Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea

Published by Harry N. Abrams 

Summary:  Ten haiku poems are offered as riddles for the reader to guess:  “new day on the farm/muffled mooing announces/a fresh pail of milk”.  The next page shows the cow, who has her own haiku to offer.  So it goes, until the final poem, “two hands hold a book/guessing animals’ puzzles/written in haiku…It’s YOU!”  The final page explains a little about haiku, including defining what a syllable is, and invites readers to explore the playfulness of the form.  24 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to haiku for the very young.

Cons:  The “riddles” aren’t particularly challenging.

I Am NOT a Dinosaur! by Will Lach, illustrated by Jonny Lambert

Published by Sterling Children’s Books 

Summary:  Sure, we all know T-Rex, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops, but they weren’t the only vertebrates around in prehistoric times, not by a long shot.  The rhyming text introduces some of the other key players, like the familiar saber-tooth cat and woolly mammoth, and the less-well known dunkleosteus and glyptodont.  An introductory note from Dr. Mark A. Norrell, paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History starts things off, and a final author’s note puts the prehistoric eras into some perspective, comparing the 170 million years of dinosaurs with 200,000 years of modern humans.  There’s also a bit more information on each animal and a timeline showing the different geologic time periods and which of the animals lived in each one.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  There’s more to this book than meets the eye.  Young dinosaur fans will enjoy learning about some new animals, but the front and end notes add a lot more information.  If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you may know what a fan I am of cut-paper illustrations, and these are right up there with Steve Jenkins’ work.

Cons:  You might be sorry if you don’t glance at the pronunciation guides in the end matter before attempting a read aloud.

Rattlestiltskin by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Erin Camarca

Published by WestWinds Press 

Summary:  The classic fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin is given a Spanish twist.  Senora Gonzales brags that her daughter Rosalia can make tortillas light enough to float.  When wealthy Don Ignacio challenges her to come make some for him, Rosalia fears she’s in trouble.  She gets to work, hoping for the best, but her tortillas don’t float.  Just when she is about to despair, a strange little man dressed in rattlesnake skins pops out of the oven.  He gives her the secret for making floating tortillas in exchange for Rosalia’s promise that she’ll do anything he asks, then disappears back into his oven.  Don Ignnacio is impressed enough to invite her to come live on the hacienda and cook for him.  All is well for a while, but one day the little man reappears and demands that Rosalia comes to work as a maid for him and his friends.  Just like in Rumpelstiltskin, the deal will be off if she can guess his name, and after two sets of three guesses, she manages to learn that his real name is Rattlestiltskin.  She gets it in three the next day, Rattlestiltskin self-destructs, and Rosalia, Don Ignacio, and even Senora Gonzales live happily ever after.  Includes a recipe for homemade tortillas.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A fun compare and contrast with a classic retelling like Paul O. Zelinsky’s Rumpelstiltkin.  The mood of this version is definitely lighter, and the Spanish setting , characters, and language add an interesting twist.

Cons:  I missed some of the ominous bizarreness that characterizes more tradition versions.

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks, illustrated by Colin Bootman

Published by Lee & Low Books 

Summary:  Vivien Thomas dreamed of becoming a doctor, but when the Great Depression hit, he lost all his college savings.  Determined to pursue a medical career, he found a job as a research assistant for Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University.  Vivien proved to be a quick study and soon was conducting his own experiments and mastering surgical skills like suturing blood vessels.  In 1941, Dr. Blalock was offered a job at Johns Hopkins University.  He accepted it on the condition that Vivien would go with him.  At Johns Hopkins, the two men met Dr. Helen Taussig, a pediatric cardiologist who was trying to find a cure for so-called “blue-babies” whose skin turned blue because of a heart defect.  Vivien Thomas ended up doing a large portion of the research, developing a procedure, and designing a needle tiny enough to do the surgery.  When Dr. Blalock performed the ground-breaking surgery in 1944, it was Vivien who stood behind him and coached him, a role he would continue to play after the first surgery was a success.  More than a quarter of a century went by before Vivien finally got the recognition he deserved, having his portrait hung in Johns Hopkins Hospital and being awarded an honorary doctorate.  Back matter includes more information about the surgical procedure and Vivien Thomas, as well as a medical glossary and sources.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A compelling story of a little-known African-American scientist who overcame a myriad of prejudices to make an important contribution to medicine.  Kids who find this book interesting may want to read last year’s Breakthrough! How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy.

Cons:  There is a lot of text and somewhat technical information for a picture book.

The King of Kazoo by Norm Feut

Published by GRAPHIX 

Summary:  Cornelius, king of Kazoo, is a good deal more concerned with his legacy than with actually ruling his kingdom.  When a mysterious volcanic eruption occurs, his daughter Bing convinces him that the two of them, plus inventor Torq, should go explore a tunnel she’s discovered in the volcano.  They head off in Torq’s latest invention, a car.  There are plenty of adventures along the way, but they make it at last, only to discover an evil plot hatched by the ancient alchemist Quaf.  All would be lost if it were up to Cornelius, but fortunately, Bing and Torq are able to put their heads together, combining magic with science, to save the kingdom.  208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another winning entry from Scholastic’s GRAPHIX graphic novel imprint.  Kids will appreciate both the adventure and the goofy humor, and will undoubtedly be hoping for another installment.

Cons:  Neither the artwork nor the storyline are as sophisticated as some other GRAPHIX offerings like Bone or Amulet

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Deja’s home is a single room that she shares with her parents and younger brother and sister in a Brooklyn homeless shelter.  Her father, for reasons that are unclear to Deja, is unable to hold a job; her mother’s salary as a waitress isn’t enough to cover basic living expenses for the family.  With the move to the shelter, Deja has to change schools.  She’s nervous at first, but quickly makes two friends, Ben and Sabeen, and discovers that she likes this school better than any other she’s attended.  There’s a new curriculum for the fifth graders this year, teaching them about 9/11 and their connection to that event.  At first, Deja’s mystified by this, as she’s never heard about the events of 9/11.  Gradually, she comes to understand not only the tragic day itself, but its impact on her friends—Ben, whose father served in the military in Iraq and Sabeen, whose Muslim family has had to deal with prejudice and discrimination—and her own family.  As Deja becomes more insistent, her father gradually tells her about what happened to him on that fateful day, and together, they begin to move toward healing and rebuilding their family.  240 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  A powerful story to commemorate the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  Readers who weren’t alive in 2001 will learn along with Deja the events of that day and how it changed the people of the United States.

Cons:  It was difficult for me to believe that a fifth-grader who had spent all her life in New York City had never heard about the World Trade Center or 9/11.

Lucy Tries Soccer by Lisa Bowes, illustrated by James Hearne

Published by Orca Book Publishers

Summary:  Lucy is excited to be playing three-on-three soccer for the first time.  After warming up with some drills, it’s blue versus red as the teams try out the skills they’ve just learned.  Everyone on the team gets a chance to play, so Lucy is called to the sidelines after a few minutes, but her coach praises her for listening and learning.  She watches and cheers as one of her teammates makes a goal.  The two teams line up for some handshaking and congratulations when the game is over.  The last page includes a few fast facts about soccer.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A good introduction for first-time soccer players to get a feel for what to expect at their first practice.  The simple story is told in rhyming text with cute illustrations.  This is part of a series written by a sports reporter…Lucy has also tried luge and short-track speed skating.

Cons:  As a former soccer mom, I feel I can confidently assert that most kids won’t pick up skills as quickly as Lucy and her friends seem to.