Crunch, The Shy Dinosaur by Cirocco Dunlap, pictures by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Image result for crunch shy dinosaur amazon

Summary:  Crunch is a big red dinosaur, who is also very shy.  Readers are instructed by an omniscient narrator on how to approach him.  If they greet him too loudly, he hides; too softly and he gets “uncomfortably close” to hear what’s being said.  They’re told to sing him “Happy Birthday”, and to introduce themselves to him.  The final instruction is to say good night to Crunch, and to lie down to show him how it’s done, making this a good choice for bedtime.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Kids will love Crunch, endearingly portrayed by Greg Pizzoli, and will get some good practice on making their voices soft and loud, as well as learning how to introduce themselves and be friendly without being overwhelming.

Cons:  Crunch seems overly skittish.

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Can I Be Your Dog? By Troy Cummings

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Image result for can i be your dog troy cummings

Summary:  Arfy is a stray looking for a home.  He writes letters to a family, the butcher, the fire station, and even the junkyard guy.  Each responds with a note telling him no. Disheartened, he heads for shelter in a cardboard box and falls asleep.  When he awakens, there’s a letter taped to the box. The mail carrier who delivered all his letters asks if she can be his person.  She tells him to meet her in front of the big blue mailbox. It looks like true love as the two meet, and Arfy gives her a note reading, “My tail has been wagging ever since I got your note.”  Includes a list of ways kids can help homeless animals. 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Who can resist adorable Arfy and his pleading letters for a home?  Readers will cheer for Mitzy the mail carrier, and be eager to learn how they can help animals like Arfy.  This would also make a good introduction to letter writing or persuasive writing.

Cons:  Mitzy may be violating federal law by reading Arfy’s letters.

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Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Otis Barton loved the ocean from childhood, and dreamed of inventing a contraption that would allow him to explore deep water.  Will Beebe was a scientist who studied the natural world and became enamored of undersea life on a diving trip off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.  The two men decided to build the Bathysphere, a 5,000-pound, four-and-a-half foot enclosure that would descend to the depths and allow them to see what was there.  On May 27, 1930, they made their first trip, aware of the dangers of leaks, explosions, and the wrong amount of oxygen. They succeeded, though, reaching a depth of 800 feet, and being the first to see what the ocean looked like at those depths.  Includes a lengthy author’s note with photos and additional information about both men and the Bathysphere, as well as additional sources. 48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  The story is simple and straightforward, yet the author’s note adds enough information to make it a good read for fourth and fifth graders.  The rich illustrations bring the undersea world to life, including a foldout page of Otis and Will’s view at 800 feet.

Cons:  Including a date or two in the main story would have helped place it in historical context.  I had to turn to the author’s note to figure out when it was happening.

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The Itchy Book by LeUyen Pham

Published by Disney Hyperion

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Summary:  A bespectacled dinosaur comes across a rock reading “Dinosaurs Do Not Scratch”.  He shares his new knowledge with other prehistoric friends who come along, stopping them from scratching an itchy back, a bee sting, and the place where a tag rubs on the back of the neck.  The original dinosaur claims it is tough not to scratch, and proves his own fortitude when the others tickle him with a feather and wrap him in a woolly sweater.  Finally, the turtle lying in front of the rock slowly moves away, revealing the word “Alone” at the bottom of the message.  Relieved, the whole crew goes for it, scratching every itch they can find on each other.  Elephant and Piggie enjoy the story, commenting at the end that “A good story scratches an itch.”  64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Elephant & Piggie + funny dinosaurs = a winning combination.

Cons:  It was a tough book to read while suffering from poison ivy.

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Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Colin Jack

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Sassy and Waldo are worried that their boy, Stewart, is having trouble in school.  Waldo has learned some English, so they try sneaking into school.  When that plan fails, they decide they need a costume.  Waldo stands on Stewart’s back, they drape themselves in a trench coat, and voila, two dogs in a trench coat go to school, disguised as Salty, a new student from Liver, Ohio.  After figuring out how to maximize the cafeteria food and use the bathroom, they are ready to tackle the problem of helping Stewart.  Turns out he has a big project due that he hasn’t even started on, and he has lost his all-important Information Sheet.  Sassy and Waldo are on the case, and wind up helping Stewart get an A+, but not before creating complete chaos in the classroom.  192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Lots of laughs from both the story and the pictures in this crazy, mixed-up story about two determined dogs. Perfect reading if your brain is ready for summer vacation.

Cons:  Seems like poor Sassy would get pretty uncomfortable being the bottom dog all the time.

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Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Alix and her older sister Jools head off with their parents before dawn one morning.  They drive all day before finally arriving at the seashore.  Their house faces the beach.  The family rents the downstairs from Lila, the woman living upstairs.  Lila’s granddaughter Nessa often visits, and she and Alix become friends.  There are new adventures every day of the week: a long walk on the beach, a trip to the raptor center, a search for sea glass, the exploration of a lighthouse.  Things don’t always go according to plan (an attack by a giant June bug; the destruction of a sand castle by two careless boys), but everyone remains positive, and it’s a happy vacation that brings about bonding moments for each member of the family and sees the beginning of new friendships.  Even three flat tires on the drive home can’t diminish the joy of the trip, and Alix falls asleep in her own bed dreaming of her new friends and anticipating the rest of the summer.  Includes instructions for making a sea glass necklace.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A quiet book that perfectly captures the highs and lows of a family vacation.  The characters are realistically portrayed, just quirky enough to make them likeable and believable.   The writing provides a feast for the senses that will make you want to go to the beach, and the illustrations enhance this.  An ideal summer read-aloud.

Cons:  Read this book in the summer; it might be too depressing to read it surrounded by snow and cold.

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Pie Is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrations by Jason Chin

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  A family of four sets off for a picnic in the park one summer day.  The red, white, and blue napkins and paper plates, as well as the fireworks at the end indicate it may be the Fourth of July.  The story is mostly told in the illustrations, while the text is a meditation on sharing: “A book is for sharing/A ball is nice for sharing, too/And a tree? A tree is always shared…even when you think you’re alone.”  What can be shared can be as abstract as time or as concrete as a towel, warmed by the sun.  The book comes full circle with the final lines: “Many can share one light./And a blanket? A breeze? The sky? These are for sharing./Just like pie.”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  This book really grew on me; both the text and the illustrations are deceptively simple.  My favorite page shows eight smiling kids (and their dog) of different races, genders, and sizes standing around a sparkler that says, “Many can share one light.”  A perfect book for sharing on the Fourth of July or any summer day.

Cons:  The sad picture of the littlest girl looking for a piece of pie and finding only an empty tin.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J. Child, translation by Gordon Jourdain, illustrations by Jonathan Thunder

Published by The Minnesota Historical Society

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Summary:  Windy Girl and her dog Itchy Boy are an inseparable pair.  They love when Uncle comes to visit and takes them ice fishing or tells them stories from his childhood.  He tells about attending the powwow; powwow days are Windy’s favorites as well.  She loves eating the food, listening to the singing, and joining in the dancing, while Itchy wanders with the other dogs.  Sometimes when the powwow goes late, Windy falls asleep.  One night, she dreams about a powwow populated by dogs.  In her dream she sees dogs drumming, doing different types of dances, and selling fry bread and blueberry snow cones.  The voice of the real-life announcer breaks into her dream, saying, “Last dance tonight, folks.  Everyone come out into the arena.”  Windy joins in, realizing that the powwow is always in motion, bringing old and new together, almost like a dream. The story is in both English and Ojibwe; includes an author’s note.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A far-too-rare picture book that describes a contemporary Native American experience and shows how the past is carried on in the present.  The digital illustrations of both the human and the dog powwows are rich in detail, especially the gorgeously colored costumes.  The dogs are adorable.

Cons:  I wish there was some back matter about powwows, maybe with photos.

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Drawn Together by Minh Le, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for drawn together santat

Summary:  When the boy’s mother drops him off at his Thai grandfather’s house, he faces an evening of missed communications.  Grandpa only speaks Thai, and watches Thai movies on TV.  Bored, the boy pulls out paper and markers from his backpack.  When his grandfather sees what he is doing, he brings out his own sketchbook, and the two finally have a connection. They create a magical world of warriors and dragons; even when the old distance between them threatens, the boy isn’t afraid.  Wielding a paintbrush, he creates a bridge that brings them together again. When Mom comes back for her son, he and his grandfather embrace, leaving with the promise of many new adventures just ahead. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This simple but powerful story celebrates art as a connection between generations and cultures.  The illustrations could put Dan Santat in contention for another Caldecott.

Cons:  Don’t go too fast, or you’ll miss the exquisite details of the illustrations.

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Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary: This second-person account of life aboard the Alvin (“You stand and seal the sphere, silencing the world outside.”) tells what it’s like to travel two miles beneath the ocean.  The three scientists on board spend their day exploring life in the darkest depths of the sea and collecting specimens to study back in the lab.  At 8:00 a.m., they seal themselves into the small craft, then sink down, not returning until 5:00 p.m. There are dangers, such as getting trapped in a fishing net or anchor chain, and nuisances, like not having a bathroom on board.  But there’s also the reward of studying uncharted territory and making new discoveries about life deep undersea. Includes additional information about the Alvin, a description of the animals that appear in the book, a glossary, and a list of additional resources.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A straightforward, you-are-there account of a day in the life of a scientist.  Kids are sure to be intrigued with the idea of traveling so far down in the ocean.  The illustrations do a nice job of capturing the look of the undersea world at different levels as the Alvin travels up and down.

Cons:  My claustrophobia kicked in around page 6.

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