The Water Princess by Susan Verde and Georgie Badiel, illustrated by Peter Reynolds

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons 

Summary:  Every day, the narrator goes with her mother to fetch water.  They start before dawn, and it’s late in the day when they get back.  The water is a dusty earth color and must be boiled before it can be drunk.  Despite these hardships, the girl’s family is happy.  Her mother sings as they travel to get the water, and her father gives her a warm greeting when he returns from the fields.  When she goes to sleep, her mother tells her to dream of someday when they will have clear, cold water nearby.  The last two pages tell more about the need for water for many people.  Links are provided to the Georgie Badiel Foundation, named for the supermodel who based this story on her childhood in Burkina Faso, and Ryan’s Well, an organization founded by a young Canadian boy.  Both groups are working to build wells in Africa and bring clean water to the people there.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  An eye-opening look at a difficult problem for many people around the world.  The illustrations are charming, and readers may be inspired to help out through the two organizations listed at the end.

Cons:  That this situation exists in the world today.

In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Roaring Brook Press 

Summary:  Every day after school, Sophie hurries to Grandpa’s room to tell him about her day and to find out about his.  Each day, Grandpa has “lost” some small object (a paper clip, a rubber band) that he needs Sophie to find for him.  She searches until she finds it.  On the weekend, she starts to go to his room, but her parents tell her that Grandpa is sleeping.  That gives Sophie an idea.  With her parents’ permission, she hides herself behind the curtain in Grandpa’s room, so when he wakes up, it’s his turn to find something that’s hidden.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A warm, loving story about a playful ritual between a grandfather and granddaughter.  The detailed pictures allow readers to join Sophie in her treasure hunt for Grandpa’s lost items.

Cons:  Although Grandpa is consistently pictured in a wheelchair, on the back endpapers, he appears to be standing at the front door, waving to Sophie.

Wonderfall by Michael Hall

Published by Greenwillow Books 

Summary:  Each page has a picture of an oak tree and a poem about what is going on through the fall.  The poems are entitled with –fall words, such as thankfall, delightfall, and peacefall.  Gradually, the tree changes from green to multi colored to bare.  The school bus appears at the beginning, followed by a farmer’s market, an autumn parade, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and finally, clean-up of the fallen leaves.  The final word heralds a new season: snowfall.  Back matter includes information on how the animals pictured spend the winter (introducing the terms hibernation and migration), as well as the connection between squirrels and acorns, and how the tree will survive the cold weather.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to fall, with scenes kids will recognize from the season, illustrated with Michael Hall’s bright, simple creations.  The end matter will give readers more scientific information to appreciate the changing seasons.

Cons:  I couldn’t tell from the information given if some of the animals hibernate or stay awake in the winter.

Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Ever since Henry got Leo the lion for his second birthday, they have been inseparable friends.  One day, the family decides to go for a walk in the woods.  Henry is happy, because he knows that Leo loves the woods.  His sister tells him that Leo isn’t real, but Henry knows better.  By the time the family gets back from their long trek, Henry is falling asleep on his father’s shoulders.  As soon as he gets into bed, though, he realizes something is wrong.  Leo is missing.  The family goes searching, but no Leo.  Henry’s mother tries to tell him that Leo isn’t real.  On the next several wordless pages, we see Leo being discovered by the forest animals.  They work together (with the help of a compass) to figure out where Leo belongs, and to get him as far as the front yard.  In the morning, Henry is overjoyed to see Leo.   Henry’s father and sister are puzzled, certain that they both looked in that very spot the night before.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A worth companion to Knuffle Bunny, this beautifully illustrated story will resonate with anyone who has ever loved and lost a favorite toy.

Cons:  Any mother who says a stuffed animal isn’t real must not have had much of a childhood.  #bigelow



Moo: a novel by Sharon Creech

Published by HarperCollins


Summary:  When Reena and Luke’s parents decide to quit their jobs in the city and move to Maine, the kids aren’t sure what to expect.  Reena’s hoping for blueberries, lobster, and the beach. But when her mom strikes up a conversation at the doctor’s with eccentric Mrs. Falala, the summer takes a turn for the worse.  Reena and Luke get volunteered to help their elderly neighbor with her unusual collection of animals, most notably an ornery cow named Zora.  As they attempt to get Zora ready to show at the fair, Reena learns some interesting secrets about Mrs. Falala’s past.  A couple of the local kids are old hands at showing cows, and soon become friends and allies in the struggle to get Zora in the show ring.  The day of the fair brings both joy and sadness, and a change that cements Reena’s family as a permanent part of their Maine community.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Sharon Creech has fun with words, creating all kinds of poems to tell the story, and playing with the fonts and words on the page to make them more expressive.  Readers will take Reena, Luke, and eventually even Zora and Mrs. Falala to heart as the story unfolds.

Cons:  I would have preferred an entire novel in verse, rather than interspersing prose chapters with the poetry ones.

Ogres Awake! By James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost

Published by First Second


Summary:  When the knight sees ogres waking up, she rushes to the castle to warn the king.  He seems pretty unconcerned, but eventually he puts down his comic book and leads her out back where the garden gnomes are tending the vegetables.  Eventually, the knight ends up with the task of peeling and chopping an enormous pile of potatoes and carrots, which the gnomes turn into a gigantic pot of stew.  Just in time, because the ogres are now fully awake and storming the castle.  It proves to be just what the monsters need (“low blood sugar is no joke,” comments one), and the kingdom is saved…for now.  Endpapers show how to draw the knight, Edward the horse, the gnomes, and the ogres.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun graphic novel for the younger set, from the three cartoonists who brought you Adventures in Cartooning.  Looks like there will be more to come.

Cons:  At the conclusion, the knight declares, “All in all, things worked out pretty good, I suppose.”  Grammar.


Yellow Time by Lauren Stringer

Published by Beach Lane Books 

Summary:  Welcome to the yellow time of year, when geese are gone, but crows remain, and when everyone is waiting for the yellow leaves on the trees to start falling.  Soon the wind comes, and children dance with the swirls of yellow all around them.  When it’s over, the whole world is yellow.  Then it’s time to press leaves in books, remembering what a lovely time yellow time was…and to get ready for the white time.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A brief meditation on fall, that captures the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.  Each page has just a sentence or two of text, accompanied by a colorful (predominantly yellow) illustration.  Use this to inspire children to write about autumn.

Cons:  When I lived in Colorado, October really was the yellow time.  Here in New England, a few more colors need to be included to get the whole picture.

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Summary:  Caldecott honoree Melissa Sweet presents the life of E. B. White through her words, his words, illustrations, and photographs.  Beginning with the cleverly decorated endpapers and continuing through the fascinating timeline at the end, readers will learn about the life and loves of the author of (among many other things) Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan.  There are 13 chapters, many of them given the name of one of White’s essays, including a chapter each on his three children’s books.  In addition to the timeline, this meticulously researched biography includes 162 source notes, a five-page bibliography, and an afterword by E. B. White’s granddaughter, Martha White. 176 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Let’s hope this will be that rare biography that is recognized by Newbery committee.  Or the Caldecott committee.  Or both.  As Eudora Welty wrote about Charlotte’s Web: “As a piece of work it is just about perfect.”

Cons:  By the time I reached page 176, I wanted to be E. B. White.  Or maybe Melissa Sweet.


Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Summary:  The entire book is an invocation (defined in the author’s note as a poem that invites something to happen) to “change the world before morning”.  As the poem unfolds, we see a girl sadly saying goodbye to her mother one evening.  As the girl and her father sleep, the mother, dressed in an airline pilot’s uniform, drives through an increasingly heavy snow.  By the time she reaches the airport, the planes are covered, and she’s forced to get a ride home in a snow plow.  The world has indeed been changed, and it results in the family getting to spend a snow day together, eating a leisurely breakfast, sledding, and stopping at the bakery for hot chocolate.  48 pages, ages 4-7.

Pros:  Newbery honoree Sidman pairs with Caldecott winner Krommes to create a beautiful, evocative book that perfectly captures the feeling of a snow day.  I would love to see this book get some kind of Caldecott recognition; the scratchboard pictures are gorgeously detailed.  Keep on hand to read right before a snowstorm.

Cons:  I found myself wishing for a snow day in mid-October.