The One and Only Wolfgang: From Pet Rescue to One Big Happy Family by Steve Greig and Mary Rand Hess, illustrated by Nadja Sarell

Published by Zonderkidz

Image result for one and only wolfgang grieg

Image result for one and only wolfgang nadja sarell

Summary:  Steve Grieg’s Instagram account, wolfgang2242, is the inspiration for this story of a family of rescued animals that includes nine dogs, a rabbit, a chicken, and a pig.  Each one has its own distinctive personality, likes/dislikes, and quirks, but they all help each other and enjoy spending time together. The illustrations are photographs of the animals superimposed on cartoon-style artwork.  One of the dogs is blind, one has no teeth, one has bad hair days six days a week, but no matter. All are loved and happy to be part of the family. Includes an afterword by best-selling author Jodi Picoult about her own love of animals and enjoyment of Steve’s Instagram.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  What’s not to like about this motley crew of lovable animals?  Kids will get a good laugh out of all their antics, and also appreciate the message of a family’s unconditional love.  I had never heard of Steve Grieg, but apparently, he has become quite an advocate for older pet adoption through his Instagram.

Cons:  Not being familiar with Steve Grieg or Wolfgang, I was a bit mystified by the title and premise of this book until I read the reviews and afterword.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound by James Rhodes, illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Published by Candlewick

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

Summary:  James Rhodes starts this book with his “ultimate playlist”, then profiles the seven classical composers from the list: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel.  Each profile includes two pages of biographical information, listing popular music and movies that have been inspired or include soundtrack music from this composer. Then he details two of the composer’s pieces in kid-friendly terms, using stories to explain the music.  There are many pop culture references connecting the music and history to the present. Sections describing the orchestra and a timeline of western classical music are inserted between the chapters on the composers. Includes a glossary and index. 72 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  I’m not particularly knowledgeable (or, I’m sorry to say, interested) in classical music, yet I found myself immediately drawn into this book.  The conversational tone, fascinating stories, connections to the present, and eye-popping, psychedelic illustrations make this a book that will appeal to middle and high school students and should be sought out by music teachers everywhere.

Cons:  It would have been nice to at least acknowledge somewhere that not all composers of classical music were white men.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Image result for driftwood days charles vess"

Image result for driftwood days charles vess"

Summary:  As a boy watches a beaver build a lodge, a stick breaks away and floats down the river.  It gets stuck against a boulder for the winter, but when spring comes, it continues along the river to the ocean.  After getting tangled in fishing nets, the stick washes up on shore, where it is discovered by the same boy, now on vacation at the beach.  He takes the stick–now a piece of driftwood–back with him to his home by the river. The last page shows him sitting in a tree with his driftwood, watching the beaver once again. Includes a two-page author’s note with additional information on driftwood.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This gorgeous science book tells the stick’s journey in the context of the changing seasons, showing the cyclical nature by ending the story where it began.  The colored pencil illustrations realistically and beautifully portray the different landscapes.

Cons:  Humans do it again: as per usual, the author’s note mentions how humans have messed up the production of driftwood, which plays an important part in beach ecosystems.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

White Bird by R. J. Palacio

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for white bird palacio

Image result for white bird palacio

Summary:  Julian (from Wonder) wants to interview his grandmother about her childhood in France during World War II.  She tells the story of growing up Jewish in occupied France. One day, Nazi soldiers came to round up all the Jewish children at her school.  She managed to hide, and was rescued by a boy named Julien. Julien was crippled from polio, and Sara and her classmates had always shunned him.  But he takes her to his family’s barn, where she hides for the next year, helped by his whole family. The two become close friends, and just as it looks like a romance is beginning, everything falls apart.  Julien is arrested by the Nazis, and Sara is discovered by the neighbors, whom Julien’s parents believe are German informants. Sara concludes by remembering Julien’s kindness, which she memorialized when naming her son, whose name has been passed to her grandson.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Another engaging Wonder story, this one in graphic novel format, that celebrates kindness.  There are enough deaths and disturbing details about World War II to make this more of a middle school book, but those who loved Wonder will not be disappointed by this latest entry.

Cons:  This book has an odd binding that does not look it will hold up well in a library.  Apparently the “Wonder Story” sticker on the cover is reason enough to charge $24.99 for this title, but as a librarian, I don’t appreciate this combination of high price and fragile binding.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

Published by Aladdin

Image result for maybe he just likes you dee

Summary:  Seventh grader Mila is disturbed when a group of boys starts giving her unwanted attention in the form of hugs and touches.  She eventually learn they’re playing a game where they score points for different kinds of touching or responses from her. Her friends react differently: a couple are supportive, but one thinks she’s overreacting and is jealous that her crush is paying attention to Mila.  Another friend is upset when Mila won’t take his advice to tell the vice principal, but Mila is embarrassed. Her single mom is dealing with work-related stress, so Mila is hesitant to bother her. Everything comes to a head at the middle school band concert, and Mila’s disruption causes the truth to finally come out and get things resolved.  Mila moves on from the incident feeling stronger and more self-confident, with a greater knowledge of who her true friends really are. 304 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Barbara Dee addresses the issue of sexual harassment in a way that is believable and understandable for middle school students.  Readers will recognize many of the kids, adults, and situations in Mila’s life; teachers, guidance counselors, and administrators would find this a helpful read as well.

Cons:  The ending felt a little too easy to me: the boys all expressed remorse and none of their parents rushed to their sons’ defense.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Give and Take by Elly Swartz

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Image result for give and take swartz

Summary:  Maggie is dealing with a lot of sadness and anxiety after losing her grandmother to dementia not long ago.  When her parents provide temporary foster care to an infant, Maggie gets very attached and is distressed to let the baby go to her adoptive family.  To deal with her feelings, she starts saving momentos of many events in her life–threads from the baby’s blanket, sticks from a hike, empty milk cartons from a fun school lunch with her friend.  When her mom discovers the overflowing boxes (and ants) under Maggie’s bed, she sees that Maggie needs help. With the assistance of a therapist, Maggie learns the root causes of her behavior and some new ways to deal with them.  320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Maggie’s issues are addressed with sensitively, and in a way that might help other kids who are dealing with similar ones.  There are interesting subplots, including Maggie’s success on her trap shooting team, a lost-and-found tale about her pet turtle, and a new boy on the team who is dealing with some difficult family issues of his own.

Cons:  Maggie’s relationships with her brothers seemed a little too rosy to be true.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Amazon Affiliate

I was talking to a blog user recently who wasn’t aware of the Amazon Affiliate program I participate in, so I thought I’d post a reminder for others who enjoy this blog.

At the bottom of each of my reviews I post a link: “If you’d like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.”  If you click on that and buy the book–or anything else on Amazon–I get a (very small) percentage of that sale.

This blog is a labor of love, and I would never try to make money from it any other way.  You’ll never see ads here.  But I do spend many hours working on it, so it’s nice to get that little kickback from Amazon if you’re going there anyway.  Seems like it’s a win-win.  Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this.