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

Published by NorthSouth Books

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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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Image result for faithful spy john hendrix

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.

Image result for earthrise photo apollo 8

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The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden

Published by Sky Pony Press

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Summary:  Zoey wishes she could be her favorite animal, an octopus.  It would be nice to have eight arms when she’s trying to take care of her three younger siblings while her mother works and tries to keep her boyfriend, Lenny, happy so he’ll let them stay in his trailer.  It would be helpful to be able to have an octopus’s camouflage abilities so her wealthier classmates wouldn’t stare at her ill-fitting clothing.  And it wouldn’t be bad on occasion to be able to shoot a cloud of black ink at the kids who make fun of her or at the social studies teacher who is asking too many questions about Zoey’s home life.  But Zoey is a seventh grade girl, not an octopus, and when her teacher insists that she join the debate club, she starts to learn that discrediting an opponent is a technique, not only for winning a debate, but also for stealing another person’s confidence.  When Zoey sees Lenny doing that to her mom, she starts to think she needs  to intervene.  When her friend Fuchsia’s mom puts the two of them in a dangerous situation with her new boyfriend, Zoey realizes she has to leave her camouflage behind and speak up for herself and for the people she loves.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A compelling story of a family living in poverty, forced to make impossible choices just to get through the day.  Zoey sees the kids around her worrying about homework, having crushes, and enjoying their friends, but none of that normal middle school stuff can be for her because she is so weighed down by her family situation.  The ending is hopeful, but realistic–there is still a long difficult road ahead for Zoey and her mom.

Cons:  The gun debate subplot didn’t always ring true for me.  Zoey’s friend Silas loves to hunt, which seemed to be presented as the reason guns are okay, but he and his dad were hunting bobcats for sport, which didn’t really convince me that hunting is a good thing.

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Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie Latour, pictures by Ken Daley

Published by Groundwood Books

Image result for auntie luce's talking amazon

Image result for auntie luce's talking amazon

Summary:  A little girl tells about traveling to Haiti, her mother’s birthplace, to visit her artist Auntie Luce.  Auntie Luce shows her niece around Haiti, driving through the city before heading to her home and studio in the country.  In the studio are paintings of some of the heroes from Haiti’s past like Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Catherine Flon, and Francois-Dominique Louverture, as well as portraits of the girl’s ancestors.  When it’s her turn to sit for a portrait, she finds it’s hard to sit still for so long; Auntie Luce distracts her with stories about Haiti and its history. At the end of her visit, her aunt gives the girl her portrait telling her, “These colors, this people, this place belong to you.  And you belong to them, always.” Includes an author’s note giving a brief history of Haitian independence and a glossary. 36 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An ode to Haiti, celebrating its history of independence and its beauty, particularly with the vibrantly colored illustrations.

Cons:  I wish there was more information about the history of Haiti in the author’s note.

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I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems (Unlimited Squirrels)

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

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Image result for i lost my tooth mo willems

Summary:  When Zoom Squirrel loses her tooth, her squirrel friends are horrified, particularly when they find out it was a baby tooth!  They’re sure it must be alone, sad, and hungry, and they scatter in all directions to try to find it.  When they’re gone, Zoom Squirrel realizes it’s under her pillow, and goes off to retrieve it.  The other squirrels return to find her gone, too!  Finally, everyone is reunited, and the baby tooth is put into a carriage where it is oohed and aahed over.  Zoom Squirrel has the final word as she concludes with the lesson from the story: “Squirrels do not know much about teeth!”  The final third of the book includes jokes and facts about teeth.  85 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Squirrels may not know much about teeth, but Mo Willems knows plenty about how to tickle kids’ funny bones, and his legion of fans is sure to welcome this new series (at least I assume it will be a series), with a size, shape, and illustrations that are similar to the Elephant and Piggie books.

Cons:  There’s a large cast of squirrel characters, all of whom look kind of similar to me.  Also, the back matter seemed unnecessary, although I suppose jokes, riddles, and fun facts will always find an audience with the preschool crowd.  And I feel foolish offering any criticism, as I know that anything even remotely resembling Piggie and Gerald with Mo Willems’ name on it will be a runaway best seller.

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Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Esme Shapiro.  

Published by Schwartz & Wade

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Image result for eliza mcnamara amazon

Summary:  Writing a letter to her soon-to-be-born grandchild, Eliza Hamilton tells the story of her life, starting as an adventurous girl who liked to run and play on her family’s farm in upstate New York.  She writes of her regret that her family owned slaves, and how they eventually freed them. Then she moves on to meeting and falling in love with Alexander Hamilton, and how she helped introduce him to some of her family’s socially prominent acquaintances.  After his death, she worked for many years to preserve his legacy, raise money for the Washington Monument and to continue and expand upon the charitable work the two of them had started. Her proudest achievement seems to have been founding New York’s first orphanage in 1806, an institution that continues to this day.  Back matter includes extensive notes and additional resources, as well as an afterword by Phillipa Soo, the original Eliza from Hamilton: An American Musical. 48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to a lesser-known founding mother, with her accomplishments presented in their own right, not only in connection with her famous husband.  The folk art style illustrations add a lot to the text; older fans of the musical will enjoy this book as well as the youngsters.

Cons:  I’ve seen this book recommended for kids as young as 4 years old.  In my opinion, it wouldn’t be appreciated much by anyone without some background knowledge of early American history.

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