Something Smells! By Blake Liliane Hellman, illustrated by Steven Henry

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Image result for something smells hellman amazon

Summary:  Elliot wakes up one morning to a terrible smell and sets out to investigate the cause.  He checks his pets, family members, the trash, and Grandma’s famous Gefartzenschnaffer, but nothing seems to be causing such a stink.  Finally, Elliot’s mother insists that he remove his favorite skeleton costume and take a bath. Lo and behold, when his mom carries the costume to the laundry (with various family members commenting on the odor) and Elliot lathers up, the smell miraculously vanishes.  He concludes his bath by putting on his amazing new sea monster pajamas, which he loves so much that he vows to never take them off again. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute and funny story that includes just the right touches of bathroom humor.

Cons:  Kids will undoubtedly figure out the source of the smell before Elliot does.

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The Sinking of the Vasa: A Shipwreck of Titanic Proportions by Russell Freedman, illustrated by William Low

Published by Henry Holt and Company

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Summary:  On August 10, 1628, the warship Vasa set sail, the flagship of the Swedish navy, commissioned by the king and two years in the making.  The crew was on board with their families; to their horror, a wind blew that ship over less than a mile into the voyage, sinking it and killing many men, women, and children.  An investigation ensued, and several theories were put forth, but the cause of the accident was never determined. Centuries later, in 1956, the remains of the Vasa were discovered by Anders Franzen.  It took five years to figure out how to raise her, but this feat was accomplished on April 24, 1961.  Today the ship has been restored and is on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. Includes a list of sources. 44 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Quite a bit shorter than Russell Freedman’s usual works (maybe because he passed away in March), this is nevertheless an interesting and well-researched story of a tragedy that will draw readers in.  The illustrations are sumptuous, particularly the large foldout page, and are done in a style appropriate for the period of the story.

Cons:  From the title, kids may be expecting a story more similar to the Titanic.  It would make an interesting compare/contrast exercise, though, for those familiar with that story.

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My Family Divided: One Girl’s Journey of Home, Loss, and Hope by Diane Guerrero, with Erica Moroz

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  TV actress Diane Guerrero (Orange Is the New Black, Jane the Virgin) relates her struggles growing up as the child of two undocumented parents.  When Diane was 14, she came home from school one day to find out that both of her parents had been arrested.  They were ultimately deported to Colombia, and Diane stayed with friends for the next four year so she could finish school.  Halfway through college, she began suffering from depression that resulted in cutting and a suicide attempt. She was fortunate to get therapy, learning to finally deal with her emotions about what had happened to her.  Her work with her therapist influenced her to pursue her passion for acting. Not only has she launched a successful television and movie career, but she has become an advocate for undocumented immigrants and their children. 256 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  Diane’s story is pretty riveting, and shines a light on children whose lives are affected by an undocumented status in their families; those who are fortunate enough not to be dealing with those issues will relate to her everyday struggles with family, friends, and school.

Cons:  Not necessarily a con, but just be aware that Diane expresses some pretty strong anti-Trump sentiments in the final chapter.

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Snow Pony and the Seven Miniature Ponies by Christian Trimmer, illustrated by Jessie Sima

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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Image result for snow pony trimmer amazon

Summary:  Snow Pony is a beautiful snow white pony who loves and is loved by (almost) all the humans and animals on the farm.  Queenie (another pony) is jealous of Snow Pony, and creates a trail of apples to lead her away from her home. Snow Pony gets lost and ends up in a barn with seven miniature ponies, who invite her to live with them.  She grows to love them, but misses her old friends. One day, her favorite human tracks her down and convinces her to come back home. She brings the miniature ponies along with her, and they all live happily ever after…even Queenie.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun retelling of Snow White with cute illustrations and a sly humor adults will appreciate at least as much as kids.

Cons:  I recoiled in horror at the sight of what I thought was Queenie’s fate, but turned the page and was reassured by the final illustration.

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Mustafa by Marie-Louise Gay

Published by Groundwood Books

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Image result for mustafa gay amazon

Summary:  Mustafa and his family have recently moved from a country that was full of smoke and fire and loud noises.  His new home is near a park, and he goes there every day. He sees many people and surprising sights like leaves turning color, kids in Halloween costumes,  and a girl walking her cat on a leash. Sometimes he draws pictures of his old home with a stick in the dirt. He often feels invisible, with all the people rushing past him, but one day the girl with the cat invites him to come with her.  She shows him a goldfish pond, and they feed the fish together, then go for a swing. When she tells him her name and learns his, Mustafa starts to feel like he is no longer invisible. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful, sweet story about the immigrant experience through the eyes of a young child trying to process all the difficult things that have happened to him.  This would be another good back-to-school book, especially if there are new kids in the class who may be looking for a new friend.

Cons:  Don’t skip over the title page and the one after that–it shows Mustafa and his family traveling to their new home.

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The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras

Published by Kathy Dawson Books

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Summary:  Drest has lived happily with her father, Grimbol (a.k.a. Mad Wolf) and her older brothers all her life.  She knows they are a war band who often go off to fight, yet she has been sheltered from knowing that ferocious and violent side of their lives. When they are all taken captive and carried away in a ship, it’s up to her to rescue them.  She finds a wounded knight from the raiding party, and takes him as her captive to help her find the way to the castle where her family members are prisoners. The journey is full of dangerous adventures, but Drest discovers a courage and tenacity she never knew she had.  She also hears stories of atrocities committed by her father and brothers and has to reconcile those with the loving men she has grown up with. There’s a happy ending, but also enough loose ends for a sequel, The Hunt for the Mad Wolf’s Daughter, which is due out next March.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will keep turning the pages to read about Drest’s adventures, and in the process, learn more about 13th century Scotland.

Cons:  Don’t be surprised if readers start flinging medieval Scottish insults at each other, e.g., “You crab-headed squid gut” or “You rot-headed prickle fish”.

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How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere

Published by Doubleday

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Image result for how to be a lion vere amazon

Summary:  Lions are supposed to be fierce and chomp other animals, but Leonard is different.  He likes to daydream and write poetry, and when he meets a duck named Marianne, he makes friends with her instead of eating her.  They’re happy creating poems and discussing the nature of the universe until the other lions show up and start telling Leonard that he’s not behaving like a real lion.  Marianne disagrees, and the two of them come up with a poem that perfectly expresses how they feel. The conclusion: “Some say words can’t change the world. Leonard says, if they make you think, maybe they can.  Is there just one way to be a lion?  I don’t think so…Do you?”  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Ferdinand the Bull for the 21st century.  This brief, sweet story celebrates friendship and being yourself in terms that preschoolers will understand.

Cons:  It seems unlikely that Leonard will survive long without at least some chomping.

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