Rules of the House by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matt Myers

Published by Disney-Hyperion


Summary: Ian is a rule-follower. His older sister Jenny is a rule breaker. When they go on vacation, Ian is delighted that there’s a framed list of the rules of the house hanging on the wall of their cabin. To his dismay, Jenny proceeds to break the rules one by one, until she gets to the final rule: never—ever—open the red door. One day when Ian is on her case about breaking rules, she opens the red door. Nothing happens. But that night, all the items she’s abused through her rule-breaking come back to get her. The bathtub with the ring around it that she didn’t clean, the stove that’s empty because she didn’t refill the woodpile, and the rug that’s muddy from her dirty feet, all decide they’re going to cook Jenny and eat her. Ian runs away, thinking smugly that his sister is getting what she deserves. But brotherly love wins, and Ian returns to save the day…and maybe learn a little more about rules. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: Award winners Barnett and Myers team up for a fun story that could be used as a springboard to discuss when rules should be followed and when it may be okay to break them.

Cons: The set-up was great, with that list of rules ending with the one about the red door, but the ending was kind of lame.



Fish by Liam Francis Walsh

Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary: A boy and his dog are on an unusual fishing expedition in this wordless book. Instead of fish, he pulls letters in from the sea; first an F, then an I, then an S. But the H is more elusive. As he catches and tosses back a Q, a giant C looms out of the water. Finally, there’s a tug on his hook, but it’s a pretty strong tug, and he’s pulled out of the boat, deep into the ocean, where he pulls an H from a huge swarm of letters. Safely back in the boat, the boy and his dog are ready to head for shore, but the letters have a different idea. They surround the boat, and the giant C almost capsizes them. Fortunately, the dog hangs on to the letters, and at last they are able to make a safe return. The purpose of their mission becomes clear as they approach a couple of workmen puzzling over the sign they’re hanging that reads “IN”. The FISH is what they need to create a FINISH line, just in time for the huge group of runners that’s ready to cross it.

Pros: New Yorker cartoonist Walsh has created a fun story with his comic-style black, white, red, and turquoise illustrations. Readers will enjoy the “A-ha!” moment of discovering what the FISH is really for. And the dog is pretty darn cute.

Cons: As in so many wordless books, there were some puzzling elements, like the underwater letters and the giant C. Make sure you have your imagination fired up before tackling this story.

The Big Book of Bugs by Yuval Zommer

Published by Thames & Hudson 

Summary: It’s difficult to come up with an insect category that doesn’t have its own section in this oversized book. Beetles, praying mantises, flies, crickets…they’re all there, as well as a few non-insects like spiders and snails. Each two-page spread has several facts and detailed illustrations. Some pages contain an “I Spy” type challenge, such as finding 29 moths, two praying mantises eating dinner, or a family of silverfish. There are also sections on baby bugs, bugs on the move, house-loving bugs, bugs at work, and bugs in your garden. The last several pages include answers to the challenges, an illustrated glossary (“Bug words”), and an index. 64 pages; grades Pre-K-2.

Pros: Anyone with even the slightest interest in insects will find a lot of interesting facts here, as well as have the opportunity to see the beautiful Eric Carle-like illustrations of all the different creatures in their natural habitats. The wealth of information and attractive pictures might even be able to help the squeamish overcome their trepidation around creepy-crawlies.

Cons: This is indeed a big book—almost 14 inches tall—so you may need some special accommodations for library shelving.


Dunkin and Lily by Donna Gephart

Published by Delacorte Press 

Summary:  Norbert is new to south Florida, living with his mother and grandmother and attempting to recover from what happened to his father, while trying to manage his own bipolar disorder.  Tim has lived in town with his parents and sister all his life, but is fighting his own battle, trying to get up the courage to start eighth grade as a girl named Lily.  Their paths cross before the first day of school, when Tim gives Norbert a new nickname, Dunkin.  Each of them wants to become friends, but their secrets get in the way.  When eighth grade starts, Norbert is unexpectedly recruited for the basketball team and starts spending his time with the same group of guys that regularly torture Tim.  As the year moves on, each of them slowly comes to terms with what is going on in their lives until both Dunkin and Lily are brave enough to show the world who they really are.  362 pages; grades 6-8.

Pros:  Told in alternating first-person narratives, Dunkin and Lily explores the inner lives of kids dealing with heartbreakingly difficult, and potentially dangerous (particularly in middle school) issues.  The courage each of them shows is for the most part realistic, and the supporting players of friends and family members in their lives are sympathetically portrayed.

Cons:  One can only hope that there are a few more vigilant and courageous teachers than there seem to be at Dunkin and Lily’s middle school.

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books


Summary:  A bad day for both Frank and Lucky leads them both to the animal shelter, where they meet for the first time.  Lucky is adopted by Frank’s family, and the two of them are off to learn more about the world.  While Frank has to go to school a lot longer than Lucky’s ten sessions, both of them learn about math, science, geography, art, and more by exploring the world together.  A run-in with a skunk provides some chemistry lessons, while a hike through the woods requires map-reading skills.  The concept of infinity is learned by exploring the amount of love between this boy and his dog.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Dog-lovers will enjoy celebrating all the reasons we love dogs.  Both the text and pictures are filled with humor and the joy that kids and dogs bring to our lives.  This would also make a great beginning-of-the-school year introduction to different subjects that are learned in school.

Cons:  Some of the more sly humor may be a bit over the heads of younger readers.

Hare and Tortoise by Alison Murray

Published by Candlewick 

Summary:  Hare, a.k.a. Leapus swifticus, and Tortoise (Slow and steadicus) will be racing today.  A brief intro is given to each race participant:  Hare can hardly stand still for his, while Tortoise almost doesn’t show up for hers.  Then the race is on.  The tale is familiar—Hare leaps to the lead while Tortoise plods along far behind until Hare is tempted to eat some carrots and take a nap, certain of victory.  While he snoozes, Tortoise manages to amble across the finish line.  Hare can’t believe it, but Tortoise is a gracious winner.  “Never mind, Hare, you just might win next time.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Beautiful illustrations provide plenty of action and humor to this fast-paced and funny retelling of Aesop’s fable.

Con:  While “slow and steady” is alluded to, readers will need to infer a good deal to come up with the classic moral to this tale.

America’s Tea Parties: Not One But Four! Boston, Charleston, New York, Philadelphia by Marissa Moss

Published by Abrams 

Summary:  Everyone knows about the Boston Tea Party, but it turns out that event was just the beginning.  After word got around to the other colonies, Sons of Liberty groups in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia had their own tea parties to prevent British tea from getting into colonial shops and to protest the hated tax on tea.  The four tea parties are put into context with a thorough look at the events leading up to them, as well as the various players in each colony.  Plentiful illustrations and sidebars add even more information.  End matter includes a six-page author’s note, a timeline covering events from fall of 1773 to the end of 1774, an extensive bibliography, and an index.  48 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Middle grade social studies curricula will be given a boost with this well-written history of the period leading up to the American Revolution.  Thorough research, an engaging writing style, and plenty of illustrations make this an excellent nonfiction choice.

Cons:  There’s a lot of information here for the average fifth or sixth grader to wade through.