Wallace and Grace Take the Case by Heather Alexander, illustrated by Laura Zarrin

Published by Bloomsbury

Summary:  Wallace and Grace are two owl friends and partners in the Night Owl Detective Agency.  Wallace is a careful rule-follower, and Grace is an enthusiastic go-getter, but each one appreciates the qualities of the other.  In this first installment, the two friends are hired by Edgar the rabbit to investigate a ghost-sighting in the kale patch.  Carefully gathering and clues and using a bit of logical reasoning, they are able to work together to uncover what’s going on.  Readers can look forward to a couple of sequels, as well as some similar series in Bloomsbury’s Read & Bloom imprint for newly independent readers.  80 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  A perfect first chapter book, with plenty of colorful illustrations and gentle humor.

Cons:  Wallace comes across as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud.

  Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

 

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Middle school is always difficult for quiet, shy Emmie, who only speaks to her best friend Brianna, walks through the halls with her head down, and hides by drawing whenever she can.  But one day stands out as particularly horrible.  At lunch, she and Brianna amuse themselves by writing over-the-top love notes to their crushes.  Emmie accidentally drops hers, and it’s discovered by insufferable class clown Joe.  He proceeds to tease and torture her for the rest of the afternoon, until Emmie feels like she has been reduced to a puddle of slime.  Interspersed with her story is a comic tale of Katie, a classmate who is pretty, popular, smart, and confident.  The two girls connect in a surprising way late in the day, and Emmie has a good last class that bodes well for the rest of her seventh grade year.  192 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This graphic novel-chapter book hybrid will appeal to fans of Wimpy Kid type books as well as graphic novels Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.

Cons:  There were a few references (like Emmie referring to herself as an “oops baby”) that might raise an eyebrow for parents and/or teachers of younger readers.

Posted by John David Anderson

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  Eric, a.k.a. Frost, is part of a tight group of four friends (nicknamed Bench, Wolf, and Deedee) who have protected each other through two difficult years of middle school.  When cellphones are banned at the beginning of eighth grade, he and his friends begin leaving notes on Post-Its.  Before long, these sticky notes are appearing on lockers and backpacks all over school, some silly, some wise, and some hurtful.  At the same time, a new girl, Rose, starts hanging out with the guys, causing a shift in the group dynamics.  Bench deserts them for another lunch table, and Deedee and Frost are the victims of a vicious bully who may or may not be one of Bench’s new friends.  Rose heroically comes to their rescue, but even she can’t protect them when the bully comes after Wolf.  The kids learn the power of words to hurt and to heal and the many varieties of friendship as they muddle their way through their final year of middle school.  384 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A powerful and realistic friendship story that is unflinching in its portrayal of the social hierarchy of middle school.  This is sure to be a popular choice for readers, as well as teachers looking for interesting class discussions.

Cons:  Some language and some details about the bullying incident may make this more of a middle school book than an elementary one.

Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Margaret Hamilton loved solving problems.  Her ability to problem-solve led her to a career in computers, first at MIT, and then at NASA.  In 1964, she went to work for NASA, writing computer programs that took into account every problem a spacecraft could have as it traveled to the moon.  By the time the Apollo missions were underway, Margaret was the director of software programming.  Minutes before Apollo 11 was going to touch down on the moon, a computer problem set off an alarm.  Margaret was able to use her code to solve the problem, and the rest was a giant step into history.  An author’s note gives more biographical information about Margaret; there’s also a bibliography, and photos of Margaret on the endpapers.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun story about a woman who pioneered computer programming and played an important role in the space program. The text is engagingly conversational, and the graphic novel-style illustrations make it kid-friendly.

Cons:  The biographical details of Hamilton’s life are a little light.

 

That Neighbor Kid by Daniel Miyares

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  In this almost wordless book, a girl starts spying on the boy who’s just moved in next door.  She sees him reading a book, then removing part of the wooden fence between their houses to nail rungs on to a tree.  Stealthily following him up the ladder, she discovers him scratching his head over plans for a tree house.  She pulls a hammer out, and the only words in the book appear.  “Hi.”  “Hi.”  The two of them get to work, and before long, a house begins to emerge.  As they build, splashes of color appear in the previously black-and-white illustrations.  On the last page, they wave from the yellow-lighted windows of their houses, the completed treehouse standing between them.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A simple story of friendship, told entirely in the beautiful watercolors of Daniel Miyares.

Cons:  Kids, don’t try unsupervised hammering and sawing at home!

 

This Is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from Around the World by Matt Lamothe

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Seven children, ages 7-11, from seven different countries (Japan, Peru, Iran, Russia, India, Italy, and Uganda) explain what they do throughout their day. Readers learn what they eat, who is in their family, how they get to school, what they learn there, and what they do after school.  The last page says, “This is my night sky,” indicating that children all over the world sleep under the same sky.  The last two pages show photos of the real families that the kids come from, and an author’s note explains how those families were chosen and that, while they represent their countries, not everyone in their country has the same tastes, interests, and experiences as those described in the book.  Includes a glossary and endpapers with a map of the world showing where each child lives.  52 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The large, colorful pages are an engaging way for kids to learn about the lives of others their age around the world.  The focus on everyday activities will allow readers to make many connections with their own lives.

Cons:  The text was kind of stilted.

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Kelp knows he’s different from his narwhal friends–his horn is shorter, he has different tastes in food, and he’s not a very good swimmer.  But they like him anyway, so he doesn’t worry about it too much.  Then one day he gets caught in a current that carries him to dry land, where he finds creatures that look just like him.  They tell him they are unicorns, and they teach him the magical wonders of their species.  Kelp loves his new life, but eventually he starts missing his old friends.  He’s afraid they’ll be mad at him for having been gone so long, but they welcome him back with open flippers.  Turns out they knew all along he wasn’t a narwhal!  But how will Kelp manage to navigate his two worlds?  The last page has the answer, with unicorns hanging out on the beach and wading into the water to play with the narwhals.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Embrace who you are, man, this time with unicorns and trendy narwhals.  The message is good and the illustrations are irresistible.

Cons:  It’s not exactly a new message in the world of children’s literature.