A Chip Off the Old Block by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Image result for chip off old block miyares

Summary:  Rocky is little, but he dreams of doing great things like his Aunt Etna the volcano or his Uncle Gibraltar, who rules over huge ships and oceans.  His parents tell him he’s just a pebble, “a chip off the old block”, as his dad likes to say, but Rocky feels like a boulder inside.  Traveling by truck, eagle flight, and car, he visits the Grand Canyon, Devil’s Tower, and Mt. Rushmore.  At Mt. Rushmore, he learns that the destination has closed because Abraham Lincoln’s nose is cracked.  Rocky travels down Lincoln’s face, and realizes he fits perfectly into the crack.  All is well, and Rocky feels like he is no longer taken for granite.  Includes information about the three types of rocks and identifies the famous rocks in the story, along with each one’s type.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun introduction to rocks and some famous geological sites around the world.

Cons:  The ending felt a little forced.

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Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  After James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, he was able to elude an international manhunt for more than two months.  James Swanson, author of Chasing Lincoln’s Killer and other books about assassins, tells the stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Earl Ray leading up to the moment their lives intersected.  He then goes on to detail the desperate attempts to save King’s life, and Ray’s escape to Canada and London, where he was finally arrested.  The impact of the assassination on the country and the FBI’s tenacious hunt for the killer (despite J. Edgar Hoover’s hatred of MLK) are also detailed. There are plenty of photos throughout the text and over 100 pages of back matter, including places to visit, timelines, source notes, extensive bibliographies divided by topics, and a very complete index.  384 pages; ages 12 and up.

Pros:  A gripping history (I was almost late for work as I approached the moment of the assassination and didn’t want to put the book down) that is also extremely well documented.  The reading lists are complete enough to use for an entire college class. Even reluctant readers will get caught up in the narrative.

Cons:  This length of the book may be off-putting to some readers, which is unfortunate; with all the photos and back matter, it is really a pretty quick read.

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What Do You Do With A Chance? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

Published by Compendium Inc.

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Image result for what do you do with a chance besom

Summary:  A chance, looking like a golden origami butterfly, floats by a child who’s not sure what to do with it.  When it returns, he decides to try to grab it, but falls, missing the chance and feeling embarrassed when others laugh at him.  It takes him quite a while to recover from that experience, but after some introspection, he decides to be brave enough to try again.  Finally, another chance comes along, this one even bigger than the last one.  Feeling more excited than scared, he reaches out and grabs it, eventually climbing on board to soar through the air.  “So, what do you do with a chance? You take it…because it just might be the start of something incredible.”  44 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The team that produced What Do You Do With a Problem? and What Do You Do With An Idea? has created another discussion-provoking book that will encourage kids to try something new even when it seems scary.

Cons:  Those mean kids laughing when the narrator misses his chance.

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Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Walters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Published by Carolrhoda Books

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Summary:  Charles and Irene (alter egos for the two authors) are forced to work together on a poetry project in their fifth grade classroom.  Both are apprehensive; Charles is black and Irene is white; he is a non-stop talker while she is quiet and shy.  But through their poems, they find some common ground, like arguments with parents, church, reading, and difficulties with other kids in and out of school.  Race is a common theme, from Irene’s struggles with Shonda, a black girl she would like to befriend, to Charles’s bullying by white kids wearing cornrows and dreadlocks (“I’m confused: why do people who want to look like me hate me so much?”).  They bond over an author visit by Nikki Grimes, and by the time the project ends, their teacher is having to shush them (“Irene, I never thought I’d ever say this to you, but you need to be quiet”) when they talk too much during work time.  Authors’ and illustrators’ notes tell more about their collaboration.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Poetry tells the story of two very different children who discover they have more in common than they have ever suspected in this celebration of friendship and the written word.

Cons:  Irene’s father reaches for a paddle when her two younger brothers get in trouble.  Also, not a con so much as a heads-up to be aware that references to Trayvon, Ferguson, Missouri, and the use of the n-word in rap music may raise some questions.

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Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant by Jennifer Keats Curtis, illustrated by Phyllis Saroff

Published by Arbordale Publishing

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Image result for maggie alaska's last elephant

Summary:  Elephants Maggie and Anabelle lived at the Alaska Zoo, good friends for many years until Anabelle died.  Maggie seemed lonely, befriending an old tire that she carried with her everywhere.  Finally, the zookeepers decided it would be best for her to move to a warmer climate where she could be with other elephants.  Maggie was transported to the Performing Arts Welfare Society (PAWS) in California, where she quickly was accepted by the other elephants living there.  She now spends her days with her closest elephant companion Lulu, and has happily abandoned her tire.  Includes additional information about elephants and zoos, as well as Q&A with Maggie’s keeper Michelle Harvey.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Kids will enjoy learning the details of Maggie’s life, both in Alaska and California, as well as the logistics for transporting a four-ton elephant from one place to the other.

Cons:  The illustrations were merely serviceable, and more photos (there is one) would have made the back matter more interesting.

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Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Ivy’s life is difficult enough before her house is demolished by a tornado one night.  In the months preceding this tragedy, Ivy’s been dealing with colicky new twin brothers, questions about why she keeps drawing pictures of girls holding hands, and a rift with her older sister that’s directly related to those questions.  While sheltering in the school gym after losing her home, Ivy befriends June, a girl who seems to have stepped out of one of her drawings.  The notebook with those drawings disappears the night of the tornado; then pictures from it start appearing in Ivy’s locker, with anonymous notes urging her to tell someone what is going on.  Ivy feels increasingly alienated from her family and friends until her thirteenth birthday brings a showdown that forces her to start talking about what she is feeling.  The final chapter, “Home”, takes place a year later and shows that Ivy has come to accept herself for who she is and to be okay with not having all the answers.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  More than just a “coming out” book, this is the story of a struggle for self-acceptance that will resonate with many tween and teen readers.  Ivy is fortunate to have loving, supportive friends and family members and to be able to learn to return their love and support.  I hope this book gets some Newbery consideration.

Cons:  It took me a few chapters to really warm up to Ivy.

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The World Is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings by Linsey Davis with Joseph Bottum, illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Published by Zonderkidz

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Image result for world is awake linsey amazon

Summary:  Rhyming text celebrates the blessings of the world, starting out, “This is the day that the Lord has made.”  A brother and sister enjoy the natural world they find in their yard, then go with their parents on a trip to the zoo.  The diversity of animals is appreciated there.  When the family returns home, the kids appreciate the wide variety of foods available to them.  Finally, it’s time to go to bed, where the narrator notices “Up in the trees, high in the breeze/I hear God’s love in the sound of the breeze.”  The last page ends, as a good bedtime story should, with the children falling asleep.  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The rhyming text and sweet illustrations invite children to look for God in the world around them, appreciating the many good things they experience.  God is completely non-denominational, making this an excellent choice for children of many different faiths.

Cons:  Not all children experience the idyllic world that these two kids live in.

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