You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow Books

Image result for you go first kelly amazon

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.

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

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

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

Image result for round of robins amazon

Image result for round of robins katie hesterman

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.

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

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

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Image result for library on wheels glenn amazon

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.

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


Be Prepared by Vera Brosgold

Published by First Second

Image result for be prepared vera amazon

Image result for be prepared vera brosgol amazon

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.

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

They Lost Their Heads: What Happened to Washington’s Teeth, Einstein’s Brain, and Other Famous Body Parts by Carlyn Beccia

Published by Bloomsbury

Image result for they lost their heads amazon

Image result for they lost their heads carlyn becchia

Summary:  17 chapters recount the fates of the body parts in the title, as well as Sarah Bernhardt’s leg, Vincent Van Gogh’s ear, Elvis’s wart, and more.  Each chapter is followed by several more short tales of relevant anatomy.  20+ pages between the last two chapters go into greater detail about cloning, stealing body parts, and some pretty disgusting food and beverage trivia.  The writing is breezy and irreverent, with lots of humorous footnotes, and there are plenty of illustrations throughout.  Includes an extensive bibliography and index.  192 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The humor targets the age group perfectly; readers will enjoy grossing out their peers and elders while inadvertently learning some history and science.  The black and white etchings reminded me a little bit of Edward Gorey’s art.

Cons:  Some of the stories, particularly those involving ingesting body parts and fluids, were a little over the top for me.  But then, I am not a 12-year-old boy.

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


A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Image result for house that once was fogliano amazon

Image result for house that once was fogliano smith

Summary:  Two children discover an old house in the woods and climb in through a broken window.  As they explore what they find there, they imagine who might have lived there before and what has happened to them.  Finally, they return to their own house, cozy and warm with dinner waiting, remembering that “Deep in the woods/is a house/just a house/that once was/but now isn’t/a home.”  48 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Award winners Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith combine their talents for a haunting, evocative picture book.  The slightly surreal, detailed illustrations deserve to be savored, and the poetic text flows smoothly.  A perfect read-aloud.

Cons:  Peeling exterior paint and mice peering out of holes in the walls = a little too close to home for me.

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

The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

Published by Dial Books

Image result for night diary amazon

Summary:  Nishal has a relatively happy life in India with her doctor father, twin brother, and grandmother.  Her mother died in childbirth, so when Nishal receives a diary for her twelfth birthday, she uses it to write letters to her mom.  Soon there is plenty to write about; it’s 1947, and India has just won its independence from Great Britain.  The country has been partitioned into two countries: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India.  Although Nishal’s mother was Muslim, her father is Hindu, and the family lives in the area that has become Pakistan.  They are forced to leave their home with almost nothing, and to undertake a dangerous journey to Jodhpur, India.  Almost dying of thirst along the way, witnessing fighting and killing between the two factions, Nisha draws further into herself, going from being a shy, introverted girl to completely mute.  In their new home, though, she begins to recognize the courage and strength she had to make the journey, and the ending promises a hopeful future for her and her family.  Includes an author’s note with more historical information and a glossary of words used in India and Pakistan that appear in the story.  272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Excellent historical fiction told by a sympathetic character kids will relate to; I learned quite a bit about 20th-century history of India and Pakistan.  The refugee story is a universal one that is still being lived by millions of people today.

Cons:  The unfamiliar time and place may make this a hard sell to elementary kids.

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

What If… by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Mike Curato

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for what if curato amazon

Image result for what if curato

Summary:  A young girl loves to create stories and pictures with her pencil.  But what if the pencil disappeared?  She’d create by folding the paper.  If that was gone?  She’d carve up the table and chair to make something new.  And so it goes, her creativity unstoppable even if her tools aren’t available anymore.  The second to last page reads, “If I had nothing, but still had my mind…” with a close-up of her face on a foldout page that opens to an imaginative spread of her riding a pink unicorn, then continues: “If I know nothing but one bit of fate…As long as I live, I will always create.”  The final page shows her working in her apartment window; other windows portray her neighbors playing music, dancing, decorating a cake, and pursuing other creative endeavors.  A note from the author and illustrator tells how Samantha Berger was inspired to write this book after a flood forced her to evacuate her apartment with only her dog and her sketchbook.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Maybe Mike Curato will finally win a well-deserved Caldecott for this beautiful meditation on creativity and the ability to make something new in any situation.

Cons:  The pink unicorn and rainbow on the foldout page felt a little clichéd.

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

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by Candlewick

Image result for alma martinez-neal amazon

Image result for alma martinez-neal amazon

Summary:  When Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela complains that her name is too long, her father tells five stories about the different family members for whom she is named.  Each one connects to her in a special way.  Her sixth name, Alma, is just for her.  “You are the one and only Alma,” her father tells her.  “You will make your own story.”  The author’s note tells the story of her own full name, Juana Carlota Martinez Pizarro, and how it reminds her of her roots in Peru.  Also available in a Spanish edition, Alma y Como Obtuvo su Nombre.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A lovely story by award-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal that invites readers to learn and tell the stories of their own names.

Cons:  Alma may struggle with all those names when filling out online forms.

Click to buy on Amazon:  the English edition or the Spanish edition