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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Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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Image result for saffron ice cream rashin

Summary:  Rashin is excited to be taking her first trip to the beach in America.  She and her family are traveling to Coney Island. She tells what it was like to go to the seashore in Iran, where she used to live.  Men and women swam on separate beaches, divided by a curtain. When some of the girls saw the boys peeking through holes in the curtain, Islamic beach guards hurried to patch the holes.  There was an ice cream seller there, and when Rashin sees one at Coney Island, she hopes to be able to get her favorite saffron ice cream. When it’s not available, the day seems ruined, until another girl suggests chocolate crunch.  Not only is it delicious, but Rashin has found a new friend to play with. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Any story that includes the beach and ice cream is perfect summer reading in my book, and this one weaves in an interesting immigrant story with a glimpse of another culture.

Cons:  An author’s note and/or some photographs would have made a nice addition.

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The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Growing up near Kennedy Space Center, the son of a NASA engineer, Ken Nedimyer was surrounded by science.  Ken loved science, too, but he was more interested in the ocean, enjoying TV shows featuring Jacques Cousteau and exploring the coral reefs off the Florida Keys. As he got older, though, Ken was saddened to see the coral reefs dying.  As an adult, he owned a live rock farm, a business where he sold rocks covered with invertebrates like mollusks and sponges to keep saltwater aquariums healthy. When he found coral growing on his rocks, he experimented with gluing them onto undersea rocks where the coral reefs used to be.  The success of this experiment led to a group called the Coral Restoration Foundation that has restored some of the reefs in the Keys and is now spreading its message around the world. Includes additional resources, vocabulary, and some ways kids can help. 48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  An inspiring story of one person making a big difference in the world, illustrated with beautiful pastels that capture the subtle colors of the coral reefs.

Cons:  Saving the coral reef seemed to be no more difficult than a simple craft project.

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Published by Arthur A. Levine Books

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Summary:  When Mia’s parents left China for the United States, they were full of dreams for a better life.  A year later, they’re working difficult, low-paying jobs, and are a step away from being homeless.  When her mom sees an want-ad for a family to run a hotel near Anaheim, Mia and her family think all their dreams are about to come true.  Unfortunately, the hotel owner is Mr. Yao, a cruel and racist man who makes unreasonable demands on his workers and pays them a pittance; his son is in Mia’s class and makes her life miserable.  The hotel is robbed and Mia’s mom is beaten up; her father endures sleepless nights when customers wake him up at all hours; and Mia has a scare when she is threatened by a drunken customer.  Nevertheless, she is determined to help her family get ahead, and her excellent customer service at the front desk, combined with her parents’ hard work, begins to pay dividends.  When Mr. Yao announces he is selling the motel, the connections Mia and her family have made to their neighbors and to other immigrants pay off, leading them to a happy ending and the promise of a brighter future.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Based on the author’s experiences in the early 1990’s, this story will give readers who aren’t recent immigrants greater understanding and empathy for those who are.  Sympathetic characters and a fast-paced plot will keep kids turning the pages.

Cons:  Some of Mia’s victories, especially the big one at the end, were a little unbelievable.

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Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno

thoPublished by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Image result for pride harvey milk salerno

Summary: In the 1970’s, when Harvey Milk was advocating for gay rights, he decided the movement needed a symbol that promoted hope and equality.  He asked artist Gilbert Blake for help. Blake designed a rainbow flag, and volunteers helped create it in time for a march on June 25, 1978.  Five months later, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated. His dream lived on, though, and continued to grow. The rainbow flag spread across the country, and eventually around the world.  On June 26, 2015, the White House was lit up like the colors of the rainbow flag, celebrating the legalization of gay marriage across the U.S. Harvey Milk’s dream of equality and love had truly been realized.  Includes biographical notes on Harvey Milk and Gilbert Blake, timelines for Milk and the rainbow flag, and a list of resources. 48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A good introduction to the gay rights movement, as well as the history of the flag that came to symbolize that movement.

Cons:  The biographical information on Harvey Milk was somewhat sketchy.  

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