Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas by Laura James, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  Lady Miranda and her pug Pug have been invited to a birthday party at the lake.  Despite his new captain’s uniform, Pug’s not crazy about the water, but he likes the fact that there’s lots of picnic food around.  He dives into a basket for a closer look, but accidentally gets stuck inside and carried off by the Picnic Lady onto a bus.  Thus begin Captain Pug’s adventures.  He serves as the coxswain on a crew boat, and gets rowed out to a cruise ship where he meets a real sea captain.  All the while, Lady Miranda is searching everywhere for her beloved pet.  An errant seagull finally leads her to Pug’s ship, where she makes quite a splash.  Girl and dog are reunited and head back home…until their next adventure.  128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of Mercy Watson and Princess in Black will enjoy this funny early chapter book, with plenty of illustrations and not a lot of text on each page.

Cons:  I just can’t warm up to pugs.

Martin’s Dream Day by Kitty Kelley, photographs by Stanley Tretick

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers


Summary:  Written to highlight photos by Look photographer and JFK favorite Stanley Tretick, this book focuses on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  King is showed on the first page, nervous as he prepares to address 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial.  From there, the text and photos go back to explain King’s role in Civil Rights movement.  He is shown with John F. Kennedy, along with quotes from Kennedy urging Congress to pass his civil rights bill.  When Congress did nothing, King began to organize the March on Washington.  Photos are shown of individuals and crowds at the march, culminating with quotes from Martin Luther King’s speech.  On the last page, the reader learns of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Includes an author’s note and three websites with additional information.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A good introduction Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most important speech and the history behind it.  Seeing the author was Kitty Kelley–yes, that Kitty Kelley–I kept looking for gossipy passages about some King or Kennedy scandal, but don’t worry, you can safely read this to your first-grader.  The many photos bring an immediacy to the story and provide faces of real people instead of just the huge crowds.

Cons:  There could have been a lot more additional resources given.

The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander, photographs by Thai Neave

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Kwame Alexander begins this book with his own athletic journey from basketball to football to tennis, where he finally found the sport that made him a high school champion.  After this introduction, the book is divided into four quarters, like a game, entitled Grit, Motivation, Focus, and Teamwork.  Each section begins with a profile of an athlete who personifies that trait, then there are 13 rules, each one accompanied by a drawing or photo of an athlete, and an inspirational quote.  Alexander refers to the rules as “poems”, but that feels like a bit of a stretch.  The quotes are mostly from athletes, but a few other celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are included. 176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Anyone looking for a little inspiration will find plenty of it in these pages.  Young athletes will particularly enjoy the sports stories and quotes.  The sharp black, orange, and gray graphics are similar to the covers of Alexander’s books “The Crossover” and “Booked”.

Cons:  This feels more like a graduation gift or self-help seminar than an actual reading experience.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

Published by Scholastic

Summary:  12-year-old Matthew almost never leaves the house due to his incapacitating OCD.  Petrified of germs, he spends most of the day in his room, watching his neighbors and taking notes on their comings and goings.  So when a little boy disappears from his grandfather’s front yard, it turns out Matthew was the last person to see him.  He decides he is going to solve the mystery.  Reluctantly at first, he enlists the help of Jake and Melody, two kids from his grade who live in the neighborhood.  As the story unfolds, the reader gradually learns of Matthew’s guilt over his own baby brother’s death, and how this has led him to choose his sterile, lonely existence.  By the end of the book, the case has been solved, Matthew has made a couple of new friends, and he is beginning to take the first steps toward recovery.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A suspenseful mystery, told with understated humor in Matthew’s British voice.  Readers will empathize with Matthew’s seemingly strange behavior, and cheer him on as he starts to uncover the demons that have plagued him for much of his life.

Cons:  I cringed at the scenes where Matthew washed his hands until they cracked and bled.

Short Stories for Little Monsters by Marie-Louse Gay

Published by Groundwood Books


Summary:  19 stories are 48 pages, each one a two-page spread with plentiful illustrations.  All kinds of critters are featured, from “The Secret Life of Rabbits” to “What Do Trees Talk About?” to “Snail Nightmares”.  There are also plenty about humans, including “The Incredible Invisible Boy” and “Zombie Mom”.  Many of the stories are told in panel format, similar to graphic novels.  Readers will enjoy studying some of the more complex illustrations, such as the one showing where a rabbit goes when he jumps down a hole or what a little girl sees when she closes her eyes.  The endpapers feature a colorful parade of kids and animals.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A charming and witty book that will definitely be appreciated by kids of all ages. The stories are funny, the illustrations complement them perfectly, and the comic book format is appealing.

Cons:  Wait, is the title implying that kids are monsters?