The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet! By Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  The village of La Paz is a very noisy place until the people, wanting some peace and quiet, fire the mayor.  The new mayor, Don Pepe, brings in peace and quiet all right, but his ban on singing makes the village as quiet as a tomb.  One day a rooster comes to town with his family, and at dawn delivers a loud, “Kee-kee-ree-kee!”  Don Pepe tries everything he can to shut up the rooster–putting him in jail, cutting off his food, and eventually threatening to kill him–but the rooster continues his song.  “A song is louder than one noisy little rooster and stronger than one bully of a mayor,” says the rooster, “and it will never die–as long as there is someone to sing it.”  The inspired townspeople burst into song, Don Pepe skulks out of town, and La Paz is a noisy, lively village once again.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A timely message in today’s world, celebrating those who will not be shut down by bullies. Kids will enjoy the colorful rooster and exaggerated evil-villain characteristics of Don Pepe.

Cons:  While I’ve seen this book on a few Caldecott lists, I found the illustrations a mixed bag; I liked the portrayals of the rooster and Don Pepe, but not so much the ones of the townspeople.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Raid of No Return: A World War II Tale of the Doolittle Raid by Nathan Hale

Published by Amulet Books

Summary:  In 1942, at a time when the Japanese empire seemed invulnerable, the U.S. government came up with a plan to bomb Tokyo.  Famed aviator James “Jimmy” Doolittle was chosen to lead the raid.  The men who were chosen to join him prepared without knowing anything about the top-secret mission they would be going on.  On April 18, 1942, sixteen bombers, each with a five-man crew, flew off an aircraft carrier, dropped bombs on their targets, then attempted to fly to China.  Fifteen made it, but crashed short of their destinations; the sixteenth landed in Russia.  Most of the men survived, although some were taken prisoner by the Japanese, and three of them were executed.  Although the mission didn’t do much damage, it was an important morale-booster for the United States that led to more military successes in the Pacific.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  It’s difficult for me to find superlatives to express how much I love Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales.  For those who dismiss graphic works as “trash”, I would invite them to peruse this book and see how the graphics enhance the information.  Pages 20-24 show an aerial view of Pearl Harbor before and after Japan’s attack, demonstrating how devastating that was to America in a way words alone couldn’t do.  I love all the books; this particular one tells an exciting adventure story placed in the context of the early days of World War II.  There is plenty of humor without any disrespect to the heroic men whose stories are told.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters and planes (80 men and 16 bombers) to keep track of.

If you would like to buy this book through Amazon, click here.

Wedgie & Gizmo by Suzanne Selfors, illustrated by Barbara Fisinger

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Gizmo is a self-identified Evil Genius guinea pig.  Wedgie is a self-identified superhero (“Super Wedgie) Corgi.  In alternating chapters, the two tell the story of the early days of a blended family: Gizmo belongs to Elliott, whose father recently married the mother of Jasmine, Jackson, and Wedgie.  Gizmo is constantly suspecting evil plots, most notably keeping an eye on Abuela, a native of Peru, where he hears guinea pigs are considered fine cuisine.  Wedgie just wants to herd everyone in his pack together and keep them happy.  Human dialogue is inserted into the animals’ narrative, making readers more aware of what’s going on in the family when Wedgie and Gizmo are too self-absorbed to accurately report it.  By the end of the story, Wedgie, Gizmo, and their humans are well on their way to becoming a family, setting the scene for two sequels due out next year.  179 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Each animal has his own distinctive voice and point of view, which will have readers laughing and nodding with recognition if they are pet owners.  The illustrations add to the fun, and the human dynamics give the story a little more depth.

Cons:  As a former guinea pig owner, I’m pretty sure the exercise wheel Gizmo uses is actually dangerous for guinea pigs.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

Summary:  On the afternoon of November 4, 2013, Sasha, a white agender teen, and Richard, a 16-year-old African-American boy, ended up on the same Oakland bus.  For reasons that remain unclear, Richard used a lighter to set Sasha’s skirt on fire as she was sleeping.  The results were third-degree burns on Sasha’s legs and arrest for Richard.  The 57 Bus traces the stories of the two teens, the events that brought them to that fateful day, and what happened to each of them afterward.  It was a hate crime without the hate, a spur-of-the-moment, unthinking prank carried out by a boy who believed he had a good heart.  Friends, parents, and teachers share their experiences with Sasha and Richard, and readers will learn that the distinctions between male and female, victim and criminal, and good and evil are not always as clear as they may seem to be.  320 pages; grades 7+.

Pros:  So much to think about and discuss in this story.  Dashka Slater (who also wrote this year’s beautiful picture book The Antlered Ship) doesn’t flinch from looking at both teens’ stories, but also is compassionate in her descriptions.  Richard could have been portrayed as a monster, but instead he emerges as someone who is as much or more of a victim, born to a single teen mom (who seems pretty awesome), raised in poverty, and facing prejudice in the criminal justice system.  He shows strength and maturity as he carries out his sentence, and I found myself rooting for a happy ending for him as much as Sasha.

Cons:  I’m on the fence about whether to get this for my middle school library.  Aside from the subject matter, the f-word is sprinkled throughout, as well as other language.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

When’s My Birthday by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary: “When’s my birthday/where’s my birthday?/how many days until my birthday?” an exuberant child asks repeatedly as she counts down to the big day.  She anticipates eating cake and other treats, inviting friends to a party, and getting presents.  The night before her birthday, she vows to stay awake, but ultimately falls asleep, dreaming of tomorrow.  And finally…”It’s the daytime!/here’s my birthday!/happy happy! hee! hee! hee!/time for cakey/wakey wakey/happy happy day to me!”  40 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:   I’ve seen this on some Caldecott prediction lists lately.  The simple rhyming text and cheerful collage illustrations perfectly capture pre-birthday excitement for the under-ten crowd.  This would make an ideal birthday gift.

Cons:  I was pretty exhausted by the time the birthday finally arrived.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Real McCoys by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr

Published by Imprint

       

Summary:  Moxie McCoy is at a crossroads in her fourth-grade life.  Her best friend has moved away, and she is shopping for another one, specifically one who can help her solve mysteries.  She is also taxed with the job of making sure her younger brother Milton is doing okay while their scientist mother is away hunting insects.  In the midst of all this, the school’s beloved owl mascot goes missing, and Moxie takes it upon herself to solve the case.  This involves multiple trips to the principal’s office to report on her findings, which are mostly confident, if mistaken, declarations of who the real culprit is.  As the day goes on, Moxie finds herself working more and more with Milton, whom the reader will notice has some traits, like patience and thoughtfulness, that Moxie occasionally lacks, even if she is three years older.  Working together, the siblings solve the case, and Moxie even gets a lead on a new best friend, paving the way for book #2.  Includes “Moxie’s Official Debrief” (some questions to help the reader think critically about the story), Moxie’s Dictionary, and an excerpt from one of Moxie’s favorite girl detective stories that she refers to throughout the book.  336 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Kids will love Moxie, Milton, and the format of this book, with the illustrations woven seamlessly into the text.  Cartoon bubbles and different fonts make the dialog come alive.  Readers will keep rooting for Moxie as she refuses to give up on the case or her friends and family.

Cons:  Readers will occasionally groan at Moxie’s cluelessness.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

‘Tis the Season: Some Holiday Read-Alouds

If you’re looking to fill the long hours of anticipation of the next two weeks, here are some new books to add to your collection.

Merry Christmas, Peanut! by Terry Border. Published by Philomel Books

Kids will love the illustrations created from household items that tell the story of Peanut and his family as they travel to Grandma’s for Christmas dinner.  Along the way, they pick up a host of lonely characters who need a place to spend the holiday.  If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

Little Red Ruthie: A Hanukkah Tale by Gloria Koster. Published by Albert Whitman and Company

Little Red Ruthie is bring applesauce and sour cream to go with her Bubbe Basha’s legendary latkes.  When a wolf follows her there, she has to quickly think of a way to fill him up on latkes instead of her and her Bubbe.  If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly Mackay.  Published by Running Press.  The Nutcracker in Harlem by T. McMorrow, illustrated by James Ransome.

                 

Two stories inspired by the classic ballet.  The Nutcracker in Harlem reimagines the story in 1920’s Harlem.  Waltz of the Snowflakes is a wordless celebration of a reluctant girl’s first experience at the ballet, and how she slowly gets caught up in the magic of the tale.  For Waltz of the Snowflakes, click here.  For The Nutcracker in Harlem, click here.

 

Nativity by Cynthia Rylant.  Published by Beach Lane Books

Simple, spare text and paintings tell the story of Jesus’s birth, concluding with four of the beatitudes offered as a sample of the adult Jesus’s teachings.  If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares.  Published by Candlewick Press

Red the cardinal panics when the enormous tree he and Lulu call home is cut down and taken away…with Lulu still in it.  He follows the tree to New York City, where he finally finds it in Rockefeller Center, ablaze with colored lights.  Red and Lulu become city birds, settling down in Central Park after Christmas.  If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.