Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick

Published by The Blue Sky Press

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Summary:  When Sam’s summer camp in Maine is evacuated due to wildfires, Sam misses the bus when he runs back to get his phone.  Trapped in a forest that is rapidly being engulfed by the flames, he goes on the run to survive. The discovery of an old Jeep at an abandoned cabin saves his life, allowing him to outpace the fire, at least temporarily.  Later he meets Delphy, another lost camper a few years older than Sam. As the two of them combine their wits to find a way to safety, the reader gradually learns details about Sam’s late father and his mom’s hospitalization.  It’s a nail-biting race to the finish as Sam and Delphy face one obstacle after another. Includes additional information about wildfires, with tips and resources for surviving. 208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another title for those who enjoy the “I Survived” series.  The action is pretty much non-stop from Sam’s ill-fated evacuation in chapter one to the high-speed Jeep race to safety on the final few pages.  The fast pace combined with short chapters make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  I found 12-year-old Sam’s ability to teach himself how to drive a Jeep in about two minutes while surrounded by fire a little hard to believe. 

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Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Jordi Solano

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Summary:  Beginning on August 4, 1944, when the eight occupants of the Secret Annex under Miep Gies’s care were arrested and taken away, the narrative follows Miep’s story of how she saved Anne Frank’s diary.  Facing arrest for keeping any of the group’s belongings from the Nazis, Miep snuck back into the annex before their return, taking Anne’s diary and a combing shawl with some of Anne’s hair still on it. She kept these, hoping that Anne would return one day to claim them, but it was only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who survived.  After he received the devastating news of his daughters’ deaths, Miep gave him Anne’s things. Even after the diary was published, it was many years before Miep could bring herself to read it. Reading it in one sitting at last, she felt a measure of peace, knowing that Anne would live on, thanks to her efforts. Includes an author’s note and a timeline of Miep’s life.  40 pages; grades 2-6.   

Pros:  Even with so many books about Anne Frank, this one is unique for its perspective from Miep’s point of view.  Her courage in standing up to the Nazis on numerous occasions is inspiring, as is her role in preserving Anne’s words.

Cons:  The illustrations were just okay.

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Who Wet My Pants by Bob Shea, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for who wet my pants shea amazon

Image result for who wet my pants shea amazon

Summary:  When Reuben the bear announces he’s gotten donuts for his scout troop, the rest of the animals can’t help noticing that he’s a bit damp in the crotch area.  He reacts with anger, accusing different friends of wetting his pants. The others respond calmly, telling Reuben it was probably just an accident, and that they’ve done the same thing themselves.  As the bear recounts his day (chugging lemonade, hiking near a waterfall, napping with his paw in his aquarium), it becomes obvious to all what really happened. Finally, Reuben blames his pants (“They sprung a leak”) and sheds them in his tent.  He never admits to his deed, but tells the others he’d forgive them if they did wet his pants. There are a few suppressed giggles, but it’s clear everyone likes Rufus, and they enjoy their donuts around the campfire. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This book will undoubtedly be received amidst hilarious laughter, beginning with the cover and title.  It’s pretty silly all right, but there’s a nice lesson to be learned from the way Reuben’s friends treat him; the sentence on the back cover, “Compassion is no accident” says it all.

Cons:  It may take a little reining in to get kids to see beyond the bathroom humor to the message of compassion.

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Snack Attack! by Terry Border

Published by Philomel Books

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Summary:  When three snacks–a cookie, a pretzel stick, and a cheese doodle–escape from their packages, they discover a world of fun, not the dangerous monsters they’ve been warned about.  But when they discover a note from Mom encouraging a kid to have an after-school snack, they start to get nervous. They compare stories they’ve heard about kid monsters and their enormous teeth, and try to come up with a plan of escape.  Rolling around on the dirty floor won’t deter a hungry kid, they realize, and hiding brings about unintended consequences for the cheese doodle. Finally, they turn the note over and create a new one, telling the kid to just drink water when he gets home from school.  Cheese Doodle and Pretzel celebrate their victory, then turn to find Cookie. But there’s only a crumb or two and a half-empty glass of milk. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Terry Border’s photography bring the three snacks to life with plenty of silliness.  Kids will enjoy seeing how he creates a new world from familiar kitchen items.

Cons:  I found the ending disturbing.

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Billie Jean! How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women’s Sports by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Image result for billie jean mara rockliff amazon

Summary:  From the time she was a child, Billie Jean King gave her all in whatever she was doing.  Seeing her dismay when she learned that there were no women in major league baseball, her parents suggested she try tennis.  She proved to be a natural, and slowly rose to break into the national rankings. After playing at Wimbledon just after high school graduation, she found herself working two jobs to get through college while the boy tennis players enjoyed full scholarships.  Her professional career continued to flourish, but Billie Jean was dissatisfied with the unequal prize money for men and women. She created an all-women’s tennis tour, and later helped form the Women’s Tennis Association. Probably her most celebrated moment came, though, during the “Battle of the Sexes”, her famous match with Bobby Riggs in which she decisively beat him, proving that men could be defeated by women in the world of sports.  An author’s note gives further information on Billie Jean King’s work to end gender discrimination in sports and as an LGBQT activist. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  It’s hard not to be inspired by Billie Jean King’s hard work and determination, both on and off the tennis court.  Kids who have seen the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes will enjoy learning more about King; as near as I can tell, this is one of the only picture books about her.

Cons:  While the illustrations are serviceable, they aren’t as unique and memorable as some of Mara Rockliff’s other recent books like Lights, Camera, Alice! and Anything But Ordinary Addie.

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Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Rachel is excited about Rosh Hashanah, but not as thrilled to be wearing last year’s skirt.  When her aspiring dressmaker mother offers to add new buttons, Rachel goes to the store to see what she can find.  The cheapest solution is to get one card of buttons for her and her little sister Hannah, but Rachel wants something of her own.  When she finds three beautiful rose buttons, she arranges with the storekeeper to buy them when she’s earned the money–if she can get it before the holiday.  Rachel’s entrepreneurial spirit works well for her until she gets so busy with her errands that she loses Hannah. Finding her sister and discovering a surprise her mother has created help Rachel to understand what’s really important as she gets ready for a new year.  112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The close Jewish family and tenement living reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family series that I loved as a child.  There’s not a lot of historical fiction available for third graders, and this would make an excellent and accessible introduction to the genre.

Cons:  I was hoping for more information about Rosh Hashanah.  There’s a brief author’s note at the end, but not much detail about the history and traditions of the holiday or how it is celebrated.

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Stay by Bobbie Pyron

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Piper’s family has fallen on tough times and winds up in the family shelter of a new city.  While exploring a nearby park one day, Piper meets Jewel, a homeless woman with an adorable dog named Baby.  When Jewel winds up in the hospital with pneumonia, Baby is left behind to fend for himself. Piper and her new friends from the Firefly Girls troop team up with other park residents to figure out who Jewel is, how she wound up in her current situation, and how they can help her and Baby find a new home.  Told in alternate voices, the story switches between Piper’s first-person narrative and Baby’s free verse perspective, with occasional chapters offering the point of view of Jewel and other characters. 304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Readers will be drawn in by the adorable little dog on the cover, and will find an inspiring and engaging story that spotlights the tenacious love between humans and animals.  Piper and her friends work together to bring about a feel-good ending.

Cons:  As a former Girl Scout leader (I’m not sure why the author felt she had to disguise the Girl Scouts as Firefly Girls), I found the fifth-grade girls’ discipline, maturity, and initiative pretty unrealistic.

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