The Hero Two Doors Down by Sharon Robinson

Published by Scholastic Press 

Summary:  Eight-year-old Stephen Satlow is beyond excited when he learns that Jackie Robinson and his family are moving into the house down the street.  As a huge Dodgers fan living in Brooklyn, he can’t believe that one of the most famous members of the team is his new neighbor.  Although there is a bit of resistance to the integration of Stephen’s mostly Jewish community, the Robinsons are welcomed by most of the families on Stephen’s street, and the Satlows and Robinsons soon become good friends.  Written by Jackie Robinson’s daughter and based on a true story, this book includes an afterword about the two families’ friendships and several photos of the main characters from the story.  208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A quick and engaging read about a true baseball fan, as well as a fun look back at post-World War II Brooklyn.

Cons:  Jackie Robinson comes across as a bit preachy, spouting words of wisdom almost every time he and Stephen have a conversation.

The Mummy Makers of Egypt written and illustrated by Tamara Bower

Published by Seven Stories Press 

Summary:  Paneb is the head of a family of embalmers; his young son Ipy is being trained to follow in his footsteps.  When Yuya, father of Queen Tiye, dies, Paneb and Ipy oversee a lengthy process of embalming and burial.  Each step is important in preserving the body for the afterlife, and there are many rituals that go with each part of the process.  The Egyptian religion is described, with beliefs about what happened to people after they died.  There’s also a section on the embalming process, with pictures of the tools and the people performing their jobs drawn in ancient Egyptian style.  A lengthy endnote describes the discovery of Yuya’s tomb in the early 20th century; there are also a few photos and drawings of items found in the tomb.  40 pages; grades 3-8.

Pros:  Written and illustrated by an expert on ancient Egypt, this book is clearly a labor of love designed to impart a great deal of information about many aspects of Egyptian culture, both through the text and the illustrations.  The end note, three pages of small type, is a bit daunting, but very interesting and informative.

Cons:  The section on the embalming process (e.g., brain removal through the nose) may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers by Avi

Published by Candlewick


Summary:  What is the most important thing a father (or grandfather) can give his son?  Avi ponders this question in a collection of seven short stories about boys whose fathers (or grandfathers) are married, divorced, dead, distant, loving, know-it-all, clueless, proud, disappointed, or more than one of the above.  Ranging from the poignant (a beloved father unexpectedly dies the afternoon of a fishing trip to his son) to the appalling (Damon discovers on his once-a-month visit that his divorced dad has remarried and has a new baby on the way…all since his previous visit) to the humorous (Ryan devises a screening and application process when a man wants to marry his widowed mother), these stories explore many aspects of the parent-child relationship.  224 pages; grades 5-7.

Pros:  This would be a perfect book for a parent-child book discussion group.  With so many different stories and characters, there is much to look at and consider.

Cons:  The first story, in which an estranged grandfather heals his decades-old war wounds by talking non-stop to his newly-acquainted grandson, seems to be resolved too quickly and easily.

Are We There Yet? By Dan Santat

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A boy’s trip to Grandma’s in the back seat of his parents’ car turns into an adventure in time travel.  The long trip gets boring, and time slows down so much that he finds himself moving back in time…to frontier days, pirate times, ancient Egypt, and finally, to prehistoric times.  When he decides to enjoy the present, time suddenly speeds up, and he’s afraid he’s missed the party.  But finally, the trip ends, and he’s back in the present again.  The last page has him unhappy once more as older relatives prove less than enthralling company.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Caldecott medalist Dan Santat takes readers on a whirlwind trip through time, even turning the book upside down for a section in the middle of the story.  Kids will want to spend extra time absorbing all that is going on in each two-page spread.

Cons:  The illustrations are more creative than the story.

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Published by Atheneum 

Summary:  Sylvie and Jules are sisters who have also always been best friends, even closer because their mother died suddenly when they were both quite young.  Sylvie’s greatest wish is to run fast, although she never can articulate why she wants this so much.  One day she goes running into the woods, racing to get to a dangerous part of the river the girls’ father has warned them about, and she disappears.  While Jules and her father are still reeling from grief, in another part of the woods, a fox cub is born, a rare animal that is connected to a human spirit.  The book alternates between Jules’ story and the fox’s…until one fateful evening when the two of them are brought together.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A beautifully crafted book, filled with sadness, hope, grief, and healing.  I expect this one to be on the short list for the Newbery.

Cons:  Every main character in the book is grieving for someone, making it a bit of a heavy read.

More-igami by Dori Kleber, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Candlewick Press 

Summary:  Joey loves things that fold—tacos, road maps, his foldaway bed—so when Sarah Takimoto’s mother comes to his school one day to demonstrate origami, Joey is captivated.  He asks Mrs. Takimoto to teach him, to which she wisely replies, “I can show you the folds.  But if you want to be an origami master, you’ll need practice and patience.”  So Joey goes home and folds everything in sight.  After going through his homework, his sister’s sheet music, Aunt Vivian’s recipe, and the $38 in his mother’s purse, his family has had enough.  Discouraged, Joey wanders into the neighboring Mexican restaurant, where the sympathetic owner gives him a job folding napkins.  He starts simply, but doesn’t give up, and after months of practice, he is finally able to create a masterpiece. Includes instructions for an origami ladybug.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A charming story about the importance of persistence when learning a new skill.  Joey, who appears to be African-American, is taught by a Japanese American woman and helped by his Mexican American neighbor in a multicultural friendly community.

Cons:  Apparently I lack the “grit” necessary to master origami, because even the ladybug looks a bit challenging to me.

Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Disney Hyperion 

Summary:  Owl is trying to go to sleep, but every time he lies down, he hears a squeak.  Could it be coming from the cupboard?  He empties out every shelf, but finds nothing.  Is it in the floor? Removing all the floorboards doesn’t help.  The roof? The walls?  Before long, Owl is lying in his bed under the stars.  That’s when he finally sees the mouse whose squeaking has been keeping him awake.  With the mystery solved, both animals are able to happily fall asleep.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A simple and funny bedtime story, with large, child-like illustrations.

Cons:  Why is Owl sleeping at night?

Crossing Niagara: The Death-Defying Tightrope Adventures of the Great Blondin by Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick Press


Summary:  Jean Francois Gravelet, a.k.a. The Great Blondin was just five years old when he first performed on the tightrope.  Although he loved his circus career, he longed to do something even more daring.  When he first laid eyes on Niagara Falls, he knew what he wanted to do.  He set up a rope, contacted the newspapers, and on June 30, 1859, he made his first successful crossing, stopping along the way to perform a few tricks, including retrieving a bottle from the Maid of the Mist below and toasting the crowd.  He promised to return on July 4, and this time, he crossed the falls blindfolded.  Over the next two summers, he made many crossings, trying all kinds of stunts.  His ultimate challenge was carrying his manager across on his back (a trick his manager wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about).  When the crowds began to thin, The Great Blondin moved on, but he was forever remembered for his Niagara Falls crossings.  End matter includes a brief author’s note and a bibliography.  36 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The storytelling and large, detailed illustrations combine to make a pulse-pounding tale of daring.

Cons:  I could have enjoyed a little more biographical detail about The Great Blondin.



Danger! Tiger Crossing (Fantastic Frame series) by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Samantha Kallis

Published by Grosset and Dunlap 

Summary:  Tiger’s exploring his new neighborhood when he sees an orange pig in a hat and tie.  Pursuing this unusual neighbor, he meets a girl named Luna, and the two of them trace Chives the Pig to an old haunted-looking house.  Boldly making their way inside, they meet ancient Viola Dots, who hasn’t left her house in 50 years, ever since her son David disappeared into a picture frame, and Chives popped out in his place.  Upon close examination of the frame, Tiger discovers a clock, which he sets back an hour.  Almost immediately, the picture opens up, and he and Luna are sucked inside.  There they meet David, who is still 13, and have to outrun the hungry tiger that was in the painting.  They manage to find their way back, but David is left behind once again, leaving the reader ready for book #2, Splat! Another Messy Sunday, now available at a library or bookstore near you.  Back matter includes information about the painting the kids go into, Surprised! By Henri Rousseau. 128 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  A reasonably exciting adventure for early chapter book readers, with lots of illustrations, black and white for the times outside of the picture and color inside of it.

Cons:  It didn’t seem realistic that 50 years had gone by since David disappeared.  Viola Dots would have to be closing in on 90, yet looked and acted about 60.

There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith

 Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary:  A boy travels through the world alone.  He starts off with a tribe of kids—goats—then has fun with a colony of penguins and a pod of whales. He climbs on a formation of rocks, then falls down into a pile of rubble. He hangs out with an army of caterpillars, then marvels at a flight of butterflies.  Finally, he finds the tribe of kids…his tribe, and he is no longer alone.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  There is more than meets the eye to this simple but gorgeously illustrated book by Caldecott honoree Lane Smith.  It’s not a story so much as a meditation on adventure, coming home, and finding where you belong.  And the collective nouns are always fun, as well.

Cons:  Kids may not appreciate this if they hurry through it.  It’s a book that requires a slow, careful look…maybe more than one.