On the Farm, At the Market by G. Brian Karas

Published by Henry Holt and Company

Summary:  Where does all that yummy food at the farmers’ market come from?  This book goes behind the scenes to a farm, a dairy, and a mushroom grower to see what happens the night before market day.  Everyone is busy into the night, harvesting, cooking, and packing.  Early in the morning, the food is transported and unpacked, and then the fun begins.  Chef Amy from the Busy Bee Cafe makes her usual rounds, selecting fresh food for the evening’s special.  At the end of the day, all of the farmers and their helpers head over to the cafe to relax and enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of their labors.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Kids who have never gone to a farmers’ market will want to check one out after reading this book; those who are regulars will want to thank the farmers for their hard work creating all that delicious food.

Cons:  The Amazing Cheese Dairy Farm seems to be flirting with some child labor law violations.

Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole

Published by Simon and Schuster 

Can you spot the cat?

Summary:  Spot the Cat sees a bird through the open window.  The temptation is too great; he jumps out and is off, into the city.  His boy discovers he’s missing and makes flyers on his computer while Spot continues his adventures.  The boy goes out looking for him.  Connections are missed.  Finally, the boy gives up and comes home only to discover, to his delight, that Spot is at his window, home again.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The title of this wordless picture book has a double meaning.  Readers must spot Spot the cat on every page of detailed black and white illustrations.  There is often a spotted dog or some other decoy.  The pictures are beautifully drawn, and children will enjoy studying them.

Cons:  Be sure to allow plenty of time with this book.  I tried to rush it a little, and my heart would sink every time I turned a page and felt compelled to stop until I had spotted Spot.

Will’s Words: How William Shakespeare Changed the Way You Talk by Jane Sutcliffe, illustrated by John Shelley

Published by Charlesbridge 

Summary: A letter from the author at the beginning of the book tells her dilemma: in trying to tell the story of William Shakespeare and the Globe Theater, she kept running into Will’s words. Shakespeare created and/or popularized so many words and phrases that it’s almost impossible to tell a story without using some of them. She then proceeds with her original task on the left-hand pages, bolding Will’s words. The right-hand pages explain the history of those words and where they appear in Shakespeare’s plays. A final author’s letter tells a bit more about William Shakespeare, mostly how little we know of him. A time line and bibliography are also included at the end. 40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros: A nice introduction to Shakespeare’s plays and the Globe Theater, with the added element of looking at the impact these plays had on the English language. The illustrations do a wonderful job of conveying the enthusiastic audiences crowded into the theater and the exuberant actors preparing and performing the shows.

Cons: Although this book is targeted to an elementary audience, I couldn’t help feeling it would be more appreciate by older students studying Shakespeare’s works.

Fluffy Strikes Back by Ashley Spires

Published by Kids Can Press 

Summary: Fluffy is the lead cat of P.U.R.S.T. (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). Although he used to work out in the field, he now spends his days behind a desk five stories underground, protecting the humans and pets of the world from aliens. But one day, those aliens (insects) invade P.U.R.S.T. headquarters, and Fluffy has to spring back into action to defeat them. It’s a tough job, but with the help of his right-hand cat and chief engineer guinea pig (hamster?), Fluffy is able to get the job done. 72 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros: A fun beginning graphic novel; not too much text, but plenty of cat action.

Cons: A bit of bathroom—or rather, litter box–humor.


The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, illustrated by Red Nose Studio

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Summary:  New York City in the 1860’s had a horrendous traffic problem.  Alfred Ely Beach thought he had a solution: build an underground tunnel and send a train through the tunnel to transport people in a way that would keep them off the street.  Unable to get approval for his project, he pretended he was constructing a pneumatic mail tube under the city.  In reality, he was creating a tunnel big enough for a train.  In just two months, he built the first subway, unveiling his invention to the public on February 26, 1870.  People loved his train at first, but eventually the novelty wore off, and it would be decades before the rest of New York City caught up with Beach and built the present-day subway.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  The story is well-told, and will appeal to fans of trains and other inventions.  The real marvel of this book are the multimedia pictures which are a cross between Claymation and Hanna Barbera animation.  The illustrations will sell this book to many readers.

Cons:  I thought Beach had created the subway used in New York today, so it was a bit of an anticlimax to learn his invention never really took off.


Clean Sweep! Frank Zamboni’s Ice Machine by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Renne Benoit

Published by Tundra Books


Summary:  Anyone who’s ever gone ice skating, or watched a sports event that took place on ice, has observed the giant Zamboni machine that drives around the rink and quickly resurfaces the ice.  But 70 years ago, there was no machine, and it took several men 90 minutes or more for that ice treatment.  And for Frank Zamboni, owner of the Iceland rink in California, that was too many man hours.  Fortunately, Frank was a tinkerer who knew a lot about machinery.  He had come up with an innovative way to design Iceland that resulted in smoother ice than other rinks.  Nine years passed, as Frank got busy raising a family and was shut down from working on his machine during World War II.  Many people said what he was trying to do was impossible, but he persevered.  In 1949, his machine took to the ice, and did in minutes what had previously taken over an hour.  Frank named his new machine after himself, which is good, because it’s so much fun to say “Zamboni”.  Today, Zamboni machines are on every continent…except the ice-covered continent of Antarctica.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The story of an ordinary man who saw a problem, persevered, and succeeded in solving it.  This would be a great book to include in a unit on inventors and inventions.

Cons:  The poem at the beginning about ice skating is cute but seems sort of unnecessary.

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo

Published by Candlewick


Summary: In 1958, graphic designer Art Kane sold Esquire on the idea of taking a picture of as many jazz musicians as he could gather together. Looking for the perfect backdrop, he traveled to Harlem, where he spent a full day seeking the brownstone he wanted to use for the shot. Although he wasn’t a professional photographer, Kane got his photo of 57 jazz musicians, now known as Harlem 1958. This book tells the history of that day through poems about Kane and some of his subjects. Thelonius Monk was an hour late because he was picking out the perfect outfit to wear. Count Bassie explains many of the musicians’ nicknames, including his own. “There’s A Hole in the Picture” recounts the reason Duke Ellington is missing from the photo (he was on the road). Other poems are about lesser-known performers, as well as some of the Harlem kids who ended up in the photo, lining up in the front row or peeking out the windows of the house. An oversized page near the end unfolds to finally reveal the photograph. Back matter includes an extensive author’s note, an outline picture identifying all the musicians, thumbnail biographies of all the subjects of the poems, and a huge bibliography. 66 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros: This carefully researched, beautifully illustrated collection of poems requires a slow reading. Readers will find themselves flipping between the poems, the photo, and the back matter. 66 pages jam-packed with information, presented with enormous artistic flair.

Cons: It’s difficult to know who the audience would be for this book. Most kids in grades 4-7 won’t have the context to really appreciate it, yet clearly it’s written for an upper elementary/middle school reader.


Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books 

Summary:  Daniel is an observant boy.  He knows all the rocks, trees, and animals in the park.  One day he sees a sign advertising “Poetry in the Park” for the following Sunday.  Unsure about what poetry is, Daniel starts to ask his animal friends.  The spider says poetry is when the morning dew glistens.  Squirrel’s answer is it’s when crispy leaves crunch.  Frog tells him poetry is a cool pool to dive into.  By the time Sunday arrives, Daniel has enough answers to be able to put them all together into one poem.  On the way home, he sees the sunset reflected in the pond, and knows he has the seed for a new poem.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A simple and beautiful introduction to poetic language and the creation of poetry.  The colorful illustrations are pretty poetic themselves.

Cons:  The concept may be a bit abstract for the intended audience.


How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen, illustrated by Babette Cole

Published by Katherine Tegen Books 

Summary:  Those parents!  Just when you’re ready for bed, they’re more wide awake than ever.  You try getting them in their pajamas, making sure they’ve brushed their teeth, and reading them bedtime stories, but they still want to have pillow fights, watch TV, or stay on their cell phones.  You know they’re tired, but they insist on getting distracted by every little thing.  When you finally get them settled, and are ready for some time to yourself, you’re so exhausted, you can’t stay awake another minute.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will howl with laughter at both the goofy illustrations and the crazy text that turn the whole bedtime routine on its head.  This would make a good beginner mentor text for procedural writing.

Cons:  I could have lived without the underwear scene.  Although those under the age of ten will love it.

Green City: How One Community Survived a Tornado and Rebuilt for a Sustainable Future by Allan Drummond

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux 

Summary: When a tornado hit Greensburg, Kansas in 2007, so much of the city was destroyed that  townspeople questioned whether it should be rebuilt at all.  But some forward-thinking residents decided to create a new community.  Not only would the houses and commercial buildings be tornado-proof, but they would be as energy efficient and green as possible.  Donations came in from all across the country, and people in neighboring communities helped design and build the new town.  It took a few years, and some former residents didn’t want to wait, or couldn’t afford to.  But about 800 of the 1400 townspeople stuck it out, and today they live in one of America’s greenest cities.  Back matter includes an author’s note and tips for going green.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Busy, colorful illustrations show the many steps of planning and creating a new town.  The anonymous child narrator tells the story in a chatty, optimistic voice.  Sidebars give more information on green living and construction.

Cons:  The idea of an entire town being destroyed in just a few minutes.