Changes: A Child’s First Poetry Collection by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Summary: “This summer still hangs heavy and sweet with sunlight as it did last year./The autumn still comes showering cold and crimson as it did last year./The winter still stings clean and cold and white as it did last year./The spring still comes like a whisper in the dark night./It is only I who have changed.” After this introductory poem, the book moves through the circle of seasons, beginning with spring, with several poems in each section that describe a simple, observable moment of that season. Beautifully illustrated with soft, seasonal colors, every poem is written by children’s literature legend Charlotte Zolotow, whose hundredth birthday this book commemorates. Grades K-4.

Pros: These poems seem like throwbacks to an earlier time, in a good way. They are simple enough for a very young child to understand, yet beautiful in their imagery; “Little trees like pencil strokes/black and still/etched forever in my mind/on that snowy hill.” This would be a wonderful introduction to both readers and writers of poetry.

Cons: Readers raised on the likes of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky may need some guidance to appreciate this sort of poetry.

Mystery in Mayan Mexico by Marcia Wells

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary: Fresh from solving his first case with the NYPD, Eddie Red and his friend Jonah are ready to relax in Mexico on a vacation with Eddie’s parents. But on their first day, a valuable Mayan mask is stolen from the hotel lobby, and Eddie’s father is a prime suspect. Using his photographic memory and drawing skills, Eddie teams up with Jonah and a Mexican girl named Julia to try to find the real thief. When the Mexican police chief puts Eddie’s father under house arrest, Eddie knows he’s running out of time. Will he be able to solve the mystery before his father ends up in jail? Grades 4-6.

Pros: The introduction draws the reader in quickly, with a blood-covered Eddie in a Darth Vader costume calling his parents from a Mexican jail cell, accompanied by an unconscious Jonah. From there, the action shifts back two weeks to reveal how they got there. Eddie’s voice is frank and funny, and Jonah is a perfect sidekick.

Cons: The clue that allowed Eddie and Jonah to finally figure out the solution to the mystery seemed a bit far-fetched.

Night Animals by Gianna Marino

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers 

Summary: Possum is scared. He warns Skunk that they’d better hide from the night animals. Before long, they’re joined by a nervous wolf (“Help me!” “Help YOU?! You’re a wolf!”), and then by a bear. When a shadow appears across the moon, all four animals freak out until they realize it’s just a bat. The bat asks them why they’re so scared; when they tell him it’s because of the night animals, he tells them, “You ARE night animals!” That reassures them until they come across some campers in a tent. The campers and the animals manage to scare each other, and each group runs off in opposite directions. Ages 3-8.

Pros: Cartoon bubbles keep the dialogue short and funny. The white parts of the animals, including their big round eyes, seem to glow in the dark against the black background. Anyone who has ever been told, “They’re just as afraid of you as you are of them” will surely appreciate this book.

Cons: The interesting facts about each animal are printed on the back of the dust jacket, which make them inaccessible on library books.

The Stars of Summer: An All Four Stars Book by Tara Dairman

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

Summary:  12-year-old Gladys Gatsby has recently launched her career as a restaurant reviewer by publishing a successful review in the New York Standard.  She’s deep into her second assignment when her friend Charissa surprises her with a birthday gift: a whole summer free at Charissa’s family’s day camp.  Gladys is crushed, having planned to spend her summer cooking and writing.  But her parents insist, and off Gladys goes to the unpleasant world of swimming, arts and crafts, and archery.  She fails her swimming test and has to put up with a snobby boy celebrity who’s also at camp against his will.  Things start to look up a bit when she is assigned the morning task of helping the camp cook, and inadvertently winds up remaking the menu.  Meanwhile, her editor has asked her to find the best hot dog in New York City.  The deadline is looming, and Gladys is stuck at camp every day.  Is her career as a restaurant reviewer doomed?  Grades 3-6.

Pros:  With its fun cast of characters and lighthearted but engaging plot, this is a perfect beach read for a hot summer’s day.

Cons:  There were quite a few references to the first book, All Four Stars, so it’s probably better to start with that one.

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Anita Silvey, foreword by Jane Goodall

Published by National Geographic Children’s Books


Summary:  Many may be familiar with Jane Goodall, who is said to be the most recognized living scientist in the western world.  But her familiar story will still appeal to young readers, and it is particularly well told in this book.  It begins with her childhood in England, then covers her move to Kenya as a young woman, and her groundbreaking studies of chimpanzees.  As she grew older, she became passionate about the conservation of chimpanzees and other animals around the globe.  Her organization, Roots and Shoots, provides opportunities for kids to get involved in the issues she is working on.  The final few pages offer facts about chimpanzees, a timeline of Goodall’s life, a family scrapbook of the chimps she studied, maps, and additional resources.

Pros:  The writing is engaging, the story fascinating, and photos of top National Geographic quality.

Cons:  The font is small throughout the text, and even smaller for photo captions.  The captions written in tiny lime green print on a white page are just ridiculous.

Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson, illustrated by Gitte Spee

Published by Gecko Press


Summary:  Detective Gordon is a toad who wants nothing more than to see crime and punishment eliminated from his district so he can drink tea and eat cakes in peace.  When an agitated squirrel named Vladimir reports 204 stolen nuts from his treetop pantry, Gordon reluctantly investigates the case.  In the process, he meets Buffy, a hungry, homeless mouse, and takes her in as an apprentice police officer.  Working together, the two of them manage to crack the case, and the thieves manage to punish themselves.  Grades 1-4.

Pros:  This Swedish import charms with gentle humor and cozy illustrations.  The author (or translator) doesn’t shy away from vocabulary…the first chapter includes the words wretched, monstrous, plundering, and envious.  This would be a good choice for a precocious first or second grade reader or a read-aloud in the primary grades.

Cons:  This would definitely be a stretch reading-wise for many in the intended age group.

Wrap-Up Wednesday: Rhyming Picture Books

As I’m approaching 150 books reviewed so far this year, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of my favorites.  Every Wednesday will now be “Wrap-Up Wednesday” where I provide a wrap-up of a few of my favorites in a chosen category.  This week I was reviewing all the picture books I’ve reviewed, and I realized all my favorite read-alouds are rhyming books.  Publishers often caution picture book authors against writing rhyming stories.  Thank goodness these authors didn’t listen. I’ve kid-tested most of these, and they passed with flying colors!

 Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.  Published by HMH Books for Young Readers.

The kindergarten teachers at my school beat me to the punch and  read this to their classes before I could.  No matter; the kids all loved hearing it again.  Stick and Stone beat bullying, shyness, and a ferocious storm to form a friendship that’s a perfect 10.

Monkey and Duck Quack Up! by Jennifer Hamburg, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.  Published by Scholastic Press

Okay, maybe not the most thought-provoking choice, but the rhymes are way catchy, and the joke of the last page made me  laugh.

Everybody Sleeps (But Not Fred) by Josh Schneider.  Published by Clarion Books.

This is the only one I haven’t tried out on kids, but I’ve got to believe they would love it.  Best of all (in my opinion), it has sly humor that will entertain the parents as well.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt.  Published by Chronicle Books

I’m in awe of people who write good fractured fairy tales.  And the ones who can do it in rhyme…I have no words.

Ninja Bunny by Jennifer Gray Olson

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Rule number one for a ninja bunny:  a super awesome ninja must always work alone.  So the bunny goes forth alone, working his way through the next nine rules with mixed success.  With Rule 10: “A super awesome ninja must battle anyone anywhere anytime alone”, he finds himself face to face with a ferocious bear.  Fortunately, the rest of the bunnies have ignored Rule 1, and are right behind him, ready to rush in with ninja-like ferocity and scare that bear away.  On the final page, there’s been a change: “Rule 1: A super awesome ninja needs super awesome friends!”  Ages 3-7.

Pros:  You can’t go wrong with ninjas, and this book comes with a good message about friendship.

Cons:  The hit with the rake looks painful.

Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra de Winter and Bram Broen by Eve Yohalem.

Published by Dial Books

Summary: When Petra de Winter’s wealthy father threatens to kill her, she runs away and hides on board the Golden Lion a ship sailing from the Netherlands to the East Indies.  Bram Broen, the mixed-race son of the ship’s carpenter discovers her and helps her stay hidden.  She disguises herself as a boy, which turns out to be fortunate when she is eventually discovered.  After surviving a keel hauling, she is put to work as the surgeon’s assistant, using skills she learned back home in Holland.  Told in alternating voices, Petra and Bram relate a story that includes piracy, mutiny, and lots of adventure.  Grades 5 and up.

Pros:  While more of a middle school book, good fifth grade readers will enjoy this page-turning adventure.  It would also make an exciting read aloud.

Cons: Pretty much every aspect of life for anyone living in 17th century Europe who wasn’t  wealthy, white, and male.

Ice Cream Summer by Peter Sis

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  A boy writes a letter to his grandfather, assuring him that he is working hard over the summer, practicing his reading, writing, math, and history.  The pictures show that all his studies center on ice cream.  He is reading lists of ice cream flavors and solving math problems involving scoops of ice cream.  He is researching the history of ice cream, starting with its creation in ancient China and tracing it to the United States.  His grandfather rewards all his hard work with a trip to the top of Ice Cream Peak.  Ages 4-8.

Pros:  There’s nothing wrong with focusing on ice cream during the summer months (or any other months for that matter).  Award-winning author and illustrator Peter Sis has fun with the folk art-inspired illustrations.

Cons:  The story is a bit trite.