The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Published by Little Brown

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Summary:  When we last saw Roz, she had been captured and was in pieces, flying away from her beloved island and her goose son, Brightbill.  As the curtain rises on Act 2, Roz is being delivered to Hilltop Farm, where she is assigned care of the cows and other farm chores.  Being Roz, she soon bonds with the cows, as well as with Jaya and Jad, the two children who live on the farm.  But she is homesick for her island home, and as she goes about her farm work, she thinks about how she can get back there.  Eventually, the two children find out about her past; although they have come to love, her, they know she belongs on the island and they help with her escape.  Leaving the farm is only the beginning; on her journey to the island, Roz deals with vengeful wolves, rivers to cross, and the RECO robots who captured her in the first book.  After nearly being destroyed once again, she ends up in the lab of Dr. Molovo, the scientist who designed her.  Dr. Molovo realizes Roz belongs back on the island; after giving her a new body, the doctor takes her home, and the story ends with, “The wild robot was back where she belonged.”  288 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Roz’s fans will not be disappointed with this sequel.  As much as I enjoyed the original, I thought this one was even better, and a voracious third grade reader recently agreed with me.  To quote Peter Brown, the story is “filled with heart and soul and action and science and even a little philosophy.”  Although the Newbery trend of late does not seem to favor books like this, I would love to see this one win award or two.

Cons:  The happily ever after ending probably means there won’t be a third book.

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I Walk With Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

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Summary:  In this wordless book, Vanessa is new at school, and seems to be feeling isolated on her first day.  She sits quietly in class and watches kids playing in the gym without joining in.  As she walks home alone, a boy walks up to her and starts yelling.  Another girl witnesses the incident and is clearly bothered by it, continuing to think about it after she gets home.  The next day she wakes up with an idea.  She saw where Vanessa lives, so she stops by her house and asks to walk to school with her.  As the two girls walk, others join them, first one at a time and then in groups, until there are dozens of kids walking together, Vanessa in their midst.  The bully is shown on the edge of the crowd, his face red and angry.  The happy crowd of kids enters the school, and Vanessa has found a new friend.  The last page has a message for kids about how to help someone who is being bullied and some helpful words for adults to use when talking about the book with children.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Although there are no words, kids will get this book right away.  There’s a truly feel-good ending, and the story will lend itself easily to discussion afterward.  The cartoon kids are adorable.

Cons:  The issue of bullying is not always as simple as this book makes it out to be.

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The Field by Baptiste Paul, pictures by Jacqueline Alcantara

Published by NorthSouth Books

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Image result for field baptiste amazon

Summary:  A group of enthusiastic children starts a soccer game on a grassy field in St. Lucia, shooing away a group of cows and building their own goal posts.  Passersby lean on the fence around the field, watching the action.  Even a rainstorm doesn’t stop the game, as the players take off their shoes and socks to slip, slide, and belly flop in the mud.  Finally, the mamas call everyone in for dinner; the children go home, but continue to dream about futbol as they sleep.  Includes an author’s note about his childhood playing soccer in St. Lucia and a list of Creole words and phrases used in the story.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Soccer fans will love the action in both the illustrations and the clipped text, interspersed with Creole words.  Even those not familiar with the game will enjoy the sense of play radiating from each scene.

Cons:  The text could have flowed a bit more smoothly.

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Baby Animals Moving by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids

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Summary:  Young animals are shown on the move.  Some, like the zebra, can move independently practically at birth, while others, like kangaroos, get a ride with parents.  Each two page spread shows one or two animals moving with their parents, and includes a sentence or two of text describing what’s going on.  Suzi Eszterhas introduces herself on the last two pages, showing additional photographs taken for this book, and explaining a bit about her work as a wildlife photographer.  24 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Another work of almost unbearable cuteness by Suzi Eszterhas.  Kids will love looking at the pictures, and the text is accessible for preschoolers.  Look for other books in this series: Baby Animals Eating and Baby Animals Playing.

Cons:  There’s not a lot of information if readers are doing any kind of research.

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Who Will Bell the Cat? by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Christopher Cyr

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  In this retelling of an Aesop’s fable, a group of mice takes care of a sick cat, only to be terrorized by her when she recovers.  The mice discuss how to solve their problem, and one of them suggests tying a bell around the cat’s neck so they can hear her coming. It’s a great idea, but who will do it?  They try and fail several times until a human family moves into the house. The young girl in the family finds the bell and ties it around the scowling feline’s neck. Now the cat problem is solved, but old Wise Mouse reminds them that humans can be even more dangerous.  “When you use a tiger to get rid of a lion, what will you do with the tiger?” 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Large, realistic illustrations of cute animals illuminate this longer version of an ancient fable.  Readers can discuss the ending and what may happen to the cat and mice now that humans are on the scene.

Cons:  It’s kind of a downer.

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Knockout by K. A. Holt

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  In these sequel to House Arrest, Levi, the sickly baby from the first book, is now in 7th grade.  Timothy, his older brother and the protagonist of book one, is applying to medical school.  Levi’s health has improved, but he still has some limitations, and his mother and brother tend to be overprotective.  His divorced dad is more laid-back and encourages Levi to try a sport. When Levi has a few sessions at the boxing gym, he proves to be a natural.  He ends up lying to both parents in order to continue pursuing the sport. In addition, his tendencies to be the class clown are pushing away his best friend, Tam, who is spending a lot of time with a new girl.  A medical crisis forces Levi to be honest with his friends and family, and to look at what is most important to him and what he can do to move in a new direction. 288 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of K. A. Holt’s other books, as well as Kwame Alexander’s Booked, The Crossover, and Rebound will enjoy this fast-paced sports-themed novel in verse.  

Cons:  It took me a little while to warm up to Levi and get engaged in his story.

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I Got It! by David Wiesner

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  In this almost-wordless picture book, a boy convinces a slightly bigger kid to let him play baseball.  He’s sent to the outfield, and soon a ball is heading his way.  “I got it!” he calls, and immediately, a series of outcomes starts playing out in his mind.  The first is pretty straightforward: he trips over a root, falls on his face, and his teammates cringe in disbelief.  As the ball moves closer and closer to his glove, his imaginings get wilder: he pictures himself colliding with a tree; shrinking so that an enormous ball looms over him; flying with birds over the heads of his oversized teammates.  And then–”I got it!”–he catches the ball.  The other kids cheer wildly, and the boy walks off the field with them, confidently tossing the ball into the air.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another (almost) wordless wonder from Caldecott medalist David Wiesner.  Readers will need to look closely to understand what is going on, but they will be rewarded with a happy and satisfying ending.  As always, the illustrations are gorgeous and wildly imaginative.

Cons:  I didn’t get it; I had to read reviews to figure out what was going on.  Once I understood the concept that the boy was imagining different outcomes, it all fell into place for me, but I’m guessing many kids will need some help understanding this.

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The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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Summary:  Candice is just trying to get through a terrible summer; she and her mother have temporarily moved to her late grandmother’s house in Lambert, South Carolina, while their home is being renovated so her newly-separated parents can sell it.  When she and her neighbor Brandon discover a letter in her grandmother’s attic, they are launched on a treasure hunt that takes them back to Lambert’s segregated past.  Scenes from the 1950’s through the 1980’s are interwoven with Candice’s and Brandon’s story so that the reader gradually learns about the mysterious James Parker who supposedly has left a fortune somewhere in Lambert.  When the two kids solve the final clue, the past meets the present and some of the wrongs from that past begin to be righted.  352 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An amazing book that touches on racism, bullying, and homophobia without ever losing its light touch.  It also celebrates reading and puzzles, paying particular homage to The Westing Game.  Reading it, I was reminded of Holes in the way the narrative moved between the past and the present, and everything came together in the end.  Since both of those books won a Newbery Medal, why not this one as well?

Cons:  The solution to a key puzzle seemed impossibly esoteric.

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The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Published by Dial Books

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Summary:  Taylor (never identified as male or female) is proud of building a beautiful block tower, until a flock of birds flies through it and knocks it down.  Different animals come along to comfort Taylor; the chicken wants to talk about it, the bear gets angry, the elephant wants to remember exactly how the blocks were arranged, the hyena laughs, the ostrich hides its head, the kangaroo wants to clean up the mess, and the snake suggests knocking down someone else’s creation.  Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things.  Then the rabbit comes along and sits next to Taylor.  The rabbit just listens as Taylor talks, shouts, remembers, laughs, hides, throws things away, and plans to ruin things for someone else.  Finally, the rabbit listens as Taylor plans to build another amazing structure. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A perfect vehicle for talking with children about how to be with someone who has experienced a loss.  Although it’s a weighty subject, the presentation is kept light with the cute and sometimes funny animals.

Cons:  There should be more rabbits in the world.

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Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  A man arrives at a lighthouse to take his new job as its keeper.  A cutaway illustration shows him busy, tending the light, painting the walls, and cooking food.  Despite his activity, he’s lonely, and often writes messages that he puts in bottles and tosses into the sea.  After awhile, a tender arrives, bringing supplies and the man’s wife.  They are happy together in the lighthouse, and eventually they’re joined by a third person, their new daughter.  Several years later, electricity comes to the lighthouse, and the family moves away.  A fold-out final page shows a little house on the coast, lights from its windows shining to meet the light coming from their old lighthouse home.  Includes additional information about lighthouses and the people who kept them going.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A lovely blend of fact and fiction, Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall makes life in a lighthouse seem indescribably cozy, while presenting each scene creatively (I especially admired the lighthouse cutaway, the shipwreck, and the circular images of the wife in labor).  Hello, my new favorite picture book of 2018!

Cons:  I suspect real life in a lighthouse was not this idyllic.  This sentence in the author’s note about foghorns particularly caught my attention: “Some lighthouse keepers learned to sleep through the din of the horn; others nearly went mad when the fog lasted for days.”

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