No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

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Summary:  Felix and his mother Astrid have been in a downward spiral for several years, moving from a condo to a basement apartment to an unheated camper.  Astrid is loving but unreliable, and Felix worried about her “slumps” when she can’t get out of bed, as well as her lying and stealing. When she was a child, Astrid was briefly placed in foster care, and has told Felix enough horror stories about it to make him fearful of doing anything to bring attention to their situation.  Summer in the camper is almost like a vacation, but as the weather starts getting colder, the situation quickly goes downhill. When Felix wins the opportunity to compete on a game show for a $25,000 prize, he convinces himself he can turn their situation around. Two close friends and a caring teacher finally force him to the realization that he can’t solve his mother’s problems on his own.  288 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I zipped through this book in just a couple of days; Felix is a humorous narrator, who gradually starts to see his mother as a flawed human being and to realize that he doesn’t have to grow up to be like her.  His friends Winnie and Dylan have their own quirks, but Felix is generous and loving, and appreciates them for who they are. The subjects of homelessness and invisible poverty were sensitively addressed; this book would be a good one to begin a discussion of those topics.

Cons:  I’ve seen this book recommended for grades 4 and up, but some of the content and a few sexual references make it more of a middle school book, in my opinion.

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Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  “I dreamed of you,/then you appeared./Together we became/Resplendent life, you and I.”  So begins Yuyi Morales’s book addressed to her son, whom she carried across a bridge into a new country when he was a baby.  Together they explore their new home, confused by the language and often making mistakes (demonstrated by the picture of her playing with her young son in a public fountain, while a police officer stands by with his hands on his hips).  One day they discover a miraculous place: the public library. “Suspicious. Improbable. Unbelieving. Surprising. Unimaginable.” Slowly, she learns about the library, and picture books open up a new world to her and her son, teaching them to read, write, and speak.  “We are stories./We are two languages./We are lucha./We are resilience./We are hope./We are dreamers, sonadores of the world./We are Love Amor Love.” Includes “My Story”, a two-page note from Morales about her journey from Mexico to the U.S. and how the public library helped her and her son Kelly pursue their dreams in their new country; also books that have inspired her.  Simultaneously released with Sonadores, the Spanish language version. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Yuyi Morales hasn’t really been on my radar as an illustrator, but this beautiful book made me go back and look at what other books she has done (her best known is probably Viva Frida which won both the Belpre Medal and a Caldecott honor).  Her note on how she created the pictures reveals that they are a blend of acrylics and ink, along with a long list of items that she photographed and scanned.  This makes for bright, colorful, textured illustrations. Kids will enjoy finding books that they recognize in the pictures from the library. The brief, poetic text beautifully expresses the hopes and dreams of those immigrating to the U.S.  Look for this title during awards season.

Cons:  Young kids may need some help in understanding what is going on in the story.

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Fangsgiving by Ethan Long

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Vladimir is making Thanksgiving dinner with his friends (a witch, a mummy, Frankenstein, and a werewolf) when some family members unexpectedly drop by.  Vlad is happy to see them, but before long they have taken over on the turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, adding touches like eyeballs and earwax.  When it’s time to eat, they decide to turn off the lights, and the family dog Spike devours the whole dinner before anyone else has a chance to get any. “You ruined Thanksgiving!!” shouts Vlad, and his family is chagrined, saying they were only trying to help.  Vlad remembers they’re family, and everyone works together to make a dinner they all can enjoy. 32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  I wasn’t familiar with Ethan Long’s previous two monster holiday books, Fright Club and Valensteins, but Fangsgiving convinced me they may be worth a look.  Kids will howl with laughter at the antics of the different monsters and enjoy the gross-out additions to the traditional holiday feast.  Plus there’s a nice Thanksgiving message about appreciating friends and family.

Cons: It’s a pretty silly romp; you will probably want to supplement with some other books that look at other aspects of Thanksgiving.

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The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky

Published by Boyds Mills Press

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Summary:  This story starts shortly after Otis, a little brown bat, has left his mother and is living on his own.  Watching how Otis spends his days and nights, the reader will learn the physical characteristics of bats, their diet, where they live, how they hunt using echolocation, and their life cycle.  The illustrations mostly portray Otis at night in a variety of settings: roosting in an abandoned building, hibernating in a cave, flying through the sky, and hunting for insects in a meadow. At the end, Otis has found a mate and is settling down for a long winter’s sleep.  Includes two pages of additional information about little brown bats and a glossary. 32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to a bat’s life, told in a narrative form that will hold readers’ interest.  The pastel illustrations on the dark background provide striking portrayals of Otis (whose name comes from his species’ scientific name, Myotis lucifugus) and the other bats.

Cons:  Otis didn’t really seem to be leading a “secret life”.

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Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi, art by Hatem Aly

Published by Picture Window Books

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Summary:  Yasmin is a Pakistani-American girl who lives with her extended family.  In the four stories that are part of this book, she explores the city with her mom and makes a map that helps her when she gets lost; wins an art contest despite feeling like she has no talent; helps her class design and build a miniature city; and puts on a fashion show with her grandmother.  Each story is also sold as a separate book, and the stories straddle the line between easy reader and early chapter book (with three chapters per story). Includes four discussion questions (one for each story); an Urdu glossary that includes words from the text; a recipe for a yogurt drink called Mango Lassi; and instructions for making a flower motif bookmark.  89 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Yasmin is a likeable character who will resonate with Pakistani-Americans and teach a few things about her culture to readers who are not.  The artwork by Hatem Aly (The Inquisitor’s Tale) makes a cheerful complement to the text and will help kids understand the meaning of possibly unfamiliar words like hijab and kameez.

Cons:  Yasmin spends a whole recess in her classroom with no adult supervision, and her teacher seems just fine when she comes in and discovers Yasmin there.

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What Can a Citizen Do? By Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for what can a citizen do eggers amazon

Summary:  The team that brought us Her Right Foot takes a look at the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.  The rhyming text is simple, emphasizing the importance of helping others and working to make a better society.  Suggestions include helping a neighbor, joining a cause, writing a letter, and the generic “righting a wrong”. There may be a sly political message in the “No Trumpets” sign in a couple of the illustrations.  The conclusion? “So forget yourself a second/Grab a shovel or a pen/Do something for another./Don’t you dare doubt that you can!/Everything makes an impact/on a bigger big than you./And it all starts with the question:/What can a citizen do?”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A basic introduction to civics for preschool and primary students.  The illustrations are the star of the show here, with a diverse cast of kid characters portrayed in collage illustrations that seem to pop out of the page.  

Cons:  If ever a book cried out for back matter, this is it.  What is a citizen? What are some specific actions citizens can take?  Definitely some missed opportunities here, particularly after the thought-provoking Her Right Foot.

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Night Job by Karen Hesse, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  A boy tells about his Friday evenings with his father, a school custodian.  The two ride Dad’s motorcycle to the school, then begin the weekly cleaning. Even though there’s lots of work to be done, it’s clear they enjoy being together and helping each other out.  They listen to a ballgame on the radio, and take a break to eat sandwiches in the courtyard. Eventually, the boy falls asleep, as his father continues to work until 4:00 a.m. As they head for home, the sun is starting to rise.  They relax in their living room, reading the paper that’s just been delivered, and at the end of the story they have drifted off to sleep together in the big recliner. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful example of narrative writing, simple but filled with sensory details, metaphors, and similes that would make this an excellent mentor text for a writing class.  The little boy and his father clearly have a happy and loving relationship, and their evening of hard work seems satisfying.

Cons:  Seems like a pretty late night for such a little kid to put in every week.

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