My Life in Pictures written and illustrated by Deborah Zemke

Published by Penguin Young Readers Group


Summary:  Bea Garcia likes to draw pictures of everything in her life.  She keeps her drawings in a book she calls—you guessed it—My Life in Pictures.  She has pictures of her mom and dad, pictures of her little brother Pablo, a.k.a. The Big Pest, and pictures of her best friend Yvonne, who, sadly, has just moved to Australia.  Yvonne’s house next door is empty, but not for long.  Pretty soon a new family moves in with a boy just Bea’s age—or is he really a monster?  Bert, a.k.a. Burp, ends up in Bea’s class, and she’s pretty sure nothing can be worse than the first day of school…until she gets to the second day.  Just when it seems like disaster is about to strike, Bea’s book of pictures winds up saving the day.  134 pages; ages 6-9.

Pros:  Bea is a likeable character with realistic-sounding problems and a spunky attitude to handle them.  The heavily illustrated text will make this a good choice for readers transitioning to longer chapter books.

Cons:  I was a bit disturbed that Bea’s teacher showed her artwork to the whole class without first asking her permission.

Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine by Heather Lang, illustrated by Raul Colon

Published by Calkins Creek


Summary:  Ruth Law loved to entertain crowds with her daredevil flying, but after four years of shows, she was ready for a new challenge.  In 1916, she decided to fly from Chicago to New York City, which would set a new American record for nonstop flight.  Although she had never flown more than 25 miles, Ruth was a mechanical whiz, and set about modifying her plane to get it ready for the journey.  She also cut a map into strips and put it on a roller.  She had to have both hands on the controls at all times, but managed to maneuver one control with her knee when she had to turn the roller and find her way.  (Kind of like those drivers who talk on their phones with one hand and hold their Slurpees in the other)  Flying in a 50-mile-per-hour late November wind, she made it as far as Haskell, NY before she ran out of gas.  That was enough for a new record, though, and the next day she landed in New York City, gliding past the Statue of Liberty before landing in the midst of a cheering crowd.  Grades 1-4.

Pros:  Heather Lang tells a fascinating story of an early aviation pioneer, with relevant quotes from Law interspersed throughout the text.  The illustrations capture the feel of flying in a primitive airplane, low enough to the ground to be able to navigate with a map.

Cons:  This is mostly the story of a single flight, not a complete biography of Ruth Law.

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka

Published by Roaring Brook Press 


Summary:  “A poet uses words like colors to paint pictures inside your head,” says Bob Raczka in his introduction.  “In concrete poems, or shape poems, the words also paint pictures on the page.”  In each of these 21 concrete poems, the title is a single word, and the poem is only a few more lines.  Together they create an image, both concretely on the page, and more abstractly, in the reader’s mind.  For example, “Clock” is written with a capital L superimposed over the O to make it look like a clock.  The poem, “The clock on the wall says it’s five ‘til three, but the kids in my class say it’s five ‘til free” is written in lines going out from a center point, also resembling a clock.  Even the table of contents and copyright information are written in new ways for readers to enjoy.  48 pages; grades 2-6

Pros:  These poems make fun use of wordplay.  Kids will enjoy reading them and maybe even trying their own.

Cons:  You’ll need to be able to read backwards and upside down for some of the poems.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

Published by Katherine Tegen Books 

Summary:  11-year-old Perry Cook has grown up in an unusual home—the Blue River Coed Correctional Facility in Surprise, Nebraska, where his mother, Jessica, is serving a sentence for manslaughter.  Perry was born in prison, and the kind warden there has served as his foster parent, allowing him to grow up near his mother.  He leaves each day to go to school, where his best friend is Zoey Samuels.  Perry loves his life, but a new district attorney changes everything.  Convinced that prison is no place for a child, Thomas VanLeer not only postpones Jessica’s parole hearing, but insists that Perry be placed in a real home…namely VanLeer’s.  It turns out Thomas VanLeer is Zoey’s stepfather, and Perry finds himself living in his friend’s home.  Using the coping skills he’s learned from the other prison inmates, he works hard to stay upbeat, and focuses on a school project collecting the stories of how his friends ended up in jail.  This eventually leads him to learn more about his mother’s own story, and makes him more determined than ever to find a way for the two of them to be together again in their own home…on the outside.  380 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A heartfelt and engaging story about a spunky protagonist who is able to rise above his circumstances to do what he thinks is best.  Although the prison setting is somewhat unrealistic, the characters are well-developed, and are motivated by trying to do the right thing…even when they aren’t really sure what that is.

Cons:  The story could be enjoyed by a third- or fourth-grader, but the almost 400-page length may be a big daunting.

The Night Gardener by Terry Fan, illustrated by Eric Fan

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers The Night Gardener: 9781481439787: Fan, Terry, Fan, Eric, Fan,  Terry, Fan, Eric: Books

Summary:  Even before the title page, we see that Grimloch Lane looks a lot like it sounds, brown and dreary, populated with sad-looking people.  But wait, is that a man pruning a tree?  What is he doing?  Then the story begins.  William, looking through his window at the Grimloch Orphanage, hears a commotion. Running out the door, he discovers a giant owl has been cut into a tree.  As the days go by, trees are transformed into an elephant, a rabbit, a parrot, and then, the masterpiece, a two-tree dragon.  With each new creation, more townspeople come together and find reasons to celebrate.  At the end of the day of the dragon, William sees an unfamiliar figure in the streets, carrying a ladder and some pruning shears.  The man sees him, and the two of them work through the night to create a forest of animals.  Eventually, the leaves change colors and fall off the trees, and the animals are gone, but the town and William are never the same.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This simple story has a beautiful message, and the illustrations are worthy of Caldecott consideration.

Cons: This book has the same title as a very creepy book from a couple of years ago.  Make sure you don’t mix them up if you plan to read this aloud to a bunch of five year-olds.

Cricket Song written and illustrated by Anne Hunter

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Summary:  As night falls in one place, a child drifts off to sleep.  The song of the crickets fills the room, and drifts out into the yard, where it is joined by the croaking of frogs.  The sounds and activities of one animal lead to those of another, from one page to the next.  At the bottom of each page is a picture of two places, separated by a large body of water.  On each page, the sun gradually moves from east to west.  At the beginning, night is falling in the eastern land, and by the end, the sun sets on the western one as well.  The child in that house drifts off to sleep.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The beautiful illustrations of animals combine with the poetic, soothing text to form a perfect bedtime story.  The series of pictures on the bottom make an interesting complement to the main illustrations.

Cons:  Although the pictures at the bottom of the page were cool and definitely added to the book, I found them distracting until I figured out what was going on in them.

Miss Mary Reporting: The True Story of Sportswriter Mary Garber by Sue Macy, illustrated by C. F. Payne

Published by Simon and Schuster


Summary:  Mary Garber was considered a bit of a tomboy growing up in North Carolina.  She played tackle football on the boys’ team and loved going to football games with her father.  After college, she knew she wanted to be a reporter, but her first job on the society page didn’t exactly suit her.  During World War II, most sports writers went to war, so Mary got to fill in, a job she continued for the next forty years.  Not only did she blaze trails for women sportswriters, but she was among the first to report on African American teams and players, most famously Jackie Robinson.  If a kid tried hard, Miss Mary would report his or her achievements in a positive way, resulting in adults who sometimes thanked her for her coverage many years later.  As the author notes at the end, “Mary Garber didn’t set out to change the world, but change it she did.”  End matter includes author’s note, a timeline, and additional resources.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A lively biography of a little-known woman who followed her passion and opened doors for others as she went.  The slightly goofy illustrations lend a light-hearted feel to the text.

Cons:  Mary looks pretty much exactly the same in the illustrations from childhood through retirement.

The Wrong Wrights (Secret Smithsonian Adventures) by Steve Hockensmith and Chris Kientz, illustrated by Lee Nielsen

Published by Smithsonian Books 

Summary:  Four kids are awarded a trip to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum for winning the district science fair.  When they get there, they discover that, instead of airplanes, the exhibit halls are filled with hot air balloons and dirigibles.  They’ve accidentally stumbled into an alternate reality, and before you can say “Kitty Hawk”, they are whisked back in time to a crucial point in aviation history.  On a windy day in 1909, the Wright brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and Thomas Scott Baldwin demonstrated their flying machines.  Only the Wright brothers were successful, and this led to greater financial support for the airplane, and less for the other types of aircraft.  The kids, with the help of Katherine Wright (Orville and Wilbur’s sister) are able to defeat other time travelers who are trying to help Curtiss and Baldwin, and secure the Wrights’ place in history.  When they return to the present, the airplanes are back in place at the Air and Space Museum.  64 pages; grades 3-6

Pros:  History, time travel, and science are pleasantly mingled in this graphic novel, which is apparently the first in a series published by the Smithsonian.

Cons:  Some of the time travel seemed a little too “Scooby Doo” and not particularly well thought-out.

Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photographs by Wing Young Huie

Published by Carolrhoda Books

Image result for their great gift amazon 

Summary:  Each page has 3-6 photographs of 21st-century immigrants. The brief text explains how people have come to the United States from many countries.  They may not speak English, they may make embarrassing mistakes, but they work hard and often do the jobs that no one else wants.  They push their children to also work hard and to never give up, with the hope that those children will have opportunities they never knew.  The final page asks, “What will we do with their great gift?”  Back matter includes photos of the author’s and illustrator’s ancestors and their stories of how those families came to America, as well as a description of how they came to work together on this book.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Although the text is brief, almost like a poem, the photographs are captivating and will make readers want to spend a lot of time with this book, imagining what life is like for the subjects of those photos.  This would be a perfect introduction to a unit on immigration, demonstrating that seeking a new life in the United States has been, and continues to be, an ongoing theme in American history.

Cons:  I wanted to know more about every single photograph.

Andy & Sandy books by Tomie dePaola, co-written with Jim Lewis

Published by Simon and Schuster


Summary:  Andy is a short, quiet, dark-haired boy; Sandy is a tall, louder, red-haired girl.  In their first adventure, they both play alone at the playground until they realize they can only enjoy the seesaw if they get together.  In the second installment, a playdate turns into a series of masquerades when they discover an old trunk filled with dress-up clothes.  Book #3 is due out in October.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Told in about two dozen short, simple sentences, these would be excellent first books for beginning readers.  As always, Tomie dePaola’s illustrations are charming.

Cons:  The stories lack the originality and humor of another set of easy reader friends, Elephant and Piggie.