Science Comics: Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers by MK Reed, illustrated by Joe Flood

Published by First Second 

Summary:  Focusing mostly on humans’  gradual discoveries of the history of dinosaurs, this graphic science book covers paleontology from the Industrial Revolution to the present.  In 1800, the reader learns, it was believed that the Earth was 6,000 years old, that dinosaurs had vanished a few thousand years before in Noah’s flood, and that there were no examples of dinosaurs left.  The author updates these beliefs as she moves through history until 2000 when scientists believe the earth is 4.5 billion years old, dinosaurs lived over 65 million years ago, and descendants of dinosaurs are living today.  It’s a fascinating journey, with heroes and villains making discoveries, disputing the claims of their peers, and inching their way toward a better understanding of Earth’s history.  Back matter includes a glossary, a timeline of geologic eras, and a short list of further reading.  Part of a new “Science Comics” series that includes (or will soon include) books on coral reefs, volcanoes, bats, flying machines, and the solar system.  128 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fascinating history of paleontology with some really spectacular graphics that do a great job of visually depicting concepts like dinosaur sizes and family trees.

Cons:  The list of books for further reading was pretty short, and the titles were several years old.

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Christian Robinson

Published by HarperCollins 

Summary:  Margaret Wise Brown’s classic book, first published in 1958, has been reissued with new illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Christian Robinson.  When a group of children find a dead bird in the woods, they decide to have a funeral for it.  They find a place to dig a hole, wrap the bird in grapevine leaves, and cover it with ferns and flowers.  They sing a song to the bird (lyrics included in the text), cry a little, cover up the bird with dirt, and place a stone on top reading “Here lies a bird that is dead.”  And every day, until they forget, they return to the gravesite to sing to the bird and decorate the stone with flowers.  32 pages, ages 4-8.

Pros:  This timeless story benefits from the new illustrations in a larger book.  I particularly liked the kid who wore a fox mask to the funeral, apparently practicing his own little ritual.  The story remains a gentle introduction to death and dying for children.

Cons:  I liked the way the original book had an interesting format of alternating pages of text and pictures, allowing the reader to focus on the words before looking at the picture.  The new version has text and pictures together.

 

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux 

Summary:  11-year-old Charlie has been sent to live with her Aunt Bertha and Uncle Gus while her father serves a jail term and her mother “gets back on her feet”.  Charlie’s not exactly sure what that means, but she does know that she doesn’t want to be living in the hillbilly town of Colby, North Carolina away from her home in Raleigh and her big sister Jackie.  She doesn’t much care for Howard, the neighbor boy who tries to befriend her, and she’s not sure what she thinks of her loquacious, quirky aunt.  Charlie’s a big believer in making wishes, and she has one wish that she makes whenever she gets a chance, whether it’s finding a penny, seeing the first star come out, or getting the bigger part of the wishbone.  In fact, Wishbone is the name she gives to the stray dog she glimpses in the woods near her aunt and uncle’s home, and she enlists Howard to help her with a plan to catch the dog and turn him into a pet.  Their plan succeeds, and Wishbone turns out to be the first good thing to happen to Charlie in a long time.  When Jackie comes for a visit, Charlie gets a chance to see her surroundings through new eyes, and begins to appreciate the people who care about her.  A surprise phone call from her mother turns her world upside down and forces Charlie to make some difficult choices.  240 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  The adorable, appealing cover is just the beginning of a heartwarming story of a girl who’s had way too much to deal with in her short life, yet still has the resiliency and heart to slowly learn to care about the people around her.  Keep the Kleenex close at hand as you approach the final chapters.

Cons:  I’d love to know what happens to Charlie and Jackie, but I have a feeling this will be a stand-alone book.

Owl Sees Owl by Laura Godwin, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

Published by Schwartz and Wade Books 

Summary:  Each page has just four words on it, starting with “Home Mama Brother Sister”.  Owl leaves the nest for a nighttime flight (“Soar Glide Swoop Swoosh”).  In the middle of the book, he lands on a branch over the water and sees his reflection: Owl Sees Owl.  The rest of the book’s pages mirror the first half of the book; as the owl returns home, there’s a page with “Swoosh Swoop Glide Soar”, the reverse order of those same words on an earlier page.  Finally, the owl lands back in his nest, and the last page reads, “Sister Brother Mama Home”.  40 pages, ages 3-8.

Pros:  This reminded me of Marilyn Singer’s reverso poetry books, in which the second verse is the opposite of the first, changing the meaning.  There are plenty of strong nouns and verbs, since each word has to do a lot of work to tell the story.  The pictures perfectly capture Owl’s silent nighttime world.

Cons:  It took me a few readings to realize the second half of the book was the reverse of the first half; without guidance, kids may miss this cool feature.

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller, illustrated by Justin Lowe

Published by Balzer + Bray

 

Summary:  Octicorn’s dad is a unicorn and Mom is an octopus.  He may be the only one in existence, which sometimes makes it hard to fit in.  Too bad, because he’s great at ring toss, juggling, and water sports.  He’s not a picky eater…plankton, fresh clover, and cupcakes will keep him happy.  He loves s’mores, sports, recess.  He really wants a jet-ski.  Octicorn may look different from everyone else, but inside he’s the same, and would really like to be your friend.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Octicorn’s a pretty funny guy, but he’s got a serious message, too, and will help young kids look beyond appearances when choosing friends.  The simple, funny drawings complement the text perfectly.

Cons:  I couldn’t tell from the pictures if Octicorn has eight legs like his mom or four legs like his dad.

Wonderful Winter: All Kinds of Winter Facts and Fun by Bruce Goldstone

Published by Henry Holt 

Summary:  All kinds of facts about winter are presented, illustrated with large, colorful illustrations.  There’s scientific information about the solstice, snow, animal adaptation, cold, and the simple machines that are used to shovel snow.  The sounds, sports, tastes, holidays, and feelings of winter are all highlighted with their own two-page spreads.  The final four pages include photos and instructions for six winter activities.  This is a follow-up to Bruce Goldstone’s book Awesome Autumn, and from the looks of things at the end of this book, I would say Spectacular Spring cannot be far behind.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A very thorough introduction to winter for the primary grades.  Easy-to-understand science information is interspersed with quick takes on some of the words used to describe winter.  Young readers will enjoy the large, clear photos of familiar winter objects.

Cons:  The “fake snow” activity that involves shredding a disposable diaper sounds a bit messy.

Storyworlds: Nature by Thomas Hegbrook

Published by 360 Degrees 

Summary:  “Every picture tells a story.  What do you think that story is?”  These words on the title page invite the reader to study the 100 wordless pictures that follow and think about what the story is.  On the verso of the title page (I hope I’m using that word right…the page to the left of the title page) are the words Observe, Inspire, and Wonder, with a sentence about each. The final pages show smaller versions of each of the preceding page, with an animal fact about each one.  The final sentence reads, “What do you think that story is?”  64 pages; ages K-5.

Pros:  A unique book that invites creativity, wonder, and a closer observation of the natural world.  The pictures are beautiful, and I could see certain kids spending literally hours studying them all and making up stories about what is happening in each.

Cons:  The size and $25.00 price may make this a less-than-ideal choice for libraries.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Published by First Second 

Summary:  Jack’s summer is not looking too great: he’s expected to take care of his autistic sister Maddie while his single mom struggles to make ends meet with two jobs.  At a flea market, an unsavory vendor (with the help of Maddie, speaking for the first time) trades Jack a box of seeds for the keys to his mother’s car.  Needless to say, this doesn’t go over too well with Mom.  The next day, Maddie is outside at the crack of dawn, digging up the backyard to plant the seeds.  Before long, the two kids have created a garden of plants that come to life in more ways than one, and that attracts both the neighbor girl, Lilly, and a talking dragon.  After a gigantic snail almost crushes Maddie, Jack has had enough, and tries to burn the entire garden.  But complete destruction seems impossible, and by the end of this book, Maddie’s been carried off by a garden monster, and Lilly and Jack are arming themselves to go after her.  Readers will have to wait for the next installment to see if they will be successful.  208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This graphic novel retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk has all the adventure, compelling characters, and fantastic artwork to make it irresistible to middle grade readers.

Cons:  The cliffhanger ending.

Tek: the Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

Published by Little, Brown 

Summary:  Young Tek lives in the Stone Age, but wants nothing so much as to stay in his cave, playing with his tablet, phone, and game box.  Prehistoric friends come to visit, but he refuses to go outside and play with him.  The Ice Age and evolution are going on around him, but Tek is oblivious.  Finally Big Poppa, the village volcano, decides it may be time for an eruption intervention.  Thankfully, this dislodges Tek from his cave, and forces him into the great outdoors.  Disconnected at last, the boy discovers the beautiful world around him and enjoys a day and night playing outside with his friends.  40 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  With a cover designed to look like a tablet, this story is sure to resonate with kids everywhere.  There’s plenty of humor to tickle the funny bones of the intended audience, both in the text and the illustrations of Caldecott honoree McDonnell. 

Cons:  The “put down your electronics and get outside, kids” message was not exactly subtle.

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers 

Summary:  Beginning and ending with a wedding, Archie Magill tells the story of his life from a disastrous turn as a six-year-old ring bearer to the present.  His home and school are peopled with memorable characters, including his car-loving father, his cool Uncle Paul, his outspoken best friend Lynette, and his celebrity student teacher Mr. McLeod.  Mr. McLeod arrives in military uniform, triggering a lockdown, and when everything gets straightened out, he’s become a viral online sensation.  He wins Archie’s respect when he helps the victim of some sixth-grade bullies, washing off the word “gay” they’ve written on the boy’s forehead, then revealing himself as gay to the bullies and their classmates.  A romance develops between Uncle Paul and Mr. McLeod, and Archie is determined to help his commitment-shy uncle see their relationship through.  The story closes with a wedding, with Archie serving as best man for his old uncle Paul and his new uncle, Mr. McLeod.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Funny and touching, with plenty of memorable characters, this book is getting some Newbery buzz.  An excellent addition to LGBTQ literature for kids that shows a mature, real relationship between two men.

Cons:  If you’re putting this in a public library, be aware there’s a gay romance that is central to the story.