Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  Livy is visiting her Australian grandmother for the first time since she was five.  Bob has been waiting in the closet since Livy told him to five years ago.  Livy has forgotten all about Bob, but as they spend time together, gradually her memories return.  As a five-year-old, she thought Bob was a zombie, but now she doesn’t know what he is.  Adults can’t see Bob, and Livy starts to forget him as soon as she’s away from him.  As the two of them reconstruct what happened the last time Livy visited, they slowly begin to uncover the truth of Bob’s origins, and his importance to Livy and to the drought-stricken community where her grandmother lives.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  When I heard of a collaboration between Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, I could scarcely contain my glee.  Although this book is shorter and different from their previous work, it is still a masterpiece of storytelling that will appeal to a wide age range, starting as a read-aloud for primary grades.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have more illustrations.

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All Summer Long by Hope Larson

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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Image result for all summer long hope larson

Summary:  Bina’s excited that seventh grade is over, but disappointed to learn that her best friend Austin is going to soccer camp for a month.  Summer seems totally boring without him, but then surprising things begin to happen.  She gets to know Austin’s older sister, Charlie, who has always seemed mean, but turns out to be pretty cool.  Bina loves music and has started learning guitar, but over the summer her passion deepens.  She gets the opportunity to meet the guitarist from one of her favorite groups, and dreams of starting her own band in high school.  When Austin gets home and starts acting weird, Bina’s confident enough to stand up to him and get their friendship back on track.  The end of the book suggests there might be a sequel that includes a new high school band for Bina.  170 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of realistic girl-centered graphic novels (Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm, et. al.) will embrace this emotionally engaging summer tale with a strong and quirky heroine.

Cons:  Although there is nothing that makes this explicitly inappropriate for elementary grades, it definitely has more of a middle school/teen vibe than some of the authors mentioned above.

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Iqbal and His Ingenious Idea: How a Science Project Helps One Family and the Planet by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Rebecca Green

Published by Kids Can Press

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Image result for iqbal and his ingenious idea

Summary:  When Iqbal hears about the science fair at his school in Bangladesh, he is determined to win, and his sister Sadia is determined to help him.  His mother and baby brother are having health issues that result from cooking on a smoky indoor fire.  His father has seen a propane stove that would help them, but can’t afford to buy it.  When Iqbal searches “smokeless cooking” on the school computer, he learns about solar cookers.  He and Sadia create one using foil and an old umbrella, and have their first success cooking an egg.  Iqbal goes on to win the science fair, and uses the money to buy a propane stove so his family can cook without smoke in any kind of weather.  Includes information about clean cookstoves, a glossary, and instructions for building a solar cooker.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  As I’ve said before (more than once!) I’m a big fan of the Citizen Kid series, introducing children from around the world.  Readers will learn a lot about Iqbal’s life as he celebrates Ramadan, endures the monsoon season, and figures out a way to help his family.

Cons: Does finding an science fair project online qualify Iqbal’s idea as “ingenious”?

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Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for ghost boys jewell amazon

Summary:  Jerome is dead when the story begins, shot by a policeman.  The story then goes back to the morning and unfolds in alternating sections entitled “Dead” and “Alive”.  Jerome’s day, like many before it, includes an encounter with three bullies at his school.  He makes a new friend that day, though, and Carlos defends himself and Jerome with a realistic toy gun.  Later, Carlos lends Jerome the gun; when Jerome is outside playing with it he is shot twice in the back by a policeman.  In death, Jerome encounters another Ghost Boy who turns out to be Emmett Till.  He also finds his way into the police officer’s house, where the man’s daughter, Sarah, turns out to be the only person who can see him.  Together, they slowly learn about Emmett Till and other murdered black boys who appear to them as ghosts.  When Sarah’s father’s case is dismissed, both she and Jerome must deal with their emotions and figure out how to ensure that history doesn’t keep repeating.  A Day of the Dead celebration with both Jerome’s and Carlos’s families marks the beginning of healing for both families and hope that they can find a way to make Jerome’s death lead to a more peaceful world.  Includes an author’s note, discussion questions, and additional resources.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A powerful story that should lead to a lot of discussion.  Switching between the past and present draws the reader in quickly.  The story itself, as well as the history behind it, are horrible and disturbing, but are presented in ways that are appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students to read (with guidance).

Cons:  The police officer’s family, including Sarah, could have been fleshed out to make a more interesting story.  And it seemed like Sarah and Jerome would have just Googled Emmett Till instead of wondering what his story was and waiting for a librarian to show it to them online.

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Bear and Wolf  by Daniel Salmieri

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

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Image result for bear wolf daniel salmieri

Summary:  A bear and a wolf meet in the woods on a winter’s night, and go off for a walk together.  They savor the sights, sounds, and smells of the quiet forest, ending up looking at fish beneath the ice of a frozen lake.  They go their separate ways, Wolf to hunt caribou, and Bear to sleep the rest of the winter. In the spring, they meet again, and walk off to explore the “awakening woods”.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A quiet but beautiful read, gorgeously illustrated with soft colors that capture the winter, both close up and from a more distant perspective.  Readers are led to think about slowing down and enjoying all aspects of nature the way that Bear and Wolf do.

Cons:  If Bear is Bear and Wolf is Wolf, shouldn’t Bird be something more specific, like Falcon?  Otherwise, wouldn’t Bear and Wolf both be called Mammal?

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Ocean Meets Sky by The Fan Brothers

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Image result for ocean meets sky fan brothers

Summary:  Finn misses his grandfather, who used to tell him stories about where the sky meets the sea.  To honor him on what would have been his 90th birthday, Finn decides to build a boat.  It’s hard work, and he falls asleep.  When he awakens, he discovers he has set sail, and is led by a huge golden ship to different islands, filled with oversized library books and seashells.  Finally, he reaches the place where the ocean meets the sky, and is carried into the clouds, where he sails among other boats, hot air balloons, and a huge blue whale.  He sees his grandfather’s face in the full moon, before he is gently brought back to reality by his mother’s voice calling him to dinner.  Did he really travel, or was it all a dream?  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Oh, those Fan Brothers…one day they will win their Caldecott!  (Or are they Canadian, and ineligible?  Answer in the comments if you know, so I can stop rooting for them if that’s the case.)  The precise, detailed illustrations are beyond imaginative, creating a world for readers to pore over and savor.

Cons:  The story seemed a little stilted compared to the illustrations.

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Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Image result for grandma gatewood hikes the trail thermes

Summary:  After reading a National Geographic article describing the Appalachian Trail as “easy”, Emma Gatewood decided at age 67 to become the first woman to hike it in its entirety.  Starting off in a skirt and canvas sneakers, with a sack that weighed less than 20 pounds, she headed from her home in Ohio to the end of the trail in Georgia to begin on May 3, 1955.  Dealing with rocky trails, bugs, injuries, a hurricane, and a bear, Emma kept plugging along. Wearing all the clothes she had, barely able to see through her cracked eyeglasses, Emma reached the end of the trail on September 25.  She celebrated by loudly singing “America the Beautiful” from the top of Maine’s Mount Katahdin, then hiked the trail again less than two years later. Back matter includes additional information about Emma Gatewood and the Appalachian Trail, a list of sources, and a timeline on the back endpapers.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  If this doesn’t inspire you to stay active in your old age, nothing will.  The beautiful maps every few pages show Emma’s progress up the trail, with landmarks labeled and interesting facts about the region.  

Cons:  I would have loved to have seen a few photos of Emma, particularly on the trail.

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Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  When Cilla Lee-Jenkins was five years old, a woman in the grocery store asked, “What are you, exactly?”  Cilla, unaware that the woman was referring to her Chinese-American heritage responded, “I am a future author extraordinaire.”  Now in second grade, she is well on her way, recording the story of her life as she waits for the arrival of her new baby sister.  Flashbacks to her younger years are interspersed with present-day tales, as Cilla explores friends, school, and the Chinese and Caucasian sides of her family who do not always get along.  Cilla’s not at all sure that she wants to be a big sister; she doesn’t have much choice about it, though, and when baby Gwendolyn arrives, Cilla can’t help but feel excited.  Not only is the baby somewhat cute and cuddly, but she helps unite the four grandparents in a way that gives Cilla hope for a closer extended family.  Book #2, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, was published simultaneously.  Includes a glossary, mostly of literary terms that Cilla uses while writing her book.  272 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A promising start to a new series about a girl who loves both sides of her family and is struggling to understand her own identity.  Cilla is smart and funny, and readers ready to move on from Junie B. Jones and Clementine will enjoy getting to know her.

Cons:  Cilla is in second grade, which would seem to make this a book for second and third grade readers, but at 272 pages, it may be daunting for many of them.

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Positively Izzy by Terry Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Image result for positively izzy libenson

Summary:  Like she did in her first book, Invisible Emmie, Terry Libenson tells two intersecting stories. Brianna’s is in comic format, while Izzy’s is a mix of text and illustrations, some with cartoon bubbles. Izzy often struggles with focusing on her school work, but loves to dream up stories and act them out.  Brianna is a serious student whose drama teacher mother wishes she would try acting. When Izzy flunks a math test, her mother’s punishment is to forbid her to perform her act in the talent show. Brianna, on the other hand, gets recruited to perform in the show when one of the actors can’t make it.  Both overcome internal and external obstacles on their way to success, and the two stories come together in a surprising way at the end. 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This is sure to be a hit with graphic novel and diary fans.  I did not see the surprise coming at the end, and loved the way the two stories fit together.

Cons:  “Izzy” is a silly nickname given to her by her sister; we never find out her real name.

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A Busy Creature’s Day Eating! by Mo Willems

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for busy creature's day eating

Summary:  The creature starts his day with apples, berries, cereal, doughnuts, eggs, and…furniture?  A mix of food and non-food items causes some problems by the middle of the alphabet, with “Ooooohhh, Potty!”.  A parent creature asks, “Queasy?”, then offers rice and saltines. Sadly, V is for vomit, and by Z, the young creature has zonked out.  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  Preschoolers will love this hilarious romp through alphabet (vomit…ewww!), and will enjoy looking for cameos of some of Willems’ well-known characters in the illustrations.

Cons:  Lacks the sweet charm of Elephant, Piggie, and Knuffle Bunny.

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