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.

The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers

Published by Algonquin Young Readers


Summary:  Kammie Summers, new to her Texas middle school, is trying to get in with the cool girls.  As part of her initiation, they tell her to stand on top of an old well and sing a song.  Before she can finish, the rotten wood breaks and she falls into the well, where she is trapped, arms pinned to her sides.  After a few half-hearted rescue attempts, the three girls disappear, and Kammie is left alone, unsure if they will ever come back.  As the hours pass, she thinks about her past life, especially the recent arrest of her father for embezzlement, and his imprisonment that led to their move to Texas and descent into poverty.  A rescue party eventually arrives, but by then the oxygen in the well has dipped to dangerous levels and Kammie is drifting in and out of consciousness.  It’s a race against time, as the National Guard is called in and an attempt is made to dig her out of her prison.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  An engrossing premise allows readers to gradually get to know Kammie and her family as her thoughts travel back and forth in time.  The pages will turn quickly for readers anxious to learn the fate of the girl in the well.

Cons:  Anyone even slightly claustrophobic may want to steer clear of this one.

Bringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Patrice Barton

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  An ethnically diverse group of young children enjoy the outdoors in all seasons.  In spring they play in the mud, they enjoy a summer trip to the beach, in fall they play in the leaves, and winter brings cold and snow.   After each outdoor adventure, they bring a bit of the outdoors in.  At the end, they enjoy a box filled with photos of their adventures as well as a few keepsakes likes shells, leaves, and sticks.  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  The rollicking rhyming text and exuberant illustrations should be enough to pry any young couch potato away from the Xbox and into the great outdoors.

Cons:  The text seemed more like a song than a rhyme, but alas, there was no music provided, and I’m pretty sure it’s beyond my capabilities to make any up.

Pete Milano’s Guide to Being a Movie Star by Tommy Greenwald, illustrations by Rebecca Roher

Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary: Pete is generally a big goof; in fact, he sometimes feels like his friends get kind of annoyed by some of his shenanigans. He’s just stolen cheerleader Eliza Collins’s pom poms when he ducks into a coffee shop to hide.  He catches the eye of an eccentric woman sitting at one of the tables with two laptops and a cell phone.  Turns out she’s a movie producer, and she invites Pete to come and audition for a film she’s making.  He decides to give it a try, and, lo and behold, is chosen for the part, starring opposite teen sensation Shana Fox.  Life seems pretty amazing until his friends decide that stardom has gone to his head.  Even worse, his girlfriend is sure he and Shana are romantically involved.  When Shana invites Pete to dinner at his parents’ restaurant, the whole crisis comes to a head.  It looks like Pete will have to decide between a normal life and movie stardom.  256 pages; grades 4-6

Pros:  This latest entry in the Charlie Joe Jackson series is sure to please fans.  Pete is a likeable character who tells his story with humor and honesty, sprinkled with his own illustrations and bits of the script from his movie.  Wimpy Kid readers should enjoy moving up to this series.

Cons:  In many of the illustrations, Pete looks more like a fourth grader than an eighth grader.

The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Meghan McCarthy

Published by Simon and Schuster 

Summary:  How times have changed.  Back when the 1904 Olympic marathon was held, it was part of the World’s Fair in St. Louis.  41  men signed up to participate, but on race day, only 32 showed up.  The course washed out several days before the event, so a new course was mapped, much hillier than the original.  One of the participants was chased off the road by a dog; another kept stopping for snack breaks along the way; a third struggled when his trainer fed him strychnine mixed with an egg white to keep up his energy.  Despite the 90-degree heat, there were only two water stops, and some of the water was contaminated, forcing more than one man to drop out due to stomach issues.  One racer jumped into a car for several miles, then tried to pass himself off as the winner by running the last bit of the race.  In the end, Thomas Hicks, the American guy who consumed strychnine, managed to stumble across the finish line as the first legitimate winner.  End matter includes additional information about the race and a few of the racers, plus a bibliography.

Pros:  Lots of laughs reading about a race that resembled “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”.  Kids will enjoy comparing and contrasting the 1904 marathon with today’s Olympics.  Meghan McCarthy’s pop-eyed cartoon illustrations add a great deal of fun to the story.

Cons:  The cast of characters was a little large to keep track of in a picture book.  I had to keep referring back to a two-page spread at the beginning that profiled the main runners.