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.

Hank’s Big Day: The Story of a Bug by Evan Kuhlman, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Published by Schwartz & Wade 

Summary:  A day in the life of Hank, the pill bug, begins with him crawling out from beneath his rock home and setting forth through the grass, across the sidewalk, and to the home of his best friend, a girl named Amelia.  Today Amelia is pretending to be Amelia Earhart, and she puts Hank on top of her leather helmet and takes him for a ride.  After an afternoon playing together, the two friends gaze at each other lovingly (an illustration labeled “what friendship looks like”), then Hank reverses his morning journey to get back home.  The last page pictures him happily asleep under his rock.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This would make a great springboard for young writers to imagine other animals’ days.  The illustrations are large and colorful with many humorous labels.

Cons:  Pill bugs are nowhere near this cute in real life.