Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Image result for joan procter dragon doctor

Summary:  From the time she was a young girl, Joan Procter loved reptiles.  Instead of a doll, she carried around her favorite lizard, and she got a pet crocodile for her 16th birthday.  She started hanging out with the curator of reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum when she was still in high school. He was impressed enough to hire Joan as his assistant, and she eventually took over his job when he retired.  From there, she went to work at the London Zoo, designing a new reptile house. The most amazing part of her new creation was the exhibit featuring Komodo dragons, a fabled but little-known animal from Indonesia.  People assumed they were ferocious, but Joan soon learned they were quite gentle, and one of them, Sumbawa, became something of a pet to her. He often accompanied her around the zoo, at children’s tea parties she held there, and even at a scientific presentation at the Zoological Society in London.  An author’s note gives more biographical information, including the sad fact that Joan was sickly much of her life and died at the age of 34. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Kids will warm up right away to Joan and her love of animals; they’ll also be inspired by her groundbreaking work as a woman scientist.  The illustrations are beautiful, especially the ones of the reptiles.  And who doesn’t love a Komodo dragon?

Cons:  Hopefully no reader will be inspired to bring a baby crocodile to math class, like Joan did.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond by Sam Hearn (Baker Street Academy book 1)

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  When John Watson is accepted at Baker Street Academy, it’s elementary that he’ll become friends with classmates Martha Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.  The three have already started palling around when their class witnesses a robbery (“flash rob”) of a valuable diamond while on a field trip. For the remainder of the story, John is trying to figure out what happened; Sherlock, of course, is always several steps ahead of him.  A return trip to the museum results in a showdown between Sherlock and his archenemy James Moriarty, and the thief is revealed, along with a few other secret identities.  In the final chapter, John’s parents are off on an extended business trip and Sherlock’s older brother has mysteriously left for awhile, so Sherlock and John move in with the Hudsons at 221B Baker Street.  More adventures?  Elementary again.  176 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Readers will find the blend of text, illustrations, and cartoon bubbles engaging, while getting a taste (in younger versions) of many of the classic Sherlock Holmes characters and settings.

Cons:  For a book targeted to younger elementary readers, there were a lot of characters to keep track of and a somewhat tangled web of a mystery.

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Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for curiosity mars rover motum

Summary:  In a first-person narration, the Mars rover Curiosity tells her story, beginning before she was built, when scientists at NASA started designing probes to learn more about Mars.  Curiosity (she was named by a sixth grader from Kansas) was to be larger and more advanced than any of the previous probes.  Labeled illustrations show the processes of designing and building her in Los Angeles, then flying her to Florida, where she was launched on November 26, 2011.  After 253 days of space travel and a somewhat precarious landing, Curiosity began the work of exploring Mars that she continues today.  Includes additional information about Mars rovers, a timeline, and a glossary.  56 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The personification of the rover makes it accessible for elementary school kids; the text, illustrations, and labeled diagrams provide a lot of information.

Cons:  Two design issues: the book is so large it feels a bit unwieldy, and some of the black-on-blue or blue-on-black type/background combinations are difficult to read.

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In the Past by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Twenty poems are illustrated with oversized paintings of a variety of prehistoric creatures from the trilobite (“So many of you./So long ago./So much above you./Little below.”) to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  (You thought/(if you could think)/you’d live forever./The great T. rex/would never die!/But even kings/are vanquished/when stars fall/from the sky.”).  Early mammals like the smilodon (a.k.a. Saber-tooth tiger) and mammoth are included.  Each illustration is labeled with the geological period when that animal lived.  Back matter includes a note from the author and information about the animals that inspired the poems. 48 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Dinosaur fans will love the giant (and appropriately ferocious) illustrations as well as the brief, funny poems.

Cons:  Additional scientific information on each page would have made some of the poems more understandable.

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The Sky at Our Feet by Nadia Hashimi

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Jason’s mother has told him bits and pieces of her story.  He knows his parents both grew up in Afghanistan and that his father was killed while working as a translator for the U.S. Army.  His mom came to the U.S. on a student visa, but after her husband died and Jason was born prematurely, both her passport and visa expired.  She stayed in the U.S. illegally, dropping out of school to work in a laundromat.  One day, Jason sees the police take her away from her job.  The only other family he has is “Auntie” Seema, a close friend who lives in New York City.  Jason takes a bus to try to find her, but all the stress causes him to faint when he gets to the city, and he winds up in the hospital.  There he meets a girl named Max who is about to have brain surgery for her epilepsy.  The two of them make a daring escape, traveling across the city to try to find Auntie Seema.  Along the way, they sneak into the Central Park Zoo, Max has a seizure, and Jason steals a ride on a police horse.  Their friendship helps both of them confront the difficulties each one is facing, and by the end they have found their way to what may be a bright future.  304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Jason and Max are both sympathetic characters courageously facing difficult circumstances that seem beyond their control.  There’s plenty of action as they make their journey while trying to elude a growing number of people on the lookout for them.

Cons:  Some of their narrow escapes seemed a little hard to believe.

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Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination by Dave McGillivray, with Nancy Feehrer, illustrated by Ron Himler

Published by Nomad Press

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Image result for dream big feehrer

Summary:  As a child, Dave McGillivray aspired to be an athlete, but he was too small for most sports.  On his 12th birthday, he decided to try a new sport, running, and ended up running 12 miles.  Encouraged by his grandfather, he ran 13 miles on his 13th birthday, and continued that pattern for four more years.  At age 17, he announced he was ready for the Boston Marathon, but his lack of training caught up with him, and he collapsed at mile 18.  His grandfather encouraged him again, advising him that big dreams require hard work, and Dave promised him he’d cross the finish line the following year.  Sadly, his grandfather died before that marathon, and Dave almost gave up before the end of the race.  Taking a break at mile 21, he realized he was resting next to his grandfather’s cemetery.  This inspired him to finish the race, and he has continued to run it every year since.  Now he runs it two ways, as the director of the race and as the final runner, traversing the course at night after everyone else has finished.  Includes a challenge to run 26 miles, read 26 books, and do 26 acts of kindness in 26 weeks.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Just in time for marathon day, this inspiring story encourages kids to work hard and challenge themselves in a variety of ways.

Cons:  Reading 26 books seems a LOT easier than running 26 miles.

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Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for hello brendan wenzel

Summary:  A huge variety of animals is greeted in brief rhyming text: “Hello Hello/Black and White/Hello Color/Hello Bright.”  The mixed-media illustrations depict lines of animals stretching across each two-page spread, looking at each other with oversized eyes.  The author’s note explains that many of the animals are endangered, and that a lot of people don’t know they exist.  He encourages readers to learn more about them, starting by saying hello.  All 92 animals are identified on the last four pages in order of appearance; the animals also appear on the endpapers, in silhouette in the front of the book and in vibrant color in the back.  52 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  Who can resist all those animals, with a riot of colors, shapes, and patterns?  Placing them on a clean white background with simple black text emphasizes the unique beauty of each creature even more.  Caldecott consideration?  We can hope.

Cons:  It’s a quick read, but go slowly to savor all the illustrations.

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The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Iris Hsu

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  When Earle Dickson married Josephine in 1917, he noticed she was accident prone, often cutting or burning herself in the kitchen, then trying to clean up with the nearest rag.  As the son of a doctor, Earle didn’t want her injuries to get infected, so he stuck some sterile gauze on a long strip of adhesive tape.  Josephine would cut off what she needed to bandage her wound.  Earle convinced his boss, James Johnson, to mass produce these bandages, calling them Band-Aids, but they didn’t really catch on until they were turned into individually-wrapped bandages and distributed for free to Boy Scouts and World War II soldiers.  After the war, Band-Aids really took off, and today they come in all kinds of sizes and designs and are used around the world.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and additional resources.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute story of the invention of something we all take for granted with appealing illustrations that have the feel of a retro magazine ad.

Cons:  I didn’t really enjoy reading about the details of Josephine’s kitchen injuries.

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Big Tree Down by Laurie Lawlor, illustrated by David Gordon

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Everyone in the neighborhood knows where to go when they hear, “Meet me at Big Tree!”  Big Tree provides shelter, shade, and hiding places.  But one night, a thunderstorm hits the town, and the tree is destroyed by lightning.  The huge branches take down some wires, resulting in a neighborhood blackout.  The process of removing the tree and wires is shown, with plenty of interesting-looking vehicles.  Neighbors are sad to lose their beloved tree, but enjoy the firewood and mulch left behind.  The final page shows a family planting a sapling named Little Tree to replace their old friend.  32 pages; ages 4-7

Pros:  A perfect read for Arbor Day or Earth Day, celebrating community trees.  Fans of construction vehicles and other trucks will enjoy the illustrations of police cars, cherry pickers, dump trucks, and more.

Cons:  Some tree-related back matter would have added to the educational value.

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Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship by Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, illustrated by Scott Magoon

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for rescue and jessica amazon

Summary:  When Rescue hears his trainer say, “You aren’t meant to be a Seeing Eye dog.  The service dog team is better for you”, he’s worried.  He doesn’t want to let anyone down.  When Jessica hears, “You’re an amputee now.  You have to wear a prosthetic leg or use a wheelchair for the rest of your life”, she’s worried; her whole family is concerned about her, and she doesn’t want to let them down.  Fortunately, Rescue and Jessica find each other, and a whole new world opens for both of them.  They learn how to do new things together, and each one thinks the other is amazing.  Even when Jessica loses her other leg, Rescue is by her side, helping her get back on her feet again.  “You rescued me, Rescue,” says Jessica at the end.  The last page: “But the truth was, they had rescued each other.”  Includes a note from the authors, a husband-and-wife team who lost their legs (both of Jessica’s and one of Patrick’s) at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, that tells about their real-life dog, Rescue.  32 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A powerful story that will captivate kids and maybe inspire them to support the NEADS World Class Service Dog organization described in the author’s note.  The illustrations are adorable, and the final one of Jessica and Rescue crossing a bridge over the Charles River into Boston is beautiful.

Cons:  I want to read this to kids, but I can’t even proofread this review without choking up.

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