Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green

Published by First Second

Summary:  Hippo and Red Panda spend their days in a run-down zoo, until Red Panda decides he’s had enough, and leaves to find a job. Whenever he comes back for a visit, he tells Hippo that he has the best job ever, although his changing hats suggest that it’s always a different job. Finally, Hippo decides to join him. Red Panda tells Hippo that he’s now Hippopotamister, and he has to act like a human. The two friends try cooking, hair dressing, banking, and a host of other positions. In each one, Hippopotamister is a bit unsure of himself, but does his work well; Red Panda, on the other hand, is completely confident, but makes a mess of things and gets them both fired. Finally, discouraged, Hippo returns to the zoo, where he finds everything just as bad as he left it. In one night, he uses his new job skills to fix it all. The animals elect him zookeeper, and Red Panda, with his ebullient personality, is hired on as head of customer relations. 96 pages; grades K-3.

Pros: This graphic novel has cute illustrations and lots of gentle humor, with a satisfying ending. Kids will enjoy learning how to draw Hippopotamister and Red Panda on the last page.

Cons: The lengthy job search got a bit repetitious.

Princess! Fairy! Ballerina! by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books 

Summary:  When three little girls get together for a play date, they can’t agree on what to play—princess, fairy, or ballerina.  Each one makes a compelling argument for her favorite, but the other two refuse to give in.  The fairy suggests a contest, but should it be a flying contest, a throne-sitting contest, or a balancing contest?  Pretty soon, no one is speaking to anyone else.  A croaking frog and a rainy day provide some much-needed distraction, and wings, tiaras, and ballet slippers are tossed aside in favor of some happy puddle-stomping.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A good lesson in friendship and compromise.  A princess, fairy, AND ballerina on the cover is sure to attract the attention of many readers.

Cons:  Just a bit gender stereotypical.

Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Published by Orchard Books 

Summary:  Imagine Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, both civil rights activists who lived in Rochester, New York, sitting down to tea and cake together.  That’s the starting point of Two Friends, which then takes a look back at the early life of both Anthony and Douglass and how they became involved in the struggles to end slavery and give women the right to vote.  An author’s note gives a bit more information, as well as dates when both goals were achieved in the United States.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  An interesting introduction to two important 19th century activists whose civil rights struggles are still relevant today.  The colorful folk-artsy illustrations nicely portray Anthony, Douglass, and their homes in Rochester.

Cons:  A pretty brief introduction with only a little biographical information.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

Published by Scholastic 

Summary:  Joe is dreading the start of fifth grade.  His only two friends moved away, and his learning disability makes it hard for him to focus and an easy target for Dillon, the class bully.  Ravi is freshly arrived from India, accustomed to social, academic, and athletic success, and in for a rude awakening when his skills don’t always translate well to American culture.  He’s sure that Dillon, the only other Indian boy in the class, will be his new friend.  Each day of the first week of school brings new troubles, until both boys take Thursday off, ready to call it quits.  Fortunately, both Joe and Ravi have loving and supportive, if occasionally misguided, families who are willing to listen and try to help them.  By Friday, they’ve each come up with a new plan, and, by working together, manage to at least temporarily derail Dillon and discover that a new friend can be found in the most unlikely circumstances.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A heartwarming and accessible story for elementary readers.

Cons:  Ravi may come across as arrogant at the beginning of the story.  Don’t give up on him…he learns some important lessons by Friday.

The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrations by Sydney Smith

Published by Groundwood Books


Summary:  While a monk seeks knowledge among his manuscripts, his white cat, Pangur, seeks something a little more substantial; namely, a tasty mouse.  The first several pages are wordless, following Pangur as he explores the monastery, finally arriving at his master’s door and sticking a paw under to alert the monk to his presence.  The monk then narrates their activities, concluding with a happy ending in which the cat snares his prey and the monk finds an answer to his puzzle.  The author’s note at the end explains more about the poem “Pangur Ban”, written by a ninth-century Irish monk, on which this book is based.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A poem by a ninth-century Benedictine monk seems like an unlikely source for a children’s book, but somehow this works, due in large part to the beautiful illustrations that perfectly enlarge upon the simple text.  Cat lovers will be captivated by Pangur and his antics.

Cons:  Probably better for one-on-one sharing than reading to a larger group.

Duck, Duck, Porcupine! by Salina Yoon

Published by Bloomsbury 

Summary:  Big Duck has all the answers…or at least she thinks she does, and isn’t afraid to let her friends Porcupine and Little Duck know about them.  It’s Little Duck, though, who’s really paying attention.  Even though he doesn’t say a word, he manages to fix things when Big Duck’s ways don’t quite work out.  Duck, Duck, and Porcupine have three adventures in this book: going on a picnic, celebrating Porcupine’s birthday, and planning a camping trip.  Each story is told entirely through dialog (in speech bubbles) and simple illustrations.  64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  These funny stories and colorful illustrations will find a ready audience with Elephant and Piggie fans.  Each character has a distinctive personality, even Little Duck, who never says a word.  I love how he gazes at the reader at the end of each story, as if he can’t really believe Big Duck is for real.  Perfect as either a read-aloud or for beginning readers.

Cons:  Porcupine’s character isn’t quite as well-developed as the two ducks; hopefully we’ll get to know him a bit better in future installments.

Every Day Birds by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrations by Dylan Metrano

Published by Orchard Books 

Summary:  20 North American birds are introduced in simple rhyming text (“Chickadee wears a wee black cap/Jay is loud and bold/Nuthatch perches upside down/Finch is clothed in gold”).  Each line of the rhyme is on a separate page with a large cut-paper illustration of the bird.  The entire text is included on two pages at the end, followed by smaller pictures and additional information about each bird, listed alphabetically.  32 pages; ages 2-5.

Pros:  Each line perfectly captures a characteristic of the bird it describes.  The illustrations are simple and bright, appealing for young kids, yet accurately depicting the bird.  Readers will be ready to head outside and look in trees and the sky for some feathered friends.

Cons:  So many birds in one place triggered a brief Alfred Hitchcock moment.