Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books


Summary:  Growing up in Alabama, young John Lewis wanted to be a preacher. His mama always said, “Work hard and trust in God.”  John loved going to church and found it easy to trust in God.  Working hard took a little more effort.  There was plenty of work to do on the farm where his family lived and grew cotton.  John was put in charge of the chickens on the farm.  After he had fed them and put fresh straw in their nests, he would pretend he was the preacher at church and that the chickens were his congregation.  He even baptized them with water from a syrup can.  When a man offered to trade with his family for one of John’s chickens, he convinced his family to trade other goods instead.  Many years later, John would go on to speak before huge crowds and stand up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves, as a leader of the Civil Rights movement.  An author’s note gives more information about John’s life as an adult.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting slice-of-life look at a boy who rose from an impoverished childhood to do great things for others.  The paintings by award winner E. B. Lewis capture life on the farm.

Cons:  Although the author’s note lists some of Lewis’s accomplishments, there’s not really enough biographical information for a full report on his life.

Smithsonian Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by Jack Challoner; foreword by Jack Andraka

Published by DK Children 

Summary:  28 projects introduce kids of all ages to the fun of science and technology.  The projects are divided into four sections: Food for Thought, Around the Home, Water World, and The Great Outdoors.  Each activity gets a four-page description that includes colorful photos to take young scientists through each step.  A “How It Works” sidebar explains the science behind each project; some also include “Real World Science” to connect with real life science or engineering.  Glossary and index are included.  160 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  While there are some tried-and-true projects (making slime, balloon rocket car), they are presented in a clear and interesting manner.  There are also some quirkily interesting ones, such as making a baked Alaska and creatng models of the planets from rubber bands.  Perfect for libraries starting a maker space or for kids who are interested in trying some science at home.

Cons:  No time to think of any…I’m off to my kitchen to turn a lemon into a battery.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Published by Little, Brown, and Company 

Summary:  Jean-Michel Basquiat grew up in Brooklyn with a mother from Puerto Rico and a father from Haiti.  His childhood was filled with art, both his own works and what he saw around him.  His mother was artistic and regularly took him to art museums.  There were also difficult times for Jean-Michel.  He was in a serious car accident at the age of eight, and spent months recovering.  During that time, his mother brought him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy, which helped him learn to draw the human figure.  A few years later, his mother’s mental illness drove her to leave the family.  Jean-Michel left school and moved to New York City, where he continued to pursue his art in a number of unconventional mediums, including graffiti.  He lived his dream of being a famous artist until his tragic death in 1988 at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose. An author’s note gives more biographical information. 40 pages; grades 1-5. 

Pros:  The story of Basquiat’s life is told in brief, lyrical text, illustrated with beautiful collages inspired by the artist’s work.  The artwork is sure to receive some Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  There are some pretty adult topics covered in this book targeted for elementary students.  Also Basquiat’s work isn’t included anywhere in the book.

New York City Trails: Secrets, Stories, and Other Cool Stuff by Lonely Planet Kids and Moira Butterfield

Published by Lonely Planet 

Summary:  Marco and Amelia, the Lonely Planet Kids, have created nineteen kid-friendly trails around New York City, including Urban Jungle (where to find animals), Game On (sports and games), and Movie Magic (spots you might have seen in the movies).  Each trail gets four pages, with two attractions per page.  There’s a picture (photo, drawing, or a combination of the two), and a brief description of each site, filled with facts that will appeal to kids.  A very complete index rounds things out.  Enjoy other books in the series on London and Paris.  104 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  What a great way to get your offspring involved in planning a trip!  Every one of these trails would make an unforgettable weekend for children and parents alike.  The busy, colorful format is sure to appeal to young readers.

Cons:  It would have been nice to include some additional resources, especially websites.

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie: The Complete Book of Nautical Codes by Sara Gillingham

Published by Phaidon Press 

Summary: The four-page introduction explains signal flags, the phonetic alphabet, Morse code, and semaphore, as well as how all of these are used by ships’ crews to communicate.  Then come two-page spreads, one for each letter of the alphabet, that explain what each signal flag means, and give the phonetic, Morse, and semaphore versions of the letter as well.  In between these two pages is a signal flag for that letter on textured paper, cut into the appropriate shape for the flags that aren’t rectangular.  The alphabets are summarized on two pages at the end, followed by additional resources and a glossary of nautical words.  120 pages; grades 1-6.

Pros:  Kids will be drawn to this beautiful book by its design, but will stick with it to learn and use the cool codes.  There is plenty of interesting information in addition to the visuals.

Cons:  The $20 price tag, combined with the somewhat fragile flags may give librarians pause about purchasing this book.

The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux


Summary:  In this twist of the traditional Cinderella tale, Prince Char is the rat prince of all those rodents who live in Lancastyr Manor.  Tough times have arrived at the manor, in the person of the wicked stepmother, and Lady Rose has been reduced to little more than a house servant nicknamed Cinderella.  Prince Char is determined to defeat the evil Wilhemina, and when an ancient goddess is released from an heirloom Lancastyr ring, it looks like it may be possible.  Char is transformed into Charming, one of Rose’s footmen, and it doesn’t take long for him and Rose to fall in love, despite their knowledge that he will turn back into a rat at midnight.  Together, they travel to the great ball, where they must deal with both Wilhemina and the evil prince Geoffrey, who is seeking to make Rose his queen.  Told in the alternating voices of Char and Rose, the night progresses with plenty of twists and turns until the two of them are able to arrive at happily ever after.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  In this unusual take on Cinderella, Hodder manages to pull off what would seem impossible to believe.  Both Char and Rose are strong, likeable characters, and there is plenty of action to keep the pages turning.

Cons:  The somewhat sticky-sweet romance may turn a few young stomachs.

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books 

Summary:  “A freeze. A breeze. A cloud. It snows.”  So begins this photo essay on snow, a follow-up to last year’s Raindrops Roll by Sayre.  Each page has a large photo or two of snowflakes in action, covering trees, animals, and the ground.  The sun comes out, the snow softens, and the ice begins to melt.  But before long, the snow begins again.  The final two pages give quite a bit of additional information on snow, along with a short list of books you can read to learn more.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A visually stunning science book which can be enjoyed by all ages.  Not only does it provide excellent information and beautiful photographs, but the writing would be a good mentor text on using strong verbs.

Cons:  Stopping after the thaw would have provided a happier ending.


Billions of Bricks: A Counting Book about Building by Kurt Cyrus

Published by Henry Holt and Company 

Summary:  A man, woman, and boy start building on the first page with bricks…two, four six.  People and bricks multiply with dizzying speed from there until the end of the book: molding and baking the clay to make bricks, mixing mortar, and building, building, building.  Schools, malls, government buildings: all are built with millions and billions of bricks.  Finally, at the end, “The work is nearly done, the cleanup has begun, let’s count the bricks we didn’t use, all together—one!”  32 pages, ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will love the catchy rhymes and the intricate illustrations showing many different people building immense structures with bricks.  While not a counting book in the traditional 1-2-3 sense, teachers can use it to introduce counting by two’s, five’s, and ten’s.

Cons:  Some child labor laws were undoubtedly violated in these pages.

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Animal Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

Summary:  Teaching kids how to read graphs and charts?  Want to wow kids (or adults) with amazing animal facts (the biomass of termites is twice that of humans; the pistol shrimp makes a sound that’s louder than a jet plane taking off)?  This book has you covered on all fronts.  Looking at many different aspects of animals, including life spans, speed, size, and deadliness, every page has a different infographic that brings the information to life.  The sobering last few pages graph the winners and losers of mass extinctions of the past, including one that is going on right now, and chart the numbers left of some of the most endangered species.  Additional books and websites are listed at the end.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  You won’t hear much from any child you hand this book to; he or she will be way too absorbed studying the graphs and charts on every page.  That reader may emerge on occasion to share some fascinating fact with you (a koi fish can live 226 years!  There are 20 times more spider and scorpion species than mammals!).  I’ve already raved about Steve Jenkins’ cut-paper illustrations enough times to fill a pie chart, so I’ll spare you another round.

Cons:  It’s hard to believe those pesky squirrels in my backyard sleep twice as many hours as I do.

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami

 Published by Groundwood Books


Summary:  Yasmin has a goal to read a book a day, an achievement she has maintained for over 400 days.  Getting the books is easy, because elderly Book Uncle has set up his free lending library right outside her apartment building.  Lots of people in her building enjoy his generosity, so Yasmin is shocked and dismayed when she finds out that Book Uncle has been told he needs an expensive permit to continue operating.  There’s an election going on for a new mayor, and Yasmin decides to take Book Uncle’s plight to her favorite candidate.  She slowly builds her case, eventually getting help from her friends and family, to effect a happy ending for Book Uncle.  149 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  A sweet story originally published in India. Yasmin will inspire readers to find out how they can make a difference in their own communities.

Cons:  Kids may need some help with some of the Indian names and customs.