The Hen Who Sailed Around the World: A True Story by Guirec Soudee

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for hen who sailed around the world amazon

Summary:  When Guirec Soudee decided to sail around the world, he brought with him a chicken named Monique.  Even though he was told that Monique would hate ship life and wouldn’t lay eggs, she proved to be an adventurous sailor who produced over 1,000 eggs during their journey.  The two of them became the first solo sailor and first chicken to travel the Northwest Passage over Canada. It took them over three years, including a 130-day layover with the ship frozen in ice.  After traveling 17,500 miles, they decided it was time for a break, but both Guirec and Monique are certain they will be starting a new voyage soon. Includes a map of the trip with additional photos. 40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This was one of the most fun books I read this year.  Guirec has a dry sense of humor and I could almost hear his French accent.  Monique is nothing if not an intrepid explorer; my favorite photo shows her in the snow wearing a coat made from two of Guirec’s gloves.  Guirec mentions his drone camera, and there are some pretty cool aerial views of the ship traveling through the ice.

Cons:  A little more of an introduction, maybe with a map at the beginning instead of the end, would have helped get readers oriented to what was going on.

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Dragons In a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Published by Random House

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Summary:  Jaxon’s not happy when Mama has to go to court to fight their eviction and drops him off with a strange and somewhat unfriendly older woman.  He can’t help but feel curious, though, when she receives a mysterious package from Madagascar that seems to contain something alive. Before long, he learns that the woman, Ma, is a witch with a long-term connection to his mother that Jax never knew about.  He gets drawn into a fascinating world of magic, meeting an unusual cast of characters that includes his long-lost grandfather, and finds out that Ma’s mysterious package contains three tiny dragons. When he and Ma travel back in time, though, things start to go wrong, and Jaxon fears he may have ruined everything.  By the time Mama returns, he’s found a way to begin to fix his mistakes and has agreed to become Ma’s apprentice. His mother isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, but an invitation from Ma to move in with her sets the stage for an interesting sequel. 160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This would make a good first fantasy book–the magic is fairly straightforward and the book is fairly short with quite a few illustrations.  Kids will relate to Jaxon as he tries to figure out the strange circumstances he is thrust into, and will be curious to find out what happens to him and his new dragon friends.

Cons:  It felt like the story was just getting going toward the end; here’s hoping the sequel will be out soon.

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Someday Is Now: Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-Ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, illustrated by Jade Johnson

Published by Seagrass Press

Image result for someday is now amazon clara luper

Image result for someday is now amazon clara luper

Summary:  When Clara Luper was growing up in Oklahoma in the 1930’s, her father promised to take her to segregated parks and restaurants “someday” when it was legal for them to go there.  Clara grew up to be a teacher, and decided that “someday is now”. She wrote a play called “Brother President”, and her students were invited by the NAACP to perform it in New York.  There, they experienced the freedom to go wherever they wanted, and to eat in restaurants with white people. Back in Oklahoma, they studied Martin Luther King Jr.’s four steps to nonviolent change: investigation, negotiation, education, and demonstration.  They used these steps to try to desegregate the lunch counter at Katz restaurant. When the first three steps failed, they demonstrated by sitting at the counter and demanding to be served. Day after day, they braved being spit on, having food thrown on them, and hateful phone calls to their homes.  Finally, Katz agreed to desegregate the lunch counters, not only in Oklahoma, but in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Clara and her students enjoyed a meal together, then moved on to their next challenge. Includes additional information about Clara Luper and nonviolent resistance and a glossary. 32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An interesting and little-known chapter in the Civil Rights Movement.  Clara Luper and her students used sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters two years before the more famous protests at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC.  The folk art-style illustrations are a good complement to the story, and the back matter provides important additional information.

Cons:  A few more dates included in the text or a timeline at the end would have helped place the story in historical context.

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The School’s On Fire!: A True Story of Bravery, Tragedy, and Determination by Rebecca C. Jones

Published by Chicago Review Press

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Summary:  Written for the 60th anniversary of the tragic 1958 fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of the Angels school that killed 92 students and 3 teachers, this book traces the fire from the first moments it started in a garbage can until it raced up a waxed wooden staircase  and quickly engulfed classrooms on the second floor.  The author interviewed a number of survivors, all of whom were in large classes (up to 60 students) supervised by a single teacher, usually a nun. Often, they had to make a fast choice whether to stay in a smoke-filled classroom, hoping help arrived in time, or jump out of a second story window.  Almost everyone lost siblings, cousins, or friends, yet the students were discouraged from talking about their grief for many years afterward.  The fire gained national attention and led to many changes in how schools dealt with fire safety.  Includes a section on what to do in case of fire, as well as a list of additional resources. 176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This is a compelling, if horrifying, story that grabs readers right away and holds their attention as the narrative moves quickly, along with the fire, from one classroom to the next.  Includes plenty of photos.

Cons:  The cover picture is kind of odd, particularly the weirdly creepy nun in the foreground, and doesn’t really convey the full extend of the tragedy.

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Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Sixth-grader Bryan wishes his life could be more peaceful and free of drama, but living in New York City’s projects makes that difficult.  His father is in and out of jail, and both his parents are trying to help Bryan and his older sister Ava stay on the right path. When Bryan meets Mike, he and his parents think he’s found a good friend–Mike is respectful and gets good grades.  But before long, Mike is convincing Bryan to cut school and “train surf” on the outside of subway cars. Bryan knows what he’s doing is dangerous and wrong, but it’s hard for him to risk Mike’s disapproval. When events start to catch up with the two boys, their friendship becomes strained, and Bryan has to decide where his loyalties to Mike, his family, and a new friend lie.  177 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Bryan’s experiences in the NYC projects may be unfamiliar to some kids, but his struggles with friends, family, and self-acceptance will resonate with almost all late elementary and middle school readers.

Cons:  Bryan’s father was kind of a mysterious character; I would have liked to understood more how he spent his days and a little more about his past.

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Peace and Me: Inspired by the Lives of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates by Ali Winter, illustrated by Mickael El Fathi

Published by Lantana Publishing

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Summary:  Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners are profiled, along with the man who started it all, Alfred Nobel.  Winners are presented in chronological order, beginning with Jean Henry Dunant in 1901 and finishing with Malala Yousafzai in 2014.  Some will likely be familiar to kids (Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela), while others are less well known (Fridtjof Nansen, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Shirin Ebadi).  The first two pages show an interesting timeline, with each person’s name and year shown on a sailboat on the Pacific Ocean.  The last two have a world map showing the country of origin for each recipient.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting and important collection of people for kids to know about.  The collage-style illustrations are fascinating, with lots of details to notice.  Kids will enjoy finding the girl on the cover who appears in every one.

Cons:  Only 12 of the many interesting recipients are profiled.

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The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

Published by Dial Books

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Image result for wall in the middle of this book agee

Summary:  The knight narrating the story is glad for the wall in the middle of the book.  It keeps him safe from the wild animals and the ogre that are on the other side.  As he talks, he climbs a ladder leaning up against the wall. Unbeknownst to him, but seen by the reader, water is rising on his side of the wall.  When he realizes he’s about to go under, the knight calls for help, and the ogre reaches over the wall and plucks him off the ladder. Although he’s safe, the knight panics, sure that the ogre will eat him.  The ogres laughs, saying that he’s a nice ogre and that his side of the book is fantastic. In the last few pages, the knight enjoys a ride on the backs of those “wild” animals, while a giant fish swallows a smaller fish on his original side of the wall.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  It may or may not be a political allegory, but readers of all ages will get a laugh at the knight’s cluelessness, while learning some important lessons about making assumptions and fears of the unknown.

Cons:  I’m tired of hearing about walls.

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I Got the Christmas Spirit by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that created I Got the Spirit comes this exuberant ode to Christmas.  A little girl goes travels around the city with her mother, excited about Christmas as she embraces its true spirit of giving.  She enjoys singing with carolers, eating crunchy chestnuts, and ice skating in what looks to be Rockefeller Center. She also donates to the Salvation Army and finds a way to help a mother and daughter who are standing on the street with a sign reading “Help, please”.  At the end, she and her mom meet up with her father; as he scoops her up in an embrace; the final page reads, “Peace for all, good tidings, and cheer–let’s live the spirit every day of the year.” 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The text is simple, interspersed with rhythmic words (“Dingle Dingle”, “Zoom Zing”).  Readers will want to pay close attention to the colorful oil paintings to see exactly how the girl expresses her Christmas spirit.  This would be a perfect opening to a discussion about the Christmas spirit and how to spread it.

Cons:  This seemed like it should be a rhyming text.

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No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom In Kansas by Tonya Bolden, illustrated by Don Tate

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Slavery ended just a few years after Junius Groves was born on a plantation in Kentucky.  As a young man, he headed for Kansas to farm.  Starting out as a hired hand earning 40 cents a day, he worked hard to become a foreman, tripling his wages and eventually allowing him to rent his own land to farm.  With his wife Matilda at his side, he saved enough money to buy a farm.  The two of them worked hard, along with their twelve children, to make the farm prosperous.  Their main crop was potatoes: in 1894 he was named Potato King of Wyandotte County by the local paper; six years later, he was called the Potato King of the whole state of Kansas, and in 1902, he was crowned Potato King of the World.  In addition to millions of pounds of potatoes, Junius helped grow a church, a store, a golf course, and a town called Groves Center.  Includes a timeline, glossary, and list of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A real rags-to-riches tale extolling the rewards of hard work, told in a style that almost makes it feel like a tall tale.

Cons:  The potential downside of vying for the title of Potato King of the World at the Thanksgiving table today.

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Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Steven Salerno

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Image result for pass go and collect 200 salerno

Summary:  The history of one of the world’s most famous board games isn’t a straightforward one.  The earliest form of Monopoly was a game called the Landlord’s Game, created in 1903 by a woman named Lizzie Magie who wanted to show the injustice of landlord-tenant relationships.  Her game had dice, a bank, two kinds of cards called Luxury and Legacy, four railroads, and 22 properties on lots with purchase prices and rents. The game caught on, although an effort by Magie to sell it to Parker Brothers failed, and the properties were named after Atlantic City, NJ landmarks by a teacher in 1930.  During the Great Depression, a man named Charles Darrow, out of work, redesigned the Atlantic City game board and began selling handmade copies from home. Parker Brothers turned him down, too, but when his game became a big seller, they changed their minds. After buying Lizzie Magie’s patent for $500, Charles Darrow and Parker Brothers went on to make millions with the game of Monopoly.  The author ends with some questions: Did Lizzie Magie make a wrong move? Did Charles Darrow? Whatever the answers, there’s no denying that Monopoly’s a winner for many. Includes Monopoly trivia and math, an author’s note, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A remarkably complex history is laid out in an understandable fashion, with illustrations that document the evolution of the game.

Cons:  Polls done in 2013 and 2017 have resulted in the discontinuation of the classic iron, boot, thimble, and wheelbarrow tokens.  I was always particularly fond of the thimble.

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