Wishtree by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Summary:  Red is an oak tree that has stood for over two centuries.  He has seen many animals come and go, and quite a few humans, too, in the two houses that he faces.  Samar and Stephen live next door to each other in those houses, and Samar wishes for Stephen to be her friend.  Like many humans have done before, she ties the wish to Red’s branches.  Red and his crow friend Bongo do what they can to help with this wish, but their plans don’t work.  And when a teenager with a screwdriver carves the word “Leave” in front of Samar’s house, it looks like her wish will never come true.  Francesca, the owner of the two houses, decides it’s time to cut down Red.  But Wishing Day is coming, and sometimes the magic of all those wishes can be enough to bring some unexpected changes.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another beautiful, thoughtful story by Katherine Applegate.  This would make a perfect classroom read-aloud.  There is plenty to discuss, the illustrations are adorable, and there’s even a good dose of tree humor.  To me, the story isn’t quite enough to warrant a Newbery, but I’m sure there will be some consideration.

Cons:  By the end of the story, I felt guilty for considering cutting down the three oak trees in my backyard.  A few days of raking leaves and acorns will most likely take care of this.

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Yes, Humpty Dumpty got put back together again, but “there were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.”  Humpty is now afraid of heights–he sleeps on the floor rather than in his top bunk, and is forced to buy Bo-Rings cereal rather than the enticing Sugar Bunny and Rainbow Bites that are stocked on the top shelves.  Worst of all, though, he misses the birds he used to watch from his perch atop the high wall.  Inspired by a paper airplane, Humpty creates a flying bird, but is dismayed when it lands on top of his old wall.  Determined, the egg overcomes his fear, and slowly climbs up the ladder on the side of the wall.  At the top, he cracks again…only this time, a beautiful bird emerges and soars into the air.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Dan Santat tells a remarkable story, making a fairy tale connection and using humor that preschoolers will enjoy, but conveying a message for all ages.  The illustrations may be worthy of another Caldecott for the illustrator.

Cons:  The “Sad Clown” cereal that is one of Humpty’s options on the grocery store’s lower shelf.

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Published by Starscape

Summary:  When Amy Anne discovers her favorite book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been removed from the library by the school board, she’s outraged.  Turns out her favorite is one of several books taken off the shelves at the request of a parent.  Amy Anne has always been quiet, a “good girl” who doesn’t speak up at home or at school, even when she’s angry.  Slowly, with the help of a few good friends, she begins a protest against the banned books.  It starts with the B.B.L.L., in which Amy Anne turns her locker into the Banned Book Library Locker, and encourages other kids to read the banned books.  When this is discovered, Amy Anne is suspended and her beloved school librarian loses her job.  This only increases Amy Anne’s determination.  She and her friends come up with a plan that involves the whole school, and shows the school board and the mom who initiated the ban how important books–all books–are in the lives of kids. Includes a discussion guide with questions and activities. 256 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  An inspiring manifesto in favor of the freedom to read.  Readers will cheer for Amy Anne and her transformation from shy introvert to community activist, fueled by her passion for books.  The author notes at the end that all the books banned in the book have actually been challenged or banned in the last 30 years.

Cons:  Amy Anne’s suspension and the librarian’s firing seemed overly draconian, given the offense.

Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Summary:  Katia and Victoria are two sisters struggling to fit in at their snooty new boarding school.  Little Ghost is a playful young ghost who is scared of other ghosts.  Modie is a boy who should have died in an accident, but whose father, Nikola, has found a way of keeping him alive by taking the life of a child every thirteen years.  The characters’ lives in this graphic novel all converge in the graveyard, where Katia and Victoria find refuge from school.  Nikola has his eye on Katia for his latest victim.  Modie no longer wants to be part of his father’s evil schemes, and is ready to be allowed to die in peace.  It’s up to Victoria and Little Ghost to rescue Katia, and bring about a hauntingly happy ending.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Beautiful artwork conveys the darkness of a ghost story that also contains plenty of light, happy moments.  Katia, Victoria, Little Ghost, and Modie all learn the lesson of being true to yourself, and find some unusual forms of happiness and friendship in the end.  Fun Halloween reading.

Cons:  Pardon the expression, but the storyline and characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been.

How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  When a baby elephant is born, she has a lot to learn; good thing she has a protective family and herd to teach her.  From walking to using her complex trunk to figuring out the different smells in her environment, the youngster will spend several years learning all the elephant ways.  Labelled diagrams and full-page illustrations complement the text to impart all the intricate knowledge the elephant needs to survive.  Includes a note from the author about her research and the endangered status of African elephants, and a list of resources for further information.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Readers will learn a ton of information about elephants, both through the text and the illustrations, which should be considered by the Caldecott committee.

Cons:  While the book has the look and feel of a picture book, the information and vocabulary is pretty advanced for primary grades.

Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes

Published by Disney-Hyperion

Summary:  Beatrice Zinker is unlike anyone else in her family.  Her first word was “Wow”, not “Mom”, and she does her best thinking upside-down.  She goes her own way at school, too, but her second grade teacher and her best friend Lenny appreciated Beatrice’s unique qualities.  The first day of third grade, though, doesn’t go so well.  Her teacher, Mrs. Tamarack, has heard about Beatrice, and is determined to keep her in line.  Lenny shows up with a new girl, Chloe, and doesn’t want to carry out the plans she and Beatrice made at the end of second grade.  But even a fall from a tree and a bloody nose can’t deter Beatrice, and by the end of the day she has even managed to win over her bossy older sister. 160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Fans of Ramona, Junie B., and Clementine will enjoy Beatrice’s humor and resourcefulness.  She is unafraid of being who she is, yet kind enough to find ways to include her friends and family.  Plenty of zany illustrations help set the tone for Beatrice’s story.

Cons:  Mrs. Tamarack was still a meanie at the end of the story.

Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade: A Thanksgiving Story by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Summary:  Rettie has to be mother and father to her three younger siblings, since their mother is sick with consumption and their father is fighting in World War I.  Life in their tenement building is difficult, all the more so when the influenza epidemic hits.  Their building is quarantined, and Rettie is worried that she won’t be able to get out for the Ragamuffin Parade on Thanksgiving.  This is an annual event for poor immigrant children to collect pennies from their more well-to-do neighbors.  Rettie works hard, helping to keep the apartment building clean and washing rags to earn some extra money.  Finally, the quarantine is lifted in time for Rettie to go to the parade.  Not only that, but the cold weather slows down the influenza epidemic, and the war comes to an end in early November.  Rettie joins the rest of America in celebrating Thanksgiving by using the pennies from the parade to buy her family apples and a pumpkin. Includes an author’s note about the Ragamuffin Parade, which may have been the inspiration for the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.  32 pages; grade 1-4.

Pros:  Part of the “Tales of Young Americans” series, this is a heartwarming story of a young girl persevering under difficult circumstances.  Readers will learn a lot of history from Rettie’s story, and the illustrations show a great deal of historical detail as well.

Cons:  Rettie seems a little too good to be true.