Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Published by Scholastic Press

Show Me a Sign: LeZotte, Ann Clare: 9781338255812: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  11-year-old Mary Lambert lives in Chilmark, a community on Martha’s Vineyard, where, in 1805, many of the residents are deaf.  Mary and her father are deaf; her mother is hearing, as was her brother George, who died recently in an accident that Mary feels she caused.  Their community is somewhat uneasily intertwined with the Wampanoag and black freedmen, and Mary is aware of the racism expressed by some of the people closest to her.  Everyone in Mary’s life communicates through a sign language that has evolved on the island making the community distinctive enough to draw the attention of scientists.  One of them, Andrew Noble, arrives from Boston to stay with the local minister and study the population in hopes of better understanding the cause of deafness.  When Mary accidentally discovers a letter to Andrew asking him for a live specimen, she doesn’t realize that she is soon to become that specimen, kidnapped and taken to Boston for further study.  Mary awakens to the fact that most of the deaf population outside of Martha’s Vineyard are treated as less than fully human, and she becomes desperate to find a way to communicate and get help.  The story concludes with healing for Mary and her family, and with a vision of a brighter future for the deaf community.  Includes six pages of notes about the history of Martha’s Vineyard, deaf education, sign language, and the Wampanoag.  288 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This is honestly a masterpiece of historical fiction that tackles so many different topics and doesn’t shy away from difficult topics.  Mary’s mother and best friend both have racist beliefs that don’t change by the end of the story, yet also have qualities that Mary loves.  This would make an excellent book club selection.

Cons:  I found the beginning a little slow going as there was so much to introduce.

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The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Fabled Life of Aesop: The extraordinary journey and collected ...

Ancient Wisdom for Trying Times. An Interview with the Duo Behind ...

Summary:  Aesop was born a slave in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago.  He learned that speaking out could be dangerous in his position, so he learned to talk in code, telling stories about the powerless and the powerful through his fables.  Following an introduction to Aesop’s life, the book presents ten fables.  Each telling is only a few paragraphs, with an illustration or two, and the moral in gold type at the end.  The final few pages recount how Aesop was freed, and how his fables were told for many years before they were finally published in book form.  Includes an afterword that explains more about what we do and don’t know about Aesop and which parts of his story in this book are true; also, a bibliography.  64 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to Aesop’s fables, giving some context  about how they are not only lessons about morality, but give advice on “how to survive in a world in which some have power and some do not.”  Caldecott honoree Pamela Zagarenski will surely get some additional consideration for her beautiful illustrations here.

Cons:  I would have preferred that the afterword were a foreword, so readers would be aware of the uncertainties around Aesop’s history before reading the pages about his life.

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Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Published by Graphix (Released October 6)

Twins (Twins #1) (1): Johnson, Varian, Wright, Shannon ...

Review: Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright | 100 Scope Notes

Summary:  Twins Mauren and Francine are starting middle school.  Maureen, who’s the narrator, is known as the thinking twin, while Francine’s reputation is as the talking twin.  Francine, now calling herself Fran, seems to be reinventing herself with tons of friends and not much time for Maureen.  Although Maureen excels in her classes, she struggles to connect with other kids and ends up eating lunch in the library.  Everything changes, though when the twins decide to run against each other for class president.  Although their parents try to keep things civil, emotions run high as each twin assembles a campaign staff and decides on a platform.  The tension finally leads to a heart-to-heart conversation where each girl is able to share her own insecurities and see what her sister is going through.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fun graphic novel from Graphix, this one written by Coretta Scott King honoree Varian Johnson.  A fast-paced middle school story, excellent artwork, and a multicultural cast of characters will make this a popular choice for sure.  This book is billed as book 1, so we can hope there will be more to come in the Francine/Maureen saga.

Cons:  Although Shannon Wright did a commendable job of giving Francine and Maureen distinctive characteristics, it was sometimes a little difficult telling the identical twins apart in the illustrations. 

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Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk: 9780525555568 | PenguinRandomHouse ...

Summary:  Ellie’s family has moved to a farm on a mountain in Maine after losing almost all their money in the Great Depression.  Ellie and her father love the self-sufficiency of the farm, while her mother and older sister Esther hate it.  When their father is hit by a falling tree and lapses into a coma, it falls on Ellie to do much of the work he did.  Feeling alone, she wanders up the mountain to the home of a legendary “hag”, who turns out to be an ordinary old woman named Cate with a life-threatening leg injury.  Ellie learns some occasionally stomach-turning healing techniques (maggots, vinegar poured into the wound) from Cate as she works to save her.  Cate’s grandson, Larkin, becomes a good friend, and Ellie is finally able to tell someone her secret: she didn’t cause her father’s accident, as her family thinks, but she’s letting them believe it to protect Esther and her younger brother Samuel.  While Ellie’s mother is suspicious of Cate, Ellie finds her friendship with the older woman and her grandson a lifeline, and is certain they can help wake up her father and restore him to health.  368 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Lauren Wolk has crafted another beautifully written historical fiction novel featuring a strong girl protagonist with a unique perspective and set of talents.  This is sure to be considered for a second Newbery (like Wolf Hollow) or Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction (like Beyond the Blue Sea)

Cons:  Usually I am a big Lauren Wolk fan, but this one didn’t grab me as much as her previous two.  I found Cate, with her endless store of sage wisdom, a little too good to be true.  It’s gotten starred reviews in journals and lots of 5-starred ones on Amazon, though so clearly I’m in the minority.

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Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Published by Clarion Books

Amazon.com: Federico and the Wolf (9781328567789): Gomez, Rebecca ...

Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez

Summary:  Federico heads off in his red hoodie, ready to shop from Abuelo’s grocery list for the ingredients to make the perfect pico.  After he leaves the market, he takes a shortcut through the woods to get to his grandfather’s store.  There he encounters a hungry wolf, but manages to escape on his bike.  When he gets to la tienda, it’s mysteriously closed with pawprints outside the front door.  Abuelo, waiting inside, seems to have grown an extra-thick beard and some hefty biceps, and acquired a new set of dentures.  When Federico realizes it’s the wolf, he fends him off with quick thinking, chili pepper, and an extra hot habanero.  The wolf runs off, and Abuelo is found inside a locked box.  None the worse for their experiences, Federico and his grandfather work together to cook up a new treat: Wolf’s Bane Salsa.  Includes a recipe for the perfect pico, and a list of Spanish words with their location in the story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This clever rhyming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood includes a fun Mexican twist that extends to the bright, colorful illustrations.  This reminded me of Corey Rosen Schwartz’s rhyming fairy tales, and a little investigation revealed that Rebecca J. Gomez was the co-author of one of these.

Cons:  Seemed like Abuelo and Federico should have made Wolf’s Bane pico, not salsa.

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Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Swashby and the Sea - Kindle edition by Ferry, Beth, Martinez-Neal ...

Swashby and the Sea @ Juana Martinez-Neal

Summary:  Captain Swashby and the sea have been friends throughout his sailing career, so when he retires, it’s only natural that he settles down by the sea.  But avast!  The captain’s peaceful retirement is interrupted by an exuberant girl and her granny who have moved into the previously vacant house next door.  When they start invading the beach, Swashby leaves messages in the sand to keep them away.  But the sea, knowing what’s best for the Captain, intervenes, and washes some letters away.  “No Trespassing” becomes “Sing”; “Now vanish” turns into “w–ish”.  When “Please go away” is transformed into “Pl–ay”, Swashby no longer can resist, and ends up tutoring the girl on how to build a sand castle.  The sea has one more trick to play to seal their friendship, and before long, Swashby is leaving a new message, “Thank ye, friend”.  Which gets transformed to “Th-e end.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  An adorable and clever story about friendship and the power of words.  The illustrations by Caldecott honoree Juana Martinez-Neal could be in the running for some awards this year.

Cons:  Swashby is quite the grouch.

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We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak ...

Summary:  Although we often learn about violent events in history (wars, assassinations), history is often made by those who embrace nonviolence.  Hasak-Lowy makes a distinction between institutional activism–writing letters and editorials, circulating petitions, lobbying politicians–and nonviolent activism, which “employs disruptive, risky tactics that challenge those in power and interrupt the way things normally work.” He illustrates this with chapters on Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel.  The final chapter is about Greta Thunberg and her current nonviolent activism around climate change.  A list at the end gives brief descriptions of half a dozen other groups that successfully employed nonviolent activism.  Includes notes, a seven-page bibliography, and an index.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  An excellent, accessible, and inspiring introduction to nonviolent activism.  I found it fascinating to learn the distinctions between institutional and nonviolent activism.  The engagingly-written profiles demonstrate the commitment and sacrifices necessary for this type of activism–but also show how effective it ultimately can be.

Cons:  No mention of Henry David “Mr. Civil Disobedience” Thoreau, who is said to have inspired both Gandhi and King.

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Tweet, tweet

What do Donald Trump and I have in common?  That’s right, we’re both on Twitter!  This week, I started a new account as a companion to this blog.  It’s taken me just a little more than 14 years to catch up with exciting new social media platform.  Not for nothing do my kids describe me as “technologically cutting edge” (just kidding).  Anyway, if you want to take a look, go on over to @kidsbookaday.  If you are a more sophisticated Twitter user than I am–and really, just about everyone on Twitter is–feel free to offer feedback on how I can improve my account.

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by Candlewick (Released September 8)

Amazon.com: See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog (9781536204278 ...

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, Mike ...

Summary:  “See the cat,” says an omniscient narrator (later identified as Book).  But all the reader sees is a dog, and he’s not happy.  He is NOT a cat.  He is NOT a blue cat.  He is NOT a blue cat in a green dress.  And his name is Max, not Baby Cakes!  But a surprise ending turns him into a red dog.  There are two more stories featuring a snake and a hippopotamus, in which Max ultimately takes matters into his own hands to make the stories go the way he wants them to.  And ultimately the way he wants the stories is to go is to let him take a nap.  64 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  I have a great deal of admiration for easy reader authors, particularly at this very beginner level.  David LaRochelle has created not one, but three stories that even the earliest readers will be able to read on their own.  The cartoon-style illustrations are fun, as well, and will help kids figure out the story.  

Cons:  A couple longer words, like “unicorn” and “embarrassed” may be a challenge for the intended audience.

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Woke: Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatewood, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, foreword by Jason Reynolds

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice: Browne, Mahogany L., Acevedo ...

Woke | Mahogany L. Browne | Macmillan

Summary:  What does it mean to be woke?  Mahogany Browne answers this question in her introduction:  awake, eyes open, seeing everything around you.  Sometimes what you see will seem unfair, and it’s important to speak up about that.  The two dozen poems by three different writers explore this concept, looking at such topics as community, empathy, gender, immigration, equality, and more.  Each poem gets its own two-page spread with a colorful illustration.  Includes a poem and foreword by Jason Reynolds.  56 pages; grades 3-8.

Pros:  Add this book to your Black Lives Matter reading lists, or any social justice collection.  Each poem is worthy of individual attention and discussion.  My favorites were “Say the Names” by Elizabeth Acevedo and “A Me-Shaped Box” by Olivia Gatwood.  The illustrations reminded me of Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels, which offer near-universal appeal to kids.

Cons:  I tried reading this book in one sitting, and it started to feel a bit heavy.  I think the poems would be better savored and discussed one at a time. 

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