You may think it’s the end of January, but here in Kid’s Book a Day land, it’s New Year’s Eve. Some of you keen-eyed blog readers might have noticed that last night I changed the year in the subtitle from 2015 to 2016. Starting tomorrow, all books reviewed will be published in 2016. Here’s hoping for as many wonderful books as we saw in 2015!
Published by Beach Lane Books
Summary: The familiar “Wheels on the Bus” gets an Indian spin as a somewhat wild and crazy tuk tuk driver (wala) weaves his way through a busy Indian town, transporting all kinds of people in his three-wheeled vehicle. Readers (and singers) are introduced to Indian rupees, poppa-doppa-doms, chai tea, Diwali, and elephants and cows in the streets. The authors’ note relates their own experiences on a tuk tuk, and a glossary explains some of the unfamiliar words from the song. 40 pages; ages 3-6.
Pros: A familiar song is used as a vehicle (pardon the pun) for a fun introduction to the sights and sounds of India. The busy illustrations give kids plenty to look at, and everyone on and around the tuk tuk seems to be having a wonderful time.
Cons: Tuk tuk seatbelt laws seem a bit lax.
Published by Candlewick Press
Summary: When a family of three from Florida gets caught in an Ohio blizzard, things go downhill pretty quickly. Unable to find their way. and exhausted from plowing through the deep snow, they finally dig a hole to take shelter and huddle together to wait out the storm. From time to time, the father stands up to whistle, hoping someone will hear this call for help. On a nearby farm, the whistle catches the sharp ears of a cattle dog, and she sets out to locate the source. Finding the family, she stays with them long enough to warm them a bit, then heads back to her farm. She drives the cattle across the snow, flattening it enough that the family is able to walk across it and at last find shelter with the old farmer who owns the dog. Many years later, the boy in the family, now 18 years old, returns to the farm to try to reconstruct the miraculous rescue. What he finds there changes the course of his life going forward. 103 pages; ages 9-13.
Pros: Dog fanciers will fall in love with the courageous, intelligent cattle dog, who, along with the other characters, is nameless until the very end of the story. The color illustrations perfectly capture the feel of the blinding snow and the warm farmhouse.
Cons: While the short text and plentiful illustrations make this feel like an early chapter book, the vocabulary and inferencing skills needed make it more appropriate for an older audience.
Published by Creston Books
Summary: From the time Ada Byron was a child, she loved the world of science and, especially, math. She designed a flying machine at the age of 12, shortly before becoming very ill with a case of the measles that left her temporarily blind and paralyzed. She persevered with her education, however, and when she was 17, she met Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor who had created a mechanical calculating machine. He had also designed, but not built, an Analytical Engine, which was a more sophisticated machine, the forerunner of a computer. Ada studied his designs for this machine, and created a numerical algorithm that would instruct it. Although Babbage never built his machine, Ada’s algorithm is considered to be the first computer program. Back matter includes an author’s note, timeline, and bibliography.
Pros: An inspiring story of a brilliant girl growing up in a time when such brilliance was not generally recognized and nurtured. Chu’s illustrations evoke the early 19th-century feel of Ada’s time in history.
Cons: The pages describing the young Ada’s design of a flying machine, followed by her bout with measles, seemed a little disjointed and confusing to me.
Published by Groundwood Books
Summary: 12-year-old Dasha is crushed when she learns that her mother is spending a year at the University of Illinois, leaving Dasha with her grandparents in the Soviet Union. Her father is living in Los Angeles, so Dasha feels lonely, despite her loving grandparents and two best friends. During the year, she goes through some friendship difficulties, develops an unrequited crush on an older boy, and works hard to get into a better school. Meanwhile, political unrest results in a few anxious days until Boris Yeltsin replaces Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet leader. Things are beginning to fall into place by the spring, when her mother returns, announcing that Dasha will be joining her for the second year of her master’s program. The book ends on an uncertain note, as Dasha arrives in Urbana, Illinois, and meets a girl who just might be a new friend. 168 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Even though she is from a different place and time, Dasha’s feelings will be familiar to 21st century American tweens. A cross between a graphic novel and an illustrated chapter book, A Year Without Mom will appeal to both reluctant and avid middle school readers.
Cons: Some of the Soviet references may be a bit confusing for post-Cold War readers.
Published by Schwartz and Wade
Summary: Told with a rhyming couplet on each page (“Winter Bear drifts into sleep/Earth’s snowflake blanket soft and deep”), this story follows a mother bear and her cubs as they move through the seasons. Starting with their winter birth in a cave, the cubs and their mother emerge in the spring, eating, playing, growing, and learning to fend for themselves. By the time winter rolls around again, the cubs are old enough to be able to dream about being on their own. 40 pages; ages 3-6.
Pros: Although the text is spare, readers will learn about bears and the seasons, both through the writing and charming illustrations that perfectly capture the feel of each time of year.
Cons: The bear picture book shelf is already pretty crowded.
Published by Enchanted Lion Books
Summary: 16 poems about animals are presented, illustrated with vividly colored prints. Some poets, such as Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash, will be familiar to many readers, while others, such as Arthur Waugh and Carolyn Wells, are less well-known. Some of the pages unfold to reveal even larger illustrations. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: The large square design and brightly colored, busy illustrations will provide an enticing introduction to poetry for young readers.
Cons: I always enjoy an author’s note explaining the selection of poems, and maybe a description of how the art was produced to complement them. Other than acknowledgements, there was none of this sort of information.
Published by Millbrook Press
Summary: When construction workers near Albany, New York, dug up a human skull, police, town officials, and archaeologists were all called in. The skull was determined to be over a century old. Construction was halted, and an archaeological site was set up. More skeletons were found, indicating a cemetery had been there. Since there were no markers and it was far away from the main house of the farm that had been there in the 1800’s, the archaeologists were fairly certain it had been a slave cemetery. This book looks at how scientists, historians, and artists worked together to learn the history of the people who had been buried there, as well as in two other slave cemeteries in New York City and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Using clues from the bones, DNA, and artifacts found on or near the bodies, much could be learned about the people, where they came from, what their lives were like, and even what their faces looked like. Back matter includes an author’s note, glossary, bibliography, and places to visit to learn more. 112 pages; grades 5-7.
Pros: A fascinating blend of science and history, covering both the history of slavery in the northern United States, and the science of how the skeletons contributed to this knowledge.
Cons: A picture of a slave being burned alive near the end of the book could be disturbing to some readers.
Published by Little, Brown
Summary: Holly Hobbie (yes, children of the 1970’s, that Holly Hobbie) stays close to the original version of this tale. In an author’s note, she explains how she grew up listening to a recording of the Great Gildersleeve reading the story and imagined pictures to go with it. Her illustrations portray blonde Germanic-looking children, a pointy-nosed-and- chinned witch, and a classic gingerbread cottage. Shadows loom in many of the illustrations until the final page when the children and their father are reunited. 32 pages; ages 3-6.
Pros: The watercolor illustrations are beautiful and will make this classic fairy tale accessible to a new generation.
Cons: Some of the details of the fairy tale were left out; I always liked how Hansel tricked the witch into thinking a chicken bone was his finger, but that was excluded from this retelling.
Published by National Geographic
Summary: Over 200 poems are paired with nature photographs, arranged in sections about animals, seasons, specific places, and natural disasters. J. Patrick Lewis, former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate, edited the collection and wrote an introduction about looking at nature and responding to it poetically. He includes six of his own poems in post-it note form at the end, and an essay on “Who is Mother Nature?” that invites kids to write their own poetic answer to that question. Also included at the end: a bibliography of children’s books on wordplay in poetry arrange by category (acrostics, anagrams, epitaphs, etc.), and indices by title, poet, first line, and subject. 192 pages; grades K-6.
Pros: This is a rich collection of poetry by many different writers that invites children to engage in the creative processes of enjoying poetry and creating their own. Readers will be drawn in by the beautiful, National Geographic quality photographs on every page.
Cons: It would have been interesting to know a little more about some of the lesser-known poets; at the very least, the year they wrote their poems.