Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous: A First Day of School Dilemma by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for lena's shoes are nervous amazon

Image result for lena's shoes are nervous amazon

Summary:  Lena is ready for her first day of kindergarten, but her shoes aren’t. They’re afraid of going to school, and her socks feel the same way.  Her dress is very outgoing, but it doesn’t get along very well with the shoes. It comes down to the headband to try to convince those shoes to go to school.  The headband reminds them of other scary situations that turned out okay…even a lot of fun. “Often the best things happen when we’re nervous.” Finally, the shoes decide to be brave, and off they go.  When they get to school and see the other kids, the shoes slow Lena down a little, but ultimately, they step onto the playground, where they are surrounded by other sneakers, boots, and shoes. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun and imaginative on the first-day-of-school-jitters theme.  Personally, I always like to line up my shoes at night so they will be comfortable and have a friend nearby, so I can understand where Lena is coming from.  The illustrations, by the author of Juana and Lucas, are adorable.

Cons:  I wish I had seen this book a while ago.  It’s a little late to get a copy for the first day of school, but if you can swing it, it would be a fun read for preschoolers and kindergarteners.

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Spooked: How a Radio Broadcast and The War of the Worlds Sparked the 1938 Invasion of America by Gail Jarrow

Published by Calkins Creek

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Summary:  In chapter one, readers learn of a mysterious radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, reporting that the United States had been invaded and was quickly being destroyed.  They soon find out that this was actually a radio play based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds about invaders from Mars.  Orson Welles and his team at CBS radio’s Mercury Theater adapted the story to sound like it was actually happening, simulating broadcasts from New Jersey that broke into a musical program.  No one was prepared for the panic that ensued, as many people across America believed that the invasion was real. Jarrow reports on the variety of reactions, including letters and telegrams sent to CBS and Welles, some critical and others complimentary of the program.  She also looks at the exaggerated reporting that made it sound as though the panic was much more widespread than it actually was. Includes a timeline; information about other hoaxes; links to the original broadcast, script, and other source materials; an author’s note; and source notes.  144 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  This well-researched book with lots of photos brings the events of October 30, 1938 to life and ties them into today’s world of fake news and Internet hoaxes.  

Cons:  The font was a little small.

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The Titanic (Survival Tails, Book 1) by Katrina Charman

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Mutt is heartbroken when his owner, Alice, and her father leave for a journey to America.  He manages to follow them to the dock where they are boarding the Titanic.  With the help of a rat named King Leon, he manages to sneak aboard and begin his search for Alice.  Meanwhile, Clara, the captain’s cat, discovers three kitten stowaways and reluctantly becomes their guardian.  When the ship begins to go down, it’s up to Clara and Mutt to save the kittens, Alice, and maybe themselves. Includes a 5-page author’s note; a timeline of the Titanic’s voyage; additional information about the ship and the animals that were on board; and animal facts.  224 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  The story of the Titanic from the point of view of a cat or a dog?  This will undoubtedly be a big hit with the upper elementary crowd, and they will be eagerly anticipating book 2 which features the sled dogs that traveled with Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica.  Try this out on fans of I Survived and Ranger in Time.

Cons:  I feel as though I have read and watched enough Titanic accounts for this lifetime.

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The Rough Patch by Brian Lies

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Image result for rough patch lies

Summary:  Evan the fox and his dog are best friends who do everything together; the first several pages are bright and cheery, showing the pair eating ice cream, hanging out with Evan’s friends, and, best of all, working in their beautiful garden.  “But one day, the unthinkable happened,” and Evan is shown sadly petting the body of his beloved dog. The fox goes through different stages of grief: shutting himself inside, hacking his garden to pieces, then allowing weeds to grow and the garden to become a desolate place.  One day, though, he finds a pumpkin vine growing and he lets it stay.  He gradually begins to take care of it, and by the end of the season, he has a huge pumpkin, worthy of entering at the fair. He catches up with old friends at the fair and even has some fun. His pumpkin takes third place, and Evan gets a choice of prizes: $10 or one of the pups from a box on the stage.  “I’ll take the ten,” says Evan, but he can’t resist a peek into the box…and the final page shows him driving his truck home, a puppy riding on the seat next to him. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Wow, this is one powerful book; one of my favorites of the year so far.  Anyone who has dealt with any sort of loss will find it a helpful read, and the story is written in a way that even the youngest will understand.  Plus, the illustrations are adorable.

Cons:  I wish we had learned the name of Evan’s first dog.

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Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

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Summary:  12-year-old Ebo lives with his alcoholic Uncle Patrick in Ghana; his sister Sisi has left to try to get to Europe.  When his brother Kwame also runs away, Ebo decides to try to find him and start a new life in a more prosperous country.  The brothers eventually reunite and make their way across the Sahara Desert to Tripoli, Libya. From there, they work and save money to take a boat across the Mediterranean Sea.  The story is told in chapters alternating between that boat journey and flashbacks relating the events leading up to it. There is extreme hardship, illness, and death every step of the way with a particularly heartbreaking tragedy at the end.  Ebo is persistent and optimistic, though, and his prospects for success in his new country seem promising. Includes a map; a creators’ note that tells more about refugees; and “Helen’s Story”, the story of a Sudanese woman’s harrowing journey to the United Kingdom. 144 pages; grades 6-8.

Pros:  This graphic novel would make an excellent companion to last year’s Refugee by Alan Gratz.  Although Ebo’s story is fictional, the events and hardships seem very real.  The artwork is beautiful, with stunning ocean and desert scenes providing sharp contrast to the difficult story line.

Cons:  While I think older elementary students would find this book engaging and learn a lot from it, be aware there is a lot of death and grief in the story.

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Amal loves going to school in her Pakistani village, but when her mother suffers postpartum depression, she must stay home to help run the household.  While doing marketing for the family, she has an accidental run-in with a member of the wealthy Khan family gets her into serious trouble. Her father owes money to the Khans, and Amal is forced to work as an indentured servant in the family’s mansion to pay off his debt.  Her father assures her he will get the money quickly, but as time goes on, Amal sees that she may suffer the fate of the other servants and be forced to stay for years. Amal’s perseverance and determination pay off, and when she sees her opportunity to help herself and others around her, she finds the courage to take it and move forward. Includes an author’s note that ties together the fictional Amal’s life and the real-life Malala Yousafzi. 240 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A powerful story about a courageous girl in a part of the world that may be unfamiliar to many U.S. readers.  Kids who know Malala’s story will have a connection that will draw them into this book.

Cons:  Amal’s happy ending seemed a little unrealistic, and the author mentions in her note that for many more kids trapped in indentured servitude, there is not usually such a way out.

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The Epic Origin of Super Potato (Super Potato book 1) by Artur Laperla

Published by Graphic Universe

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Image result for epic origins super potato

Summary:  When Super Max is called on to stop Doctor Malevolent from stealing a priceless statue from the museum, it seems like business as usual for this slightly narcissistic superhero.  But the evil Malevolent has a new weapon, and before Max can say “Tater Tots”, he has been transformed into a potato with the villain’s ray gun. Fortunately, his superpowers remain intact, so he becomes a flying, extra-strong potato.  Much of the story is about his attempts to turn back into a human (or at least get some decent hair), but in the end, his quest is futile, and it appears that he will be fighting crime as a potato in future installments. 54 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Captain Underpants and Dog Man may have to make some space for this new superhero who will appeal (wildly) to their fan base.

Cons:  Max’s/Super Potato’s hair (and his obsession with it) reminded me a bit of a shocking head of orange hair that is frequently in the news.

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