 

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Mitchell, Don. 2019. The Lady is a Spy: Virginia Hall, World War II Hero of the French Resistance. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Nonfiction). 288pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-54-593612-5. 

Virginia Hill was born to a wealthy family in Baltimore in the first decade of the 20th Century. During her adolescence, Hill was described as very bright, athletic, and willing to take risks. She was also fluent in French, Italian, German, and had some knowledge of Russian and Spanish. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, she studied in Europe and earned a degree from the Konsular Akademie in Vienna. In the late 1930s she worked for the US State Department until she resigned in 1939. She was in France in September when France and Britain declared war on Germany. Until the fall of France in June of 1940, she volunteered as an ambulance driver for the French Army. After making her way to Britain, would become a spy for the British Special Operations Executive and for the US Office of Strategic Services. During the war, she made two trips to France, first to Vichy in 1942 and then to occupied France a few months prior to the Allied invasion. During both trips, her assignment was to help coordinate and fund French resistance efforts. After World War II, she served with the CIA. For her efforts during the war, Hill received the US Army’s Distinguished Service Cross and was awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire. The author includes a bibliography, end-notes, and an index for those interested in learning more about this accomplished woman. (JAB)

 

World War Two in Alaska and Northwest Canada

Cohen, Stan. 2019. World War Two in Alaska and Northwest Canada. Mountain Press Publishing Company. 296pp. $30.00. ISBN 978-0-87-842693-5. 

The book is a strong compilation of articles, first-hand accounts, photographs, and maps regarding the aspects of World War Two as it was fought in Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The book also presents fascinating materials regarding the construction of the Alcan Highway and other infrastructure projects. Much of the book is self-documenting, as the historical documents are on the page before the reader. I can’t say it enough; this is a really interesting and informative read. However, it is editorially sloppy. On page ten, the author discusses Hollywood film directors producing movies for the military. He mentions director John Huston and misspells his last name as “Houston,” and his first movie The Maltese Falcon starring Humphrey Bogart. He also misidentifies Lauren Bacall as the lead actress, but it was actually Mary Astor. On page 185 there is a photograph of the USS Pensacola CA-2, but the hull number was CA-24.  The text also states the ship commissioned in 1930 when it was built in 1929. On page 253, there is a photograph of a damaged Japanese transport ship. In the caption, the reader is referred to page 250 for the complete report regarding the ship. The correct page is 254. There are other examples that detract from the overall reading experiences, but I still recommend this book despite these reservations. (JAB)

 

Bold Woman in Nevada History

Moore, Kay. 2019. Bold Women in Nevada History. Mountain Press Publishing Group. 212pp. $14.00. ISBN 978-0-87-842695-9.

This book provides synopses of the lives and significant achievements of fourteen Nevada women. Each is given their own chapter that includes a biography and their role in the history of the state of Nevada. Each woman’s story is different, but taken together, they paint a picture of the state’s storied history in regards to topics like gambling, ranching, race relations, healthcare, and Native American rights. Some notable entries include Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, a Paiute woman who worked as an interpreter and Mary Fulstone, a doctor who endured severe weather conditions to deliver more than 4,000 babies during her career. The book is well documented and its bibliography provides references for each woman’s chapter. While this text may be especially valuable for children in Nevada to read, kids across the U.S. will benefit from learning of the various achievements of these accomplished women. (JAB)

 

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Ruby, Lauren. 2019. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 384pp. $17.99. ISBN  978-0-06-231764-3.

This is a historical fiction novel is an account of growing up in an orphanage during the late years of the Great Depression and the early days of World War II, of being abandoned, of being lied to as a child, and of ghosts. This is the story of Frankie and her sister Toni. It is also the story of Pearl, a ghost who haunts the orphanage, streets of Chicago, and the shores of Lake Michigan after dying in 1918. Throughout the book, Pearl’s story slowly emerges and becomes entwined with Frankie’s. The narration alternates between Frankie and Pearl’s point of view throughout the story. As various mysteries unfold, the book becomes a compelling read for young adult and adult readers. (JAB)

 

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Lai, Thanhhà. 2019. Butterfly Yellow. HarperCollins. 284pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-222921-2.

Never were two people less likely to become friends than Hang and LeeRoy, and yet it happens. Hang has  traveled from Vietnam to Texas, expecting to be joyfully reunited with her brother taken six years before in the Vietnam airlifts. LeeRoy is a city kid who has big dreams of becoming a cowboy and riding the rodeo circuit. When LeeRoy is bribed into giving Hang a ride in his truck, he begrudgingly takes her to Amarillo, where she finds her now 11-year-old brother wants nothing to do with her. To keep themselves going, Hang and LeeRoy take summer jobs at the neighboring cantaloupe farm where LeeRoy can be around horses, and Hang can be near her brother. As the summer wanes, Hang's brother begins to warm, and LeeRoy realizes it is time to give up his dreams and return home. With some reluctance, the two friends part vowing to see each other the following summer. Author Thanhhà Lai skillfully weaves this story of war, separation, family love, and young dreams. The use of diacritical marks in Hang’s English dialogue makes it a slower read, but also demonstrates the difficulty that speakers of other languages face when learning English. Readers from middle school to adulthood will be drawn into this touching story. (OJB)

 

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Snyder, Laurel. 2019. My Jasper June. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 291pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-283662-5.

Being thirteen is hard, but when your brother dies in a tragic accident, and your parents and friends are acting distant, it can be overwhelming. As Leah stumbles through summer trying to keep herself busy, she meets Jasper, an irrepressible, homeless 13-year-old who is living in an abandoned cabin in Atlanta. Together the two forge a friendship and transform the cabin into a magical sanctuary. As the summer draws to a close and the realities of life again present themselves, the two friends must come to terms with their lives and secrets. Author Laurel Snyder provides insight into the devastation of losing a loved one and how it affects families and communities. This fairytale-like story of love, loss, friendship, and reconciliation will appeal to upper elementary through high school readers. (OJB)

 

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Standish, Ali. 2019. Bad Bella. HarperCollins. 176pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-289325-3.

Bella isn’t a bad dog; in fact, she is trying hard to be the best member of the McBride family, but with a new baby on the way, it seems everything Bella does is wrong. When Mr. McBride forgets to take Bella outside, she uses the Christmas tree to relieve herself, followed by eating the tantalizing popcorn strung on the tree. The next day, the McBrides dump her at the pound. Bella’s buddies at the pound, Leo, Runt, and Hazel, try to tell her about the complexities of humans, but she remains heartbroken until the Roses show up and take her home. Life with the Roses is glorious with ice cream, car rides, parks, and snuggles around the television until they begin to discuss taking Bella “there.” Not realizing “there” meant the vet, Bella runs away, thinking she is headed back to the pound. The Roses never give up their search and are finally reunited with Bella. As they shower her with food, love, and attention, Bella finally realizes she has found her true home.Author Ali Standish has based their story on her rescue dog and provides photos of her dog along with information on animal shelters and ways readers can support local animal shelters. This story with mixed emotions will appeal to elementary through early middle school readers. (OJB)

 

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Arnold, Elana K. 2019. Bat and The End of Everything. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 184pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-279844-2. 

This is the third book in the “A Boy Called Bat” trilogy. Third-grader Bixby “Bat” Tam is looking forward to summer but is concerned about Babycakes, the class rabbit. Bat is already taking care of Thor, the skunk, who is nearly old enough to be released into the wild. Bat is grappling with these changes, and it doesn’t help his best friend Israel will be in Canada for most of the summer. Bat is on the autism spectrum, and his inner thoughts and perspectives are written with care. The dilemmas he confronts in the story will be relatable to elementary students, whether they are on the spectrum or neurotypical. The story is broken into short chapters and is sprinkled with illustrations, written for 2nd-4th grade readers. (MC)

 

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Cook, Eileen. 2019. You Owe Me A Murder. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 359pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-851902-3.

On the way to London with her class trip, Kim finds herself in an irritating position as she watches her ex-boyfriend cozy up to his new girlfriend. Kim bonds with a fun, cool stranger, Nicki, on the plane. When Nicki jokes about killing Kim’s boyfriend in exchange for Kim to kill Nicki’s mother, Kim thinks it's all in good fun; until her ex-boyfriend dies suspiciously. Now it seems as though Kim owes Nicki a favor. This Strangers on a Train concept for teens works reasonably well - the tension builds in the London setting as Kim tries to deal with Nicki’s demands, although it ends on a bit of a fizzle. Teens who enjoy a thriller might pick this up. (MC)

 

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Henkes, Kevin. 2019. Sweeping up the Heart. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 183pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-285254-0. 

As much as 7th grader Amelia would love to travel for her spring break, she’s stuck in her hometown. She spends her time making clay animals at her neighbor Louise’s clay studio to pass the time and meets Louise’s nephew Casey. Amelia and Casey bond over people watching at a local hangout. When Casey spots a woman who looks like Amelia’s mother, who died when she was two, Amelia can’t help but wonder if it’s somehow really her. This tender, short novel portrays imperfect families - Casey’s parents are on the brink of a divorce, despite all of his efforts to get them to stay together. Amelia’s father is withdrawn and elusive. What seems at first like magical realism turns into something far more grounded in reality, and true to the complexities of loss and human interaction. This quiet story might not appeal to every reader, but it could be the perfect fit for some, 5th, and 6th graders, despite Amelia being in 7th grade as she comes across as a slightly younger character. (MC)

 

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Oakes, Colleen. 2019. The Black Coats. HarperCollins (HarperTeen). 376pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-267962-8.

There is a thin line between justice and vengeance, The Black Coats posits. Thea is grieving her best friend and cousin, Natalie, whose killer wasn’t brought to justice. When Thea receives a mysterious envelope, a series of tests lead her to become welcomed as a member of the Black Coats, a vigilante group targeting men who hurt girls and women. Thea is eager to learn and enact “Balancings,” acts of revenge after men commit crimes towards women and get away with them. However, her desire to seek vengeance for Natalie’s death becomes muddled when she finds herself ordered to carry out a Balancing, which doesn’t seem just at all. The second half of the book is densely-packed with several twists. Thea realizes vengeance won’t bring her friend back, and there is a dangerous side to vigilantism. For teen readers. (MC)

 

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Birney, Betty G. 2018. Life According to Og the frog. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). 150pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-52-473994-2. 

This book is told from the perspective of Og, who goes from living in the swamp to residing in the class of Room 26 with the other class pet, Humphrey the Hamster. Taking place at the time Og is introduced to the classroom, he takes in his new surroundings, gets to know the students who take care of him, and learns from Humphrey the importance of being a classroom pet. This chapter book is a fun addition to the chapter books featuring Humphrey the Hamster, and would be accessible for grades 3-6. (MC)

 

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English, Karen. 2019. The Carver Chronicles: Pizza Party. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 113pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-32-849462-7. Illustrated by Laura Freeman.

The 6th book of the Carver Chronicles follows Ms. Shelby-Ortiz’s third-grade class on a day when a “mean” substitute teacher is taking over. The class has been working hard to earn a pizza party for good behavior, but one student, Richard, slips up, and the sub suspects him of cheating. Richard is now determined to make it up to his class and prove to the substitute teacher they deserve a pizza party. The students of Carver Elementary are diverse and go through relatable, day-to-day school dilemmas. For 2nd-4th grade readers. (MC)

 

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Gutman, Dan. 2019. Dr. Snow Has Got To Go! HarperCollins. 105pp. $4.99. ISBN 978-0-06-269101-9. Illustrated by Jim Paillot. 

Scientist Dr. Snow arrives at Ella Mentary school to teach the students how to do experiments and announces that there will be a school science fair. A.J. wants to win the lifetime supply of sausages and beat his snooty classmate Andrea, but he and his classmates become suspicious of Dr. Snow, nicknamed The Snowman. He’s always cackling and rubbing his hands together...just like someone who wants to take over the world. When the science fair turns into a disaster, their theory is proven correct, and Dr. Snow is apprehended. While the short chapter book contains lots of jokes and wordplay, the plot doesn’t make sense, even from a 3rd or 4th-grade point of view, and there are too many characters. This would be a good choice for an early reader who wants a fun, quick story. (MC)

 

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Johnson, Terry Lynn. 2018. Survivor diaries: Lost! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 104pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-54-497118-9. 

This series, written by a survival expert, features fictional stories of young people facing the elements. Lost! follows 6th grader Carter and 7th grader Anna, two vacationers in Costa Rica who are encouraged to pair up by their parents. When they get lost in the dense rainforest, they have to figure out how to get out of the jungle without any supplies. Carter and Anna must also learn how to work together. Carter has anxiety and gets panic attacks, and Anna doesn’t know as much about survival as Carter does. The story is fast-paced and features facts about jungle survival and would be of interest to late elementary school readers who enjoy survival and adventure stories, both real and fictional. (MC)

 

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Johnson, Terry Lynn. 2018. Survivor Diaries: Dust Storm! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 119pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-54-497098-4.

This series, written by a survival expert, features fictional stories of young people facing the elements. In Dust Storm, former friends Jen and Martin are on a geocaching field trip in New Mexico. When Jen sees Martin bike off from the group, she suspects he’s cheating and heads after him. This bad decision to leave the group has dire consequences with a dust storm blows in at an alarming speed. Once the dust storm passes, Jen and Martin find themselves in an arroyo, the worst place to be when there’s a danger of flash flooding. Using only their wits, they must find a way to survive and repair their friendship. The story and characters are simple, but the pacing is quick, and late elementary school readers interested in learning more about survival may be drawn to this book series. (MC)

 

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Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet Book Eight: Supernova. Scholastic Inc. (Graphix). 197pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-54-582860-4.  

Siblings Emily and Navin are separated in this installment of the space adventure graphic novel series, Supernova. Emily, a stone keeper, has lost control of the Amulet and finds herself imprisoned in the Void. Most of the story focuses on her younger brother Navin, who travels to a space station and tries to save the planet Alledia from having its resources drain. This series features elements of both science fiction and fantasy, with eye-catching art and a quick pace, which will keep readers engaged. Readers who haven’t read the earlier books in the series will likely be lost, as this book pivots after a big cliffhanger in the previous book. For middle-grade readers. (MC)

 

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Calmenson, Stephanie. 2019. Our Principal’s in His Underwear! Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 48pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-48-146672-1. Illustrated by Aaron Blecha. 

This “fast, fun read” is a quick chapter book for early readers. Originally published in 1989, it’s a fairly straightforward retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” However, this time the victim of the swindlers traveling through town is Mr. Bundy, an elementary school principal. It’s not until Mr. Bundy shows up in front of an entire assembly in his underwear that one Kindergartener says aloud what everyone has been thinking: “The principal’s in his underwear!” The book features a list of word definitions in the back and a series of comprehension questions. (MC) 

 

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McCullough, Kathy. 2019. Mary Poppins returns. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 252pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-32-851274-1.

Based on the screenplay by David Magee. Jane and Michael Banks, who were children in Mary Poppins, are now grown and live in 1930s London with children of their own. When catastrophe hits the family, Jane and Michael’s former nanny, Mary Poppins, returns to infuse magic into their lives. This novelization of the 2018 film stays true to the source, both in the description of the characters and visuals the movie presents. The novelization doesn’t add anything new to the movie experience, but middle-grade readers who want to read about familiar characters may enjoy this straightforward retelling. (MC)

 

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Preller, James. 2019. The Big Idea Gang: Everybody Needs a Buddy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 79pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-1-32-885719-4. 

Third-graders Deon, Kym, Conner, and Lizzy originally came together with a big idea to replace the school mascot. When they hear a rumor, the PTA is swimming in surplus money; the group begins to cook up ideas of what they could do to improve Clay Elementary School. Soon the school is abuzz with the rumor and different ideas of what they could spend it on. When Deon notices a lonely boy at recess, he tries to find a way to make things easier for him, and the group finds a perfect idea - a buddy bench. However, the PTA has already decided what to spend the surplus on, so Deon must use his persuasive skills to convince them the buddy bench is a good idea. This illustrated chapter book includes a section at the back with “Miss Zip’s ‘Wow Me’ Tips” on how to make a compelling argument. The story shows how elementary school students can find creative ways to make their schools more inclusive, kinder places. Appropriate for 2nd and 3rd grade readers. (MC)

 

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Preller, James. 2019. The Big Idea Gang: Worst Mascot Ever. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 88pp. $15.99. 978-1-32-885718-7. 

Clay Elementary School has the worst mascot ever - why is it purple? Why is it an armadillo? Principal Tuxbury serves as the mascot, Arnold the Armadillo, until one Fun Day when he gets stuck in his costume and vows never to wear it again. A group of third graders, twins Lizzy and Conner, and their friends Kym and Deon, decide to create a new school mascot, but it will take a lot of convincing for the principal and the rest of the school to get behind the idea. Fortunately, their enthusiastic teacher, Miss Zips, encourages them to advocate for their idea. The friends ask their class for input on ideas, and then they make their case for Drake the Dragon, first to the principal, then to the whole school. This illustrated chapter book includes a section at the back with “Miss Zip’s ‘Wow Me’ Tips” on how to make a compelling argument with evidence-based claims. It would be an excellent story to read with children while introducing them to debate principles and would be something a beginner reader in 2nd or 3rd grade could read on their own. (MC)

 

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Quackenbush, Robert. 1982. Dig to Disaster. Simon & Schuster (Aladdin). 68pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-53-441313-9.

Aladdin Quix are a series of “fast fun reads,” with large print, illustrations, and bold, featured words readers can look up the definitions for in the back. Although this is only one of many “Miss Mallard Mysteries” children can read, it begins with a cast of characters, and the stories are standalone so readers can jump in at any point in the series. The original pen-and-ink illustrations from its first publishing are included and add whimsy to the story. Miss Mallard, the famous “ducktective,” travels all over the world, solving mysteries. This story finds her in South America, exploring Mayan ruins, rafting down a river, and encountering fearsome jungle creatures! Beginning readers will come across some challenging words, like alias, sarcastically, and understatement. This book can also be used as a read-aloud or a read-together story, with a set of reading comprehension questions at the end. (MC) 

 

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Tinker, Rebecca. 2019. Who in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 196pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-1-32-849529-1.

Based on the teleplay by Duane Capizzi. This novelization follows and expands upon the first two episodes of its source material, the Netflix remake of Carmen Sandiego. The plot acts as a backstory to the global thief, making her a more sympathetic character. Readers follow her international adventures in this middle grade-appropriate book. The story would be appropriate for those looking for a familiar story or character to read about. (MC)

 

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McGinnis, Mindy. 2019. Heroine. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 418pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-284719-5. 

This realistic young adult novel confronts the bleak realities of opioid addiction without coming across as preachy or melodramatic. Mickey’s world revolves around softball, and so when she and her teammate and friend are in a debilitating car accident, she is ready to push her recovery as much as possible. The pain pills she’s prescribed make everything better, and by the time they run out, Mickey finds other avenues to get them. As she spirals further into addiction and begins to run out of money, she turns to heroin. The characters, from the lonely Edith, who sells Mickey other users pills while feeding them meatloaf and acting almost motherly, to Mickey’s parents and stepmother, are realistically drawn and avoid cliches. The book comes with a warning stating it depicts realistic depictions of opioid use, and from the harrowing first sentence, Heroine is a dark but compelling and empathetic read. Readers who have a substance use disorder should proceed with caution. (MC)

 

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Hapka, Catherine. 2018. Junior Ninja Champion: The Competition Begins. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 153pp. $13.99. ISBN 978-1-32-871058-1.

Ty’s family runs a ninja gym, where people do obstacle course-based workouts in the style of the popular competition show, National Ninja Champion. When Ty learns there will be a junior version of the show, he meets other enthusiasts of the show - Mackenzie, who runs a blog but doesn’t consider herself much of an athlete, and parkour daredevil Izzy. Although the trio doesn’t have much in common outside of their love of the show, they team up and begin training to join the competition, hoping to make it to the final round, which will take them to Hollywood. Middle grade readers who enjoy the show American Ninja Warrior and fantasize competing in it themselves will get sucked into this story, the first in a series. The book also includes a Q&A interview with a real American Ninja Warrior contestant. (MC)

 

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Alexander, Kwame. 2016. Booked.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 328pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-328-59630-7.

Booked follows the same format as Alexander’s previous books for middle grade readers: A sports story told in verse. 12-year-old Nick plays soccer, although the story ends up focusing more on the power of Nick’s words - he learns the power of words to nonviolently confront a bully, woo a girl he has a crush on, win over a teacher, and attempt to connect with parents who are separating. There are a lot of elements at play here, and Alexander keeps them all in balance with his excellent use of poems to lay out the story. Recommended for middle grade readers. (MC) 

 

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Alexander, Kwame. 2014. The Crossover.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers).. 251pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-544-935520-4. 

Twins Josh and Jordan Bell are both obsessed with basketball, following in their father Chuck “Da Man”’s footsteps. When Jordan gets interested in the new girl, Alexis, their bond over basketball isn’t quite as tight. Not to mention their dad’s health has been in question lately. This middle grade book is written in kinetic poetry that begs to be read aloud. The rhythm of the poetry captures the energy and motion of a basketball game, and is just as effective when used to show characters in more mundane situations - with few words, this novel builds an impactful story about brotherhood, loss, and passion for basketball. It’s told in a way that makes it an exciting and accessible read for those who might not usually reach for a sports-focused story. (MC) 

 

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Appelt, Kathi. 2019. Angel thieves. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 320pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-44-242109-7. 

The bayou of Houston, Texas unites the narratives that weave through this story. It follows the perspective of Cade, who steals angel statues from cemeteries; Soleil, a Christian girl who’s interested in Cade; Zorra, an ocelot who is captured by an exotic animals dealer; and Achsah, an escaped slave in 1845 trying to escape to Mexico with her children. These stories come together with angel motifs weaving throughout and powerful, emotional writing. This book isn’t for everyone, but teen readers who are looking for a story that breaks the mold and weaves perspectives together should seek this out. (MC) 

 

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Bond, Michael. 2008. Paddington here and now. HarperCollins (HarperCollins Children’s Books). 187pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-231723-0. Illustrated by Peggy Fortnum and R.W. Alley.

Released nearly thirty years after the last book in the Paddington series, this book collects 7 short stories about the beloved bear Paddington and his adventures in London. The stories feel timeless - and very British. Readers unfamiliar with English culture may have questions about certain phrases or words used. Each story is a standalone, about 25-30 pages each, making it an approachable choice for readers who don’t know if they want to commit to a full-length novel. For 3rd-6th grade readers. (MC) 

 

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Cala, Caroline. 2019. Best babysitters ever. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (HMH Books for Young Readers). 259pp. $13.99. ISBN 978-1-32-885089-8. 

12-year-old Malia, inspired by her old Baby-Sitters Club book, decides to start a club of her own with her friends Dot and Bree. The plan is to earn enough cash to throw an amazing birthday party, but their babysitting hijinks go awry. The book is fast-paced, heavy on the humor and antics if a bit light on character development. Middle grade readers who want a more modern take on the babysitting tale may enjoy this. First in a series. (MC)

 

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Chainani, Soman. 2019. The School for Good and Evil: A Crystal of Time. HarperCollins. 624pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-269517-8.

As the fifth book in this middle grade series, it picks up where the last left off - Queen Agatha has barely escaped with her life, while her King Tedros is imprisoned. Meanwhile, Sophie is doomed to marry the traitorous King Rhian, who has evil plans for the land of Camelot. Once Agatha and Sophie reunite, they find hope at the School for Good and Evil and its students. This book is full of adventure, love, friendship, dramatic twists, and magic. Fans of the series will already be reaching for this one. Those who are new to the story will feel lost if they haven’t read the previous books. (MC) 

 

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Cyprus, Naomi. 2019. Daughters of Steel. HarperCollins. 325pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-245850-6. 

This is the sequel to Sisters of Glass, picking up after sisters Halan and Nalah have saved the Magi Kingdom from the dangerous, magical Dust and ended King Asa’s rule. Now Halan is Queen, and Nalah serves as the Queen’s Sword. Nalah must journey across the desert to learn more about her growing magical powers, and Halan enters an alternate world that is the opposite of the Magic Kingdom, but needs protection as much as her own kingdom does. This is a magical, Middle-Eastern inspired world of magical creatures and special abilities. Nalah and Halan’s sisterly bond strengthens in this story, as does their confidence in their abilities to rule and wield magic. This is a unique fantasy world with fun worldbuilding and plenty of adventure. Targeted to middle grade readers who enjoyed the previous book in the series. (MC)

 

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Funaro, Gregory. 2019. Watch Hollow. HarperCollins. 246pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-264345-2.

Siblings Lucy and Oliver travel with their father to the mysterious Blackwood Manor in the town of Watch Hollow. Their father receives an enticing offer to repair a mysterious, large clock that has stumped other clock repair attempts. While he works at the clock, Lucy is visited at night by the carved animals from the clock, and learns of the magical properties in the surrounding woods. Oliver meets a strange boy, Edgar, who seems darkly fixed on his father’s clock repair job. A fearsome creature in the woods, the Gar, poses a growing threat to the family and the house, and Lucy and Oliver must discover the clock’s workings and how the magic in the wood and stone work before it’s too late. This middle grade book is a perfect introduction to the horror genre - it is spooky, atmospheric, and mysterious, without getting too scary for younger readers. (MC)

 

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Halbrook, K.D. 2018. Smoke and Mirrors. Simon & Schuster (Paula Wiseman Books). 233pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-0504-2. 

Sasha has grown up with her family in the Cirque, where her parents perform. She and her brother Toddy transition to going to school with the Islanders in the “normal” world and try to find where they belong. As Sasha begins 5th grade with the Islanders, she confronts bullies and begins questioning the lifestyle she was raised in. The circus setting is woven with magic and wonder, but the real-life difficulties Sasha and Toddy endure are all too real - bullying, uncaring adults, bigotry. The pacing of the novel leans heavily on these harsher aspects, and at times the magical atmosphere and realistic cruelty feel unbalanced while the characters don’t get the time to develop fully. This book is for middle-grade readers and is recommended for those who like a bit of fantasy but are also up for some darker themes. (MC) 

 

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Loutzenhiser, Katy. 2019. If You’re Out There. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 297pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-286567-0. 

This funny, contemporary teen mystery begins when Zan’s best friend Priya moves to California and then suddenly stops contacting her. Zan becomes even more confused when Priya’s social media posts don’t seem like her at all. Zan isn’t sure if Priya has decided to end their friendship and reinvent herself, or if something more sinister is afoot. Priya, with the help of her new friend Logan, begins digging through Zan’s posts for clues and come up with a myriad of possibilities for what could have happened. This leads to a satisfying, surprising ending. The tension and humor in the book are cleverly balanced, and the novel makes relevant use of the way social media presentation plays a big role in contemporary teen lives. (MC)

 

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Redwine, C.J. 2019. The Blood Spell. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 438pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-265301-7.

Each of Redwine’s Ravenspire books is a retelling of a classic fairytale. The fourth book of the series is a retelling of Cinderella, expanded with complex characters and dark elements. Blue is an alchemist, using her forbidden magic abilities to try and help the city’s homeless population. Kellan, a rakish prince, and Blue are forced back together after a long hiatus in their friendship, and go out on a journey together to some of the darkest parts of the kingdom. Blue and Kellan’s bickering slowly leads to friendship, and then to romance. There is no shortage of Cinderella retellings, so the book’s fresh plot decisions are welcome. Readers do not need to read the books in order, although those that do may benefit from noticing some recurring threads and characters. (MC) 

 

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Reynolds, Justin A. 2019. Opposite of Always. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 457pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-274837-9. 

High school senior Jack falls head over heels for Kate, a college girl, at a party. Everything seems to be going perfect, even if Jack is letting his friendships with Jillian and Francisco fall by the wayside. When Kate dies unexpectedly, Jack is transported back to the party where he first meets Kate - his own personal Groundhog Day. Jack is determined to find a way to save her, but it becomes more complicated when he learns Kate has sickle cell anemia, his attempts to save her mean neglecting his friendships. After many attempts, Jack comes to realize, even if some things are inevitable, the important thing is to live and love in the here and now. The prose ,as told from Jack’s perspective, is witty and the friendships and his relationship with Kate feel real. Most of the main characters are teens of color, dealing with real-life issues. Despite the time travel aspects, this is a genuine story with heart. Recommended for teens who enjoy realistic fiction, romances, and Black and/or Latinx characters. (MC) 

 

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Rufener, Brenda. 2019. Since We Last Spoke. HarperCollins (HarperTeen). 288pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-257108-3. 

Aggi and Max lost their friendship and their blooming relationship after a car crash that killed both of their siblings. Their families blame each other for the accident, separating the two. Now, as Aggi and Max finally start to make touch again and rekindle their lost love, there are many obstacles to overcome. Readers will find more drama than angst, some of it stretching believability at times. Teen readers who are looking for a realistic novel about grieving and complex relationships might be interested in giving this a read. (MC)  

 

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Smith, Crystal. 2019. Bloodleaf. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 377pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-328-49630-0. 

In Aurelia’s kingdom, witchcraft is reviled, and so Aurelia, the princess and heir to the throne, must keep her magical abilities at bay. Feared and hated for her magic, she flees an assassination attempt and goes undercover in another kingdom for safety. She finds a happiness she’s never known living outside the confines of the castle, but still seeks justice in her kingdom when an imposter ascends to the throne. Readers who like character-driven fantasy, even if some of the worldbuilding feels at times generic, may like this one. This YA fantasy novel is the first in a series. (MC)

 

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Carson Levine, Gail. 2018. Ogre Enchanted. HarperCollins. 340pp. $17.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-256121-3.

In Ogre Enchanted, the long-awaited companion novel to Ella Enchanted, Lucinda, the fairy who gives not-so-helpful gifts, is back. This time, the protagonist is sensible Evie, a renowned healer, who rejects a marriage proposal from her best friend Wormy. Lucinda claims that Evie was foolish in refusing the proposal and turns her into an ogre and gives her sixty-two days to get engaged or else remain an ogre forever. Ogres are hideous monsters who everyone fears and are hunted for sport and war.  Unfortunately, the curse prevents Evie from revealing who she is under her now grimy skin. While she must face dangerous biases and hordes wanting to kill her, she makes friends and possible suitors in unlikely places. Eventually, tales of the helpful healer ogre spread, and she goes to the palace with some new allies, attempting to save the king from a deadly disease known as Barley Blight. There, she makes her final stand as the clock strikes four-in-the-afternoon, and she must find a true path to a place where she can love herself -- and maybe someone else. Gail Carson Levine leads the reader through many twists and turns, using Lucinda’s spell to show the rampant sexism and our misinformed idealizations of women in fairy tales with their so-called “happy” endings. Many fairy tales end with the characters falling in love, but Ogre Enchanted begs the question of whether all love, no matter how pretty it might seem, is real. Evie might turn out okay, but not everything will; after all, this is not your normal fairytale. (AKF) 

 

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Carlson, Caroline. 2019. The Door at the End of the World. HarperCollins. 285pp. $16.99  (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-236830-0.

In this riveting fantasy, doors built into the literal fabric of reality connect each of the eight worlds together. Thirteen-year-old Lucy is the Gatekeeper’s deputy on one side of the door that connects Southeast and East together. She prides herself on being a good deputy, trying to make her prestigious family proud. Her genius older brother, Thomas, makes her invisible in her parents’ eyes, so she works hard and follows the rules, trying to stay out of trouble. Despite her efforts, trouble does find her. When the Gatekeeper leaves to do maintenance on the other side of the door, Lucy and her magic bees never thought she wouldn’t return. Things only get worse when a boy named Arthur, a supposed prince who doesn’t have travel papers, had no idea that there were more worlds than his, accidentally falls through the gate. They set off to find the Gatekeeper on the other side of the world but only find Rosemary, a maybe criminal with a knack for getting away. Rosemary ends up joining their team as they discover that the gate cutters – scissors that are the only way to repair the doors – have gone missing. Traveling through illicit doors and dodging travel offices was definitely not in Lucy’s job description, but she and her crew are up to the task as they discover that the people who they were supposed to trust are the ones that have betrayed them all along. (AKF)


Ross, Aleksandra. 2020. Don’t Call the Wolf. HarperCollins (HarperTeen). 504pp. $18.99 (hardcover). ISBN 978-0-06-287797-0. x

Based on traditional Polish folklore, Ross’s debut novel Don’t Call the Wolf is set in a fantastical forest kingdom. The evil Golden Dragon has spread darkness for 17 years, and the best and brightest nobles, warriors, and knights are powerless to stop it.
Lukasz, age 21, is the last remaining Wolf-Lord, one of the famous dragon hunter brothers who fight an array of vile monsters, such as the frozen and singing mavka, who are created from the souls of unbaptized children who have died. When he was only four, Lukasz and his nine older brothers left their home, a gigantic wooden lodge in the mountains. Years later, for their own reasons, they individually attempted the perilous journey through the forest back home– and now it’s Lukasz’s turn. After facing death and scorching his sword-arm during a poorly thought-out battle with an Apofys dragon, he jumps on his antler-adorned horse to ride back through the forest to the mountains of his birth.

But his plans are thwarted when he meets 17-year-old Ren, the orphaned queen of the forest who shape-shifts between human and lynx. Despite hating humans for what they have done to her fellow animals, she agrees to guide an internally struggling Lukasz and others they find along the way through the forest. In exchange, Lukasz must kill the Golden Dragon, which he knows he cannot do. Their journey together will either end with glory or demise – or perhaps both.
While dark and gory (like eyeballs hanging by tendons), once the story picks up speed, this is a highly recommended read for older teens. Emotionally gripping, Don’t Call the Wolf leaves the reader wondering if people are ever who they’re assumed to be. (AKF)    

 

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Woods, Matilda. The Boy, The Bird and the Coffin Maker. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). 208pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-52-551521-0. Illustrated by Anuska Allepuz.

In this debut novel, Ms. Woods presents a tale about a boy who has lost his mother and a father who lost his family and how these two become a close-knit family. Each of these characters is nicely developed and together they surmount the obstacles presented in the novel. While the story is not diminished by the stock characterization of most of these characters, it was unfortunate that the boy’s father is presented in a negative light from a distance. The author presents an interweaving of a local plot, a folk tale of a magic land and a colorful bird who, in the end, becomes the bridge between this world and the other. The novel did indeed, capture this reader but only after a hundred pages or so. A more detailed, storied, engaging opening might be important for some young readers. (DLD)

 

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Anschutz, Philip. 2017. Out Where the West Begins: Volume 2, Creating and Civilizing the American West. Cloud Camp Press, LLC. 348pp. $34.95 ISBN 978-0-99-055021-1.

This book provides an excellent overview of the development of America’s west. Using brief, relevant biographies, the author offers the reader with a grasp of the web of discoveries foundational to the exploration, settlement, development, and enjoyment of the American assets gained in the Louisiana Purchase, the First Mexican Cession, the Annexation of 1848 and the Oregon Treaty of 1846. History becomes more than dates, battles, and treaties, with the human associations made in this book. Recommended for readers 13 and older. (LWD)  

 

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Burian, Natalka. 2017. Welcome to the Slipstream. Merit Press. 270pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-50-720075-9.

This engaging read juxtaposes not only generations but blurs the lines between genius and insanity, insanity and normalcy, teenage angst and bipolar disorder, loving support and enabling, parent and child. Between high school and college, Van lands in Las Vegas with her family, thinking it is the same old same old. Instead, she discovers new ways of being and relating, new strengths, and a new direction for her life. Recommended for ages 14 and older. (LWD)  

 

Cook, Eileen. 2017. The Hanging Girl. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 309pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-482982-4.

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Senior year. Last semester. Plans long laid with her best friend since third grade for life-after-high-school. One might  expect the road ahead to be smooth for Skye, but she faces a few bumps and turns on the road — most of them of her own making. Skye is a good student and an exemplary part-time worker. Both she and her mo0m work hard while yearning for the better life that keeps eluding them. Then Skye accepts what she thinks is the answer to all her prayers, and parts of her life begin to shift and unwind, and all of Skye’s efforts in controlling the situation and its consequences fall just short. What begins as an ordinary story becomes a complex puzzle shrouded in mystery, wrapped in an enigma. Mystery solved, the reader may well find himself or herself hanging, in the end. Recommended for readers ages 13-18. (LWD)  

 

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Gale, Emily. 2017. The Other Side of Summer. HarperCollins. 336pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-265674-2.

A modern, moving story features family and other close connections. Summer Jackman is our protagonist, is first in England and then in Australia. But the story could have happened anywhere. The random terrorist bomb that tore her brother into pieces just as surely tore her family apart, leaving them feeling only loosely connected, distant from one another. This is a story of finding one’s way back to the center of life – not just for Summer, but for her sister and parents as well. A connection back to her brother and her brother’s music weaves its way into her family in an unexpected way with powerful results. (LWD)

 

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Miller, Sam. 2017. The Art of Starving. HarperCollins (HarperTeen). 384pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-245671-7.

Body image. Self-image. The struggle starts in the teens. For some, it never ends. For Matt, it started a little early. He doesn’t remember his father, he is poor-but-proud, and he is gay – the only gay male of his acquaintance. Life moves on well enough as he ages into his junior year in high school when suddenly, his year older sister takes off, and no one will tell him the back story, although he is sure several people are holding out on him. Bereft, feeling excluded, he falls into the trap of an eating disorder. With him, we suffer pangs of hunger, teen angst and exclusion, and his feelings of superpowers brought on by hunger. With him, we experience acceptance and discovery, the power of love, both filial and romantic. It’s a roller coaster ride, just like life. And we learn how self-love and self-acceptance heal. (LWD)  

 

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Ruby, Laura. 2017. York; Book 1, The Shadow Cipher. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 476pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-230693-7.

Book 2, The Shadow Cipher, cannot come out too soon. A fascinating tale with three smart, young teen protagonists. York is a story about the city of New York and not-New York. A work of fiction with allusions to history and literature, both accurate and just a shade off. A story of adventure and independence of families immediate and extended, fealty, and treachery. A work of imagination grounded in what is most true—a most excellent read from start to the next beginning. Ages 8 – 12. (LWD)  

 

Uwiringiyimana, Sandra. 2017. How Dare the Sun Rise. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 283pp. $19.99. ISBN 978-0-06-247014-0.

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From childhood in Africa to womanhood in America, this is the story of the immigrant experience today. The account takes us from a happy childhood in an African homeland while living in fear of accommodation in a refugee camp living to long-sought asylum in America. It showcases the effort immigrant families make, the challenges they face, confront the lack of knowledge Americans have of other cultures (in the kindest way). In all, it is a young girl’s journey to womanhood, a story that knows no ethnicity, no one culture, no political boundaries. Recommended for ages 14 and older. (LWD)  

 

Harrison, Paula. 2019. Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 128pp. $15,99. ISBN 978-0-06-293472-7. Illustrated by Jenny Løvlie. First Published in the United Kingdom in 2019 by Oxford University Press.

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Kitty is a young girl by day and a superhero dressed as a cat by night. As she develops her special powers with her unique feline friends, Figaro, Pixie, and Katsumi, by her side, she overcomes her insecurities and rescues Pumpkin, a kitten stranded on top of a clock tower. Themes of friendship, family, courage, bravery, and building self confidence resonate throughout the sequence of events. Illustrations using the colors of black, orange, and white, complement the characterizations of Kitty and the four kittens, themes, and the setting, in a large city in the UK. The second title in the series, Kitty and the Tiger Treasure (2019), also emphasizes the friendships of Kitty, Figaro, Pixie, and also Pumpkin (who now lives with Kitty). Children, ages, 7 – 9, who enjoy adventures, supernatural powers, humor, family, and kittens, will welcome this series. (DLN)  

 

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Lichtenheld, Tom. 2020.  Louis. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  40 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-32-849806-9.  Illustrated by Julie Rowan-Zoch.

Louis, a Teddy Bear, believes he is abused.  He uses several instances of perceived mistreatment to support this claim, such as being used as a pillow, a handkerchief, eaten by a prehistoric animal, buried, washed, hung on a clothesline, attacked by a dog, poked, x-rayed, and mislaid.  He is tired of the apparent mistreatment and vows to run away after his boy falls asleep.  Readers ages 2 – 8 will rejoice when Louis realizes his life could be worse.  With the possible exception of the airport x-ray machine, youngsters will recognize the characters and objects.  The bold dark lines suggest a variety of emotions; horizontal lines in the bed and bus suggest a calm and safe mood.  Heavy lines outline main objects and characters, which provides a sense of unity.  (DLN)

 

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Wortche, Allison. 2020. I  [Heart] Engineering. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 14 pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-35-817004-4. Illustrated by Steve Mack. 

Youngsters, ages 2 – 4, will marvel at the tools, toys, and ideas conveying basic concepts of engineering. The characters portray the diversity among engineers; black, white, male, and female. Young scientists are introduced to the beginning steps for solving an engineering problem. First, identify the problem, then brainstorm solutions, followed by a plan leading to definitive results. Equally important, if the experiment fails, try again. (DLN)

 

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Paul, Miranda. 2020.  Speak Up. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books).  40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-35-814096-2.  Illustrated by Ebony Glenn.

Children ages 3 – 8 can follow fellow youngsters as they discuss situations in which saying nothing is unacceptable or dangerous. For example, stating the facts if someone spreads a rumor, challenging unfair rules, supporting wounded or isolated classmates, apologizing for mistakes, appreciating kindness, helping a sad child, and finding an adult when someone is hurt.  The illustrations, created digitally using Adobe Photoshop, are colorful and reflect children from multiple gender, ethic, racial, and religious backgrounds.  (DLN)

 

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Owens, John. 2020.  One Summer Up North. University of Minnesota Press. 32 pp.  $17.95.  ISBN  978-1-51-790950-5.

The illustrations, drawn in black color pencil dominate the colors, added digitally.  As a wordless picture book, readers will focus on the textures and dark nature in the majority of the scenes.  The dark pictures convey the thick forests and the physical challenges of hiking and canoeing through the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota.  The sequence begins with a young child sulking as the trip to the woods begins.  The child initially sulks and appears miserable.  However, the child eventually smiles, and, instead of lagging behind and brooding during portages, leads the way.  Readers young and old alike will appreciate the realistic, although somewhat abstract portrayal of one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the world. (DLN)

 

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Pinkerton, Jenny. 2020.  Lil’ smARTies: Play with Paint!  Penguin Random House LLC (Penguin Workshop).  20 pp.  $8.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-0-593-09443-3. 

The composition of different colors and the tools for creating art are the focus of this concept book.  Mixing pink and blue makes purple, blue with yellow creates green, and adding pink to yellow results in various oranges.  Artistic tools are colorfully conveyed, such as a brush splattering yellow paint, a sponge creating a green, yellow, and blue blotch, and rollers making “squiggles, dots, and stripes.”  This concept book may inspire young readers ages 6 months to 3 years to create their own works of art! (DLN)

 

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Sobel, June.2020.  Trick-or-Treat with Tow Truck Joe: A Lift-the-Flap Book.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  12 pp.  $8.99 (Board Book). ISBN 978-0358063674.  Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan.

June Sobel, also author of Tow Truck Joe, creates an enjoyable rhyming Halloween tale for children ages 6 months to 3 years.  The illustrations definitely convey the fun, and occasionally frightening mood of the holiday with orange pumpkins and various costumes, such as Pirate Joe, a mummified car, and flying witches’ brooms.  Children will enjoy the flaps, sturdy enough for young developing fingers. (DLN)

 

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Preus, Margi. 2020. The Silver Box: An Enchantment Lake Mystery. University of Minnesota Press. 200 pp.  $16.95. ISBN 978-1-51-790968-0.

Young adults ages 10 – 16 do not need to read the first two books in the series, Enchantment Lake: A Northwoods Mystery, and The Clue in the Trees: An Enchantment Lake Mystery to understand the settings, connect with the characters, or follow the plot in the last installment of the Enchantment Lake Mystery trilogy.  The primary character Francie is an amazing seventeen-year old, with another mystery to solve.  She also continues her quest to find her mother and herself.  As her aunt Astrid stated, “When you feel like you have lost everything that’s the moment when you can find yourself” (133). However, the mystery is about more than finding oneself and one’s mother. It also addresses conservation, preservation, mining, and appreciating the ecological diversity of Minnesota, specifically the northwoods.  (DLN)

 

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Saks, Dan. 2020.  Families Belong. Penguin Random House LLC (Rise + Penguin Workshop). 24 pp.  $7.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-0-59-322276-8.  Illustrations by Brooke Smart. 

Multiple types of families express the different concepts associated with “belonging.”  The concept of belonging is represented as various families read, sing, share food, clean up, relax, dance, care for others, laugh, and cry together, and pen-ultimately, love together. The colors, lines, and shapes convey families from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds. Readers ages 6 months to 3 years old should be able to recognize themselves and/or others in the various representations of children and adults. (DLN)


Lowry, Lois. 2020.  The Willoughbys Return. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 192 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-358-42389-8.x

Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby, frozen in the Swiss Alps for thirty years, finally defrost due to the unusually warm weather attributed to global warming. The Willoughbys then return home to Hartford, Connecticut – perhaps (a footnote on p. 156).  Everything has changed—they do not recognize Google, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, “no smoking” rules, et al. However, in Dickensesque form, problems are resolved, questions are answered, grievances forgiven, and the lives of all of the interrelated characters (family and new acquaintances) move forward. Frequent footnotes contribute to the humor and occasionally clarify vocabulary, such as mycologist (p. 92), or lesser-known events and ideas, for example, an explanation of the first documented account of rhododendrons (p. 85). (DLN) 

 

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Carle, Eric. 2019. Christmas Cheer for The Grouchy Ladybug. HarperCollins. 32pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-06-293226-6. Cover Design by Rachel Zegar and Mary Mekarnom.

Children, ages 3 – 6, with an appreciation and understanding of Christmas will enjoy following the Grouchy Ladybug transform to a pleasant Ladybug because the holiday can bring “out the very best” in everyone and everything, including snowflakes, fires, ornamental balls, bells, grasshoppers, deer, houses, stockings, sheep, cows, and pigs. Vibrant colors of  red, green, yellow, brown, blue, black, white, gray complement the cheerful holiday message of peace, cheerfulness, and friendship. (DLN)  

 

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Dean, Kimberly & James. 2019. Pete the Cat and the Perfect Pizza Party. HarperCollins. 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-240437-4.

Alliteration of the consonant “P” is the dominant style as Pete creates the perfect pizza party. Pete prefers pepperoni with extra cheese, Callie wants a pizza with pretzels, Squirrel prefers a pizza with pistachios, Grumpy Toad likes pickles, Gus loves popcorn on his pizza, and Alligator wants papaya on his. Since the preferences of friends are “groovy” ideas, Pete’s party becomes a pepperoni pretzel pistachio pickle popcorn papaya pizza party. It is a unique pizza, and in the end, all agree the perfect pizza is one shared with friends. (DLN)  

 

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Unwin, Mike. 2018. Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 48pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-54-760097-7. Illustrated by Jenni Desmond.

Migratory animals from around the world profiled include the humpback whale, emperor penguin, caribou, arctic tern, monarch butterfly, whooping crane, barn swallow, globe skimmer dragonfly, Southern African pilchard, wandering albatross, Christmas Island red crab, ruby-throated hummingbird, bar-headed goose, great white shark, African elephant, Pacific salmon, osprey, blue wildebeest, straw-colored fruit bat, and green turtle. The comments will inform readers, ages 8 – adult on the habitats and migratory patterns of each animal. The illustrations created with watercolor, acrylic, ink, pencil, and pencil crayon realistically convey the characteristics and habitat of the animals. Although helpful and qualifying, neither a reference section or bibliography is included in the book. (DLN)

 

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Sauer, Tami. 2019. Nugget & Fang Race Around the Reef. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 10pp. $8.99 (Interactive Board Book). ISBN 978-0-35-804053-8. Illustrated by Michael Slack.

Readers, ages 6 months – 3 years old, will enjoy the peek-and-pull style of this Nugget and Fang adventure.  Nugget, a minnow, and Fang, a shark, are best friends and with the colors of blue, purple, yellow, green, orange, red, white, and black, introduce youngsters to the concepts of a swimming race, addition, and subtraction.  The themes of friendship and effort resonate throughout the sequence of events and the conclusion as Nugget and Fang cross the finishing line together. (DLN)  

 

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Spiro, Ruth. 2019. Baby Loves the Five Senses: Hearing! Charlesbridge. 20pp. $8.99. (Board Book). ISBN 978-1-62-354102-6. Illustrated by Irene Chan. 

Baby shares her knowledge of sound and music with readers  ages 6 months – 3 years old. Concepts of vibration, molecules, wave, amplitude, frequency, eardrum, hammer, anvil, stirrup, cochlea, electrical signal, brain, auditory cortex, auditory nerve, music, hearing aid, cochlear implant, and communication are complemented by colorful illustrations with occasional onomatopoeia.  Youngsters will notice the bright colors, turquoise, yellow, red, purple, pink, blue, lime green, orange, light and dark green, and white. Thankfully, the characters represent multiple ethnic backgrounds and differences, such as deafness, are treated with respect. (DLN)

 

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Anthony, Steve. 2019. Thank You, Mr. Panda. Scholastic Inc. (Scholastic Press). 26pp. (Board Book). $6.99. ISBN 978-1-33-831276-8.  First published as a picture storybook in 2017.

Panda has gifts for his friends, Mouse, Octopus, Elephant, Mountain Goat, and Lemur. The gifts are not an appropriate fit for each friend, for example, Octopus opens a box with 6 stockings, but Octopus has 8 legs.  However, Lemur assures each friend, “It’s the thought that counts.” The illustrations are realistic and children can identify each animal, Panda, Mouse, Octopus, Elephant, Mountain Goat, and Lemur. Yellow, one of the first colors youngsters can see, provides the background for the majority of pages. The wrapping paper of each present is covered with donut shapes (life savers) of pink, yellow, red, purple, and blue; matching the pattern in each gift, a sweater, socks, a bow tie, and underwear.  Readers, ages 2 – 5 will enjoy the matching patterns of the wrapping paper and gifts. However, while 2 year-olds may not understand “It’s the thought that counts,” they may find each gift rather silly. (DLN)

 

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Schmid, Paul. 2020.Oliver and his egg. Disney Publishing WorldWide (Disney-Hyperion). $7.99. 32pp. ISBN 978-1-36-804542-1.  

Oliver believes the rock he finds is an egg and when the egg hatches, Oliver has a new friend. They have multiple adventures together, including discovering new worlds. However, Oliver realizes his life would be more exciting if his human friends also have a rock and share adventures. The pastel colors of blue, green, orange, yellow, and purple convey the imagination of Oliver and his friends. Readers will also recognize Oliver’s imagined friend is unreal because of its shape, size, and polka-dotted skin. Astute readers will recognize the rock as a rock and not an egg. (DLN)  

 

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Grann, Phyllis E. 2020.  I Will Talk to You, Little One. Simon & Schuster (Little Simon). 16pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-53-440253-9. Illustrated by Tomie DePaola. 

The obvious themes of the need for caregivers to talk and read to their children from the day they are born to resonate. Thankfully, caregivers and children are represented from multiple backgrounds, such as African American, Asian, Arabic, and Caucasian, convey the message to readers about talking and then reading to all children as essential for development and school readiness. (DLN)  

 

Murphy, Julie. 2019. Dear Sweet Pea. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 288pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-247307-3.

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Patricia DiMarco, also known as Sweet Pea is a 13-year-old nearing the end of 7th grade. While the end of the school year approaches, Sweet Pea’s life is full of changes; from the divorce of her parents, to adventures, a falling-out with her new best friend, Oscar, and a reconciliation with a former best friend, Kiera. She also is sending letters seeking advice to the local columnist, Miss Flora Mae, who is out-of-town visiting her younger sister, Gloria. Sweet Pea, cannot resist the temptation to read a letter or two, and she boldly takes the initiative to answer letters on behalf of Miss Flora Mae.  The value of family, and friends dominate as Sweet Pea brings closure to seventh grade. Also evident is the value of humor when life is complex and difficult. (DLN)  

 

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Adams, Jennifer. 2019. Animal Babies Like to Play. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-239447-7. Pictures by Mary Lundquist.

Rhyming verses, such as “Elephant baby draws with chalk.  Fox baby goes on a walk” (pp. 8, 9, unnumbered), with complementary gouache and pencil illustrations may appeal to youngsters ages 1 – 6.  However, the babies, with names from A-Z, play together, unsupervised and this is concerning. Babies should not play together without child care nor should babies play with knitting needles, chalk, rocks, jacks with a tiny ball, or small building blocks. The intent of introducing the letters A – Z through characters, ages 1 – 2, dressed in animal costumes is admirable, but the execution fails to consider developmentally appropriate toys/objects for babies. (DLN)

 

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Schonfeld, Sara. 2019. Birthday on Mars! Penguin Random House LLC (Penguin Workshop). 32pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-1-52-479122-3. Illustrated by Andrew J. Ross.

Curiosity is a robot living on Mars. He communicates with his friends on Earth, and sends messages daily. One day is special because it is Curiosity’s birthday. To celebrate, he takes a picture to send to his friends on Earth, a lengthy process because of the distance between the two planets. Although Curiosity and his friends cannot spend the day with each other, they can celebrate and promote curiosity. The theme of curiosity resonates, as does the theme of friendship between Curiosity and the people on Earth monitoring his behavior. Inquisitive readers, ages 2 – 6, will enjoy celebrating Curiosity’s birthday along with his Earthling friends. (DLN)  

 

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Dunrea, Olivier. 2019. Ruby & Rufus Love the Water! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32pp. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-54-786760-1.

Ruby and Rufus adore the pond because as yellow ducks they can dive, swim, and play in the water every day. One morning they are surprised to find the water is frozen, but they are as happy with the ice as with the open pond.  The brightly colored yellow ducks with red and white swimming caps convey contentment and fearlessness as they play in the water or on the ice. Preschool children, ages 2 – 5, will find the attitudes and positive behaviors of Ruby and Rufus contagious. (DLN)

 

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Disney Enterprises, Inc. 2019. Disney Winnie the Pooh: Storybook Treasury. Disney Publishing WorldWide (Disney Press). 256pp. $30.00. ISBN 978-1-36-801861-6.  

This collection of four (4) timeless Winnie the Pooh tales is substantive, 8.4 x 1.4 x 11.1 inches and too heavy for youngsters caregivers should read each story aloud.  The classic tales based on works by A. A. Milne and E. H. Shepard include, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1993, 1964), Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (1993, 1964), Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Too (1994, 1964), and Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore (1994, 1964).  Pooh is a delightful protagonist, a charming friend with a delightful, generous, positive personality, even when stuck in Rabbit’s hole (doorway). He is always in pursuit of honey, his favorite and only food, and he is wise enough to seek help when needed.   Since the illustrations are exceptionally large and colorful, readers familiar with Pooh, Christopher Robin, Tigger, Rabbit, Eeyore, Kanga, and Piglet, will be able to identify each one as they appear in the tales. (DLN)  

 

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Ansari, Rebecca K. S. 2019. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly. HarperCollins (Walden Pond Press). 400pp.  $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-267966-0.

Readers, ages 8 and up, will be fascinated by the plot, conflicts, themes, and unique settings as Charlie O’Reilly searches for his missing younger brother, Liam. With his best friend, Ana, and Jonathon, one of the school’s baseball coaches, Charlie locates the Asylum, housing children escaping from their “mistakes.” Once Ana and Charlie find the Asylum, the plot thickens when the housemother, Brona, claims Charlie as her son. The conflicts converge: Charlie’s dreams of a distant past with a different family, Charlies’ siblings, Charlie’s depressed mother and his often-absentee father, and the mistakes prompting the disappearance of children to the Asylum. The settings of the fantastical Asylum, rooted in a devastating fire of Brona’s past, and a realistic contemporary setting are reconciled this Dickens esk novel integrating fantasy, history, and realism.  Themes of friendship, family, forgiveness, joy, and love dominate within the interactions among characters. (DLN)  

 

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McManis, Charlene Willing, with Sorell, Trace. 2019. Indian No More. Lee & Low Books (Tu Books). 211pp. $18.95. ISBN 978-1-62-014839-4. Map Illustration by Tim Paul Piottowski.

In 1954, the United States government terminated Regina’s tribe, the Umpqua, and expunged or erased her reservation, The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, from the map. The law terminating the tribe, PL 588, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower deleted not only the reservation, but also education, health care, and all social services provided to the Umpqua prior to August 13, 1954.  Regina’s father accepted the federal government’s offer to relocate the family and in 1957, they moved to Los Angeles, California. Life in Los Angeles was different and challenging, but thanks to new friends, Addie and Keith (African American), Anthony and Philip (Cuban), and their mother Mrs. Hernández, Regina adjusted. However, Regina could not understand the stereotypes held by others, including Keith, about Native Americans.  Keith wants Regina to teach him how to shoot an arrow and share her “Indian” costume and life in a tipi; none are part of Umpqua culture. Racism and stereotypes exist, but more uplifting are the themes of friendship, love, culture, adaptation, and survival. (DLN)

 

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Stark, Hannah. 2019. Trucker and Train. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-54-480181-3. Illustrated by Bob Kolar.

Trucker is a road bully, full of rage and proud of his size, horn, and engine. He has no consideration for the feelings of others on the road, specifically, the mopeds, cars, or pick-up trucks. While the other vehicles are awestruck of the Train’s ability to stop traffic, Trucker is despondent because he is not highly revered. The situation and Trucker’s mood and behavior changes when he notices a broken gate and sees the impending disaster.  With a mighty effort, Trucker speeds past the vehicles, blocks the traffic from passing over the train tracks and saves the lives of his road friends. Readers will recognize the transformation of Trucker from a bully to a friend through the illustrations and the concluding text. When Trucker is angry, his facial expressions reflect his rage. When the other vehicles are blocked from passing the tracks, their frustrations are evident in their facial expressions.  Of interest is the characterization of the train, the engine, large and black, is always smiling. (DLN) 

 

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Thimmesh, Catherine. 2019. A Baby Like You. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 48pp. (9 x 0.7 x 10 inches, board book). $14.99. ISBN 978-1-32-855312-6.

With realistic pictures, the births of various animals are compared to human infants.  Hippos are born in water, giraffe calves fall six feet to the ground, unharmed; lionesses carry their cubs to safety, mama koala’s also carry their babies, penguin babies eat regurgitated food, elephants take mud baths, polar bear cubs roll in the snow, fox kits play-fight, orangutans build new nest-beds daily, otter pups swim at four weeks, and zebra colts stand soon after birth. In comparison, human babies slide and wiggle their way into the world, snuggle against human shoulders, drink breast milk or formula, bathe in warm water, play games, such as peek-a-boo, babble before speaking words, and roll, stand, and balance before walking.  One similarity, the theme of love dominates the interactions among all kinds of animal babies, including humans. (DLN)    

 

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Baker, Keith. 2019. Hap-pea all Year. Simon & Schuster (Little Simon). 36pp. $7.99 (Board Book). ISBN 978-1-53-445657-0. Originally published in 2016.

The legumes are celebrating each month of the year, January – December.  The rhyming text, such as “Hap-pea January! Let’s get going. Grab your mittens – hooray, it’s snowing! (pp 4, 5, unnumbered)” is appealing and enchanting.  It is snowing in January, time to deliver valentines in February, March celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, it is muddy in March, time to hike in May, school is over in June, the peas sleep outside in July, fish in August, return to school in September, carve a pumpkin in October, serve a feast in November, and skate on ice in December.  Illustrations complement the concepts of each month, from cool colors of different hues of purple and blue in snowy January to warm yellows, lime green, and blues in August. Regardless of the month the peas are always active and very, very happy. (DLN) 

 

Christopherson, Nate & Sweeney, Tara. 2019. A to Zåäö: Playing with History at the American Swedish Institute. University of Minnesota Press. 96pp. $24.95. ISBN 978-1-51-790788-4.

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Clever, unique, artistic, historical, adventuresome, and inspiring begin to describe the characteristics of this picture alphabet book set in the American Swedish Institute’s Turnblad Mansion in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 29 Swedish letters are introduced on one page, with the English equivalent on the next, for example “dansa” (for “d) is translated as “dance,” “fika” (representing “f”), is translated as “have a snack.”  The illustrations, primarily in watercolor and ink, provide visual clues to the Swedish words and include representations of artifacts in the museum from Swedish immigrants. Each full-page spread represents a letter, but as the reader moves through the alphabet, the illustrations become more complex, providing extensive opportunities for discussions, questions, and inquiry. The end-notes provide extended explanations of each artifact, the rationale behind accession numbers, background on the Turnblad family, including Swan Turnblad who donated his mansion to house the American Institute for Swedish Art, Literature, and Science, now known as the American Swedish Institute. (DLN)  

 

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Sobel, June. 2019. Tow Truck Joe. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-35-805312-5. Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan.

Tow Truck Joe and his pup, Patch, are the dominant characters in the book. Joe is recognizable because he is large, red, and always wears a smile on his grate.  Other vehicles are also colorful but do not always smile, especially if the vehicle does not start. When this happens, Joe and Patch always come to the rescue, even when spilled cookie crumbs stop the traffic. The solution to salvaging the cookie crumbs is a pleasant treat for everyone – Cookie Crunch ice cream. The rhyming verses will appeal to young readers, ages 3 –7 and will help them learn how to recognize the rhythm of written and spoken language. (DLN)    

 

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The Staff of ESPN’s TheUndefeated.com. 2019. The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH Books for Young Readers). 96pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-32-894062-9. Illustrated by Robert Ball.

The on-page biographies, organized alphabetically, include a portrait of each African American. Children ages 10 and older may recognize figures such as James Baldwin, Simone Biles, Fredrick Douglass, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama. Some, such as Henrietta Lacks and Madam C. J. Walker, may be unfamiliar. Readers will gain insight into the lives and contributions of 44 African American musicians, politicians, writers, judges, actors, scientists, comedians, and athletes that made waves in the past and present.This text with help readers develop an appreciation for the talent, passion, and perseverance these individuals displayed throughout their lives and careers. (DLN)    

 

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Gianferrari, Maria. 2020. Whoo-ku: A Great Horned Owl Story. Penguin Random House LLC (G. P. Putnam and Sons Books for Young Readers). 32pp. $16.99. ISBN  978-0-39-954842-0. Illustrated by Jonathan Voss.  

Haiku verses convey the realistic events of the birth and early days of owlets, two of the original three eggs survive, but not without a traumatic experience of one of the baby owls. Sepia ink and watercolors on watercolor paper with digitally added color are the mediums for elements of design dominated by shapes, textures, and line.  Colors are dark except for the light conveying the dawning of a new day. Readers will learn to value the importance of a caring, nurturing, close knit family of owls. (DLN)    

 

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Burton, Jeffrey. 2020. The Wheels on the Dump Truck. Simon & Schuster (Little Simon). 16pp. $5.99. ISBN 978-1-53-444248-1. Illustrated by Alison Brown.

Young readers ages 0 – 3 will connect with this variation of the song The Wheels on the Bus. The dump truck, bulldozer, excavator, workers, cement truck, crane, are busy constructing a park. Repetitious verbs accentuate the sequence of construction events, such as push, push, push; digs, digs, digs; work, work, work; and spin, mix, pour. Bright colors, reds, yellow, green, blue, and orange, suggest an active, lively, hopeful construction site – soon to be a playground for the young animal children. (DLN)    

 

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Tabor, Corey R. 2020. Snail Crossing. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-287800-7.

Themes of perseverance and the value of friends will resonate with readers as they follow Snail’s quest to cross a road to reach a large, bright green, appealing, round, ripe cabbage. The antagonists, the road, darkness, and a crow, are scary, but Snail maintains his adventurous spirit despite these obstacles. He encounters four ants who are willing to help him by collectively carrying a cabbage across the road to Snail. Young readers ages 4-8 will learn the value of collaboration, friendship, and perseverance through Snail’s journey. (DLN)    

 

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Alko, Selina. 2020. Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell. HarperCollins. 40pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-0-06-267129-5. Illustrated by Selina Alko. 

A collage of acrylic paints, recognizable objects, and wildflowers complement the biography of Canadian-born artist and musician Joni Mitchell. This talented artist was born over 75 years ago and grew up on the Canadian prairie, where she learned to love dancing, painting, birdsong, and the piano. Michtell also caught polio at age ten and experienced heartbreak throughout her adolescence. She channeled her feelings regarding these experiences into songwriting. Readers of all ages will appreciate her talents, and perseverance through life’s challenges including love, jealousy, and anger. A list of Joni’s discography is included after a note by the author, followed by references informing the biography. (DLN)    

 

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Hesselberth, Joyce. 2020. Pitter Pattern. HarperCollins (Greenwillow Books). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-274123-3.

Lu shares patterns she and friends encounter throughout the course of a week with readers. She explores patterns in weather, food, soccer, music, dance, nature, quilts, numbers, animals, and language. The labels for the majority of patterns are evident throughout the sequence of events or shared in the end-notes. Vibrant colors like blues, yellow, and orange combine to form unique patterns. Children ages 2-5 will learn how to identify not only the variety of patterns, but also the colors Lu discovers in her daily life. (DLN)    

 

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John, Jory. 2020. The Good Egg Presents: The Great Eggscape! HarperCollins. 32pp. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-06-297567-6. Cover illustration by Pete Oswald. Interior illustrations by Saba Joshaghani based on the artwork by Pete Oswald. 

Shell stays home to read while all the other eggs dip themselves in a pool of dye and hide among bins, shelves, scales, flower pots, jars, and cheese wheels in an empty store. When the eggs do not return to their cartons, Shell searches for them and helps them return safely to their carton. Readers ages 2-6 can identify the food items in the empty grocery store, count the eggs, identify colors, and discern emotions through the eggs’ facial expressions. However, they may not understand the pun of “eggscape” representing “escape.”  The stickers in the front of the book will appeal to youngsters who enjoy decorating plastic eggs or other items, such as cups, water bottles, and mugs. (DLN)    

 

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McMullan, Kate & Jim. 2018. I’m Tough. HarperCollins (Balzer + Bray). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-244925-2.

The red pick-up truck is not large, but strong enough to haul wood, gravel, hay, and pumpkins.  The realistic, colorful illustrations will contribute to language development among children ages 3–7, but the excessive loads in the cargo bed of a moderately-sized truck is unsafe. While the message of working hard is evident, the word choice of tough, may distort reality. (DLN)    

 

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Ferry, Beth. 2020. The Bold, Brave Bunny. HarperCollins. 32pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-06-285031-7. Illustrated by Chow Hon Lam.  

When Teetu’s bunny siblings ate his alphabet book, he decides to run away from his burrow.  He thoroughly enjoys his adventure and begins to write and illustrate a book based on his experiences and observations. When he finishes his book, he realizes he is lost, hungry, tired, and lonely. However, his family finds him and everyone returns home safely. The dominant theme is the value of family. Digital drawings created with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop capture Teetu’s dismay when his sibling eat the book prompting him to leave the burrow. When he leaves home, the lines and color, red, demonstrate his boldness and bravery. If readers ages 4-8 apply their observation skills, they can follow the creation of Teetus’ book of animals. Blue-grays, red, white, and black emphasize the relationships among family members and the environment. (DLN)    

 

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Disney Enterprises, Inc. 2020. Disney baby Colors. Disney Enterprises, Inc. 12pp. $9.99 (Board Book). ISBN  978-1-36-804860-6. Illustrated by Jerrod Maruollyama. Designed by Scott Petrower.

Children, ages 3 months – age 3, can explore the worlds of popular Disney and Pixar characters as they are exposed to red, orange, yellow, green, and blue colors. Complementing the characters are objects associated with the specific colors, for example, a red bird, an orange pumpkin, a yellow sun, a green frog, and a blue whale.  The book is also interactive, asking youngsters to predict the color on the next page – something they will be able to accomplish after caregivers share the book with their readers several times. (DLN)    

 

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Jenkins, Steve. 2020. Dinosaurs Roar: Lift-the-flap and Discover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-35-804055-2. 

A shaped board book with lift-the-flaps. Youngsters, ages – 3, will thoroughly enjoy the flaps and the fierce-looking dinosaurs: a brown saltopus, a brown and orange spinosaurus, a green titanosaurus, a gray baby protoceratops, a black, grey, and green microraptor, and a tyrannosaurus rex with sharp white teeth and two-toned green skin. The facts are accurate and children will eventually recognize and pronounce the names of the dinosaurs and the colors of the collages. (DLN)    

 

Parent, Nancy. 2020. Disney baby: My 123s. Disney Enterprises, Inc. 14 pp. $9.99 (Board Book). ISBN 978-1-36-805268-9. Illustrated by Jerrod Maruyama. Designed by Scott Petrower.

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Children, ages 0 – 3, will enjoy looking under the 25 flaps, counting along with popular Disney characters, such as Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Moana, Tinkerbell, Snow White, and Flower. When children open the large flaps, they will find characters corresponding to the numbers on the left; for example, “Four pesky little pirates make mischief!” (p. 2 unnumbered). The eyes on the flaps invite readers to discover the information related to each number, a unique technique to raise the curiosity levels among youngsters. Colors are bright, bold, and capture the reader’s attention, such as the various hues of the large numbers, including red, yellow, purple, turquoise, green, and orange. Children can reinforce their knowledge of numbers, colors, and Disney characters as they follow the numbers, 1 – 20. (DLN)    

 

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Jenkins, Steve. 2020. Sea Creatures Swim: Lift-the-flap and Discover. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12pp. $8.99. ISBN 978-0-35-804056-9. 

A shaped board book with lift-the-flaps. Youngsters, ages – 3, will thoroughly enjoy the flaps and the colorful sea creatures: purplish flying fish, a green sea turtle, a black, white and orange penguin, blue/grayish tuna with yellow fins, a purple Portuguese man-of-war, a yellow and green leafy seadragon, an orange hermit crab and a pink anemone, mauve and purple sea urchins, a dark gray squid, and an orange/brown and beige nautilus.  Readers will soon recognize and pronounce the creatures, colors of the collages, and the action verbs, such as leaps, dive, dash, drifts, glides, creeps, crawls, jets, and squirts. (DLN)    

 

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Henry, Theodore. 2020. I Love Us!  A Book About Family. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 24pp. $8.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-0-35-819330-2. Designed by Sarah Boecher. Illustrated by Luisa Uribe. 

Muted colors and geometric shapes complement the active lives of different families of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Parents are engaged with their children and are portrayed as nurturing, supportive, and loving. The families also celebrate together with a party, including a large cake and piñata. One favorite scene is a grandmother reading with her grandchildren. The mirror on page 21 reminds readers they are also part of a loving family (hopefully). (DLN)    

 

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Feather, Lucy. Follow That Car. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32pp. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-35-821220-1.  Illustrated by Stephan Lomp.   First published in 2015 by Nosy Crow Ltd, London.

Great BritainMouse, riding a blue scooter, needs to catch Gorilla, driving a bright yellow car,  but readers, ages 4 – 8, do not know why until Gorilla finally stops for gasoline to fill his tank. The busy and colorful illustrations may overwhelm some readers, but others will enjoy honing in on their observation and problem-solving skills as they follow the arrows and help mouse catch Gorilla. Readers will also enjoy identifying the various vehicles, animals, business (such as a take-out pizza parlor), roads, bridges, ramps, trains, windmills, rivers, mountains, tunnels, snow skis, houses, signs, etc. (DLN)    

 

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Einhorn, Kama. 2019. True Tales of Rescue: Tiger Time. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-32-876707-3.

Kamal, a tiger at the Wild Animal Sanctuary (WAS) on the High Plains of Colorado shares the events in the rescue, recovery, rehabilitation, and release (to the sanctuary wilds), of 39 abused and neglected tigers saved from Oklahoma.  Kamal is informed, knowledgeable, and communicates with readers, ages 8 – 13, with a sense of humor and pride.  (Readers do know the actual “voice” is the author, Kama Einhorn).  He shares information about the rescue process and facts with photographs of lions, tigers, bears, and other animals living at the WAS.  End pages include suggestions about helping tigers and other wildlife, a glossary, bibliography, photo credits, acknowledgments, and an index. (DLN)    

 

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Einhorn, Kama. 2019. True Tales of Rescue: Go, Goats! Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  144 pp. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-32-876706-6.  Photography by Janet Holmes.

With insight, humor, and honesty, Lucia, an eighteen-year-old nanny goat shares life at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York.  Not quite, because nanny goats do not talk, but the author shares the information about the sanctuary through Lucia’s eyes.  Lucia provides general facts about the sanctuary and the goats; rescued, recovered, rehabilitated, and released (not to the wild, but to barn stalls) by licensed caregivers at the facility.  The sanctuary is also home to three horses, a lamb family, a potbellied pig, roosters, ducks, and various wild birds, such as sparrows and cardinals, but the focus of the no-kill sanctuary is on goats, especially the rescue, recovery, rehabilitation, and release of a herd of 27 abused and neglected goats saved from a Hudson Valley farm.  Endnotes include a letter from the author, a photo of Lucia who passed in 2018, a glossary, suggestion to readers, ages 8 – 13 about animal rescue, recipes, photo credits, acknowledgments, and an index. (DLN)    

 

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Salyer, Hannah.  2020. Packs: Strength in Numbers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  48 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-32-857788-7. 

Although finished digitally, the mediums for the illustrations are cut paper, gouache, acrylic paint, and colored pencils.  The effect of the combination conveys the bond and energy of each pack.  The packs, beginning with blue and white elephants, are vividly illustrated.  The sequence of packs introduced is interesting, running wolves, followed by a large herd of brown bison, then blue, yellow and white Emperor penguins, a pod of Bottlenose dolphins, monarch butterflies, a nest of leaf-cutter ants, a family of Mexican free-tailed bats, a pride of yellow lions, a school of yellow gold saddle goatfish, and implausibility (herd) of blue wildebeests, a swarm of Western honeybees, an army of green spring peeper frogs, a colony of yellow, orange and red coral (staghorn, plate, brain, and blue), a flamboyance of pink greater flamingos, a mob of banded mongoose, a zeal or dazzle of Grey’s zebras, a team of American crocodiles, and finally, a gathering of people.  Endnotes identify all of the creatures featured, followed by a list of books for further readings about animals. (DLN)    

 

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Gauthier, David. 2020. Letters from Bear. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 56 pp. $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-80-285536-7.  Illustrated by Marie Caudry.  Translated by Sarah Ardizzone. Originally published in Belgium in 2012 as Les letters do l’ourse.

Friendship is the dominant them as Bear leaves the safety of home to find her best friend.
Through letters, readers follow Bear’s adventures and travel in her quest to reach Bird, who is spending the winter far from Bear’s cave.  Bear perseveres, passing a forest, lava lakes, battlefield, birch forest, mountains, a cave, desert, and sea. But Bear is surprised when she reaches her destination because Bird has returned to Bear’s habitat.  However, Bird’s friend’s design and create the means to reunite Bear with her best friend.  Then Bear is with friends, colors are bold and vivid; reds, blues, oranges, greens, yellow – suggesting excitement and energy.  The shapes (bodies) are large, often overlapping each other, conveying close friendships.  The colors in Bear’s travel are muted, suggesting a somber, anticipatory mood.  Readers, ages 5 – 9 can discuss the value and sacrifice of friendship and also, practice the art of writing letters to convey feelings. (DLN)    

 

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Plourde, Lynn. 2020. Go, Grandpa, Go! Simon & Schuster (Little Simon).  20 pp. $7.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-1-53-445224-0. Illustrated by Sophie Beer.   

Different grandpas with their grandchildren are active; biking, gardening, walking through nature, playing a board game, swinging, shopping, jumping through puddles of water, viewing the night sky, and reading a book.  The loving relationships between the grandpas and their grandchildren are evident through the bright colors and patterns, recognizable among young readers ages 1 – 4. (DLN)   

 

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Plourde, Lynn. 2020. Go, Grandma, Go! Simon & Schuster (Little Simon).  20 pp. $7.99.  ISBN 978-1-53-445222-0. Illustrated by Sophie Beer.

Grandmas slide, twirl, fly kites, shop, sled, surf, hike, and nap with their grandchildren.  The dynamic, active duos, a grandma and her grandchild represent a diverse group of people, and grandchildren of all nationalities may recognize themselves in at least one illustration.  Color is bright; yellows, oranges, greens, and blues, representing motion and the bond between a grandmother and her grandchild.  (DLN)    

 

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Shotz, Jennifer Li. 2020.  American Dog: Brave. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 256 pp. $12.99.  ISBN 978-0-35-810867-2.Shotz, Jennifer Li. 2020.  American Dog: Poppy. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 272 pp. $12.99.  ISBN 978-0-35-810869-6.

Pre-teens, ages 8 – 12, with  a passion for dogs, will appreciated Brave, Poppy, as well as soon to be published, Star (October 2020), and Chestnut (October 2020).  Brave and Poppy are delightful animals, but not without their problems.  Brave is rescued from living on the streets in San Antonio, but then when his new owner, 12-year-old Dylan brings him home, the destroys a brand-new couch.  Regardless, readers can follow the character development in owners, Poppy’s Hannah, and Brave’s Dylan, as people and their canines prove their worth.  Themes of family, friends, change, adaptation, are evident in both Brave, and Poppy. (DLN)    

 

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Nuanez, J. M. M. 2020.  Birdie and Me. Penguin Random House LLC (Kathy Dawson Books). 256 pp. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-39-918677-6.

Jack, age 12, and her brother, Birdie, age 9 are moving from one uncle’s apartment to another uncle’s home.  Uncle Carl, who has been taking care of the two youngsters since their energetic, but often despondent, mother died in a single-car accident. However, Uncle Carl is not mindful of their needs, and in fact, is rather negligent, yelling at Birdie’s teacher, allowing the two children to skip school at will and consume a diet dominated by Honey Bunny Buns (sweet sticky cinnamon rolls).  Moving from Uncle Carl’s apartment to Uncle Patrick’s home is a challenge because while the former is lenient, the latter is conservative.  As the children adjust, they meet new friends, including a caring librarian, confront the past, and experience new challenges and prejudices.  A teacher and male student torment Birdie because of his clothing preferences and questions about his gender. The multiple conflicts within and among family, friends, and society, propel the plot, including Jack’s notes about her observations of experiences, past and present at the end of ninety-nine percent of the chapters. Readers, ages 9 and older, may either identify with the themes of family, resilience, adaptation, acceptance, courage; or with the growth of all of the dominant characters, Jack, Birdie, their friend Janet, Uncle Carl, and Uncle Patrick. (DLN)    

 

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Sohn, Amy, and LePape, Orna. (2020). Brooklyn Bailey, The Missing Dog. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers).  40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-52-555273.  Illustrated by Libby VanderPloeg.  Based on true events in 2016.

Emile, Yotam, and their mother adore their dog, Bailey, a golden-doodle.  One day, as Bailey was tied to a chair while Yotam walked into a shop to greet his friend Mason.  However, a freak incident caused Bailey to bolt, with a leash and chair in tow.  Efforts to find the soon-to-be lost dog were in vain, even though the entire neighborhood searched for  Bailey.  Eventually, Bailey returned home, thinner, with bleeding paws, but otherwise, healthy.  Colorful illustrations convey the energy, chaos, and activity of Brooklyn (NY); the homes, liveliness of Bailey playing with Emile and Yotam, the disastrous escape of Bailey, traffic, shops, school, the Carroll Gardens community. Friendship, love, and community are themes readers, ages 4 and up, will welcome in this post-COVID-19 era. (DLN)    

 

Schuh, Mari. 2020. Crayola: Crayola Colors of Kenya. Lerner Publications. 24 pp.  $27.99 (Library Binding). ISBN 978-1-54-157269-0.

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Multiple photographs reflect different aspects and colors of Kenya; green forests, an aqua green lake, a golden lion, and indigo, purple and light blue lilac-breasted roller, black and white zebras, a red and green kachumbari salad, and a red, white,  black and green Kenyan flag.  Readers, ages 3 – 8, will appreciate the information about Kenya, a country on the east side of Africa.  A glossary of terms, references, an index, and photo acknowledgments complement the colors, scenes, and information about Kenya. (DLN)  

 

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Colby, Rebecca. 2020.  Crocodiles Need Kisses Too.  Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-45-148007-1. Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan.

Every child (young animal) needs affection; crocodiles need kisses, porcupines crave cuddles, rattlesnakes want squeezes, vultures hope for nuzzles, great white sharks desire smooches, gorillas long for hugs, tigers ache for snuggles, tarantulas adore tickles, and youngsters yearn for love.  The colors of the animals are realistic and children, ages 18 months to three, will eventually identify each creature and their emotions.  They may also recognize themselves in the child wearing a crocodile costume throwing a temper tantrum, and then later reconciling with a loving mother. (DLN)

 

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Meltzer, Brad. 2020. Ordinary People Change the World: I am Leonardo da Vinci. Penguin Random House LLC  (Dial Books for Young Readers).  40 pp. $15.99. ISBN 978-0-52-555588-9. Illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. 

Digitally created artwork complements this biography of Leonardo da Vinci.  Youngsters, ages 4  - 8, will marvel at da Vinci’s accomplishments as an artist, architect, engineer, musician, scientist, dentist, and inventor.  Leonardo, with keen observation skills, was basically “self – taught” driven by curiosity and perseverance.  He knew to master any art form or subject he needed patience and practice, performing a task over and over again.  The cartoon-like pictures of Leonardo and other characters, contrast the replication of the artist’s drawings, such as the viola organista, heart, bones, wing, submarine and helicopter.  Realistic replications of three of his more famous paintings are also included, such as the The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1503), The Mona Lisa (1503), and The Last Supper (1495).  (DLN)  

 

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Wise, Bill. 2019. If You Played Hide-and-Seek With a Chameleon. Dawn Publications. 32 pp.  $8.95 (paper).  ISBN 978-1-58-469651-3. Illustrated by Rebecca Evans.

Five (5) friends attend an animal fair and discover fascinating facts about a hippo, chameleon, giraffe, kangaroo, elephant, anaconda, cheetah, octopus, porcupine, shark, bat, and snail.  For example, a hippo with the largest mouth of all animals on land eats around 100 pounds of food, preferably grass, every evening.  However, endnotes also convey a hippo can go without eating for three (3) weeks.  The colorful illustrations also provide readers, ages 3 – 10, an opportunity to predict the animal featured on the next page. If children observe carefully, a chameleon is in the background on the page featuring a hippo. Furthermore, the hippo is visible on the two-page spread of the chameleon.  While backgrounds are painted in pastel watercolors, the foregrounds are bold, conveying the animal, sporting challenge, and children featured on the page.  Challenges are statements related to the animals, for example, “If you played basketball with a giraffe, you’d lose” (p. 8 unnumbered).  Suggestions for exploring aspects of science, technology, engineering, and math with this informational book are found in the endnotes along with other facts about the featured animals. (DLN)  

 

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Perkin, Jayde. (2020). Mom’s Sweater. Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).  32 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-80-285544-2.  First published in the United Kingdom (2019). 

When a mother dies, her daughter goes through several stages of grieving, including denial and isolation, depression, and finally, acceptance.  She is not alone, her father and other people also grieve, but readers, ages 4 – 8, will follow the young girl as she understands her world will grow larger even though she will always mourn the loss of her mother.  Coping with the loss of loved ones is never easy, but sometimes bibliotherapy can help.  As expected, the colors of the funeral and the dark spaces, reflecting the girl’s depression are black, even the swimming suit is black.  When the father finds a favorite red sweater of her mother, the girl’s mood begins to shift from total sadness to acceptance.  Young readers may not understand the metaphors, such as grief is like Mom’s sweater because while it stays the same size, the girl will grow into it, but caregivers will appreciate the mindfulness of the father’s comments. (DLN)  

 

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Van Slyke, Rebecca. 2020. Monster’s Trucks. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). 40 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-68-119301-4. Illustrated by Joe Sutphin.
Monster is explicitly clear, he does not want to share any of his multiple trucks.  He has a bulldozer, front loader, dump truck, crane, forklift and cautions readers to leave levers, buttons, hills, booms, and knobs alone.  Actually, he screams at readers, ages 2 – 6, through captions and expressions, such as “Ahh…ahh…” When Monster is through with the multiple mishaps he finds a tree fort, and gives thanks to the reader, a good friend, for building it for him.  The large trucks; a yellow bulldozer, a green front loader, an orange dump truck, a blue crane, and a purple forklift will help readers identify colors, but caregivers and youngsters may not appreciate Monster’s anger. (DLN)  

 

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Lowry, Lois. 2020.  On the Horizons: World War II Reflections. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 80 pp.  $16.99.  ISBN  978-0-35-812940-0. Illustrations by Kenard Pak.

Japanese calligraphy on page 66 by Yoriko Ito.  In 1940, Lois Lowry lived in Hawaii and she, like other three (3) year olds, liked playing on the beach and her father enjoyed filming family activities.  In 1980, she found someone to transform the film to videotapes and discovered the day after her father captured the beach scene, the Japanese sunk the USS Arizona, the ship on the horizon in the movie of Lois playing in the sand.  Readers, ages 10 and up, should know this background to fully appreciate the heart-wrenching stories of sailors on the USS Arizona, and also, vignettes from Japanese living at the time of the bombing of Hiroshima.  The latter narratives, shared in verse, are as credible as the former, because after World War II, eleven-year-old Lois, her brother, sister, and mother, moved to Tokyo to join her father, who had served on a hospital ship near Japan during the war.  Themes of the devastation of war, the tragedies, the despair,  the anger, and yet, eventually, reconciliation, are evident in the narratives of the US soldiers, and the Japanese.  Pencil sketches augment each vignette, for example a drawing of the USS Arizona on pages 2 and 3, supports the description of “That Morning,” when the ship “disappeared.” (DLN)  

 

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Redding, Anna Crowley. 2020. Rescuing the Declaration of Independence: How We Almost Lost the Words That Built America.  HarperCollins. 40 pp. $18.99.  ISBN  978-0-06-274032-8.  Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

Stephen Pleasonton, a clerk of Secretary of State James Monroe,  is an American hero, saving the original Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution from burning in the fires in Washington, D. C. set by the British in 1814.  General John Armstrong did not believe the British would attack, or burn the capital, but Stephen disagreed, based on a message from the Secretary of State to remove the records (August 22, 1814).  Pleasonton knew “the records” meant the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.   Caricatures of the people and events convey a sense of urgency and augments the conflict between General John Armstrong and Stephen Pleasonton.  Hopefully, readers of all ages will question why Stephen’s heroism is not in the U. S. American history books.  (DLN)

 


Houts, Michelle. 2019. Silent Swoop: An Owl, an Egg, and a Warm Shirt Pocket. Dawn Publications. 32 pp. $8.95 (paper). ISBN 978-1-58-469647-6. Illustrated by Deb Hoeffner. x

Walter, from the World Bird Sanctuary, rescued two owl eggs from beneath a conveyor belt at a coal power plant. One, Coal, survived and grew into a healthy owl, traveling with trainers to zoos, schools, and nursing homes, educating people about Great Horned Owls. Readers, ages 3 – 8, will be fascinated by the sequence of events of the rescue, and the life-like texture of first the owlet’s down, then Coal’s adult feathers, and the exceptionally sharp, down-ward curved beak and talons.  At a later date, Walter rescued another egg, named Junior, from the same location.  Based on true events, readers will discover interesting facts about the Great Horned Owl and Walter Crawford, the person who rescued Coal, Junior, and thousands of other birds. (DLN)    

 

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Cotler, Joanna. 2020.  Sorry (Really Sorry). Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books).  32 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-98-481247-6. Pictures by Harry Bliss.     

Cow was angry and her mood negatively influenced her behavior. She kicked mud in Duck’s face, Duck, in turn, said nasty words to Frog and the meanness continued through the farm.  Bird, then Goat, then Pig, passed on negative remarks or behavior – and no one was really sorry for their unacceptable behavior.  Finally, a wise puppy reminds Pig she is loved.  Conflicts are eventually resolved and there is reconciliation among all of the farm animals.  Children, ages 2 – 5, will adore the life-like animals, and recognize the sadness and hurt in the expressions of the animals.  Children will also be relieved when the animals are truly sorry and once again interact positively with each other. While “licking” or kissing affectionately may not be possible or healthy in the near post-COVID-19 future, apologizing is always socially acceptable and essential. (DLN)

 

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Negley, Keith. 2020. The Boy and the Wild Blue Girl. HarperCollins  (Balzer + Bray).  40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-284680-8.

Poul, pronounced “Paul,” is a young boy curious about everything, including the wild blue girl.  Other people, however, found the girl to be somewhat of a menace and a nuisance. She is a blue and represents movement, specifically, action generated by wind.  Youngsters, 3 – 8,  will be able to understand the relationship between the wild blue girl and the boy, once they read the endnotes explaining the life of Poul la Cour (1846 – 1908), a Danish scientist who created one of the “first electricity-generating wind turbines.” Illustrations were created using aquarelle pencils, cut paper, and Adobe Photoshop.  Wind is the focus, beginning with a toy multicolored windmill in Poul’s hand to the wild girl’s swirling movements causing turmoil and chaos throughout the village. For example, she destroys a garden of tulips; the wind tossing them from their roots, while the gardener hangs on to his hat and Poul is blown over. Nothing remains stationary as the wind, or the blue girl, passes through the town. The climax depicting the inventions of a wind turbine celebrates the power of the wild blue girl. (DLN)

 

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Lu, Marie (Xiwei). 2020. The Kingdom of Back. Penguin Random House LLC (G. P. Putnam’s Sons).  336 pp. $18.99.  ISBN 978-1-52-473901-0.  Map illustrations by Virginia Allyn.

Although the publishers include a disclaimer about the main characters, Maria Anna (Nannerl) and Wolfang (Woferl),  Mozart, young adults, ages 10 and older, may be misled regarding the accuracy of the historical events if they do not first read the biographies of the sister and brother.  The fantastical elements of the plot, conflicts, and settings are credible because it is conceivable the older sister, also an accomplished musician may accept an offer from a faery to be “forever remembered” for her accomplishments.  Nannerl eventually regrets making a pact with Hyacinth, a nefarious, manipulative, dangerous faery. (It is true, the bulbs of hyacinth flowers are poisonous.) The magical elements are captivating, but the historical events are not always accurate, such as the deaths in Vienna of Maria Josepha, the princess bride, and Maria Josepha of Bavaria, wife of Joseph II.  It is true both died from smallpox in 1767, but not within a day of each other (p. 270).  Themes include the family, the loving, yet sometimes envious relationship between Nannerl and Woferl and good v. evil. (DLN)   

 

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Latham, Irene, and Shamsi-Basha, Karim. 2020. The Cat Man of Aleppo. Penguin Random House LLC (G. P. Putnam’s Sons).  40 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-98-481378-7.  Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu with assistance from Muhammad Mustafa and Dina Amin, Egyptian artists who helped handwrite the Arabic in the book correctly.

Ambulance driver and paramedic, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, did not leave his Masaken Hanano neighborhood in Aleppo with the onset of the civil war in Syria.   While others fled the war-torn city, Alaa stayed behind, as did thousands of cats, left behind as their owners sought refuge elsewhere.  The illustrations and conflicts, reflect the devastation of war for both humans and the cats.  Black is a dominant color, conveying the loss of life, buildings, and culture, but when Alaa begins to feed the cats, black is dominant as the only color in the cats, butterflies are yellow, and the trees are a deep green. Colors, along with symbols, a red heart, a blue arrow, an envelope, thumbs-up, convey hope and a safe place for the cats to live, a sanctuary called the House of Cats Ernesto. With money from contributors around the world, Alaa also built a playground for children left in Aleppo.  Furthermore, in addition to saving cats, Alaa is able to help other animals, such as chickens, sheep, dogs, and monkeys; all abandoned as their owners fled the city. He also helps dig a well for water, and shares fruit, ma’amoul, and cookies with others.  Alaa, the cat man of Aleppo, is an inspiration for all, children and adults alike. (DLN)  

 

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Smith, Ronald L. 2019.  The Owls Have Come to Take Us Away. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books).  246 pp.  $16.99.  ISBN  978-1-32-884160-5.  

Simon, age 12 and biracial, “hates” sports, but enjoys video games, fantasy novels, and writing science fiction.  He is also fascinated by the stories of UFOs, or Unidentified Flying Objects.  Readers can also see characteristics of Simon in the chapters of a science fiction novel, he is writing, titled Max Hollyoak and the Tree of Everwyn, interspersed throughout the plot.  His father, who works for the Air Force does not appreciate anything about Simon, and in fact, is somewhat of a bully.  Simon’s brother, Edwin, an athlete, is too obviously the favorite son.  The multiple conflicts suspend disbelief in this science fiction novel with owls playing a substantive haunting metaphorical role.  When the Grays, or aliens, abduct Simon and implant a device in his belly, only the people who also find the existence of aliens credible, believe Simon’s stories about the implant and other visits from the Grays.  The fast-paced sequence of events is credible, even for readers, ages 10 and up, who may not find the reality of alien life believable.  Themes of friendship, bravery, acceptance, are evident, and the dénouement includes a warning for humanity. It is almost implausible the novel was written before the COVID – 19 pandemic. (DLN)

 

 
Willems, Mo. 2020. Time to Pee! Disney Book Group (Disney-Hyperion). 38 pp. (Board Book). $7.99. ISBN  978-1-36-804766-1. The first hardcover edition published in 2003. x

Youngsters, male and female, from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds will appreciate the advice about learning to use the toilet.  The muted colors, the text enclosed in shapes, large fonts, black lines surrounding the shapes, children, and toilets convey the process of urinating: the urge, the danger of fretting, the walk to the bathroom, lifting of the toilet lid, and depending on gender, stand or sit.  Then count, pee, use toilet paper, flush, wash hands, and leave the bathroom feeling proud of a job well-done – until the next urge to pee. The hundreds of mice, also outlined in black encourage the process, holding the signs and moving the children from playing to peeing. (DLN)

 

 
Farrant, Natasha. 2019 A Talent for Trouble.  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books).  272 pp.  $16.99.  ISBN  978-1-32-858078-8.  First published as Children of Castle Rock (2018) by Faber & Faber Limited, Bloomsbury House, London, England.x

Readers, ages 9 – 12, with a passion for adventure novels will enjoy the spirited, dangerous, and sometimes humorous exploits of 11-year-old Alice Mistlethwaite, Jesse, and Fergus.  The three youngsters are classmates in a boarding school located in Scotland with diverse, yet complementing talents.  As they search for Alice’s unpredictable and unreliable father, they experience violent storms, accidents, illness, injury, and surprising conclusions to their journey.  Themes of friendship, family, adventure, honesty, deceit, reconciliation, contribute to this quest of self-discovery and hope. (DLN)  

 

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Brown, Margaret Wise. 1949, 2013.  Two Little Trains. HarperCollins. 40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-267651-1.  Illustrated by Greg Pizzoli (2020).

The illustrations, created with rubber stamps and Adobe Photoshop, add a unique perspective to the two trains traveling west. “To the West” is the dominant phrase and young readers, ages 2 – 6, will quickly recognize the repetition as the two little trains chug westward.  Multiple colors, such as green, yellow, orange, blue, brown, white, augment the moving trains.  Organic shapes, such as green trees in the shape of isosceles triangles, convey stability in the countryside as the trains continue to travel west.  Onomatopoeia, such as “puff,” “chug,” “puff puff puff,” “chug chug chug,” contribute to the credibility of the westward route and the movement of the trains. (DLN)

 

 
Baltscheit, Martin. 2020.  Vote for Me! Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-80-285543-5.  Illustrated by Marc Boutavant.  Originally published as Ich bin für mich - Der Wahlkampf der Tiere (2012). English language translation © Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. x

Chaos ensues when the lion does not run for re-election as president of the animals.  This happens because the little gray mouse questions the value of elections if only one animal appears on the ballot.  Subsequently multiple animals run for president, the little mouse, a distinguished cat, an ant, a sheep, a carp, an ostrich, a German shepherd dog, a fox, and a wildebeest.  Since the animals voted for themselves, no one was elected president, including lion, because he failed to participate in the process.  The results are disastrous, as conveyed by the red, black, and gray colors depicting the chaos. The conflicts are resolved when the mouse begs the lion to intervene. Eventually, the animals accept the lion’s suggestion and he is reinstated as president.  However, lion recognizes his previous mistakes, and now appoints other animals as his “advisors.”   From playground disputes to other presidencies, readers of all ages may connect with the multiple metaphors of the election, violence, and resolution, including an ostrich preferring to bury her head in the sand. (DLN)

 

 
Guasco, Riccardo. 2020. What a Masterpiece! Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers). 32 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-80-285539-8.  First published in Italy as Che Capolavoro! Published for the Festival of Creative Culture. x

A youngster travels through the day encountering masterpieces of famous artists; Picasso, Sironi, Klee, van Gogh, Manet, Dalí, Mondrian, Giacometti, Duchamp, Escher, Morandi, Modigliani, Starck, Magritte, Bialetti, Moholy-Nagy, Eiffel, Pisano, di Simone, Waterkeyn, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Einstein, de Chirico, Bansky, the Beatles, Alexandros of Antioch,  Munch, Botticelli, and de Saint Phalle. While readers, ages 5 – 9 will enjoy the wordless journey of the youngster,  students, middle school, and older, will value the inclusion of the works of various artists. Unfortunately, the work of only two females, de Saint Phalle, a French-American, and Jeanne-Claude, the Moroccan-born wife of Christo are included.  Perhaps a creative illustrator will compose another wordless masterpiece of primarily female artists, such as Mary Cassatt and Artemisia Gentileschi. (DLN)

 

 
Combs, Carolyn.  2020.  What’s this Tail Saying?  Dawn Publications. 32 pp.  $8.95 (paper).  ISBN 978-1-58-469662-9.  Illustrated by Cathy Morrison.x  

Children are introduced to facts about the meaning of the movements of different animal tails; a skunk, a marmoset, a rattlesnake, beaver, a lioness, a wolf pup, a peacock, a skink, a phoebe, an elephant calf, and a dolphin. In addition to identifying the animals, youngsters, ages 3 – 8, will value the realistic textures of the animal features, including the tails.  For example, readers can observe the texture and colors of the skunk’s tail and follow the white diagonal lines of its pugnacious spray.  Readers will eventually recognize the young animals, such as cubs, pups, and calves, as mirrors of their young age.  The intermittent rhyming verses, such as, “You can’t catch me! So leave me be!” (p. 19 unnumbered), and the words aligned with the wagging tales, “Wiggle Waggle,” (p. 16 unnumbered) communicate animal behaviors.  Additional facts and suggestions in endnotes complement the information about the meaning of wagging animal tails. (DLN)  

 

Ingalls, Ann. 2019. Why Should I Walk? I Can Fly! Dawn Publications. 32 pp.  $8.95 (paper). ISBN 978-1-58-469639-1.  Illustrated by Rebecca Evans.

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Children, ages 3 – 8, may relate the bird’s fear of trying to fly.  Just as learning to fly is challenging, trying to ride a bike is also requires effort, stamina, and determination. The watercolor illustrations reflect the attempts and failures of a young robin-like bird trying to fly.  According to endnotes, mothers do not push young birds out of the nest or off branches to encourage them to fly. The rhyming style is rhythmical, e.g., “I grab for a branch. I grip it. Hold steady. It slips through my feet, and I fall.  I’m not ready!” (p. 12, 13 unnumbered).  Learning to fly is not without its dangers, including falling prey to domestic or feral cats.  In addition to sharing facts in endnotes, caregivers can explore literacy connections, foster a growth mindset, and encourage science, technology, engineering, and math activities through this fictional account of a bird trying to fly. (DLN)

 

 
Engle, Margarita. 2020. With a Star in My Hand: Ruben Darío, Poetry Hero. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 160 pp.  $17.99. ISBN 978-1-53-442493-7. Jacket illustrations by William Santiago. Also available in Spanish. x

This historical fiction in verse share events in the life of Ruben Darío, born Félix Rubén García Sarmiento (1867 – 1916), a Nicaraguan poet, traveler, adventurer, journalist, and diplomat.  Ruben began the literary movement known as Modernismo which thrived by the end of the 19th century.  His poems, of love, heroism, adventure experiment with rhythm, meter, and imagery; using multiple forms of verse. Readers, ages 10 and older will appreciate the style of a historical novel in verse with endnotes by the author and a page of references. (DLN)  

 

Carle, Eric. 2020. You Are Ready! The World Is Waiting. HarperCollins (HarperCollins Children’s Books).  32 pp. $9.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-295352-0.

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Adult animals are reassuring their youngsters they are ready explore the world, to use their abilities, overcome fears, be confident, glow, set high expectations, make friends, and be true to oneself and always find their way home. Young children, ages 2 – 5, will be delighted with the colorful animals: gray elephants, black and white penguins, brown bears, multicolored seahorses, brown and green turtles, a brown sloth, blue, brown and yellow fireflies, a bluebird with green wings (much like the bird in The Mountain that Loved a Bird, 1985), a gray rhinoceros,  a yellow duck, red ants, field mice, and a green, blue, yellow, red, brown, and black butterfly. (DLN)    

 

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Ansberry, Karen. 2020.  Nature Did It First: Engineering Through Biomimicry.  Dawn Publications. 32pp.  $8.95 (paper).  ISBN 978-1-58469-658-2.  Illustrated by Jennifer DiRubbio. 

Biomimicry is “copying nature to help solve a human problem” (p. 5 unnumbered). Examples of biomimicry presented in this informational paperback include burrs to Velcro, echolocation of bats to special canes for people with sight impairments, grooves of Geckos to Geckskin sticks, the slippery interior of a pitcher plant’s leaf to a super slick surface, Humpback flippers to windmill blades, defensive behavior of a pillbug to a fire-fighting robot, the beaker of the kingfisher to the nose design of a bullet train. Rhymes, such as yard and Bernard, night and sight, wall and fall, spout and out, prey and buffet, armor and charmer, and flash and splash, will help youngsters, ages 5 – 10, read independently.  Endnotes including a glossary and a STEM Biomimicry Design Challenge, complement the examples of copying nature to solve a problem.  With the detailed illustrations of a St. Bernard, bat, Gecko, pitcher plant, Humpback whale, pill bug, kingfisher (bird), the reader can visualize and compare the natural element to a human invention. (DLN)  

 

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Horáĉek, Petr. 2020.  The Last Tiger. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 36 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-80-285552-7.  First published in Great Britain in 2019. 

Tiger is fearless, strong, powerful, and arrogant—in fact, he does not hide from hunters as do the other animals in the jungle.  The hunters–powerful, arrogant and cunning–eventually capture the tiger, drag him to the city and display him in a cage for all to view.  Tiger is sad, becomes weak, and people lose interest in him.  One night, the tiger escapes by squeezing through the bars of his cage and returns to the jungle, free again at last.  The illustrations are phenomenal, mixed media of collage, graphite, acrylics, and light.  When the tiger is in the jungle colors are bold and his expression depicts his confidence.  When the hunters first come they look like shadows.  After the tiger is captured and transported to the city, colors darken to reflect the sad and frightened mood of the tiger.  The city and inhabitants are predominantly brown, black, gray, and olive green. This is a stark contrast to the colorful representation of the jungle and the animals, especially the orange tiger.  A light beam encompasses the tiger when he escapes, symbolizing his imminent freedom.  Themes, such as freedom, are explicit; but children ages 3 – 8 will celebrate the tiger’s escape and one two-year old reader will clap and shout “yah, tiger is free.”  (DLN)    

 

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Sayre, April Pulley. 2020.  Being Frog.  Simon & Schuster (Beach Lane Books). 32 pp.  $17.99.  978-1-53-442881-2.

Realistic photographs of a frog in its natural habitat will captivate readers ages 2 – 8.  Readers will follow the life of a frog, including hunting, scanning, spying, crawling, lunging, failing, retrying, hiding, and swimming.  The tadpole days of the frog are also explained with descriptive photographs.  Readers are left with two statements to ponder, “A frog has a life. A frog is a being.” (n.p.). (DLN)  

 

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Judge, Lita. 2019.  Penguin Flies Home: A Flight School Story.  Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers).  40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-53-441441-9.

Colorful, cartoon-like illustrations reinforce Penguin’s love of flying.   However, Penguin is also homesick, and with the help of his flight school teacher and classmates, takes a field trip to Penguin’s home.  His friends at home, however, do not share Penguin’s enthusiasm for flying, because penguins (except for one) love to swim.  The theme of pursuing one’s dreams is obvious and may resonate with readers ages 3 – 7. (DLN)

 

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Petty, Dev. 2020.  The Bear Must Go On.  Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books).  40 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-98-483747-9.  Illustrated by Brandon Todd. 

Bear and his friends are preparing for a theatrical show. However, Bear clearly establishes he will take notes, but not perform in the show.  As Bear’s friends make hats, invitations, tickets, the curtain, the set, the auditorium, and decide on the nuts to be served, Bear takes notes, and hums as he records the information. In fact, Bear is always singing and his friends, Rabbit, Squirrel, and Other Squirrel, are relieved because while they forgot to write a show, Bear composed a song. Readers may predict the outcome and celebrate Bear’s new-found confidence and voice.  Cartoon-like illustrations and colorful characters and woods complement the development of theatre production. (DLN)  

 

 
Sterer, Gideon. 2019.  Not Your Nest! Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books).  40 pp. $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-73-522827-6.  Illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi. x

A little yellow bird builds one nest after another, only to find it is claimed by another animal. Eventually, with the help of other animals, the bird builds a nest for everyone, claiming “This is OUR nest.” (n. p).  However, the bird is clever, and builds a personal nest next to the communal one. Readers ages 3 – 7 will smile as the large animals, such as a gorilla, elephant, giraffe, and zebra, sleep in the small nests, and will understand the catastrophic consequences of the yellow bird’s recruitment of a water buffalo to ram the tree with the nests while the animals are sleeping.  The yellow bird is persistent and clever; someone who can solve problems. (DLN)    

 

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Carle, Eric. 2020. Happy Halloween from The Very Busy Spider: A Lift-the-Flap Book.  Penguin Random House LLC (World of Eric Carle).  12 pp. $12.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-0-593-09710-6.

The Very Busy Spider locates all of her friends for Trick-or-Treat on Halloween Night.  She finds each friend hidden by a flap; a hooting owl behind a smiling cloud, a bat hanging upside down in a tree, a fox concealed by evergreens, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar shielded by a pumpkin.  The last flap reveals the friends on a night of Trick-or-Treating. Children ages 6 months – 3 years will appreciate the flaps, the bold, vibrant colors, the rhyming text, and the characters: The Very Busy Spider, and The Very Busy Caterpillar, all in a unique setting – Halloween.  (DLN)  

 

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Steuerwald, Joy. 2019.  The Peculiar Pig. Penguin Random House LLC (Nancy Paulsen Books).  32 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-0-39-954887-1.

Readers ages 3 – 7 will recognize Penny is a peculiar pig, because she grows longer while her siblings grow larger.  Actually, readers will conclude, Penny is not a pig but a dog.  Parents may need to add that Penny is a dachshund, a particular type of dog! Thankfully Mama Pig loves all of her piglets, regardless of any peculiarity. Penny is patient, kind, fearless when needed, and protective of her brothers and sisters.  As expected, Penny is brown and small with short legs.  Mama Pig is large and pink, but her piglets are a variety of colors, pink, spotted, and striped.  The nefarious snake, threatening the piglets, is scaly, spotted, with an extended, menacing tongue.  Readers may recognize the themes of difference, acceptance, and unconditional love.  (DLN)  

 

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Thomas, Isabel. 2019.  Moth: An Evolution Story. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children's Books).  48 pp.   $18.99.  ISBN 978-1-54-760020-5.  Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus.  First published in 2018 in Great Britain.

The evolution of the peppered moth is a story of adaptation, change, and survival. The change from a moth with speckled wings to moths with dark wings and then a combination of the two is the result of environmental conditions.  The end notes are worth reading before the story.  Pictures of predators, created with watercolor, crayons, acrylics, collage, and Photoshop, illustrate the selection process when speckled winged moths survive and dark moths are consumed. Later, due to smoke and soot from coal burning furnaces, the dark moths survive and the speckled moths, now visible, are eaten by birds and other predators. Now, in 2020, both moths survive.  The first sentences of this informational book are of interest to readers of all ages due to its relevance in the era of COVID-19: “This is a story of light and dark. Of change and adaptation, of survival and hope” (n.p.).  (DLN)  

 

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Wolf, Karina. 2018.  I Am Not a Fox. Penguin Random House LLC (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers).  32 pp. $16.99.  ISBN  978-0-39-917450-6.  Illustrated by Chuck Groenink.

Based on a true story, readers ages 4 – 7 may identify with Luca, a dog mistaken for a fox and consequently kept from joining other canines in a dog park. Only when rescued by a young girl who points out other unusual animals, such as a woman with a long neck who looks like an ostrich, does Luca accept his identity as a “mystery dog.”  The illustrations, created in Photoshop with brushes, smudges, and splatters, contribute to the mysterious identity of Luca. Textures, especially the ostrich looking dress of the woman with a very long neck, contribute to the credibility of the people, the city, the dogs, and the park. (DLN)  

 

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Spiro, Ruth. 2020.  Baby Loves Political Science: Democracy! Charlesbridge. 20 pp.  $8.99 (Board Book).  ISBN 978-1-62-354227-6.  Illustrated by Greg Paprocki.

Colorful illustrations of children and candidates of diverse backgrounds emphasize the theme of voting.  While voting is one aspect of any democracy, it is the main concept in mind as Baby helps with making signs for election day.  The election process is explained in terms young readers ages 3 – 6 and older readers will understand.  While Baby cannot vote until she is eighteen (18), she can help with the election process by, for example, stamping postcards and bringing cookies to meetings. (DLN)  

 

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Carle, Eric. 2020. The World of Eric Carle: Sleep Tight with The Very Hungry Caterpillar – A lift-the-flap book. Penguin Random House LLC (The World of Eric Carle).  10 pp. $12.99.  ISBN 978-0-59-322257-7.  Originally published in Great Britain in 2018 as Sleep Tight with The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Puffin Books).

Young readers, ages 6 months to 3 years old, will thoroughly enjoy opening the flaps to reveal the following sleeping animals: a cricket, owls, ducklings, a horse, cow, sheep, pig, rooster, and finally, the very hungry caterpillar.  In addition to recognizing the animals, readers can identify the brilliant colors of the yellow sun, green grass, multi-colored tree, pink then purple sky, blue water, gray barn, and a white, gray, and blue moon.  Also of note are rhyming verses, such as “The sun is turning from gold to red. Who is that wandering home to bed?” (DLN)  

 

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Barnes, Derrick. 2020.  I Am Every Good Thing. Penguin Random House LLC (Nancy Paulsen Books). .32 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN  978-0-52-551877-8.  Illustrated by Gordon C. James. 

Oil paints in brilliant, bold colors augment the declarations of self-worth, self-esteem, self-confidence, of a young male African American.  He is an energetic leader with strength and character, and although he may fall, he jumps back on his feet.  He is curious, ambitious, kind, polite, helpful, creative, knowledgeable, wise, active, happy, musical, athletic, and affectionate. Sometimes, he’s even afraid.  However, he is true to himself; hopeful, brave, and “worthy of success, of respect, of safety, of kindness, of happiness (n.p.).” This celebration of life is a narrative every child, parent, and teacher should read and discuss.  (DLN)  

   

 

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Wortche, Allison. 2020.  I [Heart] Genetics. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  14 pp. $8.99. (Board Book).  ISBN 978-0-358-16901-7.  Illustrated by Steve Mack.

A mirror, flaps, and bold, colorful illustrations convey the general concepts of genetics to young scientists, ages 2 – 4.  Thankfully the children represent multiple ethnicities and the cats portray more than one type with different traits. Children may wonder what would happen if a yellow pea plant was mixed with a green one, but then caregivers may help blooming scientists find the answer.  Readers will also discover how their lives and their environment are influenced by genetics. (DLN)  

 

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Zemke, Deborah. Bea Garcia: The Tree and Me. 2019. Penguin Random House LLC (Dial Books for Young Readers). 154pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-73-522941-9.

In this fourth installment in the Bea Garcia series, readers follow Bea and her brainy friend Judith Einstein as they work to save the 250-year-old tree outside their classroom window. We meet mostly likable characters, minus the bothersome new kid who moved next door to Bea, through expressive drawings and descriptive words. The book shows the power of teamwork while teaching the reader about the value of trees. Elementary school children will especially enjoy reading about Bea’s cause and looking at the entertaining illustrations.(RCT)

 

 

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Schroff, Laura and Tresniowski, Alex. An Invisible Thread. 2011. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 198 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-5344-3727-2.

Maurice is a poor eleven-year-old begging for change in New York City when he encounters
Laura, who proves to be his guardian angel. She takes him to lunch, and from there, an unlikely
friendship develops between these two people from very different worlds. Maurice learns
subtly-delivered life lessons and draws upon these years later when he truly needs them. This
true story is inspiring and heartwarming and would appeal to most preteens. It would especially resonate with kids who see no future in their circumstances and provide much-needed hope. (RCT)

 

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Schmidt, Gary D. and Stickney, Elizabeth. 2020. Almost Time. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Clarion Books). 32pp. $17.99.  ISBN: 978-0-54-478581-6. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas.

A young boy Ethan has two things to wait for in the winter: time to make maple syrup and time for a loose tooth to fall out. The daily conversations with his father are realistic but straightforward. A dominant dark blue color in a muted hue makes the winter nights pass slowly, but the light yellow color in the kitchen creates a sense of warmth. Ethan waits patiently between the rotation of dark blue and yellow light. Finally, his tooth falls out, and the forest turns green. The change of color conveys the passage of time and highlights the theme of patience. It follows with a series of vertical-rectangular images of the father and son working together to collect sap and make maple syrup. The narrow space in each image makes the father and son close to each other. The maple syrup is the sweet reward for their diligence, patience, and hard work. Recommended for children aged 4 to 7. (HY)

 

 
Sayalero, Myriam. 2020. Folktales for Fearless Girls: The Stories We Were Never Told. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). $24.99. 224 Pages. ISBN: 978-0-59-311522-0. Illustrated by Dani Torrent.

Folktales for Fearless Girls

Rather than “the stories we were never told,” as claimed in the subtitle, the 12 folktales; Arabic, Russian, Indian, China, Scottish, and many others, are quite familiar to readers who thoroughly enjoy folktales. For example, “The Female Warrior,” a tale from Spain, bears some similarity with the Chinese legend Mulan, in which a young girl disguises as a man and joins the army on behalf of her older father. Jimena, a determined young woman, made the same decision in “The Female Warrior.” “A Goose Herder,” a German tale, immediately reminds the reader of Shakespeare’s well-known “King Lear” because both have a young and honest princess abandoned by the King. Although the author attempted to deliver a feminist message by retelling the tales of strong, courageous, and wise women, she failed the mission when the heroic women always need to be recognized by a prince, or a man in a higher position, often resulting in marriage. Blancaflor, the youngest daughter of a devil, saved a gambling-addicted prince with her magical power and rescued their marriage from her devil father (Blancaflor). Masha, the daughter of a poor shepherd, attracted a young mayor with her cleverness, and together they settled affairs of the state (A Wise Girl). After an ogre destroyed her family, Mulha, a young Bantu girl, deformed by an ogress, never gave up and finally won the heart of the village chief’s son (Mulha and the Imbula). The “they live happily forever” ending is sometimes not only conventional but also conservative. In “The Female Warrior,” Jimena had to hide her female identity by tightening her chest, browning her hands, and dusting her hair, but the prince convinced himself since he loves Jimena then Jimena, then she must be a woman, which is as conservative as the Disney animation Mulan-- the visit of the general’s son indicating a happy marriage in the near future. Furthermore, despite the fact the majority of folktales are timeless and placeless with common motifs, it is important to identify the cultural sources in traditional literature so the reader may reflect on the cultural value of each tale. Unfortunately, the author offers no such information besides a note after each title such as “a tale from Russia.” The lack of authenticating thus becomes a problematic issue in the collection because the reader has no clue to tell if each tale is the original story or if the author is more than a reteller. While the emphasis on female protagonists sheds light on the heroism of women across cultures, it comes at the cost of erasing cultural differences, which is also shown in the full-color art spread accompanying each tale. Each spread in the same pencil sketch style without much detail to visualize the specific cultural tradition. In brief, this collection is an ambitious project but fails to meet the expectations expressed in the title. (HY)  

 

The Fandom

Day, Anna. 2018. The Fandom. Scholastic Inc. (Chicken House). 416 pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-33-823270-7.

After a typical opening, with yet another variation on a transport portal (e.g. Chronicles of Narnia) that takes kids from this world to another, Ms. Day provides a quality adventure story. She presents enough plot twists to keep the reader engaged as the story unfolds. The characters are appropriately developed as they evolve (or devolve) throughout the narrative. Ms. Day shares her gift of description with minor characters as well. Though primarily a fantasy adventure, the author provides insights into the human condition from the perspective of another culture and another set of values. She uses her fantasy to share valuable insights for young readers as her main protagonist learns to look beyond surface beauty. Readers will experience both the action and the inner turmoil of this female protagonist as she risked her own life to save the lives of others.  In short, a quality tale… and my 13-year-old son agrees, this is a worthwhile addition to any YA collection (DLD and RJD)  

 

The Magicians of Elephant County

Perry, Adam. 2018. The Magicians of Elephant County. HarperCollins. 377 pp. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-279535-9.  Illustrated by Adam Perry.

In this sleight-of-hand fantasy, middle schoolers Emma and Duncan are amateur magicians (co-magicians, Emma explains; she is not Duncan’s assistant) in Elephant County.  Beginning with a dare from a bully, the two kids ring the doorbell of the supposed town witch Ms. Bunchwick, intertwining them for the first time with real magic: shooting green lights, cracking explosions, and a twisted, wooden wand. After a standard trick goes terribly wrong at the school talent jamboree, Duncan turns to real magic, creating a spectacular feat attracting master magicians from around the world to Elephant County. Among them is an evil magician determined to capture Ms. Bunchwick’s powerful wand, rocketing Emma, Duncan, and Ms. Bunchwick into a dangerous adventure, involving transformations, levitations, and narrow motorcycle escapes culminating in an epic, magical battle.  The novel is structured as a police case file composed of short chapters and black-and-white illustrations, alternating between Duncan and Emma, who prove to be sometimes unreliable narrators as they recount their stories with humor and flourish. Breaking the Magician’s Code to never tell the secret of the trick, the end reveals the truth, or at least part of it, of the duo’s greatest deception. Themes of empathy (maybe think twice before turning someone into a goat), socioeconomic differences (Emma’s family has a lot of money, and Duncan’s does not), complicated family dynamics, what makes a bully, and questions about good and evil weave throughout the narrative. Ultimately, Emma and Duncan come to understand while wielding a wand has a certain kind of power; real magic was in their minds and hearts all along. For ages 8-12. (DKF)  

 

Hazel's Theory of Evolution

Bigelow, Lisa Jenn.  2019. Hazel’s Theory of Evolution. HarperCollins.  325pp. $16.99.  ISBN 978-0-06-279117-7.

Hazel is not looking forward to starting eighth grade at a new Michigan middle school because of redistricting, and she has no plans to make friends. She intends to ride out the year until high school, where she will be reunited with longtime best friend Becca, who stood by Hazel even when Hazel was sometimes relegated to social sidelines. Hazel lives on her family’s goat farm with her two moms and older brother Rowan (one of her moms is African American; Hazel, her brother, and her other mom are white). An animal enthusiast, Hazel reads about an array of critters in her encyclopedias and is composing a book about misunderstood creatures (such as worms, skunks, cockroaches). As it turns out, switching schools is not the only change in store for Hazel: Her mom Mimi announces she is pregnant again. Mimi has had two previous miscarriages--the pain still fresh for the family--so Hazel is not about to hope this new pregnancy will turn outright. Meanwhile, Hazel feels abandoned by Becca, who joined the cheerleading squad and befriended the mean girl who called Hazel “Goat Girl.”Hazel feels like everything around her is changing, yet Hazel is changing, too. While the path to friendship is not always smooth, she gradually becomes close with sharp-humored yet tender-hearted Yosh who has a neon mohawk and uses a wheelchair and kind and witty Carina, a transgender girl.  With warmth and humor, Bigelow crafts a school and family story full of emotion and sensitivity, addressing miscarriage, sexuality, gender identity, disability, and friendship—what it means to be misunderstood and what it means to belong. Hazel’s developing self-realization leads her to understand, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, even when there isn’t a clear explanation, our families, our friendships, and our identities change. For ages 8-14 (DKF)  

 

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Bustard, Anne. 2020.  Blue Skies. Simon & Schuster (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). 224 pp. $17.99.  ISBN 978-1-53-444606-9.

Glory Bea is in 5th grade and continues to hope her “missing” father will return from WWII.  However, the war ended three years ago, and her father will not come home to Gladiola, Texas because he died on Omaha Beach.  His body was not found, but everyone except Glory Bea knows the meaning of “missing in action.”  Multiple conflicts, including Glory Bea’s attempts to undermine the relationship between Randall Horton, her father’s best friend from the war who is visiting from New York, and her mother.  Themes of friendship, loss, hope, family, resonate among the characters in the historical setting of a small town in Texas in 1950.  Although the conclusion is exceptionally sentimental, young adults, ages 8 – 12, who have experienced the loss of a beloved parent, may find satisfaction in the uplifting dénouement. (DLN)  

 

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Yang, Kao Kalia. 2020. The Shared Room. University of Minnesota Press.  32 pp. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-51-790794-5.  Illustrated by Xee Reiter. 

Muted colors and blurred images augment the sadness and bewilderment of a family reflecting on the drowning of one of the children.  However, the portrait of the daughter who died is vibrant, capturing the essence of a young, cheerful, and content child.  The empty bedroom is eventually filled by the eldest child, a boy of ten who shared a room with his younger brother.  Emotions of loss with heart-wrenching heartbreak slowly move from emptiness and sadness to acceptance.  Universal themes of love, family, death, loss, and acceptance, are dominant and readers of all ages will grieve with the Hmong family mourning the untimely death of a daughter.  (DLN)

 

   
Wolk, Lauren. 2020.  Echo Mountain. Penguin Random House LLC (Dutton Book).  367 pp.  $17.99.  ISBN 987-0-52-555556-8.x

Ellie, age 12, and her family, Esther, age 15, Samuel, age 6, and mother and father move from town to Echo Mountain when the Great Depression (August 1929 – March 1933) causes both parents to lose their livelihoods.  As Ellie’s father, a tailor, explains, “people who have no money don’t pay a tailor to make their clothes” (p. 7).  Ellie’s mother, a music teacher, also loses her job because “music is one of the first things to go when a school is in trouble” (p. 8).  Conflicts propel the plot evolving around the father lying in a coma caused by an accident for which Ellie is blamed.  But Ellie has multiple gifts, including an awareness of her environment, desire to learn the healing powers of plants and herbs, determination, and curiosity.  She is extremely busy and her multiple escapades include saving a pup thought to be dead, befriending a lonely boy, seeking help from a “hag” on top of the mountain, harvesting honeycomb from beehives, and teaching Samuel to fish. Ellie is a dynamic, loving, resourceful, and determined young adult.  The characters are complex, mysterious, and eventually, readers, ages 10 and up, discover the relationships among each other. The denouément is satisfying, realistic, credible, and not overwhelmingly sentimental.  (DLN)     

 

The Last Change Hotel

Thornton, Nicki. 2019. The Last Chance Hotel. Scholastic Inc. (Chicken House). 336pp. $18.99. ISBN 978-1-33-832362-7.

In this “murder mystery meets magical fantasy,” a kitchen boy Seth works at the Last Chance Hotel, where many VIP guests are coming for big events unknown to him. “Someone is going to die” immediately builds up the suspension. However, the storyteller fails to maintain the suspension after a VIP guest is murdered by poison. While the tension between the ill-treated Seth and the hotel owners’ odious daughter Tiffany is well developed, there is a lack of characterization of the VIP guests, including the murdered Dr. Thallomius; and the hotel cat, Nightshade, suddenly starts to talk. The transition from the normal world to the land of wonders is too rapid to suspend the reader’s disbelief. As the chapter gradually unfolds the real identity of all the VIP guests as magicians, there is no way to engage the reader with what has happened since magic will be an omnipresent explanation for everything unbelievable. It is like once one can find whatever fruit a person is looking for from a magical garden anytime- which is part of the setting - all the used-to-be delicious fruits become tasteless. There are attempts to an ethical allegory by exploring the conflicts among the magicians; Dr. Thallomius wanted to recruit talented young people with no magical heritage, but many disagreed with him. However, this theme emerges too late in the plot, leaving the reader lost and confused. If not for the task of writing this review, I would not finish reading this work of “murder mystery meets magical fantasy.” (HY)  

 

I Remember

Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Compiled. 2019. I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage. Lee & Low Books. 56pp. $19.95. ISBN 978-1-62-014311-7.

Compiled by an acclaimed poet and writer, the 14 poems in this anthology are written by a diverse group of people. They share their respective cultural heritage in different types of poems, and each is paired with a picture by an artist of similar background to convey the poetic language. Both the poet and the artist share a brief statement of their poetry and art's perspective, with an appendix of a biography included at the end of the collection. While there are sweet and happy moments of the intimate family relationship, such as preparing a Mother's Day gift or embroidering with grandma from Cuba, there are also poignant reflections of the racial tension and family history. "Route 66" by Marilyn Nelson stands out as an impressive example when the poet builds up a happy mood of a road trip from a child's perspective but suddenly breaks it with the last verse: "I sit behind Daddy's beautiful close-shorn head and his broad, strong uniform-blue shoulders, loving him, and feeling fear for his life. What if somebody who hates black people drives past our car and shoots him in the head?" In "my Quinceanera," a girl's fifteenth birthday celebration, Guadalupe Garcia McCall uses a dialogue style between the girl and the parents to address the painful growing up experience of a Mexican girl in America: "What if they hate me? I asked my father. What if they despise me because of my color?" The father's answer does not shy away from the real situation, but bestows poetic energy to the daughter:  "You'll want to cry. You'll want to wail. But you can't let them stop you. You must prevail." This assurance from the father is further enhanced by the artist Juliet Menendez's illustration of a Mexican styled party scene with traditional paper-cut decorations on top. Multicultural literature plays an important role in helping the reader understand and value different cultural heritages. This anthology presents a distinctive non-white American experience inviting young readers of different backgrounds (both Caucasian and the people of color) to engage in productive discussions. (HY)    

 

Night Animals Need Sleep Too

Marino, Gianna. 2020. Night Animals Need Sleep Too. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). 40pp. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-42-529065-1.

Eight nocturnal animals, including a great horned owl, beaver, gray wolf, fruit bat, skunk, grizzly bear, opossum, and honey bee, are introduced inside the book jacket with their various sleeping places. This picture storybook presents an unknown dark world to young readers with great humor. The Grizzly bear and honey bee cohabit in dark and quiet caves, but an intruding skunk and opossum wake them up. After they find a hollow tree to sleep in, it is chopped down by a beaver. The opossum plays dead, and the guilty beaver has to carry him to a smelly den, which is already occupied by a gray wolf. The brief dialogue between animal characters comes with different onomatopoeia words that enhance the humor. Different from the author’s first “Night Animals” book in which the black background is so dominant to the extent a page may only have a pair of wide-open eyes, the setting in this story is daytime, so it has a white background, featuring the same cute animals trying to find places to sleep, such as the opossum with tiny pink hands and feet. When the background changes from white to black over pages, it is time to sleep. Recommended for ages 3-5. (HY)    

 

A Home for Goddesses and Dogs

Connor, Leslie. 2020. A Home for Goddesses and Dogs. HarperCollins (Katherine Tegen Books). 400pp.  $16.99. ISBN 978-0-06-279678-3.

After her mother’s death, thirteen-year-old girl Lydia moves to a Connecticut farm to live with her aunt Brat and her partner Eileen. As family life is an important subject in realistic fiction, Lydia’s relocation from a single-parent family to a same-sex family makes a contemporary twist of a conventional theme. The goddess collage Lydia and her mother used to make together, thus carries symbolic meaning for the all-female characters in the newly established family. Told from the first-person point of view, Lydia silently observes her new family and talks to herself. This will capture the attention of young readers. Her emotional and psychological adjustment to a new environment is a slow process; thus, the narrative is slow-paced with sentences like “five mornings had passed” or “week one is done” to remind readers of the passage of time. But a second rescued dog soon joins the new family and makes a lot of trouble, which surprisingly helps Lydia overcome her grief from the loss of her mother. The interesting contrast and interaction between a sensitive girl and a mischievous dog thus become a parallel plot with many hilarious moments. When Lydia finally starts to share her bittersweet secrets with her new friends and new adults, a little bit unprepared, she is home. Other minor characters include an elderly landlord, a girl with a disability, and a walk-away father. Together they help readers empathize with others different from themselves. (HY)      

 

The Weather's Bet

Young, ED. 2020. The Weather’s Bet. Penguin Random House LLC (Philomel Books). $18.99. 32pp. ISBN  978-0-52-551382-7. Words by Stephen Cowan. 

While picture books typically list the illustrator as a secondary author, the retelling of Aesop’s well-known fable The Wind and the Sun features the award-winning artist ED Young. While the rhymed words by Stephen Cowan still deliver the original moral message- sometimes gentle persuasion and kindness are the best virtues, the symbols used in this fable for the heavenly elements wind, rain, and sun, are based on real characters of Chinese pictograms, which is an effort to add a Chinese flavor to the classic tale: Once upon the sky, there were three powers Who ruled the earth from mighty towers However, the mix-media collage does not seem a good match with the seal characters. Both the sleeping shepherd girl and her herd of sheep are not recognizable in low key colored collage, especially since the target readers are young children of age 6 to 9. While the mix-media collage is a great choice for Seven Blind Mice since it vividly illustrates the big and small animals, both the heavenly elements and the natural landscape require a more colorful representation. Traditional Chinese painting scroll in the same fashion of Lon Po Po might do a better job to impress the young readers, “our endangered, vulnerable planet must be sustained by respect,” as stated by the publisher. (HY)    

 

Devil Darling Spy

Killeen, Matt. 2020. Devil Darling Spy. Penguin Random House LLC (Viking Books for Young Readers). $19.99. 480pp. ISBN 978-0-45-147925-9.

This book is the author’s 2nd in the series, after Orphan Monster Spy. It is 1940, and 16-year old Sarah Goldstein, a Jewish orphan girl, posing as a Nazi’s Aryan darling, is a British spy. She helps her “uncle” by collecting information at Nazi officers’ parties in Berlin. They trace an experimental chemical bomb to Central Africa, only to find many villages have been infected by a mystery disease and burned down, and a German doctor decides to use the disease as a deadly weapon. The situation gets worse when Sarah thinks she has been infected, but it just turns out to be a good opportunity to befriend the doctor’s daughter. Unexpected twists happen later, leaving Sarah to stop the disease from killing innocent people. The story is inspired by the Nama and Herero genocides, and the war crimes of Japan’s Unit 731. In addition to war and espionage, there are many other themes involved in the African journey, including colonialism, racism, sexism, humanism, making the plot too heavy-loaded for the 16-year-old protagonist. One of the themes is her attempt to develop a friendship with her maid, Clementine. The characterization of Clementine, a half-German and half-Senegalese girl who joins them on the journey is not convincing because her wit and ferocity do not match her identity. Since the thriller is told solely from Sarah’s point of view, it also hinders the character development of others. As the plot unfolds, Clementine turns out to be a spy working for the Nazis in exchange for her own life, partly explaining her personality and behavior but still fails to present a credible character. Frequent flashbacks and many psychological struggles and self-reflections also undermine the expected tension of a thriller genre.

The insertion of German and French words creates an annoying reading experience for readers with no knowledge of these languages. The author’s intention might be to provide a more authentic historical setting, but the juxtaposition of different languages only undermines its authenticity. An author’s note at the end of the book discusses the fictional parts and the real historical events, making a poignant reflection, “I have benefited from the privilege colonialism has brought” (p463), but the “white devil” theme somehow gets lost in a lengthy tale. (HY)  

 

Emmy in the Key of Code

Lucido, Aimee. 2019. Emmy in the Key of Code. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Versify). Hardcover: 416pp. $16.99. ISBN 978-0-35-804082-8.

Emmy is a 12-year-old Wisconsin girl who has just moved to California with her parents and is trying to adjust to her new life, and surprisingly she finds her talent and friendship through a computer class. What makes Emmy’s self-discovery experience unique is the narration style. The major part of the 400-page story follows a poetry-style-monologue from the girl’s first-person point of view. Moving to a new city and going to a new school adds another layer of her frustration, but fortunately, an extraordinary Ms. Delaney opens a new world to Emmy with Java language and gets her reconnected with music. Emmy’s best friend Abigail sings in choirs and loves “robots and wires and booleans and Java.” As their friendship develops, Emmy also ponders on issues such as artificial intelligence, and her monologue becomes more digitized. The three subjects combined are ones she loves the most: code, music, and poetry. She makes a radical narrative experiment of combining them. Although the 400-page book (including a glossary of coding terms and a glossary of music terms) is quite lengthy, it is a new reading experience and may encourage young adults to explore and express themselves in a multi-dimensional world. (HY)  

 

Another

Roberson, Christian. 2019. Another. Simon & Schuster (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). 56pp. $17.99. ISBN  978-1-53-442167-7.

In this wordless picture book of a girl and her black cat’s adventure in a dream, young children, ages 4 – 8, will be challenged to “read” outside of their comfort zones. Although the story echoes the well-known Alice in Wonderland and The Nutcracker, readers’ perspectives will change when following the cat into another world. It starts with a girl ready to go to sleep but her red-collared black cat spots a blue-collared black cat stealing a toy mouse, so the red-collared cat chases the blue-collared cat to a hole, and the little girl follows the cats. However, once they enter the hole, they enter into another world, and the reader has to rotate the book 90 degrees or upside down from page to page to see the new world, where children are playing together with hula hoops, jump ropes, colorful balls, etc. The geometric shape of images makes the upside-down reading a unique experience. Although the two different worlds are distinguished by their respective black and white backgrounds, they have the same colorful and energetic children. In the denouement, the girl and cat finally retrieve the toy and return home to sleep. There are interesting details encouraging readers to ponder on alternative explanations, such as after they return from the dream world a toy mouse in a different color is lying under the bed. The paper cut styled images in vibrant shapes throughout the sequence of events that will probably leave both the child and the caregiver with a colorful dream. (HY)  

 

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Kurlansky, Mark. 2019. Bugs in Danger: Our Vanishing Bees, Butterflies, and Beetles. Bloomsbury (Bloomsbury Children's Books). 176 pages. $19.99. Illustrated by Jia Liu. ISBN-13: 978-1-54-760085-4 

This middle-grade informational book discusses recent declines of four types of insects: bees, fireflies, butterflies, and ladybugs.  It starts with an introduction to the six kingdoms of life. Among the 35 phyla in the animal kingdom, insects are the class Hexapoda of the boneless but hard covering Arthropoda phylum because they have six legs and a three-part body with compound eyes and a pair of antennae. But not all insects are bugs. Only those with a sucking mouth belong to an order named Hemiptera...The introduction offers a well-organized framework for young readers to explore the natural world.
With interesting chapter titles such as “Dinner and Diner ”and “The Natural Disorder”,  the book introduces Darwin’s theory of evolution, the concept of biodiversity and HIPPO, the various assaults on biodiversity, including Habitat loss, Invasive species, Pollution, Population growth, and Overharvesting. “Being Attractive” explains the cooperation between animals and plants, especially different tricks different flowers use to attract animals such as color, smell, and nectar.  A bee gathers nectar thus brings pollen from one flower to another. While most young readers are familiar with the bee stinger and honey, the author also discusses more exciting topics such as killer bees and how bees communicate by dancing. The language is easy to understand and the children-friendly examples can stimulate interests. It is unfortunate that the discussions do not come along with many pictures, and although the black-white illustration highlights many details of the insect activities, illustrations with color may serve young readers better. When exploring the reasons for their disappearance, the author makes clear not to mix facts with theories and lists all hypotheses, but the human causes are evident when pesticides are listed as the leading suspect. The leading problem that causes the declining firefly population is that their natural habitat is being destroyed, usually by human activities, such as firefly tourism. Butterflies also need to survive a changing world with more butterfly enthusiasts, especially those endangered species. The book concludes with a “What can I do?” chapter to help young readers apply their newly acquired knowledge into action. It also provides a bibliography of books for young readers and general reading. (HY)  

 

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Gaddy, K.R. 2020. Flowers in the Gutter: The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates, Teenagers Who Resisted  the Nazis. Penguin Random House LLC (Dutton Books). 320 pages. $18.99. ISBN: 978-0-52-555541-4.

Different from many biographical recounts of a single individual with significant achievements, the protagonists in this biography are three German teenagers of the “Edelweiss Pirates,” an anti-Nazi undercover organization of the working-class youth who resisted the Nazi's dictatorship. They wore a flower pin as their only identification, which explains the title of the book. Subtitled “The True Story of the Edelweiss Pirates”, the author aims to use both historical materials and personal memoirs to offer a more accurate account of the teenagers who resisted the Nazis. As Hitler’s grip tightened in Europe, both Hilter Youth and Gestapo were important parts of the war machine, but there were also many people who refused to join the Nazi government. The author chooses three of them from the city Cologne. Gertrud grew up with her communist parents and her father was jailed and died in a concentration camp later. Fritz had been in the Hitler Youth for 3 years but was kicked out because he did not follow the orders. Jean’s father was also sent to prison for fighting Fascism. The book starts with them distributing anti-war leaflets at Cologne central station then recalls their growing up experience in a Nazi-controlled country. It is interesting to see the Pirates were initially a group of young people enjoying camping and singing but gradually became more politically active. Both Gertrud and Fritz were arrested and questioned by Gestapo more than once but never surrendered, and the lucky Jean was able to go free with explosives theft but finally got arrested after running away from military duty. The book ends with a 2003 reunion of the three survivors, and how the author got interested in their stories despite many people’s claims that the Pirates were just criminals who stole and shot people. This book is directly based on the memoirs of these three survivors and many others, and the author also provides pictures of the protagonists and numerous historical documents from Gestapo to increase credibility. While the whole book is organized in chronological order, each chapter is composed of life moments of the three protagonists respectively, so the young reader will have glimpses of one of the most important parts of human history from a teenager’s perspective. However, the constant switch from one to another also breaks the historical recounts into pieces, thus failing to build a plot-driven story that is more attractive to young readers. This book will be an inspiring reading when pairing with Hitler Youth: growing up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, in which the author explores how Hitler gained the loyalty, trust, and passion of so many of Germany's young people. (HY)