The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Little, Brown

Summary:  Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney takes on another classic folktale, emphasizing the bullying aspect of troll vs. goats.  Each goat takes its turn trip-trapping over the bridge, until the biggest goat comes along.  A pullout page gives extra emphasis to his confrontation with the troll.  Pinkney explains in his author’s note that he didn’t like the traditional ending of this tale, so he has invented a new one.  It doesn’t necessarily seem like a happy ending, but a careful reader will see some troll-goat cooperation going on in the endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: Pinkney continues his string of folktale successes.  The language is perfect for a storytelling-style read-aloud, and the watercolor illustrations provide plenty of details to examine.

Cons:  That is one scary-looking troll.

Under Locker and Key by Allison K. Hymas

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  Jeremy Wilderson calls himself the “retrieval specialist” of Scottsville Middle School–if someone steals your wallet or a teacher confiscates your phone, Jeremy will get it back without leaving a trace of evidence that he was there.  So when eighth-grader Mark hires him to find his missing key, Jeremy isn’t a bit suspicious, and it is mission accomplished within 24 hours.  But when he overhears teachers discussing the stolen master key that opens every locker in the school, he realizes that he’s been duped.  By the next day, locker robberies are sweeping the school, and Jeremy knows who is responsible.  But how can he bring down Mark without indicting himself?  There’s only one person who can help him: self-styled sixth-grade detective Becca, who also happens to be Jeremy’s #1 nemesis.  Can the two enemies come together to catch a thief?  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Part of Aladdin’s MAX imprint targeting middle grade boy readers (I’m guessing, since two other titles in the series are entitled I Am Fartacus and 33 Minutes Until Morgan Sturtz Kicks My Butt), this is a fun middle school adventure told in Jeremy’s humorous voice. Recommended for fans of Swindle and The Great Greene Heist.

Cons:  The plot occasionally drifts into too much talk and not enough action.

What’s Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle and Friends

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  As a follow-up to What’s Your Favorite Animal?, Eric Carle and 14 other children’s book illustrators tell what their favorite color is and why.  Carle favors yellow, which should surprise no one familiar with his bright suns.  He also finds it the most challenging color to work with because it can easily become muddy.  Other illustrators cite a hue that evokes a memory or a mood.  Surprisingly, gray is the only color that was chosen twice (by Rafael Lopez and Melissa Sweet, who clarifies that it is “Maine morning gray”).  Each illustrator has created a picture to go with his or her choice.  Uri Shulevitz concludes the collection by choosing all colors.  One color may be lonely, but all together they will have a colorful party! The last two pages have thumbnail photos of each artist as a child, along with a brief biography.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This book could be used in many ways–to introduce illustrators, as an art book, or to prompt kids to write about their own favorite colors.

Cons:  Kids might not appreciate this book as much without some adult guidance.


The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Between the end of day and the fall of night is the blue hour.  Blue animals from around the world are shown as they slow down for the night, or start to wake up if they are nocturnal.  A blue fox wanders through the Arctic, while poison dart frogs croak to each other from their water lilies.  Forget-me-nots, bluebells, cornflowers, and violets fill the night air with their fragrance.  As a blue whale surfaces, the last of the blue light fades, and the world moves into darkness.  Front endpapers identify 32 different shades of blue, and the back ones show where all the animals from the book live on a map of the world.  42 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The stunning illustrations, almost all in various shades of blue, are worthy of Caldecott consideration. Combined with the soothing text, they make a perfect bedtime book.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have a little information on the different animals at the end of the book.  What, for example, are vulturine guineafowl?

A Song About Myself: A Poem by John Keats, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  At the age of 22, John Keats went on a walking tour of Scotland. He wrote a letter to his younger sister describing the trip and included this four-verse nonsense poem about “a naughty boy” who travels “to the North”, and all the things he finds when he gets there.  Caldecott Medalist Chris Raschka has illustrated the poem with his usual bright paintings, including a detailed, labeled map of New York City and Scotland on the endpapers.  An author’s note at the end tells more of Keats’ life and how he came to write this poem.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to a poet who might not generally be accessible to kids.  The short lines, rhyming words, and colorful illustrations make this a good first poetry book for younger readers.

Cons:  A written explanation of the map on the endpapers would have been useful.

Escargot by Dashka Slater, pictures by Sydney Hanson

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Summary:  Escargot is a chatty French snail who would like to be your friend.  He’s on his way to a salad, and as he goes, he gives a stream of consciousness narration.  Did you know no one ever says the snail is their favorite animal?  Some people think snails are slimy, but that stuff they leave as they go is really more shimmery.  And they’re actually not as shy nor as slow as you might think.  Look at how fast Escargot is approaching that salad!  After consuming the carrot (which he didn’t think he would like!), he connects with a kid at the end, climbs on his hand, and gives him a big kiss.  Mwah!  40 pages; ages 4-7.

Pros:  Dust off your Inspector Clouseau-inspired French accent to read this aloud.  Kids will love the adorable Escargot and his Gallic flair.

Cons:  I feared for the fate of a French snail named Escargot, especially as he was traveling toward a salad.

A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Published by NorthSouth Books

Summary:  Young John F. Kennedy didn’t always do well in school, and he was often sick.  But as he grew up and studied history, he became interested in the meaning of courage and how he could help others in the world. When his older brother Joe died in World War II, Jack became the focus of his family’s political ambitions.  When he was elected President, he quickly took action in a number of areas, like establishing the Peace Corps and starting the space race.  But he was less decisive on civil rights.  African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson pressured him to act more forcefully, but it wasn’t until he saw young people around the country marching and going to jail that he found the courage to speak up.  The “big speech” of the title is his civil rights address, given June 11, 1963, that ultimately led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Readers are encouraged at the end of the book to take action like those who inspired JFK to make this famous speech.  An author’s note gives more background; there are also thumbnail profiles of other famous people in the book and additional resources.  56 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An inspirational story of the many accomplishments of John F. Kennedy, as well as a look at an area he where he was slow to act, and how others’ deeds finally led him to do the right thing.  The bold paintings complement the bold actions of the narrative.

Cons:  For a picture book, there’s a lot of content for readers to understand.

Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith

Published by Groundwood Books

Summary:  The boy in the story describes his house by the sea and what a typical day is like for him there.  While he wakes up and eats breakfast, plays with a friend, and does a chore for his mother, his father is deep underground, working in the coal mine.  At suppertime, his father finally arrives home, and the family eats dinner together, then relaxes on the porch as the sun goes down.  One day, the boy says, it will be his turn to go to the dark tunnels underground.  “I’m a miner’s son,” he concludes.  “In my town, that’s the way it goes.”  An author’s note reveals that the story takes place in a mining town on Cape Breton in the 1950’s, but that the boy’s life is similar to that of children in mining towns in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  52 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The juxtaposition of the beautiful seascape and the darkness of the coal mines is captured by both the text and the pictures.  The repeating phrases, “And deep down under that sea, my father is digging for coal,” and “it goes like this” as the narrator describes each part of his day describe an unending rhythm, both to his days and to the years of life in this town.  The illustrations do an amazing job of capturing the changing light and shadows as the day progresses.

Cons:  It’s a pretty heartbreaking ending when the boy, whose life seems pretty idyllic, matter-of-factly states that he will become a miner too some day.

Moto and Me: My Year As a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids

Summary:  While trying to rescue her kittens from a fire, Moto’s mother was scared by a truck and dropped one of them in the road.  The tourists on the truck didn’t see the mother.  Thinking they were rescuing the tiny serval, they took it to a ranger station.  By the time they got there, the ranger knew Moto’s mother would never take her kitten back, so he was given to Suzi Eszterhas, who was working as a wildlife photographer.  She became his foster mom, taking care of him, but also making sure that he followed his instincts and learned how to live in the wild.  As Moto grew up, he spent increasingly long periods of time in the wild until one day he didn’t return.  Eszterhas feared the worst, but a week later, she spotted him, and he came over to her jeep to greet her.  He was seen again several times by rangers, and Suzi knew she had succeeded as a serval foster mom.  Includes a page of facts about servals.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An engaging nonfiction narrative that kids could read for either pleasure or research.  Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer, so the many photos are cute and captivating.

Cons:  I’m not really sure how to pronounce “serval”.