The Only Game by Mike Lupica

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  12-year-old Jack is a baseball superstar, part of a team that is poised to go all the way to the Little League World Series this year.  So it comes as a shock, to say the least, when he tells his coach after the first practice that he is quitting.  His parents wonder if his decision is related to his older brother’s fatal accident the previous fall, but Jack assures them it isn’t.  His old friends from the team are upset, so Jack starts hanging out with some new friends: Cassie, the star of her softball team, and Teddy, a boy who gets picked on for being overweight and unathletic.  With their help, he slowly finds his way back to baseball and healing from the loss of his brother.

Pros:  Like all Mike Lupica books, this story has a winning combination of likeable characters, an emotionally charged plot, and plenty of sports action.

Cons:  As in all Mike Lupica books, the junior high characters talk like they are about 27 years old.

Henry Holton Takes the Ice by Sandra Bradley, illustrated by Sara Palacios

Published by Dial Books

Summary:  Henry Holton’s family loves hockey so much that the kids teethe on hockey pucks, their dog is named Gretzky and their mom drives a Zamboni to work.  It’s a foregone conclusion that Henry will put on a pair of skates as soon as he can walk.  When he does, sure enough, he is a fabulous skater.  But the whole hockey thing feels wrong to him, and he can’t figure out why until the day he sees a poster for an ice dance show.  From then on, all he wants is skates with toe picks.  No one will listen to him until his grandmother (six-time MVP in the Silver Skates League) shows him a picture of herself as a figure skater.  She gave it all up the first time she picked up a hockey stick and knew that was the thing for her.  She gives Henry her old skates to try.  When his parents see him, they know he is destined to be a figure skater.

Pros:  A fun story for the hockey-obsessed youth of Massachusetts, all about being true to yourself.  The part about his grandmother giving up figure skating for hockey was a great and unexpected twist.

Cons:  Other than that plot twist, a bit predictable.

The Maine Coon’s Haiku and Other Poems for Animal Lovers by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Lee Anthony White

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  There are twenty haiku in this collection, each one about a different type of cat.  The sections alternate between indoor cats and outdoor cats, with five in each of the four sections.  The last four pages give a brief description and history of each breed.

Pros:  A great introduction to haiku as well as a treat for all cat lovers.  Fun illustrations.

Cons:  An explanation of haiku will be necessary, as there is none in the book.

Gingerbread for Liberty! How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Christopher Ludwick was from Germany, but he loved his adopted country of America.  When the Revolutionary War began, he decided to close up his Philadelphia bakery and do what he could to help General Washington.  Not only did he become the head baker for the Continental Army, but he helped woo the German soldiers to the American side.  The author’s note tells that the money Ludwick left in his will to educate needy children in Philadelphia is still used today to give out $200,000 in grants each year.

Pros:  A fun story that tells of a little-known but important contributor to the American fight for independence.  The cut-paper illustrations will make kids smile.

Cons: It’s a little hard to tell what would be the best audience for this book.  It seems to be written for fairly young kids, but readers would appreciate the story more with some background knowledge of the Revolution.

Amazing Stardust Friends: Step Into the Spotlight! By Heather Alexander, illustrated by Diane Le Feyer

Published by Scholastic, Inc.

Summary:  Marlo’s mom has just taken a new job as the chef for a circus.  So the two of them get to live on board the circus train, where Marlo meets the Stardust Girls, three 8-year-old girls who perform in the circus as a clown, acrobat, and animal trainer.  Of course, Marlo wants a chance to perform, but it takes her awhile to learn what her own unique talent is to make her a Stardust Girl.

Pros:  This is a new Branches series from Scholastic, aimed at readers transitioning to chapter books.  It’s my favorite so far of the “girl” series.  The girls in the story are hard-working, dedicated performers.  And throwing in a little glamour doesn’t hurt.

Cons:  If a reader doesn’t want to run away and join the circus after finishing this book, you might want to consider checking comprehension skills.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  On the first page, the Bunny family arrives home to find a baby wolf on their doorstep.  Mama and Papa immediately fall in love with the cute little cub, but their young daughter Dot exclaims, “He’s going to eat us all up!” a refrain that continues throughout the book.  But Mama and Papa don’t seem to hear her as they coo over him and snap photos of Wolfie’s every move.  Wolfie grows into a toddler who adores his big sister.  One day, the parents send the two of them out to get more carrots (now Wolfie’s favorite food).  When Wolfie opens his mouth at the grocery store, Dot is sure her prediction is coming true.  But he’s not looking at her…he’s looking at the gigantic bear in front of him.  Dot’s reaction saves the day and cements the brother-sister bond between them.

Pro:  This is an unusual and highly entertaining take on sibling rivalry.  The picture of Wolfie in a bunny suit is priceless.

Cons:  I can’t help wondering how this family dynamic is going to work out over time.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summary:  What happens when a blue crayon gets a red label?  Everyone thinks he’s red.  His teacher thinks he needs more practice, the scissors think his label is too tight (“One snip should do it”), his grandparents think he needs to wear a warm scarf.  But no matter what he tries, it doesn’t work. He just can’t make those strawberries and hearts look the way they’re supposed to. Finally, he meets a new friend (Berry), who asks him to make an ocean for his boat.  And it’s perfect!

Pros:  This is a great story that kids can read at their own level of understanding.  My first thought was that it was about gender identification, but it could be about embracing yourself in many different ways.  School psychologists and social workers should definitely check this one out.

Cons:  The first time I read this, the message seemed a little heavy-handed, but I don’t think kids would see it that way.

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