A Nest Is Noisy by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Why is a nest noisy?  Because of the life being nurtured inside of it.  Nests are made of an almost infinite range of materials, from millions of interlocking army ants to the hardened saliva of a swiftlet (whose nest is used to make birds’ nest soup).  And nests aren’t just for birds.  Alligators, platypuses, orangutans, and others make nests, too.  Each two page spread has a statement about what a nest is (“A nest is neighborly”, “A nest is hidden”, etc.), followed by a paragraph or two explaining this statement, all gorgeously illustrated with exquisitely detailed watercolors.  The front endpapers show all the nests described in the book, and the back ones display all the animals that inhabit them.  Ages 5-10

Pros:  This award-winning team has produced beautiful nonfiction books about eggs, seeds, butterflies, and rocks.  The writing and illustrations ensure that readers will gain a wonder and appreciation of the world around them.

Cons:  There is a lot of information for younger readers.  They might appreciate this book more if read over several sessions rather than all at once.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrated by Katie Kath

 Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  12-year-old Sophie’s family has recently moved to the farm her father inherited from his Uncle Jim.  Her dad is recently unemployed and her mom is a freelance writer trying to pay the bills, so Sophie is left to her own devices to explore the farm.  She discovers a mysterious and unusual chicken named Henrietta living on the property, and soon a few more supernatural chickens show up, along with a potential chicken thief.  Sophie embarks on a correspondence with a mysterious woman named Agnes who supposedly runs Redwood Farm Supply, and who offers Sophie encouragement and chicken advice.  Told entirely in letters to Great Uncle Jim, Agnes,  and her deceased grandmother, the story follows Sophie as she figures out both the chickens and the humans in her new community.  Ages 8-12.

Pros:  Sophie is a likeable character, and the chickens with supernatural powers add an interesting element to the story.  The plentiful illustrations, quizzes, chicken manual excerpts, and other documents are a nice addition to Sophie’s letters.

Cons:  Although this book has gotten great reviews, I had a tough time getting through it. The story didn’t grab me, and I’m just not that into chickens.

How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  In ten easy steps, the author covers how to read a story.  Some of the steps capture the fun of reading, like finding a reading buddy and a cozy reading spot.  Others cover strategies such as predicting and using the pictures to try to figure out words you don’t know.  Readers will enjoy the story the boy reads, called The Princess, The Dragon, and The Robot, which is used to give examples of the various steps.  From finding a story to reading “The End” (and going back to the beginning if you liked it), this is a celebration of the joy of reading.  Grades K-4.

Pros:  Keep this one in mind for the first week of school to introduce reading in the primary grades.  It’s also a perfect mentor text for procedural writing.  Kids will love the cheerful illustrations.

Cons:  All good stories must come to an end.

Float by Daniel Miyares

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In this wordless picture book, a boy goes out on a rainy day with a paper boat he has just made with his dad.  He floats the boat in puddles, but eventually it gets away from him.  By the end of his adventure, he’s left with a soggy piece of newspaper.  Disheartened, he returns home, where Dad dries him off and gives him some hot chocolate.  They get to work with the newspaper again, and on the last page, he is heading out the door on a sunnier day with a paper airplane.  Folding directions for a boat are on the front endpapers and a plane, on the back.

Pros:  The simple, peaceful story is reminiscent of The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  The illustrations are beautiful and may catch the attention of the Caldecott committee.

Cons:  My struggles to make a paper boat go all the way back to my first reading of Curious George Rides a Bike.

An Ambush of Tigers: A Wild Gathering of Collective Nouns by Betsy R. Rosenthal, illustrated by Jago.

Published by Millbrook Press

Summary:  “Do you ever wonder what animals do/when they gather in groups of more than two?”  If the answer is yes, get ready to learn what different groups of animals are called.  Most of us have heard about a pack of wolves or a team of oxen, but how about a bouquet of pheasants or a prickle of porcupines?  A shiver of sharks or a rumba of rattlesnakes?  The richly colored illustrations portray the various animals interacting with each other, concluding with a panoramic view of all the animals together.  A glossary at the end lists all the animal group names and gives other definitions for the terms.

Pros:  Kids will love learning the names of their favorite animal groups, and the rhyming text makes it even more fun.  This could lead to researching other collective nouns.

Cons:  An intrusion of roaches.

Clover’s Luck (Magical Animal Adoption Agency) by Kallie George, illustrated by Alexandra Bolger

Published by Disney-Hyperion

Summary:  Clover loves animals, but she’s been unlucky with pets.  When a baseball breaks her bedroom window and her new bird escapes, Clover runs off to try to catch her.  The chase leads her into the Woods, a scary place she’s never been before.  To her surprise, she sees a sign advertising a need for volunteers at the Magical Animal Adoption Agency.  Clover follows the directions to get there, and finds herself at a cottage where animals such as unicorns, magical salamanders, and dragons await adoption.  The owner, Mr. Jams, invites Clover to come back and help out, and just like that, her luck has changed.  Every day she grows more enchanted with the Agency and the animals living there.  When Mr. Jams is called away on emergency business, he asks Clover to be in charge for a few days.  Will she be able to handle animal adoptions and outsmart a devious witch?  Grades 2-4.

Pros:  This is the first book in an enchanting new series, perfect for fans of animal stories and fantasy.

Cons:  Clover’s parents seem horribly neglectful, staying at their jobs so late that Clover has to make dinner for herself and go to bed before they’ve come home.

Pool by JiHyeon Lee

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Imported from Korea, Pool is a wordless picture book in which two children meet at a crowded pool.  Diving under everyone’s feet, they swim off together into an underwater wonderland.  They explore schools of fish and other sea creatures, and even get close up to an enormous white whale.  Finally, they return to the legs and feet.  The crowd exits from one side of the pool, and the two of them get out on the other side.  At the end they take off their goggles and smile at each other, clearly the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Pros:  A magical journey of imagination.

Cons:  Some may judge the book by its cover and decide it looks a little freaky.

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret by Bob Shea

Published by Disney-Hyperion

Summary:  Best friends Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony are trying to decide what to play.  Sparkle makes several suggestions, but all Ballet Cat wants to do is dance.  After dancing a while, Ballet Cat notices that all is not right with Sparkle Pony.  At first Sparkle Pony doesn’t want to tell her, but after some prompting, he/she (not sure which…we’ll go with he for now) admits his secret:  he doesn’t always want to play ballet but is afraid Ballet Cat won’t want to be his friend if he doesn’t.  Ballet Cat assures him there is one thing she loves more than ballet, and that is being his friend.  On the last page, the two friends are playing checkers, surrounded by craft materials and lemonade, all the activities suggested by Sparkle Pony.  Ages 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series will enjoy this new easy reader.  Just like those books, this has simple illustrations with cartoon bubbles color-coded to each speaker, and celebrates the ups and downs of childhood friendships.

Cons:  This seems a bit too derivative of Elephant and Piggie, with less appealing illustrations.  Also, will boys warm to a series with characters named Ballet Cat and Sparkle Pony?

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Otto, lost in the forbidden forest, stumbles upon three mysterious girls and learns the story of how they were cast out by their father, the king, who wanted a son.  They give Otto a magic harmonica.  Many years later, the harmonica passes to Friedrich in Germany, then to Mike in Philadelphia, and finally, to Ivy in California.  Friedrich, born with a large birthmark on his face, is struggling to survive in 1933 Germany as Hitler is coming to power.  Mike is determined to keep himself and younger brother Frankie together when an unexpected stroke of good luck gets them out of their orphanage.  Is his new home too good to be true?  Soon after Ivy’s beloved older brother joins the army, her family is hired to run a farm owned by a Japanese family who has been taken away to an internment camp.  Are they spies, or just a family struggling to survive, like her own?  All three stories converge when the grown-up Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are brought together in 1951 by their love of music.  Otto’s story concludes the book, revealing the missing part of the harmonica’s journey.  Grades 5-8.

Pros:  If you only read one book in 2015, here it is.  Look for this title next January when Newbery honors are announced.

Cons:  At 592 pages, this book is well into doorstop territory.  Younger readers may struggle to handle the four separate stories.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  The story of Cinderella is given a few twists.  Cinderella is an expert rocket mechanic.  The family is invited to the Royal Space Parade; Evil Stepmother suggests Cinderella fix up an old spaceship and join them, but then takes off with Cinderella’s toolbox.  Luckily, the fairy godrobot saves the day, and Cinderella has a good time until she has to hastily depart, leaving behind her sprocket wrench.  The prince seeks her out and proposes marriage, but she thinks she’s too young and instead suggests that she become his chief mechanic.

Pros:  Really fun rhyming text, reminiscent of The Three Ninja Pigs and others by Corey Rosen Schwartz.  This just begs to be read aloud, and of course, fractured fairy tales are always a hit.

Cons:  It’s not exactly rocket science…or is it?