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.

Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell

Published by Candlewick Press 

Summary:  When Rabbit goes to visit Robot, he’s dismayed to find that Robot has another friend over, a frog named Ribbit.  Ribbit’s vocabulary is limited to a single word, “Ribbit”, which Robot is able to understand using his frog translation software.  Rabbit starts feeling jealous, and pretty soon Rabbit’s and Ribbit’s emotions are running so high that Robot overheats himself trying to interpret them all.  When Robot collapses, Rabbit and Ribbit have to work together to learn how to revive him.  In the end, the three friends discover that three isn’t really a crowd and learn to play together.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The sequel to Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover, this long easy reader/short chapter book with cartoon illustrations and silly dialogue is just right for emerging independent readers.

Cons:  Let’s hope Cece Bell doesn’t wait another 2 ½ years before writing another Rabbit and Robot book.

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  When Tru and Nelle first meet, he thinks she is a boy and she thinks he is a girl.  After exchanging a few rounds of insults, the two become fast friends.  Both live in Monroeville, Alabama, a sleepy little town in the throes of the Great Depression, but their combined imaginations create a force to be reckoned with.  They love to read, and Sherlock Holmes becomes a favorite.  Before long, Tru is Sherlock and Nelle is Watson, and they’re on the prowl for a real mystery.  A break-in at the local drugstore provides one, but it ends in disaster, and the two decide it’s safer to write their stories than to act them out in real life.  Eventually, Tru’s socialite mother remarries and sends for him to live in New York City, but first he throws a blow-out farewell party that results in a confrontation with the local Ku Klux Klan.  The writing, the friendship, the wild party…all foreshadow what would happen to these two children who grew up to become Truman Capote and (Nelle) Harper Lee. 336 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Fans of To Kill a Mockingbird will enjoy learning more about the real-life Scout and Dill.  The writing beautifully captures the Depression-era South.  Modeled on Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the book ends with a few short stories which are flesh out the longer novel.

Cons:  Readers in the targeted age range aren’t likely to be familiar with Harper Lee or Truman Capote, making this a much less appealing choice for the younger crowd.

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Yoshio enjoys hearing the sounds of his Tokyo neighborhood: rain falling on his umbrella, his boots squishing in puddles, his own delighted giggles.  One day he hears a new sound, a woman playing a koto with twinkling, twangy notes.  When she’s through, he asks her what her favorite sound is.  She replies, “The sound of ma, or silence.”  From then on, Yoshio tries to hear the sound of silence, but at home, outside, or in school, there are always other sounds.  Finally, arriving early at school one morning, he sits down and begins to read.  Suddenly, in the middle of a page, he realizes that he is surrounded by silence!  He notices how peaceful it makes him feel, and realizes that the sound of silence has been there all along, running underneath all the other sounds.  An afterword explains the concept of ma and how it has influenced Japanese music and other culture.  40 pages; grades K-3. 

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to some aspects of mindfulness and meditation, and a way to help kids relax and focus on the present moment.  The illustrations show many details of a Tokyo home and neighborhood, and a note at the end explains how they were created using a combination of pen drawings and digital coloring. 

Cons:  This could be a tough concept for young kids to understand.

Mother-Daughter Book Camp by Heather Vogel Fredrickson

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  The Mother-Daughter Book Club makes one final appearance before its members go their separate ways.  It’s the summer after high school, and Emma, Jess, Megan, Becca, and Cassidy have all been hired to work as counselors at Camp Lovejoy in New Hampshire.  As in the other books in the series, the story is told in chapters narrated by each of the girls.  When camp begins, homesickness is rampant in the girls’ cabins, and they decide on a cure—start their own Counselor-Camper book club, reading the classic Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  As the summer progresses, both the campers and the counselors stretch themselves to learn new skills and try new challenges.  By the time parents come for pick-up, homesickness is forgotten, and the five girls are ready to head off to college.  336 pages; grades 4-7. 

Pros:  Fans of the series will enjoy learning what’s happened to the five girls from Concord, Massachusetts since sophomore year when the last book took place.  There’s lots of good clean fun, and the romance is pretty G-rated, making this a good choice for upper elementary as well as middle school. 

Cons:  There’s not a lot of diversity in life paths, as everyone in the book seems to be going to a top-notch four-year college.