The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

Published by Viking

Summary:  Maria Luisa (Malu for short) is devastated when her mom announces that she’s taken a two-year teaching job in Chicago.  This means Malu not only has to start 7th grade in a new school, but has to move away from her cool dad who lets her hang out at his record store, listening to her beloved punk rock music.  Her more conservative mom (Malu calls her SuperMexican) keeps imploring Malu to dress and act more like “una senorita”.  Malu gets off to a tough start her first day of school, violating the dress code and getting on the wrong side of popular mean girl Selena, who snarkily calls Malu a “coconut” (brown on the outside, white on the inside).  But Malu is nothing if not plucky, and being true to herself eventually wins her friends and leads to the formation of her own punk band.  They turn Selena’s insult on its head by calling themselves the Co-Co’s.  When the band is rejected from the talent show for being too loud, Malu has to decide just how punk she wants to be, as she and her friends plot artistic revenge on the school authorities.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Malu is a winning narrator, interspersing her story with her original zines that give more details about her life, Mexican history, and punk rock.  She is true to herself, while at the same time admitting her fears and insecurities as she navigates a bumpy road toward better relationships with her mom and her newfound friends.

Cons:  It seemed unrealistic that a girl who had never played a musical instrument in her life became the band’s drummer after a single lesson.

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The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  That is one bad seed.  He never puts things back where they belong.  He tells long jokes with no punch line.  And he’s late to everything.  Why?  Well, it’s kind of a long story.  He started out okay, growing  up in a big family on a sunflower.  When the flower wilted, though, he lost his home, and eventually ended up in a bag.  A giant started to eat him, but he got spit out at the last minute.  It was pretty much downhill from there.  But now he’s made a decision to try to be good.  It isn’t always easy, and sometimes he slips back into his old ways, but he keeps going, and eventually starts to think maybe he’s not such a bad seed after all.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Pretty funny stuff that could open up discussion about why people do “bad” things, and how to help them do better.  It can’t be easy to personify different seeds, but Pete Oswald does a charming job.

Cons:  I’ve done just about all the “bad” things listed by the seed.  The picture of the abandoned shopping cart in the parking lot really hit home for me.

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Arturo Schomburg grew up in Puerto Rico, where he loved reading and history.  When his fifth grade teacher told him that people from Africa had no history, he began a lifelong quest to prove her wrong.  At age 17, he moved to New York and became a bank clerk, but his real passion was collecting books, papers, and pamphlets having to do with African and African-American history.  Eventually, his collection grew to such a size that his wife said she was leaving if he didn’t sell it.  The New York Public Library purchased it, and it became the cornerstone of their Negro History, Literature, and Prints collection.  Schomburg also served as curator for the Negro Collection at Fisk University Library in Tennessee.  Includes a timeline and bibliography. 38 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  The free verse poems that make up the text tell the story of Arturo Schomburg, but also of many of the people whose stories he collected, including Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, and Toussaint Louverture.  A poem called “Whitewash” explores the African heritage, mostly ignored, of such famous people as John James Audubon, Alexandre Dumas, and Beethoven.  The large oil paintings that illustrate this oversized book bring all these subjects to life.

Cons:  From the outside, this looks like a picture book biography of Arturo Schomberg, but there is much more to it.  It would be doing a disservice to try to get through it all in a single sitting.

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All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato

Published by Henry Holt and Company

Summary:  A boy describes the trip he and his family are taking from the Cuban countryside to the city of Havana to visit relatives.  Their mode of transportation is an ancient sky-blue Chevy, whose nickname is “Cara Cara” because of the sound it makes when it runs.  The engine, the boy says, is held together with “wire, tape, and mixed-up scraps of dented metal”.  Nevertheless, they get it started and head out to the highway, joining the colorful parade of other pre-1959 cars.  There are many interesting sights along the way; the family gathering is a success; and Cara Cara gets everyone back home again as night is falling.  An author’s note explains how the cars are symbolic of the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Cuban people; the illustrator’s note describes their trip to Cuba to create the book.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Car fans will love the illustrations and details of the many different automobiles, including labeled ones on the endpapers.  Readers will get a vivid taste of Cuban life with illustrations that may get a look from the Caldecott committee.

Cons:  Some additional photos from the trip to Cuba would have been a nice addition. (There’s one of the car that was used as a model for the book.)

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Dawn and the Impossible Three (The Baby-Sitters Club) by Gale Galligan

Published by Graphix

Summary:  Dawn, the newest member of the Baby-Sitters Club, has her hands full with a new job, friendship issues, and family changes.  She takes a job babysitting the Barrett kids, and gets more than she bargained for when their frazzled single mom gives her increasingly inappropriate responsibilities.  Everything comes to a head when Buddy Barrett goes missing, and Dawn must confront Mrs. Barrett about her irresponsible behavior.  Meanwhile, Dawn’s mom and Mary Anne’s dad are getting more serious about their relationship, making the two girls excited at the prospect of becoming sisters, but leaving Kristy feeling left out of the loop.  There’s also a subplot about Mallory Pike, a junior babysitter just starting out with the club, and the older girls’ doubts about whether or not she’s fit for the job.  All is resolved, and the final photo shows the six girls, smiling for the camera with their arms around each other. 160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Fans of the first four graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier will not be disappointed by newcomer Gale Galligan’s interpretation of book #5 from the original Ann M. Martin BSC series.  The artwork is similar, but not identical, which takes a little getting used to, but the story has plenty of heart, friendship, and babysitting action.  I always wondered why Scholastic didn’t continue with what must have been a cash cow after book #4 was published a few years back.  I’m happy to have at least one more, and hope they’ll continue.

Cons:  In the Ann M. Martin series, the Mallory events were given their own separate book, which I think would have been a better choice for this series as well.

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The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Published by Bloomsbury USA Children’s

Summary:  Zig (a supporting character from the author’s The Fall of Gianna Z.) is disappointed when his father stands him up yet again.  His mom won’t tell him where his dad has gone off to, and Zig develops his own theory when he takes up geocaching.  He discovers a geocacher who calls himself “Senior Searcher,” and he’s sure it must be his father, who uses the nickname Senior.  Meanwhile, money is getting tighter at home, and Zig’s mom finally gets evicted.  She and Zig spend a few nights at her sister’s house, but the sister’s abusive husband forces them out, and they wind up in a homeless shelter.  Zig is so embarrassed about his situation that he cuts off his friends and starts struggling in school.  A geocaching adventure reveals the sad truth about his father, but also results in a new job and home for him and his mom, as Zig learns that friends and family can help you through even the toughest situations.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A poignant and heartwarming look at a family struggling with poverty and a parent who is in prison.  Zig is a sympathetic character, and readers will gain insight about other kids who may be going through more difficult circumstances than they let on.

Cons:  The geocaching details at the beginning made for a bit of a slow start to the book.

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Baabwaa & Wooliam by David Elliott, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Published by Candlewick Press

Summary:  Baabwaa and Wooliam are two sheep who like to knit and read, respectively.  One day, though, they realize that they are yearning to put down their books and needles and try something a bit more adventurous.  They head outside, and after a bit of exploration, cross paths with a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  When Wooliam mentions having read about him in a book, the wolf stops mid-chase, and asks to see the book.  His short attention span tips the two sheep off to the fact that he can’t read, and they set out to remedy that situation.  An unlikely friendship forms, and before long the three are hanging out together…knitting, reading, and occasionally indulging in a chase around the field.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Lots of sly humor, both in the text and the illustrations.  This would be a great companion to one of the many other wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing tales.

Cons:  I have trouble pronouncing the word “Wooliam”.

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