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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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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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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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Charlotte and Ben take turns being #1 on the leaderboard of their online Scrabble game, but things aren’t going as well in the rest of their lives.  Charlotte’s father has had a heart attack, and she overhears her best friend making mean comments about her to some new friends.  Ben’s being bullied at school, and has a disastrous experience running for student council president.  The two of them occasionally talk on the phone, creating better lives for themselves that they present to each other.  The whole story takes place during one week, and by Saturday, both Ben and Charlotte have survived their crises and taken tentative but promising steps toward new friendships. 304 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  It can’t be easy to release a new book two months after winning the Newbery, but Erin Entrada Kelly’s follow up to Hello, Universe is an engaging story about two likeable kids going through some painfully difficult times; personally, I enjoyed it at least as much as Hello, Universe.

Cons:  It’s a pretty quiet, introspective book; readers seeking a lot of action may be disappointed.

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A Round of Robins by Katie Hesterman, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary: A male and female robin build a nest; before long, there are four eggs inside. Twelve days later, the babies hatch. After a period of mostly sleeping and eating, the fledglings are ready to fly. They learn to find their own food and defend themselves, and before long, Mom and Dad have an empty nest. Not for long, though; the mother lays four more eggs, and twelve days later….40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros: The first part of a robin’s life cycle is described with playful rhymes and cute illustrations that reminded me of P. D. Eastman’s The Best Nest and Are You My Mother?

Cons: Some back matter would have helped explain some of the poems and made this more useful as an informational book.

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Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile by Sharlee Glenn

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Growing up in rural New Hampshire in the late 1800’s, Mary Titcomb yearned for an education and a career.  She didn’t want to be a nurse or a teacher, but was intrigued when she read about the new field of librarianship.  She worked in libraries in Concord, Massachusetts and Rutland, Vermont before eventually becoming the director of the Washington County library in Maryland.  A county library was unusual at the time, and Mary had to figure out how to reach the 25,000 people scattered across the 500 square miles of Washington County.  She decided to have a horse-drawn wagon built that could carry books to these remote locations, and the first bookmobile was born.  The wagon eventually was replaced by a motorized vehicle, and Miss Titcomb’s tireless efforts to publicize her work spread bookmobiles across America. Includes an author’s note that tells how she found Mary Titcomb’s grave in Concord’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and raised money for a headstone; also an extensive bibliography.  56 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This square book resembles a scrapbook, with a large font, and photos and other memorabilia decorating the pages.  It’s a lively introduction to a woman who believed in the power of libraries to enrich all citizens’ lives and worked hard to bring her vision to life.

Cons:  The subject may be of greater interest to librarians than to their patrons.

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Be Prepared by Vera Brosgold

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Vera often feels like she doesn’t fit in–her family is from Russia and her single mom is struggling to put herself through school.  When Vera hears about a Russian summer camp that’s paid for by the church, she’s sure she’s found a place to make     new friends.  She begs her mom to go, but when the big day finally arrives, she discovers camp isn’t the paradise she had imagined.  She’s the youngest in her group, and the other kids are either mean to her or treat her condescendingly.  The bathrooms are gross, and when she tries to make friends with a chipmunk, he bites her.  Vera is relieved when the two weeks is over, but when her mom comes to pick her up, she tells Vera that she’s gotten an important job interview.  Vera and her brother have to stay for two more weeks.  Vera is desperate, but then slowly things start to change.  She begins to enjoy striking out on her own, and by the last week, she’s made a friend from the younger group.  Ultimately, Vera decides that camp is not for her; she doesn’t plan to return the next year, but she has learned a lot about herself and gained some confidence during her four weeks there.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Fans of Raina Telgemeier and other girl-memoir graphic novels will enjoy this summertime tale based on the author’s real experiences.  The ending is kind of refreshing, in that Vera decides camp was a good growing experience, but it’s not her thing.  I personally didn’t love the green and black color palate, but it was a good choice for the somewhat austere Russian camp.

Cons:  Heads-up on a scene near the end that may raise an eyebrow or two from elementary parents:  two of Vera’s older tentmates get in a fight; one of them steals the other one’s underpants after she’s gotten her period and runs them up a flagpole.

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