The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss

Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

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Summary:  When a three-year-old girl wearing a t-shirt with the word “Bicycle” on it appears at the Mostly Silent Monastary, retired nun Sister Wanda adopts her and names her Bicycle.  Bicycle is happy living quietly among the monks and nuns, but when she turns 12, Sister Wanda decides it’s time for her to learn how to make friends, and ships the girl and her bicycle, Clunk, to the Friendship Factory for summer camp.  Bicycle, who can’t imagine anything worse, decides to run away to San Francisco to take part in the Blessing of the Bicycles. The rest of the story is a wild and crazy road trip, in which Bicycle and Clunk (and later a new bike named Fortune after Clunk falls apart halfway through the trip) meet a quirky but endearing cast of characters.  By the time Sister Wanda catches up with her in Nevada, Bicycle realizes she has made quite a few friends along the way. She has to give the nun the slip one more time, but they reunite in San Francisco, where Fortune is blessed and Bicycle meets her hero, Polish bicycle racer Zbig. Sister Wanda realizes Bicycle has found her own way of making friends, and the end finds Zbig, Bicycle, Wanda, and a man in a rooster suit pointing their bicycles eastward for the journey home.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A lively and entertaining adventure with a likeable introvert and the fun and interesting characters she meets along the way.

Cons:  Christina Uss works at the town library where I get most of my books, so it’s probably not in my best interest to offer her anything but praise and congratulations on her first novel.

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The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  “In the dark,/in the dark,/in the deep, deep dark, a speck floated, invisible as thought, weighty as God.”  Then BANG! and the universe was born, a cloud of gas stretching and expanding into trillions of stars. When some of those stars exploded, the ash formed the planets circling other stars, including our sun.  And one of those planets, Earth, was at just the right distance from the sun for life to begin: mitochondria, jellyfish, sharks, dinosaurs, and finally, humans. And after many, many generations came YOU: “You,/and me/loving you./All of us/the stuff of stars.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An amazing book that traces the history of the universe through a brief, lyrical 40 pages, all illustrated with phenomenal collages on hand-marbled papers.  A multi-award contender for sure.

Cons:  It’s a book I appreciate more than love.  I’m not sure how wide the appeal for kids will be.

Note: I recently received a box of books from Candlewick, which I assume were meant for me to review on my blog.  This was one of them, and I will make note of others as I get to them. Thank you, Candlewick!

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A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  “Look! Elephants!” So begins this brief (about 80 words) book showing a group of five elephants on parade.  Kids can pick a favorite and follow it from page to page: they are blue, green, purple, pink, and yellow. The page that introduces them shows them on a graph, with numbers counting from one to five, and a new elephant added on each line.  The elephants go up, down, over, under, in, and out, reinforcing those concepts. At the end, they are ready for sleep, but first they raise their trunks and trumpet, scattering stars across the sky.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The usual Kevin Henkes masterpiece, this is a deceptively simple story that introduces colors, numbers, concepts like up and down, and even introduces graphing.

Cons:  I found the pink and purple elephant a little too similar in color to be distinctive.  Fortunately the pink one was also smaller than the other four.

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Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White, illustrated by Robin Page

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Animals, foods, colors, and habitats are introduced in this book that has a repeating question and answer format: “Who eats orange? Bunnies in their hutches do. Chickens in the henhouse too.  Who else eats orange? Goats. Pigs. Gorillas too? Gorillas? No! Gorillas don’t eat orange. They eat…green.” The large illustrations have plenty of color on a simple white background. Humans, the book concludes, eat a rainbow of colors.  The last two pages list various habitats with the animals from each listed and additional information about what and how that animal eats. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Catchy rhymes and eye-catching graphics make this an appealing introduction for a wide variety of topics.

Cons:  The habitats listed at the end include farms, Africa, ocean, forest, rainforest, and tundra; but Africa is a continent with many different habitats.

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Mac Undercover (Mac B. Kid Spy book 1)

Published by Orchard Books

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Summary:  Mac may just be a kid, but when he gets a call from the Queen of England requesting a favor, he feels he has no choice but to leave his home in Castro Valley, California, and fly to London.  When he gets there, he learns that the Queen’s Coronation Spoon has been stolen, most likely by the King of France. Mac then travels to France on a spy mission to try to get it back.  After a botched robbery of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre (he’s hoping to do a trade), Mac is taken to see the king, who is able to prove his innocence and point Mac in the direction of a suspicious KGB agent.  Mac is finally successful in tracking down not only the spoon, but his missing Game Boy. It turns out this KGB agent has been targeting Mac all along, wanting something that Mac has that is very valuable in the Soviet Union.  A trade takes place, and Mac is able to return home, but on the last page he is shown receiving another call from the Queen, setting up the sequel that’s due out in December. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Lots of laughs in this liberally-illustrated story that takes place during Mac Barnett’s childhood in the 1980’s.  Interspersed with the goofiness are facts about the different places he travels to. A perfect choice for those new to chapter books as well as older reluctant readers.

Cons:  Abraham Lincoln is pictured on the cover of a book about the U.S. Founding Fathers, which doesn’t seem historically accurate.

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Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Teddy Youngblood is in a coma, hospitalized after a head injury during football practice.  A rising freshman, he was attending a summer camp for the championship Walthorne High School team.  Told entirely in texts, newspaper stories, and transcripts of (one-sided) conversations from visiting family and friends, the narrative gradually reveals that there was more to Teddy’s injury than just an unfortunate accident.  Older players are trying to hush up what happened that day, and younger players, wracked with guilt, are trying to decide whether or not to tell the truth to their parents and friends. As the details slowly come to light, readers will have to decide what the difference is between right and wrong, and whether turning a blind eye to bullying can be just as dangerous as participating in it.  304 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  Tommy Greenwald turns to more serious topics than those covered in his Charlie Joe Jackson series, but this book will appeal to the same reluctant readers.  The format makes it a fast read, while the slow revelation of what happened to Teddy makes a gripping story right up until the end.

Cons:  The characters seemed like they were beginning to ramble on the last 30 pages or so… they could have been edited down a bit.

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Imagine! By Raul Colon

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  A boy rides his skateboard over the Brooklyn Bridge to the Museum of Modern Art.  Inside he is captivated by three painting: Pablo Picasso’s Three Musicians, Henri Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy, and Henri Matisse’s Icarus.  As he gazes at them, the figure from Icarus steps out of the painting and starts dancing with the boy.  The three musicians soon join them, playing their instruments, and finally the woman and lion from Rousseau’s painting follow the group as they head out of the museum.  They explore the city, riding the subway, taking a dip on the Cyclone roller coaster, eating hot dogs, and climbing the Statue of Liberty before heading back to MOMA.  The boy says goodbye as they all return to their paintings, then he gets his skateboard and heads for home. Along the way, he sees a big building and is inspired to paint pictures of his new friends on its side.  An author’s note tells how he developed his own love of art and hopes to inspire readers. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This wordless picture book is a follow-up to Colon’s 2014 Draw!, sharing with readers a love of art and creativity that started when he was a child.  The watercolor paintings give the illustrations a dreamy quality that is appropriate for a story of imagination.  Maybe a contender for Caldecott recognition.

Cons:  I wish the original paintings had been shown somewhere in the book.

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No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

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Summary:  Felix and his mother Astrid have been in a downward spiral for several years, moving from a condo to a basement apartment to an unheated camper.  Astrid is loving but unreliable, and Felix worried about her “slumps” when she can’t get out of bed, as well as her lying and stealing. When she was a child, Astrid was briefly placed in foster care, and has told Felix enough horror stories about it to make him fearful of doing anything to bring attention to their situation.  Summer in the camper is almost like a vacation, but as the weather starts getting colder, the situation quickly goes downhill. When Felix wins the opportunity to compete on a game show for a $25,000 prize, he convinces himself he can turn their situation around. Two close friends and a caring teacher finally force him to the realization that he can’t solve his mother’s problems on his own.  288 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I zipped through this book in just a couple of days; Felix is a humorous narrator, who gradually starts to see his mother as a flawed human being and to realize that he doesn’t have to grow up to be like her.  His friends Winnie and Dylan have their own quirks, but Felix is generous and loving, and appreciates them for who they are. The subjects of homelessness and invisible poverty were sensitively addressed; this book would be a good one to begin a discussion of those topics.

Cons:  I’ve seen this book recommended for grades 4 and up, but some of the content and a few sexual references make it more of a middle school book, in my opinion.

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Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Summary:  “I dreamed of you,/then you appeared./Together we became/Resplendent life, you and I.”  So begins Yuyi Morales’s book addressed to her son, whom she carried across a bridge into a new country when he was a baby.  Together they explore their new home, confused by the language and often making mistakes (demonstrated by the picture of her playing with her young son in a public fountain, while a police officer stands by with his hands on his hips).  One day they discover a miraculous place: the public library. “Suspicious. Improbable. Unbelieving. Surprising. Unimaginable.” Slowly, she learns about the library, and picture books open up a new world to her and her son, teaching them to read, write, and speak.  “We are stories./We are two languages./We are lucha./We are resilience./We are hope./We are dreamers, sonadores of the world./We are Love Amor Love.” Includes “My Story”, a two-page note from Morales about her journey from Mexico to the U.S. and how the public library helped her and her son Kelly pursue their dreams in their new country; also books that have inspired her.  Simultaneously released with Soñadores, the Spanish language version. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Yuyi Morales hasn’t really been on my radar as an illustrator, but this beautiful book made me go back and look at what other books she has done (her best known is probably Viva Frida which won both the Belpre Medal and a Caldecott honor).  Her note on how she created the pictures reveals that they are a blend of acrylics and ink, along with a long list of items that she photographed and scanned.  This makes for bright, colorful, textured illustrations. Kids will enjoy finding books that they recognize in the pictures from the library. The brief, poetic text beautifully expresses the hopes and dreams of those immigrating to the U.S.  Look for this title during awards season.

Cons:  Young kids may need some help in understanding what is going on in the story.

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Fangsgiving by Ethan Long

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Vladimir is making Thanksgiving dinner with his friends (a witch, a mummy, Frankenstein, and a werewolf) when some family members unexpectedly drop by.  Vlad is happy to see them, but before long they have taken over on the turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie, adding touches like eyeballs and earwax.  When it’s time to eat, they decide to turn off the lights, and the family dog Spike devours the whole dinner before anyone else has a chance to get any. “You ruined Thanksgiving!!” shouts Vlad, and his family is chagrined, saying they were only trying to help.  Vlad remembers they’re family, and everyone works together to make a dinner they all can enjoy. 32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  I wasn’t familiar with Ethan Long’s previous two monster holiday books, Fright Club and Valensteins, but Fangsgiving convinced me they may be worth a look.  Kids will howl with laughter at the antics of the different monsters and enjoy the gross-out additions to the traditional holiday feast.  Plus there’s a nice Thanksgiving message about appreciating friends and family.

Cons: It’s a pretty silly romp; you will probably want to supplement with some other books that look at other aspects of Thanksgiving.

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