Fairy Spell: How Two Girls Convinced the World That Fairies Are Real by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  In 1917, cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright spent much of the summer playing near the beck, or stream, behind their home in Cottingley, England.  When Frances got in trouble for getting her shoes wet, she claimed she and Elsie had seen fairies near the water. She convinced her father to let them take his camera to photograph the little creatures, and sure enough, they were able to capture some of the fairies on film.  The photos came to the attention of Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle, and he was so intrigued, he got them published in a magazine. The hoax continued until 1983, when Frances and Elsie, then 75 and 81, finally admitted that the pictures were faked. They never expected their prank to get so big, and when it did, hadn’t wanted to embarrass their families and Conan Doyle.  In fact Frances admitted faking most of them, but would never renounce the final photo they took, and always claimed there had been fairies in Cottingley. Includes an author’s note and list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This story has been told before, but this version is particularly well-done for younger kids, with the original photos incorporated into the illustrations.  The author’s note includes a discussion of how people can be tricked into believing things that aren’t true, and how this continues today, aided by the Internet.  

Cons:  Kids may find it hard to believe that people believed these photos were real for so many years.

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The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

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Summary:  When a child takes a book off the shelf and begins to read, he learns a lot about elephants.  Much of the book is nonfiction, giving facts and information about elephants, including the different species, their size, what they eat, their habitat, and why they are endangered.  The child appears in some of the illustrations, and there are connections to his world, like the picture that shows four cars piled on top of each other that are equal in weight to a male elephant.  Although elephants sleep a lot less than most other mammals, the same is not true for the reader, and the final page shows him asleep in his dark house, his head pillowed by the elephant book. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An appealing nonfiction book, with the whimsical illustrations adding some humor, but also informing (the car picture, the one above that shows the length of an elephant’s trunk with two children lying on it toe-to-toe).  Jenni Desmond has written similar books on polar bears and blue whales, which I am now looking to add to my libraries.

Cons:  There is no back matter–some additional resources would have been useful.

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Attucks: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

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Summary:  Crispus Attucks High School opened its doors in 1927, a school built by the Ku Klux Klan to segregate the high schools of Indianapolis.  Because so many black teachers couldn’t get jobs at white schools, the faculty was outstanding, with many teachers qualified to be college professors.  When Ray Crowe was hired to teach math in the junior high next to Attucks, he brought with him basketball talent and knowledge that had made him a college star.  Within a few years, he was coaching Attucks players in a new style of playing basketball. It took a decade of overcoming barriers, but his team won the Indiana state champion in 1955 and 1956, with an undefeated season in 1956, the first time ever since the championship began in 1911.  The star of the team both years was Oscar Robertson, an unbelievably disciplined and hard-working player who went on to play on the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team and in the NBA. Attucks’ championship team led to heavy recruiting of black players by other Indianapolis schools, which in turn helped desegregate the cities’ schools.  Includes several pages of sources and notes, as well as a very complete index. 224 pages; grades 6+

Pros:  Sports fans will enjoy this gripping narrative nonfiction story of the amazing Attucks team, and will learn a lot about 20th century racism and civil rights as well.  Plenty of photos and interesting sidebars make this an engaging read.

Cons:  Although I wouldn’t have wanted the book to be any longer, there were many interesting people whom I would have liked to get to know more in depth.

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Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  On September 9, 1942, Nobuo Fujita set out on a mission to drop two bombs in Oregon, with the intention of setting a forest fire that would spread to nearby towns.  The raid was successful, but only one bomb ignited, and the resulting fire was quickly contained. Residents of the town of Brookings, Oregon were somewhat alarmed to discover pieces of a Japanese bomb in a nearby forest.  The mission was repeated a few weeks later, with similar results. After the war, Nobuo settled down in Japan, never telling anyone about his raids over America. In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees, trying to boost tourism, decided to track down the Japanese bomber pilot and invite him to America.  For the first time, Nobuo told his family about his role in the war, and the whole family traveled to Oregon, not sure about what to expect. Despite some protests, most of the townspeople welcomed the Japanese visitors with open arms, and the trip ended up being the first of four that Nobuo made; he also sponsored three Brookings high school to visit him in Tokyo.  The day before he died in 1997, a town representative flew to Japan to make Nobuo an honorary citizen; a year after his death, his widow scattered some of his ashes in the Oregon town. Includes an author’s note and additional sources. 40 pages; grades 1-6.

Pros:  Kids who are interested in World War II may pick this up, but there is a lot more to the story than just military history.  It’s a tale of forgiveness and pacifism, and raises the interesting question about Nobuo: “He went from fighting to uniting.  Which took more courage?’’ An engaging story and meditation on war and peace.

Cons:  It does make you wonder what would have happened if those bombs had worked the way they were supposed to.

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Do Not Lick This Book*:*It’s Full of Germs by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Meet Min, the microbe, so small that she and 3,422,166 of her friends could fit on a tiny dot.  When Min is bored, she goes exploring, visiting a tooth, a shirt, and a belly button, where she meets and befriends other microbes.  Magnified photos show what each of those environments looks like to a microbe. Much of the book is addressed to the reader (“Touch your teeth to pick Min up.  Put your finger on your shirt to send Min and Rae on a new adventure) that make the book interactive (if you want to go there). The last page properly identifies the microbes (Min is an E. coli…yay!) and shows what they really look like.  40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A weirdly fun and fascinating book that introduces the youngest readers to the world of microbes…who are pretty cute in the illustrations.  The close-ups of everyday objects will fascinate kids.

Cons:  Does a book about microbes that live in your teeth and clothes really need a stated “con”?

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Lights, Camera, Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Alice always loved stories, but when her father died and the family business went under, she was forced to become practical and find a job.  She was hired by a camera company and learned about a new kind of camera–one that made moving pictures.  To help sell the camera, Alice decided to capture some of her stories on film.  She created props and costumes, found actors and actresses, and experimented with different film techniques.  She even learned to add sound and color to her motion pictures.  She eventually moved to America, where she opened a studio and eventually made over 700 movies.  But when the film industry became big business, Hollywood put Alice’s little studio out of business, and she moved back to France with her children.  Much of her work was lost, but in 1955, her role in movie making was rediscovered, and she was awarded the Legion of Honor.  She also wrote her memoirs, which were finally published in America in 1986.  Includes additional information and a list of sources, including two of Alice’s films that can be seen on YouTube.  60 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This quirky book tells the unbelievable story of Alice Guy-Blache, who contributed a huge amount to early film, yet was almost completely unrecognized for her achievements.  The story is told in the style of a silent movie, and the illustrations have a good time playing with that genre.

Cons:  All recommendations I saw were for grades K-3 or K-4, but most kindergarteners and first graders wouldn’t have enough background knowledge to understand or appreciate this.

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It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Theo’s photos are vandalized while on display in the middle school art gallery, five suspects are gathered to spend their vacation week in a justice circle, a sort of restorative justice program designed to uncover the truth.  The group has counterparts in the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club: the quiet, geeky kid; the jock, the weird girl; the smart, popular girl; and the jokester troublemaker boy.  Reluctantly at first, they begin to discover the stories behind the facades of each kid, and slowly the truth comes out, not only about who drew on the photos, but about who each of them really is.  Told by Theo, the story spans the vacation week from Monday to Friday; each day begins with every kid writing answers to the same questions; the responses change as the week goes on. Ms. Davis, the school principal, is the villain who opposes the program and its leader, school counselor Ms. Lewiston.  In the end, though, Ms. Lewiston’s method proves successful, and the six kids get to have the last word with their principal. 336 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This will have wide appeal with middle schoolers, many of whom will recognize something of themselves in one or more of the characters.  The whodunit suspense builds nicely, although the final answer isn’t a huge surprise. All the characters’ voices are honest and believable, and there is plenty of humor despite the tense setting.

Cons:  This is the second book I’ve read this year where kids are left unsupervised in a public school for hours at a time.  Authors, that just doesn’t happen in schools, at least not in any I’ve worked in.

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