Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Amazon.com: Books

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A boy and his father wake at dawn to go for a hike.  From the drawings scattered about the boy’s bedroom and the way he seems to know just what to do to get ready, it seems like they’ve done this before.  They drive out of the city and into the wilderness, where they enjoy a day of hiking, climbing, and exploring.  They take pictures and look at things with a magnifying glass.  They hunt for animal tracks, find a waterfall, and scale a rocky summit, where they watch bald eagles soar overhead.  At the end of the day, they’re home again, celebrating with milk and cookies and looking at photo albums, having made another memory to share.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will want to get out in nature when they see all there is to explore in a single day.  This book celebrates both hiking and a warm father-son relationship, and would make a perfect pairing with Jennifer Mann’s The Camping Trip.  I’ll definitely be putting this in my “Caldecott contender” collection at the end of the year.

Cons:  I would call this a wordless book, but if I do, kids are sure to tell me, “There’s a word!” as soon as I turn a page.  Do not ask me how I know this.  So, fine, I would say there are between 8 and 12 words in this book, depending on how you count them. 

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Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Published by Candlewick (released September 8)

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Summary:  Jabari, his little sister Nika, and his dad are back for a follow-up book to Jabari Jumps.  This time, Jabari is excited to be building a flying machine.  “It’ll be easy,” he says.  “I don’t need any help.”  His first attempt flies, but crashes, and Jabari works to redesign it.  He thinks about other Black engineers and scientists who have had to solve problems like this one.  When another attempt fails, his dad suggests that he take Nika on as a partner.  Another crash brings frustration, and Dad helps Jabari take a break, then try again.  Nika turns out to have the key to success, and when Jabari implements it into his design, success!  The two engineers are ready for their next project: a rocket to Jupiter.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I was happy to see the return of Jabari and his family from one of my favorite slice-of-life picture books.  This one celebrates both engineering and grit, helping readers see what it takes to persevere.  

Cons:  This story felt a bit more didactic than the first one.

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Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker: 9780525581130 ...

Summary:  When Zura’s teacher talks about the class’s upcoming Grandparents’ Day, the other kids are all abuzz about bringing their grandparents to school.  But Zura is quiet.  When she gets home, readers get to meet Nana Akua, Zura’s “favorite person in the whole universe”.  So why is Zura nervous about Nana Akua visiting her school?  When Nana Akua was a baby in Ghana, her parents tattooed marks on her face to show her tribal family and to represent beauty and confidence.  Zura has overheard Nana being called “scary” and seen people act nervous around her.  When Zura confides her concerns, her grandmother suggests they take Zura’s quilt to school.  Nana made the quilt, using the Adinkra symbols of her people in Ghana.  On Grandparents’ Day, Nana Akua sensibly addresses the issue of her facial markings right away, then offers to let the kids choose which Adinkra symbols they would like painted on their faces.  This proves to be such a hit that the other grandparents line up for face painting as well, and Zura and Nana Akua conclude the day with a big hug.  Includes a glossary, sources, and Adrinka symbols and their meanings on both sets of endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This warm and tender story celebrates differences and also acknowledges that sometimes those differences can be a little scary if you don’t understand them.  You get the feeling that Nana Akua has lived a full life and has the gift at putting anyone at ease.  The colorful illustrations, with lots of interesting prints and details, reminded me of Patricia Polacco.  

Cons:  My usual beef about interesting endpapers that get covered up by taped-down dust jackets on library books.

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Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel, book 1) by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel) - Kindle edition by ...

Summary:  Ryan Hart is a fourth grader–and yes, she’s a girl, “a girl with a name that a lot of boys have.”  Her name means “king”, and her parents often remind her to live up to that name by being a leader, which can be tough at times.  Her dad recently lost his job at the post office, and has taken another job working the midnight shift, which also pays less.  At the beginning of the book, when Ryan’s parents offer her and her older brother Ray ice cream before dinner, Ryan knows there must be bad news coming.  It turns out the family is moving.  The new house is much smaller, which takes some getting used to, especially when one of Ryan’s best friends moves to a much bigger, fancier house.  As spring turns into summer, Ryan deals with other ups and downs: stage fright about reciting a speech in church on Easter, figuring out what to do with her hair, and trying to decide what to do in the fourth grade talent show.  The end of school brings the biggest surprise of all, but Ryan takes it (pretty much) in stride, and paves the way for book 2.  192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This book is being compared to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books: it takes place in Portland, Oregon, features a spunky girl protagonist, and offers slice-of-life stories instead of one major plot.  Ryan is funny, honest, and endearing; her insights into family, friendship, and race ring true for a ten-year-old.  This book would be just right for a third- or fourth-grade book club; the illustrations and larger font make it feel manageable, but there’s also plenty for kids to relate to and want to discuss.

Cons:  Some kids might be turned off by the slightly sappy title.

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Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (Peapod Farm book 1)

Published by Random House

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896858 ...

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896841 ...

Summary:  Jen’s having a difficult adjustment from city life to country life, compounded by her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new boyfriend Walter.  When Walter’s two daughters start spending weekends on the farm, Jen has more changes to deal with.  Andy is bossy and seems to be better at everything than Jen (or at least to think she is), and Reese is a bit of a whiner, prone to tantrums when things don’t go her way.  Jen’s mom has always wanted to live on a farm, but Jen’s not so sure about it as she helps out at the farmer’s market, takes care of the new chickens, and performs other chores, sometimes with the help of Andy and Reese.  Things aren’t perfect by the end of the story, but the three kids and their parents are beginning to be something resembling a family.  Includes an author’s note about her childhood, which inspired Jen’s stories 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fun graphic memoir for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, and Jennifer Holm.  Kids will relate to Jen’s family issues, and there’s a relatively happy ending that seems to pave the way for a sequel.

Cons:  Walter seems at best insensitive and at worst, verbally abusive.  I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself in book 2, but in the author’s note, Lucy Knisley refers to the real-life Walter as “loud, bossy, and annoying” and “annoying and beloved until his dying day”, so I don’t have a lot of hope.

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Lift by Minh Lé, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lift - Kindle edition by Lê, Minh, Santat, Dan, Santat, Dan ...

LIFT by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Summary:  Iris loves to push the button on the elevator to her parents’ apartment.  So she feels betrayed when her toddler brother takes over her job, and reacts angrily by pushing all the buttons at once…which breaks the elevator.  While she and her family wait as someone from maintenance fixes it, Iris spies a broken button being tossed into the trash.  She retrieves it, tapes it to the inside of her bedroom closet, and begins to have magical adventures in her own private elevator.  Later, an evening with a babysitter gives Iris an opportunity to bond with her brother, and when she wakes up the next morning, she decides to include him in her next adventure.  The book ends with them in an unfamiliar landscape based on the book they read the night before.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Here’s a Caldecott contender for sure, by the team that brought you Drawn Together.  There’s just enough text (in Iris’s voice) to keep the story going, making this a book that pre-readers can enjoy from the amazing illustrations alone.  A sure-fire winner for a wide range of readers (probably well beyond my 4-8 recommendation).

Cons:  I was confused as to why Iris’s brother’s stuffed tiger was also named Iris.

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Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Sara Alfageeh

Published by Amulet Books

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices ...

Once Upon an Eid' Is A Joyful Collection Of Short Stories By And ...

Summary:  15 Muslim author have created 14 stories about Eid al-Fitr, the holiday celebrating the end of the month of Ramadan.  Although the kids in the stories are experiencing divorce, the sickness of a parent, being a refugee, and other struggles, the stories are upbeat, celebrating family, friendship, and food.  Non-Muslim readers who finish all 14 stories will learn a lot about Ramadan, Eid, and Islam.  Eleven of the stories are in a traditional short story format, with one graphic-novel style tale, a story in verse, and a poem rounding out the collection.  Includes an editors’ introduction and biographical information about all the authors.

Pros:  A much-needed addition to the small number of American books featuring Muslim characters.  I’m not usually much of a short story fan, but I zipped through these pretty quickly, mostly because each one took me right into the action and presented interesting characters.  Even though the characters have a wide variety of heritages and are in some cases living outside the U.S., American kids will find plenty here to enjoy.

Cons:  I didn’t get to see any of the illustrations in my advance reader copy.

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This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Harry N. Abrams

This Way, Charlie - Kindle edition by Levis, Caron, Santoso ...

This Way Charlie Caron Levis and Charles Santoso | Lemuria Books

Summary:  Jack the goat keeps to himself, passing his days at Open Bud Ranch watching the other animals from a safe distance.  When Charlie the horse arrives, he ends up tripping right over Jack, which doesn’t make the goat too happy.  But he learns that Charlie is blind in one eye.  Charlie’s a friendly sort, but he has trouble getting around.  After watching him for a while, Jack gets up the courage to lead him to his favorite field to graze.  Jack never goes in the barn with Charlie and the other animals, having apparently suffered some kind of trauma in a barn before arriving at Open Bud.  Eventually, Charlie loses his vision completely and becomes more dependent on Jack.  Charlie tries to convince Jack that they should play with the other animals, but Jack refuses.  Then one day, Jack and Charlie get themselves into a dangerous situation, and it’s up to Jack to find a way out.  Can he overcome his fears to ask the other animals for help?   Includes an author’s note about the real-life inspiration for this story.  40 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  From the team that brought you  Ida, Always comes another based-on-a-true-story tale of animal friendship with super cute illustrations.  Pretty irresistible.

Cons:  I would have liked to have learned more about the true story…maybe with some photos?

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Summer Song by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summer Song: Henkes, Kevin, Dronzek, Laura: 9780062866134: Amazon ...

Summary:  Rounding out the year (with Winter Is Here,  When Spring Comes, and In the Middle of Fall), husband and wife team Henkes and Dronzek have created an ode to the sights, sounds, and feel of summer.  Hot, slow, lazy, filled with the music of fans, sprinklers, and air conditioners, surrounded by greens, blues, fireflies, and beaches, summer is a time to savor.  And just like the other books, this one leads naturally to the next season: “But when the days become shorter and the nights come earlier, the song changes.  Summer gets bored and wants to try something new, something different.  The song is turning turning turning…it’s turning into Fall.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kevin Henkes is sort of like the Tom Hanks of children’s books: you can pretty much count on a quality product with each creation.  His four seasons quartet that includes this book provides an excellent introduction to each season, filled with sights and sounds that readers will relate to.  The lush illustrations offer a diverse cast of characters enjoying the season.

Cons:  With the exception of the illustration showing air conditioning, there’s not any portrayal of summers that city kids might experience.

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Solar System by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Solar System: By The Numbers - Kindle edition by Jenkins, Steve ...

Summary:  Using illustrations, graphs, and diagrams, Steve Jenkins explores the solar system, including the sun, moon, planets, comets, and asteroids.  Comparisons are made of size, climate, gravity, and other features of the different planets, using visuals to make the facts easier to grasp.  Humans’ exploration of the solar system is also shown, with a timeline of solar system discoveries, animals sent to space, and more.  There’s also a page speculating on life in the solar system, and one showing the frequency and effects of different-sized asteroids crashing into Earth.  Includes a glossary and bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  How did Steve Jenkins’s biggest fangirl (as I’m occasionally known) miss this new infographics series?  Dinosaurs and Earth came out last year, and Insects was published simultaneously with Solar SystemAnimals by the Numbers is one of my favorite nonfiction books to book talk.  Just showing kids a page or two sends a bunch of them clamoring for more, so I look forward to sharing these books with science fans.

Cons:  These seem to be marketed as readers for kids starting in first grade, but I think they will find more of an audience with slightly older readers.

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