Fairy World: Enter the Magical and Mysterious Realm by Stella A. Caldwell, illustrated by Ryan Forshaw

Published by Barron’s 

Summary:  Stella Caldwell presents herself as an expert on fairies who has traveled extensively to study these magical creatures.  Her definition of “fairy” extends to a variety of creatures including pixies, boggarts, elves, and many others.  She has included several “case studies”, relating stories in which she was called upon to investigate a human interaction with a fairy.  The oversized book is set up almost like a scrapbook, lavishly illustrated with labeled pictures of items associated with magical folk, such as wings and flowers.  There’s more than a hint of danger in associating with these creatures; many will help humans but can play tricks or worse if the people aren’t properly grateful.  The final two pages tell of fairies stealing children and replacing them with changelings who can eventually be trained to fit in to the human world.  80 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fantasy fans will want to spend lots of time poring over this book.  There is so much information, presented in a variety of ways, as well as gorgeous artwork.  In each chapter, there’s at least one wordless two-page spread illustration, suitable for framing.

Cons:  Definitely for older kids…the fairies here are far more “Spiderwick Chronicles” than “Rainbow Magic”.

The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali, illustrated by Benjamin Chaude

Published by Chronicle Books


Summary:  When a boy’s teacher asks him, “So what did you do this summer?”, he spins an increasingly fantastic tale.  It starts with him finding a message in a bottle which turns out to be a treasure map.  He ends up on a pirate ship, in a submarine, scaling the Great Wall of China, being chased by mummies in Egypt, and much, much more.  He concludes the story by saying to his teacher, “So you probably don’t believe me…right?”  The next page shows his teacher busily drawing something at her desk, with the caption, “Three months earlier…”, and then [spoiler alert] tossing a bottle with a paper inside toward the boy at the beach. 44 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun story that could inspire kids to come up with their own tall tales.  The pictures are crowded with action.  Readers will laugh at the final plot twist.

Cons:  The small size of the book and the unappealing appearance of the protagonist turned me off from reading this for quite a while.

Just a Lucky So-and-So: The Story of Louis Armstrong by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome

Published by Holiday House 

Summary:  Louis Armstrong considered himself to have led a lucky life, but his early days weren’t always so auspicious.  Born in The Battlefield, a tough part of New Orleans, young Louis started working at an early age to help his single mother.  He was surrounded by music, and a pawnshop cornet allowed him to begin to make his own tunes.  After shooting off a gun on New Year’s Eve, Louis was sent to reform school, where he worked his way up to bandleader.  After his stint there, he returned to his old neighborhood and pursued his career in earnest.  The book ends with him newly arrived in Chicago, being cheered on by the crowd to come forward and blow his horn.  A full-page author’s note gives more information on Armstrong’s life, and another page has resources for further research, including places to visit.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The large, full-color illustrations nicely complement the somewhat spare lyrical text.  The end matter gives plenty of material for researchers.

Cons:  The large number of people and places in a relatively short story was a little confusing.  Also, the quotes from Armstrong throughout the text aren’t cited.

We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller and Mo Willems

Published by Hyperion Books for Children 

Summary:  Several blades of grass are astonished that they are able to grow.  Each one finds a reason to be superlative: tallest, curliest, silliest, crunchiest.  Only Walt has trouble thinking of a word to describe himself.  The other blades are supportive, but try as he might…nothing.  Meanwhile, a lawn mower is seen approaching, and before long, all of the blades have gotten a surprise trim.  No longer are they tall or curly.  A couple of pink critters (slugs?) assure them that they will grow again, while Walt grabs a rake and suggests a clean-up.  As he starts to rake, he realizes what he is…the neatest.  64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  Part of a new multi-author series, “Elephant & Piggie Like Reading”.  Not only does this have the look and feel of an Elephant & Piggie book, but the famous duo is pictured at the beginning and the end, reading the book.  The illustrations are simple and cartoony, with the whole story told in dialog.  Sure to be immensely popular with the emerging reader crowd.

Cons:  Blades of grass just don’t have quite the personality of cute elephants and piggies.

The Wolf’s Boy by Susan Williams Beckhorn

Published by Disney-Hyperion 

Summary:  Set in prehistoric France, Kai’s story begins with the discovery of his clubfoot at birth.  His parents are told to abandon him to the wolves, but the wolves spare his life, and his mother rescues him.  He grows up in a loving home, but is not allowed to hunt or even touch the weapons the other boys use to learn how to become hunters.  Kai has always had a connection to the yellow wolves that live nearby, and when one of the females is killed, Kai decides to adopt one of her pups.  He raises her to be a pet, but some in his community feel threatened by the presence of both Kai and his wolf.  After a near-fatal showdown with some of the other boys, Kai decides he must strike out on his own, with only Uff, his wolf, for a companion.  The second half of the book tells the story of his survival, including a mysterious Ice Man who rescues Kai from an avalanche and nurses him back to health in a cave.  Near the end, Uff is mauled by a bear and nearly killed; that crisis helps Kai decide that it is time for him to return home.  240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  People from a far-distant past come to life in the pages of this exciting historical fiction story.  Kids will connect with Kai’s experiences with his family, bullies, a girl he likes, and most of all, the dog he loves.

Cons:  Because the setting is so unfamiliar, kids may find some parts of the story confusing.

Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  In this companion to Grandfather Gandhi, Arun Gandhi tells of his experiences as a child living in the ashram started by his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi.  The ashram, devoted to living simply and nonviolently, had eleven vows.  The one young Arun struggled with the most was the vow not to waste.  One day, he threw away a stub of pencil and went to his grandfather to ask for a new one.  Big mistake. Grandfather told him he had to look in the tall grasses where he had thrown his away to find it.  His grandfather then had Arun create a tree on the wall where he would add “leaves” that were acts of passive violence, like wastefulness.  As the tree grew, so did Arun’s understanding of how his actions, even ones that seemed harmless, could create violence in the world.  Eventually, he came to see the truth of some of his grandfather’s most famous words, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”  A note from the authors explains more about not wasting resources, and there is a “Be the Change Pledge” for readers to make.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Difficult concepts are related from a child’s perspective, strikingly illustrated by Evan Turk.  With adult guidance, kids will come away from this book with new perspectives on what constitutes nonviolence and how they can help create peace in the world.

Cons:  There’s a lot for young readers to grasp.

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

Published by Boxer Books 

Summary:  “10 ants weigh the same as 1 ladybug.  9 ladybugs weigh the same as 1 grasshopper.”  And so this book goes, counting down from 10 to 1, with each page showing a progressively larger animal that weighs the same as that number of the animal from the preceding page.  The final, largest animal is a swan, which weighs the same as 362,880 ladybugs.  The last page shows all the animals with each one’s weight shown in ounces or pounds.  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  A fun introduction to weight and relative sizes for the youngest readers.  The simple, cute animal illustrations will make this an easy sell.

Cons:  You’ll need to look elsewhere for an introduction to units of measure and other information about weight.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak

Published by Henry Holt and Company 

Summary:  A girl and her dog go for a walk through the fields and forests on a late summer day.  As they go, she greets everything she sees: “Hello, trees. Hello walking sticks and butterflies.  Hello, puddles.”  Each item responds to tell her how it is changing as summer turns into fall.  The trees are swaying in the breeze, the animals are looking for food, and the sun is setting earlier each evening.  After watching it set, the girl says goodbye to summer and goes into her house.  A wordless two-page spread shows a peaceful nighttime scene.  On the final page, the girl sits on her front step, the sun back in the sky, and greets the new season: “Hello, autumn!”  32 pages, ages 4-7.

Pros:  Perfect for this time of year, the text and the beautiful green and gold illustrations will get kids talking about the changes they see around them as summer moves into fall.

Cons:  That twinge of sadness I feel as the days shorten and the leaves start to change colors.

Pedro, First Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon

Published by Picture Window Books 

Summary:  Katie Woo’s friend Pedro has his own new series.  This collection contains four stories, which are also available as individual books.  Pedro collects bugs, tries out for soccer goalie, starts a mystery club with his friends, and runs for first grade class president.  Katie is a pretty prominent character in every story, along with several of their classmates.  The last four pages, “Joke Around With Pedro”, contain jokes in keeping with the themes of the four stories.  96 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A great choice for newly independent readers, this feels like a chapter book, but reads like an easy reader, with just a few sentences of text on each page.  There are plenty of cheerful illustrations, and an ethnically diverse cast of kid characters.

Cons:  First graders Pedro and Katie are way more civil in their presidential election than some other politicians we know.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Beans and his family are down on their luck.  It’s 1934, and Key West, Florida has been hit hard by the Great Depression.   Beans’ mother takes in laundry, while his father has left for New Jersey, hoping to find a factory job.  When local bootlegger Johnny Cakes offers Beans a job pulling fire alarms to distract the townspeople while Johnny smuggles out his whiskey, it’s hard to say no.  But when a real fire ravages his best friend’s house, the fire department thinks it’s another false alarm and doesn’t show up.  Tortured by guilt, Beans leaves behind his life of crime and starts focusing on some of the New Dealers who are trying to turn Key West into a tourist resort.  It seems like a crazy plan at first, but Beans and the rest of the Key West kids pitch in to clean up and fix up their town.  Before long, movie stars and other rich and famous types are flocking to Key West, and it looks like Beans’ luck may have turned around at last.  An author’s note tells more about Key West and President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal plans to transform it.  208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A sequel to Newbery honor book Turtle in Paradise, this story follows Turtle’s cousin Beans and his family and friends.  The pages are crowded with memorable characters, including cameos by Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway.  Beans provides a funny, tough-guy narration to the events of his town that will transport readers to a slice of life in the 1930’s.

Cons:  I haven’t read Turtle in Paradise, and am pretty sure I would have had a greater appreciation for some of the characters and incidents in this book if I had.