Published by Sterling Children’s Books
Summary: Aven Green from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus tells how she got her start as a detective back in third grade. In this first installment, she’s working on two mysteries: who is stealing food at her elementary school and what has happened to her grandmother’s beloved dog? Aven is confident in her problem-solving ability (“all of the cells that were supposed to make my arms went into making my brain instead”), and has some good friends who are happy to help. Both cases are cracked by the last page, and there’s a preview of book two, due out in August. Includes a glossary of Aven’s sleuthing words. 128 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: It’s great to meet Aven as a third-grader and learn how she got her start solving mysteries. She is matter-of-fact in her explanation of how she was born with no arms, and both the text and the illustrations show her doing everything for herself with her feet. Her voice is funny and confident, making this a surefire hit with the early chapter book crowd.
Cons: I’m not sure if that crowd will understand the hemorrhoid joke in the “Robot Chickens” chapter.
Published by Graphix
Summary: Maggie is beyond excited to be picking out a new puppy for her tenth birthday, but when she and her family get to the shelter, she has a severe allergic reaction. Not only will there be no puppy for her, but a round of testing rules out any pet with fur or feathers. There are other trials in her life: redistricting means she’s at a new school for fifth grade; the family is getting ready to welcome a fourth child; and a new best friend gets a puppy, meaning Maggie can’t go over to her house anymore. A year of allergy shots puts Maggie on the road to staying healthier around animals, and a new baby sister provides a welcome diversion from the pet issue. Most issues are resolved satisfactorily as Maggie wraps up her fifth grade year. 240 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Once again, Graphix nails it with a realistic graphic novel that many readers will love. Maggie’s issues with allergies, family, friends, and school make her an easy protagonist with whom kids will connect.
Cons: It seemed unlikely that Maggie’s severe allergies to anything with fur or feathers wouldn’t have come to light before she reached her tenth birthday.
Published by Dial Books
Summary: When Sunday quits, saying she is tired of being a day, the other days of the week have to scramble to fill her place. They get all kinds of applicants: FunDay, RunDay, Caterday, and many, many more. Finally, a young girl shows up with a seedling in a flower pot. Monday guesses that she wants to apply for Eggplant Day or Cabbage Day, but the girl says no. She has grown a plant to say thank you to Sunday for being such a nice day. Sunday, suddenly not tired anymore, agrees to go back to her old job, and the other days try to play and appreciate each other more…every day of the week. 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: With lots of zany visual humor and the possibility for kids to create their own days, this is sure to be a big hit with kids and teachers alike.
Cons: I wish the editor had worked a little harder to keep this book to 32 pages. The multiple suggestions for new days of the week felt a bit long.
Published by Scholastic Press
Summary: A whitewater rafting trip turns into a survival nightmare for five middle school students when a dam breaks and they barely escape the floodwaters. With their adult leaders gone, the group breaks into two factions, starting a war over who will lead until they are rescued. When this conflict results in tragedy, the kids realize they have to put aside their differences if they are going to survive. Facing wild animals, injuries, and a dwindling food supply, they learn each others’ secrets and vow that their friendship will last if and when they are rescued. Includes tips for surviving in the wilderness. 193 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: The short chapters, non-stop action, and cliffhanger chapter endings will keep even the most reluctant readers engaged. Narrator Daniel’s secret about his father’s mental illness adds an interesting dimension to his character.
Cons: Due to the short length of the book and the focus on the action, the characters weren’t all that well-developed, particularly Tony, who had a pivotal role in the story.
Published by Tundra Books
Summary: A special family lives in the village of Fengfu. What makes them special? They have ten sons. Their parents call them their ten little dumplings because they are round like dumplings, and because dumplings, like boys, are auspicious. The ten little dumplings grow up into ten fine young men. But wait! The person telling the story is actually their little sister. You may not have noticed her in the pictures, but she was there! She too grows up and discovers her own talent, becomes a successful artist and one day has a dumpling of her own. An author’s note explains the inspiration for this book comes from her father’s family of ten boys and one girl…who was often left out of the stories. 48 pages; 4-8.
Pros: A fun story with an unusual structure that will definitely send readers back to the beginning to look for the little sister. The author’s note in which she wonders who has been left out of stories and why provides a good discussion starter for older readers.
Cons: I couldn’t find the sister in all the illustrations, but that might just have been my lack of observational skills.
Published by Blue Dot Kids Press
Summary: A child hears a voice calling from the bay, a voice that the adults are unable to hear. The voice grows loud, sometimes joyful and sometimes full of sorrow. A whale is telling the story of how she wants to come home but feels unsafe, knowing that other whales have been hurt or sent away. Then one morning, the whale appears in the bay with her baby. People gather on the shore to watch and to hear her call, which others beside the child can finally hear. Includes two pages of additional information about right whales and four things people can do to help whales. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The gentle voice of the text and beautiful watercolor illustrations provide a compelling introduction to whales and their endangered status.
Cons: There were no additional resources about whales listed.
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Summary: When the narrator’s sister calls the nursery to order “a trillium, please”, the worker there hears “a trillion trees”. Before long, the first installment–a thousand saplings–is delivered to their house. The whole family races to plant the trees all over town, identifying many of them as they go. Exhausted, they return home, only to face the next delivery arriving. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This follow-up to Billions of Bricks has the same fun rhyming text and big numbers incorporated into the story. There’s some good information on trees here as well as plenty of humor tied to the impossibility of the family’s tree-planting situation.
Cons: The lack of back matter about trees and/or large numbers.
Published by Aladdin
Summary: Dominguita Melendez would rather read than do just about anything else. Her abuela shares her love of reading, but she’s recently moved away and Dominguita misses her. She decides to become a knight, inspired by her love of Abuela’s Don Quijote stories. When the class bully tells her girls can’t be knights, Dom enlists her big brother to document her heroic deeds and prove him wrong. Before long, she’s collected some armor, a lance, two faithful sidekicks, and a steed. Tilting at a windmill almost results in disaster, but unexpectedly winds up inspiring some heroic deeds. Like Don Quijote, Dom recognizes her weaknesses and vows to do better the next time around. Includes an author’s note with further information about Don Quijote and two chapters from the next book in the series, inspired by Treasure Island. 144 pages; grades 2-4.
Pros: A fun start to a new illustrated chapter book series featuring an imaginative girl who values reading over friends (but eventually comes to appreciate those as well), and who finds adventure on her own city streets.
Cons: I thought that Dom’s bunny rescue was pretty darn heroic, but even her own family seemed to dismiss it as kind of lame.
Published by Neal Porter Books
Summary: Daisy is a warthog named for her mother’s favorite flower. “They seem plain, but when you look closer you see their beauty,” Mom tells her. Unfortunately, Daisy’s classmates don’t bother to look closely, laughing at her instead and calling her “Thistle”. Consequently, Daisy keeps her head down a lot. She discovers there are treasures to be found that way, though, and keeps her broken cups, abandoned birdhouses, and old pots and pans in a secret tree fort. One day she discovers a broken crystal candy dish at the fort’s entrance, and before long, treasures are popping up in other familiar places. Then she makes a discovery that leads to the greatest treasure of all–a new friend and kindred spirit. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A tender ode to the introverts of the world, as well as a celebration of friendship and finding a soulmate. This would pair nicely with Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes in a girls-named-for-flowers-who-come-to-embrace-their-identities story hour.
Cons: The mean girls never get their comeuppance.
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Summary: “All across this great big world/jobs are getting done/by many hands in many lands./It takes much more than one.” An architect designs a building, but other workers build it. Likewise for engineers, scientists, authors and illustrators: their ideas are just the beginning, and it is up to thousands of other workers to make the dream a reality. “So when you see a bicycle, a playground, house, or shoe, remember all the someones who helped make a dream come true.” 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: The rhyming text and beautiful illustrations show a diverse group of workers who provide the hands-on skills necessary to plan and execute someone’s vision. This would make a great book for Labor Day to celebrate all kinds of workers.
Cons: Seems like the creative minds are generally valued more than the hands-on builders. (I guess that’s why Lisa Wheeler wrote this book).