Quiet by Tomie dePaola

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Image result for quiet tomie depaola amazon

Image result for quiet tomie depaola amazon

Summary:  A grandfather is walking with his two grandchildren.  They notice how everything around them is busily moving: birds fly, the dog runs, a frog jumps, and dragonflies beat their wings. Grandfather suggests they sit and rest, so they find a seat on a bench under a tree.  They notice the birds have quieted down, and their dog is taking a nap. The frog is sitting on a lily pad, and the dragonflies are resting nearby. The kids notice they can think and see when they’re still, and the book concludes that “To be quiet and still is a special thing.”  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A simple, quiet book to encourage kids to stop and be still once in a while.  Tomie dePaola’s peaceful illustrations complement the text perfectly.

Cons:  There’s not much of a story, just a simple lesson.

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Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Growing up in the Bronx, young Neil DeGrasse Tyson only saw a few stars in the night sky.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he visited the Hayden Planetarium at age 9 and saw how many stars were really there.  From that time on, Neil was fascinated by astronomy. His parents supported him, buying him a telescope and books, and a sixth-grade teacher suggested he take an advanced class at the planetarium.  He went on to the Bronx High School of Science and Harvard, where he learned all he could about science, while also enjoying dancing and wrestling. Eventually, he wound up back at the Hayden Planetarium as a director, and has become a voice for science, appearing on TV and writing books and tweets to share his enthusiasm.  In life and in the universe, says Tyson, “It’s always best to keep looking up.” Includes an authors’ note and sources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The authors show how Tyson turned his passion into a rewarding career through hard work and determination.  The illustrations capture his energy, as well as the beautiful night sky.

Cons:  I often see books like this recommended for grades K-3 (all the reviews I looked at, as well as Amazon, had that range for their recommendations).  I find picture book biographies are appreciated by upper elementary and middle school students even more than the younger ones.

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Mapping Sam by Joyce Hesselberth

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Image result for mapping sam

Summary:  After Sam’s family is asleep, she slips outside for some nighttime feline adventures.  Maps are used to enhance her journey: a map of her route, a map showing what Sam looks like inside; a map of what’s under the pond she visits, as well as one of a molecule of water in the pond.  As Sam ponders the night sky, there are maps of the larger world and universe: the earth, the planets, and constellations. Finally Sam heads back inside to join her family in sleep and dreams, and the author concludes with the question, “Can you map a dream?  You might try.” Includes additional information about each map shown in the book. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A clever and engaging introduction to maps.  The author defines a map as “a picture, usually on a flat surface, that shows what is where and how to get from here to there”, and this broad definition allows her to show how maps are useful in many different areas of life.

Cons:  It would have been helpful to have that definition at the beginning rather than the end.  I found myself thinking, “That’s not a map!” as I read the book until it became clear on the last page.


Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation adapted by Ari Folman, illustrations by David Polonsky

Published by Pantheon

Image result for diary anne frank graphic novel amazon

Image result for diary anne frank graphic novel

Image result for diary anne frank graphic novel

Summary:  In his adaptor’s note, Ari Folman describes how he was approached by the Anne Frank Fonds (Foundation) to create an animated film for children as well as a graphic novel based on Anne’s life.  He estimated that turning the entire diary into a graphic novel would have taken about ten years and resulted in 3500 pages. Instead, he took the essence of Anne’s diary, beginning shortly before she and her family went into hiding and continuing until her last entry before all the members of The Secret Annex were arrested in August 1944.  Although life in the annex was extremely stressful–not only was it a matter of life and death to stay hidden, but day-to-day life was monotonous, there were plenty of squabbles among the eight people, and the food situation grew increasingly worse–Anne manages to find a great deal of humor and insight as she observes her family, the van Daans, and Albert Dussel. The afterword, as ever, is heartbreaking, as the reader learns of the tragic deaths of Anne, her mother and sister, Dussel, and the Van Daans, and of Otto Frank’s discovery and publication of her diary.  160 pages.

Pros:  I was skeptical about how Anne’s diary would translate into a graphic novel, but both the adapter and the illustrator have done a truly amazing job.  Despite the grim topic, there is a lot of levity in both the text and illustrations, and the approximately 5% of the original document that is shown here really captures Anne’s voice and spirit.

Cons:  It’s hard to recommend this for an age group; it really depends on individual readers.  Of course, there is the whole Holocaust topic that is the backdrop for the entire book. In addition, there are more sexual references than I remembered from my original high school reading, including a detailed description by Anne of female genitalia that I was pretty surprised to have forgotten.  Turns out that passage was edited out of many diary editions, including the one I previously read, but it is here, with illustrations, in this one.

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Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Image result for carmela full of wishes amazon

Image result for carmela full of wishes amazon

Summary:  It’s Carmela’s birthday, and her wish has come true–today she gets to go with her brother.  Riding her scooter through city streets, she sees the fenced-off repair shop, the crowded bus stop, and the home improvement store where her father used to stand around and wait for work.  The two siblings go to the laundromat, then to the market.  Carmela knows she’s annoying to her older brother, who doesn’t want her hanging around, but she doesn’t care.  They go past their old apartment building, and Carmela imagines “her dad getting his papers fixed so he could finally be home.”  Carmela finds a dandelion, and her brother tells her she’s supposed to make wishes on it.  As they head for home, she falls off her scooter, and the dandelion is crushed.  Her brother helps her up and checks that she’s okay.  Then he takes her to a magical place by the sea where there are hundreds of dandelion seeds–wishes–floating through the air.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The award-winning team that brought you Last Stop on Market Street has done it again, with a story that doesn’t seem like such a big deal the first time through, but that grows on you with each rereading.  The two kids are resilient, despite their difficult circumstances that are subtly woven into the narrative.  This would be a great mentor text for showing character development; just like in Market Street, there are believable, likeable characters who slowly reveal their true natures as the story unfolds.

Cons:  I was hoping there would be some little intersection with C.J. and his grandma from Market Street.

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Rice from Heaven: The Secret Mission to Feed North Koreans by Tina Cho, illustrated by Keum Jin Song

Published by little bee books

Image result for rice from heaven tina cho amazon

Image result for rice from heaven tina cho amazon

Summary:  A girl and her father work with a group from their church to send rice from their home in South Korea to hungry people in North Korea.  The girl’s father grew up in North Korea before escaping to the south, and has told her what it was like growing up without enough to eat. Their group fills and ties bags of rice to balloons that they will launch over the border.  As they work, some of the villagers try to stop them, telling them that they’re helping the enemy. But the girl defends them, saying that the children of North Korea are so hungry they eat grass and bark from trees; her words seem to cause a change of heart in at least one of the boys.  At the end, they launch their balloons into the night sky. The group won’t ever know if their food reaches its destination, but the girl envisions children waking up in the morning to find rice from heaven. Includes information about this event, which the author took part in, additional facts about the history of Korea and its division into two countries, and a list for additional reading.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Kids will be fascinated by this unusual story, and will learn a lot about both North and South Korea, particularly if they read all the back matter.  The luminous illustrations are realistic but have a slightly surreal, dreamy quality to them.

Cons:  Some parts of the girl’s storytelling come across as a bit stilted.

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Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  Sylvia Acevedo grew up in a Mexican-American family in New Mexico.  Her father was born in the U.S., graduated from college, and worked as a chemist, but expected his daughter to become a wife and mother.  From an early age, Sylvia had different ideas. Her younger sister’s tragic case of meningitis changed the family dynamics, and Sylvia was often left to advocate for herself.  She excelled at school and learned how to set and reach goals through Girl Scouts. Graduating at the top of her class, she gave up her dreams to attend Stanford University, staying at home to help take care of her younger siblings while she got her industrial engineering degree from New Mexico State University.  After graduation, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and got a master’s degree at Stanford. After serving many years on the board of Girl Scouts USA, she was appointed CEO of the organization in 2017. 320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Ms. Acevedo clearly demonstrates how hard work, perseverance, and determination can lead to success beyond one’s wildest dreams.  As a veteran of Girl Scouts, including a 13-year stint as a leader, it was interesting to me to see how scouting has influenced Sylvia’s life.

Cons:  I never had the success selling GS cookies door to door that young Sylvia did.  

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Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann

Published by NorthSouth Books

Image result for edison torben amazon

Image result for edison torben amazon

Summary:  The Professor teaches at the University of Mice, located behind the shelves of a bookstore.  One day, a new student named Pete approaches him with a request for help in finding out more about an ancestor who supposedly lost a treasure at sea.  It’s unclear whether or not the ancestor went down as well. The Professor is reluctant to help much at first, but when he discovers Pete experimenting with a submarine, he gets caught up in the adventure.  After many trials and occasional missteps, the two of them manage to create a sub and two diving suits. Hitching a ride on a cargo ship, they travel to the spot where the sunken boat lies. They’re able to launch their submarine and go aboard the ship, where they discover the treasure–Pete’s ancestor’s journal.  They learn that he created the light bulb, then managed to get to America where he was able to share his plans with Thomas Alva Edison. And the rest is history–for both mice and humans. Includes historical facts about the history of the light bulb and Edison. 112 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  I’ve somehow missed Kuhlmann’s other books on famous mice (Lindbergh and Armstrong), but was enchanted with this book, particularly the illustrations.  The details of the mouse world and their creations are amazing, and the hard work and serendipity required to come up with a successful invention are well documented.  This would be a great read-aloud, allowing plenty of time to take in all the artwork.

Cons:  The story and writing aren’t as strong as the illustrations.

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The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Growing up in Germany in a family of scientists, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went his own way, showing a keen interest in theology at a young age.  At age 12, he lost his older brother in World War I and began a lifelong quest to understand human suffering in the light of his Christian faith.  When Hitler came to power in Germany, Bonhoeffer found himself with increasingly difficult choices to make. He founded the illegal Confessing Church to support those who opposed Hitler’s takeover of the German churches.  When that was shut down, he decided the moral choice was to join forces with those who sought to assassinate Hitler, and was part of two unsuccessful attempts before being arrested. He spent a year and a half in prison, ministering to other prisoners and guards and refusing a chance at escape because of the danger it would bring to his family.  Finally, Bonhoeffer was found guilty of trying to kill Hitler, and was executed on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler committed suicide.  Includes an author’s note, bibliography, notes, and an index. 176 pages; grades 6-12.

Pros:  I’ve read a lot of good reviews of this book, and I was not disappointed.  It’s kind of like a graphic novel, with the text well-incorporated into the black, turquoise, and red illustrations.  The rise of Hitler is chilling, and the lessons to be learned from the complacency of those in power in Germany can’t be overstated.  Hendrix clearly wants readers to think about how those lessons can be applied to today’s political situations. Bonhoeffer’s faith and humanity in the face of an increasingly inhumane world is inspiring to say the least.  Both the Newbery and Caldecott committees should give this book consideration.

Cons:  Some of the print was so small I had to take my glasses off to read it.  (If you’re over 45, you’ll understand what I’m talking about).

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Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone, illustrated by Christy Lundy

Published by Owlkids

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Image result for earthrise apollo 8 christy lundy

Summary:  1968 was a year of war, unrest, and marches that demanded peace and justice.  At the end of the year, three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, flew into space as the Apollo 8 mission.  They traveled further than any humans had gone before, going all the way to the Moon to figure out the best place for future missions to land.  On their fourth orbit around the Moon, they saw the Earth rising above the moon, and snapped a color photo of it from their window.  That photo became famous, showing the Earth as a peaceful planet with no national borders, home to all people.  Includes a brief note with additional information about Apollo 8 and the Earthrise photo.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to the space program for young kids with a nice message about a photo that inspired people to see Earth in a different way.

Cons:  It’s a pretty brief introduction with no resources for further research.  Also, I wound up with Bette Midler’s “From A Distance” stuck in my head for hours after reading this.

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