A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting by Joe Ballarini, illustrated by Vivienne To

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Kelly is desperate to earn money to be able to go to the summer camp of her dreams, so she reluctantly agrees to a babysitting job.  The parents warn her that Jacob is prone to nightmares and afraid of the dark.  Sure enough, when bedtime comes, he’s convinced that monsters are lurking.  The only problem is, he’s right.  When one of them abducts Jacob, Kelly is introduced to the world of the babysitters, a group of mostly girls trained in the art and science of protecting kids from monsters.  As her night goes on, she finds herself in increasingly horrifying situations, but also discovers a strength and power she never suspected she had.  Readers brave enough to make it to the last page will be anxiously awaiting the sequel.  352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This blend of scariness, humor, and kid (particularly girl) empowerment will be a big draw to fans of Rick Riordan and R. L. Stine.  This is sure to be a popular read in the coming school year.

Cons:  May be too scary for some.

Now by Antoinette Portis

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  A girl introduces the reader to all her favorites: “This is my favorite breeze.  This is my favorite leaf.  That is my favorite cloud because it’s the one I’m watching.”  Nature, eating, drinking, singing, and losing a tooth are all enjoyed as the book continues.  She concludes with “This is my favorite now because it’s the one I am having with you.”  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  A simple but effective reminder or enjoying the present moment.  This goes well with the author’s book Wait from last year, which has a similar message.

Cons:  I don’t think I can really have a favorite worm, no matter how “present” I am.

Two Truths and A Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  “Two truths and a lie” used to be a dinnertime staple in our family, as I tried to ensnare my hapless young children into believing a convincing-sounding falsehood about my day.  The co-authors of the first entry in this series use their powers for good, telling three brief tales from the natural world, only two of which are true. For instance, in the first section, there are stories about a plant whose roots sometimes resemble a person, a forest whose trees all sprout from the same root system, and the secret lives of plants (how they learn and communicate).  Turn to the back to learn that the first one is false, although it’s based on pictures that can be found on the Internet.  Other chapters delve more into plants, then move on to animals and humans.  These authors are serious about doing good research, as they include a research guide and a 17-page bibliography.  Also includes an index.  176 pages; grades 3-7.

Two pros and a con:  This is a great resource to use to encourage critical thinking, particularly about what can be found on the Internet.  Both the writing style and illustrations are easygoing and engaging.  The story about the headless chicken that lived for years is just gross, although (spoiler alert) true.

Lights, Camera, Middle School (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker) by Jennifer L. Holm, illustrated by Matthew Holm

Published by Random House

Summary:  Our little girl is growing up:  Babymouse has started middle school, and she finds some of the universal difficulties: bad cafeteria food, mean girls, and difficulties managing her curly whiskers.  Things start to look up, though, when she joins the Film Club and is chosen to direct the club’s first movie.  Backed by a remarkably supportive group of friends, Babymouse dives into the process with her usual enthusiasm, extracting herself from one embarrassing situation after another.  The final screening is an unexpected hit with the middle school crowd, but when Babymouse is introduced as the director, she trips over her new dress and falls on her face as she tries to get onstage.  Typical.  Much of this new series is a regular chapter book, but there are plenty of illustrations, as well as occasional comics.  208 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Babymouse fans will cheer at the advent of a new series, and the format will allow readers to move up a notch from the graphic novels.

Cons:  Librarians will have a tough time deciding whether to shelve this with graphic novels or regular fiction.

Around the World in a Bathtub: Bathing All Over the Globe by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Micha Archer

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  “Bath time!” says the mama.  “No, no!” says the boy.  “Yes, yes!” says the mama.  This scenario is repeated throughout the book in different countries, and with the no’s and yesses in different languages.  In Japan, family members bathe in age order in a large square tub called and afuro.  In Alaska, the family enters a steamy maqil.  Some day, a weightless mother may be chasing her floating child for a bath on board a space station.  From the Ganges River in India to the hot springs of Himalayan valleys to a muddy volcano in South America, kids resist taking baths, but often don’t want to get out once they’ve gotten in.  Includes two final pages of additional information on bathing in all the places mentioned in the text.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  An unusual geography lesson based on a universal experience kids will be able to connect with.  The illustrations feature a multicultural cast, with the bathtub scene reminiscent of a similar one in Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day.

Cons:  Naked kids on almost every page will be sure to elicit a lot of giggling at storytime.

Who Wants to Be a Princess? What It Was Really Like to Be a Medieval Princess by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Migy

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary:  For those dreaming about Disney life, this book provides a bit of a wake-up call as to what life for a princess was really like.  The author explains in her note that the “real” princess shown here is based on what life was like circa 1100-1300 in Great Britain.  Each two-page spread contrasts a fantasy princess with a real one.  Pink and purple castle?  Nope, it would have been drab stone surrounded by a moat stinking of sewage.  Beautiful gown?  Itchy brown wool was more like it  There might have been a handsome prince to marry…at around the age of 12, and that marriage would have been arranged.  The final page shows the princess falling asleep and dreaming of being “you”, the modern reader.  Includes an author’s note and a bibliography.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A clever way to teach a bit of history, using a concept that’s sure to catch the eye of certain readers.  The illustrations are kind of Disney-esque, which will add to the appeal.  There’s also a nicely subtle message about being happy with who you are.  If you’re struggling to loose your little cherub from her “Elsa” costume, this, just might do the trick.

Cons:  It’s a pretty cursory look; those wanting much information will have to look elsewhere.


Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Osh found Crow as a baby, when the dilapidated skiff she was riding in washed up on his tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts.  At age 12, Crow begins to want to know more about her past.  Rumor has it she came from Penikese, the island that used to house a leper colony, and this causes most of her neighbors to shun her.  One notable exception is Miss Maggie, a neighbor who is like a mother to Crow.  Osh, Miss Maggie, and Crow take a trip to Penikese to try to find clues about her past, and meet up with a nasty man who claims to be in charge of the bird sanctuary there.  This trip and their encounter begin a chain of events that eventually include buried treasure, a violent crime, shipwreck, a long-lost brother, and Crow’s discoveries about her families…both the one that gave her up and the one that has loved her all along.  304 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Lauren Wolk’s follow-up to her Newbery honor Wolf Hollow does not disappoint in the least.  The story is well-paced, with fascinating details about life on the Elizabeth islands in the 1920’s, and well-developed characters.  Readers will take Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie to heart, and enjoy the secrets that are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Cons:  Here it is the end of July, and this is only the second Newbery contender I’ve read this year and the first for fiction (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Undefeated by Steven Sheinkin).  Anyone else have any thoughts about this?  Leave a comment if you’ve read something else that you think is Newbery-worthy this year.

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Summary:  A little girl takes her favorite stuffed fox to school for show-and-tell in this wordless picture book.  After school, she goes to the playground, her fox sticking out of her backpack.  As she’s swinging, a real fox comes along, takes her stuffed one, and heads off into the forest.  She runs after the fox; her friend sees her go and follows her  The two combine forces, and eventually discover a woodland world populated by many different animals.  After a long, convoluted search, they find the fox, who really just wants a stuffed fox to love.  The girl and the fox make a trade, and there is a happy ending for everyone.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A seemingly simple tale opens up a whole new world in this beautifully detailed wordless book.  Kids will find the animals’ community enchanting, and will discover something new with each repeated reading.

Cons:  Plan on spending a long time with this book.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harvey, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  Maya Lin grew up surrounded by nature, books, and parents “who never told her what to be or how to think”, having left China to escape that kind of doctrine.  Maya loved to create, inspired by her artist father and poet mother.  In college, she decided to study architecture, combining her love of art, science, and math.  When she was a senior, she entered a contest to design a memorial for the Vietnam War.  Her entry was selected from 1,421 others.  When the judges found out how young she was, they were shocked, and many felt that another design should be chosen.  Maya persisted, however, and her dream of a beautiful black wall with the names of those who died in the Vietnam War became a reality. It was the first of many art-architecture installations that Maya continues to create today.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Maya Lin and the memorial.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A quiet, beautiful work about a talented artist who persisted in bringing her creation to fruition.  The digital watercolors by first-time illustrator Phumiruk perfectly capture tone of the book and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Cons:  This only touches on details of Lin’s life, and is not a complete biography.

Moonwalk: The Story of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing by David Jenkins, illustrated by Adrian Buckley

Published by Circa Press

Summary:  48 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.  This book looks at what happened each day of that Apollo 11 mission.  It begins with a bit of context to clarify the importance of the mission, then starts in on July 15, 1969 as people are arriving to camp out and witness takeoff the next morning.  Each two-page spread covers one aspect of the journey, with a paragraph of information and a large digitally enhanced photo.  The excitement builds as the various parts of the trip unfold, climaxing with Neil Armstrong’s one small step onto the moon on July 20.  The final page shows the New York City ticker tape parade a few weeks later, celebrating the triumphant return of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  The final two pages include a collection of interesting facts.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent combination of exciting storytelling and clear explanations of the more technical parts of the space voyage.  The illustrations provide a you-are-there feeling.

Cons:  Some back matter like a bibliography or resource list would have been a nice addition.