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.
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!
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.
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.
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Summary: Bryce and his partners Yoshi and Clinton battle zombies, cooties, and pirates during their recess time on the school playground. The first few pages show a map of the various yards at the school and portraits of the main characters. Different characters control different yards. In the first part of the book, the heroes battle a cooties outbreak that causes kids to turn into zombies. They finally get that taken care of, then the action shifts to a pirate ship where Bryce and Clinton are held captive. When the pirate captain reveals herself, though, she also discloses that she was responsible for the cooties outbreak. There’s a climactic battle which results in a shift in leadership and opens the way for book 2. 144 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Fans of Bone, Amulet, and Doug TenNapel graphic novels will enjoy this new action adventure series in a world populated only by kids.
Cons: I found the line between what was real and what was in the kids’ imaginations a little confusing, especially in the zombie sequence.
Published by POW!
Summary: Lucia loves to pretend she’s a superhero, running and jumping all over the playground. But she’s sad when some of the boys say that girls can’t be superheroes. Her abuela comforts her with the gift of a cape and shiny silver mask, and a story of how she used to dress up as a luchadora, a masked wrestler with swift moves. Lucia tries it the next day, and loves the anonymity the mask gives her. Pretty soon, other luchadores appear on the playground. The rescue of a dog encourages Lucia to unmask; when others follow her example, she is surprised to see many of them are girls, too! The boys see that girls can be superheroes or luchadoras, and everyone plays together. An author’s note gives more information about luchadores and the world of lucha libre, popular in Mexico. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Girl power with a Mexican twist, and a happy ending that includes everyone. The colorful illustrations include some spectacular masks.
Cons: As a former first grade recess monitor, I can’t condone jumping from the top of the monkey bars.
Published by Amistad
Summary: Clayton Byrd is happiest when he’s playing the blues with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd. Cool Papa gives Clayton a harmonica, or blues harp, and lets him play it in his band; Clayton dreams of the day he’ll be allowed to play a solo. When his grandfather suddenly passes away, Clayton is overcome with grief, intensified by his mother’s apparent lack of caring. When she declares, “no more blues”, and takes away his blues harp, Clayton knows he has to do something. He takes a day off from school, steals back his harmonica, and boards the subway in search of Cool Papa’s old band. Along the way he loses both his blues harp and the treasured hat that belonged to his grandfather, falls in with a group of hip-hop artists that take their music onto the subway cars, and almost ends up in jail. His mother comes through for him in the end, and the two of them develop a new appreciation and understanding of each other. An author’s note tells more about blues, hip-hop, and how she came to write this book. 176 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Newbery and Coretta Scott King honoree Williams-Garcia has created another sympathetic character in Clayton Bird, exploring the richness of blues and hip-hop cultures through his experiences and interactions with other fascinating characters.
Cons: The story was too short to be as fully developed as One Crazy Summer and its sequels.
Published by Schwartz & Wade Books
Summary: Laurel loves hanging out with her neighbor, Honey, who works in her garden rain or shine. She also enjoys the Friday nights when Honey comes to dinner, bringing with her the fruits of her labors. Sometimes the two of them picnic in the garden, staying there until the stars come out. Then one terrible day, a “For Sale” sign appears in Honey’s front yard. Honey has to move to take care of her mother. Laurel is heartbroken, but she helps Honey plant strawberries and an apple tree that her neighbor says will be enjoyed by the new people. When a new family appears, with lots of young kids, Laurel puts on Honey’s old straw hat and goes out to help them find their way around their garden. An introductory author’s note describes the Talmudic story that inspired this book. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: A beautiful story of friendship and creating something positive that will carry down to those who come after you.
Cons: Honey seems to do a lot of her gardening in a dress, which seems a bit impractical.
Published by Candlewick Press
Summary: Told in just 60 words, the pictures tell much of the story about the life in a tree. “A tree,” starts the first page, followed by a birds’ nest, a squirrels’ nest, an owls’ hollow, and a rabbits’ burrow. Along comes a couple in a car with big plans for a new house. They start to cut down the tree, but are startled by birds, rabbits, squirrels, and an owl all falling out. When they see the broken nest, it’s back to the drawing board, and a new home emerges that meets the needs of everyone. 40 pages; ages 3-6.
Pros: A deceptively simple story that could be a good discussion starter about humans’ responsibilities for the environment.
Cons: If only it were that simple.
Published by HarperCollins
Summary: When Clem (a quail) steps out for a while, his friend Shorty (a short dinosaur called a shortysaurus) discovers a package addressed to Clem. Shorty vows not to open it, but can’t help guessing the contents, then treating the package as if it contained that item. He guesses a race car and tries to drive it, then a trampoline and tries to jump on it. Finally, he decides there are monkeys in the package, and that’s too much. He loves monkeys so much that he rips open the box, and discovers a pair of monkey slippers inside! Excitement turns to shame as he realizes he opened his friend’s package. When Clem returns, he tells Shorty he ordered the slippers for Shorty, knowing his dinosaur friend would open the box. Shorty declares his love for the slippers, and even more, for Clem. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Lots of laughs, not to mention a celebration of friendship, for the preschool and primary set, with the whole story being told in dialogue.
Cons: Yet another Elephant & Piggie-inspired friendship story told in cartoon bubble dialogue.