When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books


Summary:  Waiting for spring can be hard.  There’s rain, mud, and sometimes, a brief return of winter.  But if you’re patient, you’ll see flowers blooming and eggs hatching, and you’ll feel the warm sun.  You’ll know it’s really spring when there are buds and bees and boots and bubbles; worms and wings and wind and wheels.  But you’re not done waiting, because then it’s time to wait for summer!  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The husband and wife team of Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek has created a book that perfectly captures the slow unfolding of spring from winter. The soft, brightly-colored illustrations perfectly complement the brief, but descriptive, text. The spring endpapers at the beginning and summer ones at the end encapsulate the movement from one season to the next.

Cons:  Don’t read this book until at least late March, or you’ll be depressed when you look out your window.

Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers by Sara Levine, illustrations by T. S. Spookytooth

Published by Millbrook Press 

Summary:  How many teeth do you have?  What are the names and functions of different types of teeth?  What kind of an animal would you be if you had really long incisors?  Or teeth that were all the same? Tooth by Tooth draws readers right in with questions about something all of us are pretty familiar with—our teeth.  Kids will learn which types of teeth are used by carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, and why only mammals have different types of teeth.  The last few pages include a glossary, additional resources, and more information about mammals and their teeth.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The first book by this author/illustrator team, Bone by Bone is one of my favorite nonfiction read-alouds.  The questions make both books very interactive, and the illustrations are lots of fun, showing what you would look like with different types of bones or teeth.  Not only that, but there’s a ton of information packed into a short amount of text.

Cons:  I didn’t find teeth quite as varied and interesting as bones.

Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, illustrated by Sarah McIntyre

Published by Random House 

Summary:  When Shen’s boat crushed by frozen waves in a sudden ice storm, he’s left on his own with part of the ship’s cargo—66 pugs.  They manage to cross the ice to the nearest village, where they meet Sika and her family. Sika tells Shen that it’s True Winter, an event that only happens once in a lifetime.  True Winter means the Snowfather can be reached at the North Pole, and there will be a sled race to get to him.  Whoever gets there first will be granted a wish.  Sika wants to go to see if she can save her dying grandfather; she has a sled, but no dogs.  Turns out sixty six pugs can do the work of a dog sled team, so off they all go, racing against a group of formidable opponents.  Undeterred by yetis, snowbots, and cheating competitors, the kids and their pugs prove that they are contenders.  224 pages; ages 7-10.

Pros: Don’t be put off by the goofy cover; this is a good adventure story with original characters and loveable characters. The humor is accentuated with silly illustrations on every page.

Cons: There’s no getting around it, those pugs are pretty ugly.

Can You Survive an Alien Invasion: An Interactive Doomsday Adventure by Blake Hoena

Published by Capstone Press 

Summary: You’re out in a field looking at Saturn through your telescope when suddenly you spot a UFO. If you decide to investigate, turn to page 12.  Running away? Page 16.  There are 28 choices and 12 different endings in this You Choose adventure.  All the endings are some form of impending doom (I ended up in the aliens’ food pen) or becoming a soldier in the human army fighting off the aliens.  The last few pages look at the possibility of life in outer space; also included are a glossary, sources of additional information, a survival kit checklist, and top 10 survival tips for an alien invasion.  112 pages; ages 8-12.

Pros:  Recommend this to reluctant readers.  If they enjoy it, they may want to move on to the rest of the series, which includes surviving a zombie apocalypse, a virus outbreak, and a global blackout.

Cons:  Each library bound edition retails for a ridiculous $31.32.

Friday Barnes, Girl Detective by R. A. Spratt, illustrated by Phil Gosier

Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary:  Friday’s parents are busy scientists, so she’s been on her own for most of her childhood.  A curious and intelligent child, she’s taught herself more in eleven years than most people learn in a lifetime.  After she cracks a bank robbery case, she decides to use the reward money to pay for a year at the exclusive Highcrest Academy.  Her plans to blend in fail miserably, and she soon finds herself in demand as a private investigator, solving everything from missing homework to the identity of the big hairy monster in the swamp behind the school.  The book ends with her unexpected arrest; readers will have to wait until the sequel comes out in August to learn what that’s all about.  272 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  This Australian import features offbeat humor, a quirky but spunky protagonist, and a colorful cast of supporting characters, illuminated with plenty of cartoon-type illustrations.  I’m not always a big fan of “quirky”, but this was done in a way that kept me chuckling until the end.

Cons:  This might not work for a mystery book report, as it is a series of small mysteries rather than one big one.

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books 

Summary:  Terpsichore Johnson’s father has been out of work for months, and there’s barely enough food to feed her and her three younger siblings.  When President Roosevelt announces a plan for families to get free farms in Palmer, Alaska, Mr. Johnson is ready to sign up.  Terpsichore’s mother is much less certain, but she agrees to try it for fifteen months, through two harvest seasons.  Despite cold winds, outhouses, and having to live in a tent for a few months, Terpsichore loves Alaska.  She starts a public library with her new friends, and sets her sights on growing a pumpkin big enough to win the grand prize at the fall fair.  The fair marks the end of the fifteen-month trial period, though, and Mother is still not convinced that she wants to stay in Alaska.  Terpsichore hatches a crazy plan to buy something she thinks might make up her mother’s mind.  Will her idea work?  304 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  With a nod to Terpsichore’s favorite books, Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy (Little House on the Prairie is published during the family’s first year in Alaska), this story tells of twentieth-century pioneers working together to build a new community and a more prosperous life for their families.  Readers will root for Terpsichore as she pours her heart into helping her friends and family.

Cons:  It took at least half the book for me to find the mother even a tiny bit likeable.

Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Published by Carolrhoda Books 

Summary: Great-Grandmother Nell is 96 years old, and prickly enough to be kind of scary. Yet clearly her great-granddaughter, who narrates this book, loves her and is fascinated by her.  Great Grandmother insists on being called Great Grandmother.  She may be old, but she is still stylish, occasionally inviting her great granddaughter into her room for a little practice applying lipstick and wearing perfume.  Great Grandmother claims to remember every day of her 96 years, including the day her heart was broken when her best friend said they couldn’t be friends anymore because of Nell’s brown skin.  A wordless two-page spread shows some of her other memories, like the March on Washington and a performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company.  At the end, the narrator sneaks into her great grandmother’s room for a good night kiss while Great Grandmother is sleeping.  32 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  This is a great mentor text for characterization.  So many interesting details about Great Grandmother Nell really make her come alive for the reader, and also reveal a bit about the narrator.  The bold, colorful illustrations help flesh out both characters as well.

Cons: Some adult readers may be offended by the “glass with something that looks like apple juice” that Nell sips during the day and once offers to her great granddaughter.

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle, illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Published by Tundra Books 

Summary: When the narrator of the story gets a pet hamster, she thinks it’s kind of boring—it only eats, sleeps, hides, and gets its shavings wet. Her imagination takes off as she starts to imagine the mythical creatures that might make really exciting pets.  The more she thinks about each one, though, the more she realizes it has a down side.  Unicorns are shy, a hippogriff could be disruptive at the dog park, a gryphon has to be flown every day without fail.  In the end, she concludes the hamster might not be so bad after all.  The final page clues the reader in that this may not be your ordinary hamster.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The rhyming text and colorful illustrations provide a fun introduction to a variety of mythical creatures.

Cons:  You might want to confirm the pronunciation of words like gryphon, kraken, and kirin before attempting this as a read-aloud.

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books


Summary:  Told as a story letter (“My Dear Reader”) in a style similar to one Beatrix Potter used to use, this tale features a young Beatrix.  Not surprisingly, she enjoyed keeping numerous pets, and even borrowing others’ pets, mostly for the purpose of drawing and painting them.  She could be careless, though, and on one occasion, she forgot about a borrowed guinea pig, who proceeded to eat up most of her art supplies.  Unfortunately, these proved fatal for the cute little animal, and Beatrix was forced to go confess her mistake.  In an attempt at compensation, Miss Potter offered a watercolor drawing of the guinea pig, which was not received too graciously.  Although the story is about a young girl, the author’s note reveals that this incident happened when Beatrix Potter was 26 years old.

Pros:  This humorous tale includes quite a bit of historical information about Beatrix Potter’s life and how she got her start writing and illustrating her famous books.  The watercolor illustrations are clearly inspired by the Potter books.

Cons:  The whole killing the guinea pig thing is a little less of a chuckle when one finds out it was committed by a 26-year-old woman.


Oona Finds an Egg (Oodlethunks Book 1) by Adele Griffin illustrated by Mike Wu

Published by Scholastic 

Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVhK8kZN5w0

Summary:  Oona lives in a cave with her high-powered mother (she’s trying to market the newly-invented wheel), her father (he’s a laid-back hunter-gatherer who likes to cook), and younger brother, Bonk.  When Oona discovers a large egg, she hopes it will hatch into something that Bonk’s not allergic to. And that it won’t be interested in eating her and her family.  When she and Bonk have a fight, the egg mysteriously disappears, and Oona is heartbroken.  Using her wits and ingenuity, she figures out what happened and tracks down her unhatched pet just as the egg is starting to rock and crack a bit.  It breaks open, and out steps a baby…well, I can’t give everything away.  Book #2 comes out in September.  160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  The Oodlethunks are a modern Stone-Age family, and 21st century kids will chuckle over the up-to-date reinventions of prehistoric life.  The author’s note at the end separates fact from fiction, explaining that much of the Oodlethunks’ village is based on ancient Colorado.  Fun illustrations.

Cons:  The geologic ages are a bit mixed up.