You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  Jillian is excited to be getting a new baby sister, and when Emma is born, the family is thrilled.  But tests reveal that she has hearing loss, and Jillian’s parents have some difficult decisions to make about their new daughter.  Jillian turns to a friend from a tween fantasy online forum, a boy named Derek who is Deaf. He introduces her to the Deaf community, answers her questions, and straightens out some of her misconceptions.  He is also Black, as is Jillian’s aunt, and Jillian finds she has a lot to learn from both of them about racism. When one of Derek’s friends, a Deaf Black girl is shot and killed by police for not stopping when she is out for a run (she couldn’t  hear their shouts), Jillian realizes she still has a lot to learn about how the world around her works. The story concludes with three chapters: nine months later, three months after that, and three years after that, to show the reader how Jillian’s family has changed and grown as Emma has grown up.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This book fills a need for stories of Deaf kids and their families; I learned quite a lot about cochlear implants, American Sign Language and the Deaf community (including the capitalization of the word Deaf, a convention from the book I am continuing in this review, as well as capitalizing Black).  There were also a lot of thought-provoking conversations and situations about race, both with Derek and members of Jillian’s family.

Cons:  The story got bogged down with so many issues.  Derek and Aunt Alicia seemed to exist mainly to educate Jillian about race and the Deaf community; they needed a few more dimensions to make them seem more like ordinary mortals.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Through the Window: Views of Marc Chagall’s Life and Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

Published by Knopf

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Image result for through the window grandpre

Summary:  From the author-illustrator team that brought you The Noisy Paint Box and Vincent Can’t Sleep comes this introduction to the life of artist Marc Chagall.  Born Moishe Shagal in Vitebsk, Russia, he changed his name as a young man living and working in Paris.  Many of his paintings showed what he saw through various windows, which is referenced in the title.  Due to the two world wars, Chagall was forced to return to Russia for awhile before getting back to Paris and eventually moving to the United States. He continued to explore new art forms as he grew older, including sculpture, set design, and stained glass.  Includes an author’s note, which includes photos of some of Chagall’s work, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A beautiful introduction to Marc Chagall’s life, both visually and through the text, which the author’s note explains is written the style of Chagall’s poetic autobiography, My Life.

Cons:  The story might be a little confusing without some guidance from a knowledgeable adult.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

A Day with Judy Freeman

I spent today in Bristol, Connecticut at Judy Freeman’s What’s New in Children’s Literature workshop.  Judy was kind enough to invite me as her guest, and I enjoyed hearing what books she recommended and getting some programming ideas to promote them.  Sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Research (BER), it’s always a worthwhile workshop if you get the opportunity to go.

Judy and I have read a lot of the same books this year, but I did hear of a few that I missed and wished I had included on this blog.  Here’s a quick run-down if you want to try to get your hands on them.

The United States v. Jackie Robinson by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Jackie Robinson’s baseball career is a familiar story, but this looks at his early life, growing up with a mother who refused to back down when their white neighbors tried to force the family to move.  The story also covers Jackie’s college and military career, showing how his early years shaped his later life playing baseball and working for civil rights.  32 pages; grades 3-6.


Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Published by Abrams

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Mae would rather sit up in a tree all day than face the uncertainties of the first day of school.  Soon she’s joined by another girl named Rosie, who shares Mae’s concerns about the unknown.  Finally, a third person joins them: Ms. Pearl, the new teacher who has her own insecurities.  The three finally decide to face their fears, climb down from the tree, and walk into school together.  32 pages; ages 4-8.


Stegothesaurus by Bridget Heos, illustrated by T. L. McBeth

Published by Henry Holt

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Two of the brothers are stegosauruses, but the third is a stegothesaurus.  Stegosauruses say hi; but it’s “Hello! Greetings! Salutations!” from the stegothesaurus.  A big mountain is “gargantuan, gigantic, Goliath”, and a hot day is “blazing, blistering, broiling”.  When the stegothesaurus meets an allothesaurus, the words really start to fly.  A fun introduction to word choice and thesauruses.  32 pages; grades K-3.


Worlds Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from The Metropolitan Museum by Lee Bennett Hopkins

Published by Abrams

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Seventeen children’s poets, plus Hopkins, created works inspired by paintings at The Metropolitan Museum in New York City.  A beautiful and accessible introduction to poetry and art.  48 pages; grades 3-7.


Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Chris Raschka

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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A girl is surprised to find a substitute in her class, and writes disgruntled letters about the changes in the routine.  As the day goes on, though, she begins to appreciate the fun-loving sub, and by dismissal time, she realizes the day has turned out just fine.  32 pages; grades K-3.



Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  When a group of boastful knights regale each other with slightly exaggerated tales at the Round Table, Merlin sends them off on a mission to slay the Terrible Lizard.  Knights Bors, Hector, Erec, and the mysterious Black Knight are joined by squire Mel on a quest that unexpectedly takes them back in time to the days of the dinosaurs. There they have one adventure after another with spinosauruses, triceratops, and more, all the while seeking the tyrant king, Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Along the way, some surprises are revealed about the knights and their squire, and they slowly learn to stop competing and start working as a team. After they finally meet and defeat their enemy, they learn that Merlin has been up to his old tricks, but they can’t help being pleased with the results. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  With lots of illustrations and a few comic-style pages, this would be a good choice for those still getting their feet wet in the chapter book realm.  There’s plenty of humor and a couple of unexpected strong female characters.

Cons:  I probably didn’t appreciate the humor as much as, say, a nine-year-old might.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for water land christy hale

Summary:  Ten different land and water forms are depicted, using die cut pages to turn one form into another.  For instance, the first two pages show a tan landscape with a hole cut out showing the blue on the next page–a lake.  Turn the page, and that hole turns the previous page into an island in the middle of the blue water. Each spread shows people engaging in various recreational activities like camping and swimming.  There’s only one word on each page, but the last two pages define all the land and water forms. They’re part of a larger fold-out page that lists different examples of the forms and shows them on a map of the world.  32 pages; ages 3-10.

Pros:  This book will appeal to a wide variety of ages; preschoolers will enjoy the die cut pages and learning new words; older students of geography will get a good deal of information on the final pages.  And everyone will have fun seeing what the people are up to and dreaming about which land or water form they would like to visit.

Cons:  Such a cool book deserves a snazzier title.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Sheets by Brenna Thummler

Published by Lion Forge

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Summary:  Marjorie Glatt is only 13 years old, but since her mother died, her father has been overwhelmed by grief, and Marj is trying to keep the family laundromat running.  The building is in a prime location, and the evil Mr. Saubertuck wants to buy it and turn it into a luxury spa.  Meanwhile, a ghost named Wendell wanders off from the ghost world and ends up in the laundromat, where he unknowingly gets into mischief and causes problems for Marj.  When the two finally meet, Wendell is contrite and wants to help her.  It turns out the ghost world has something that Marjorie needs, and when she and Wendell combine efforts, they turn into an unstoppable force for defeating Saubertuck.  There are a lot of emotional ups and downs for both girl and ghost, but fortunately, there’s a happy ending for all the deserving parties.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Graphic novel fans will enjoy this story that combines the middle school angst of Raina Telgemeier with the supernatural elements of the Amulet series.  The muted pastels of Marj’s story contrast interestingly with the dark, blue-toned hues of the ghosts’ world.

Cons:  Marj’s life seems unrealistically wretched for a 13-year-old.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

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Regina Persisted: An Untold Story by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Apples and Honey Press

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Summary:  The story opens as Regina Jonas is on her way to take an exam that will allow her to be a Jewish rabbi.  As she’s walking to the school, she thinks back on what has brought her to this day–a love of the Torah, a father who believed girls should learn Hebrew, years of going to synagogue every week and staying after the service to study with the rabbi.  When she arrives at school, though, she’s stopped from taking the exam by a teacher who tells her that girls can’t be rabbis and that she must give up her dream. For five years, Regina continues to teach and inspire Jews during what is becoming an increasingly dark time in Germany.  Finally, on December 26, 1935, she is allowed to take the exam and become the first woman rabbi in the world. An afterword tells of Regina’s brief career until her death in Auschwitz in 1944; there was not another woman rabbi until 1972, but now there are close to 1,000, including the author.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  It’s an amazing story of a woman who refused to take no for an answer in pursuing her dream.  The text and illustrations do a nice job of incorporating the stories of a couple of other strong Jewish women (Miriam and Esther).

Cons:  Because this was published by a small press specializing in Judaism, it’s probably not going to fly under the radar for many librarians and other book buyers.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Found by Jeff Newman and Larry Day

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When a girl finds a new puppy in this wordless picture book, she is delighted.  There are signs all around (empty dog dish, photo, and a missing poster on her bulletin board) of Prudence, a beloved dog that she has lost.  But she begins to bond with the new dog, and the illustrations show them playing, wrestling, and taking a trip to the pet store for a new leash. On the way home, though, she sees a sign for a lost dog with a picture that is unmistakably her new friend.  After a night of soul-searching, she takes the dog back to his original owner, a boy who looks to be about her age. She starts home dejectedly, but her route takes her past the animal shelter. There in the window, a dog is looking out at her.  The last picture shows them gazing happily at each other through the window, her hand and his paw against the glass. 48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  The story is simple, but powerful.  Kids will be able to identify the emotions from the girl’s expressions and body language, and can use clues from the illustrations to figure out what’s gone on in the past.  They will learn about love, loss, and moving forward again.

Cons:  2018 seems to be the year of heartbreaking dog stories.  Laura Seeger, Brian Lies, and Jeff Newman: are you trying to kill me?

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

She Did It! 21 Women Who Changed the Way We Think by Emily Arnold McCully

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for she did it mccully amazon

Summary:  As per the subtitle, you’ll find 21 women who promoted feminism and changed the role of women, mostly in the twentieth century.  Each profile is several pages long, broken into sections with headings and sidebars, and begins with an illustration of the woman with a large head, a la the Who Was biography series.  They’re arranged in chronological order by the year each woman was born, beginning with Ida Tarbell (1857) and concluding with Temple Grandin (1947).  Many of the names may be unfamiliar to elementary and middle school students. The concluding chapter, “Second Wave Feminism” tells the story of feminism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and includes an eye-popping list of eight things a woman couldn’t do before the second wave (get a bank loan, serve on a jury in most states, etc.).  Includes a list of sources and an index. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An educational and entertaining look at 21 fascinating women in a wide variety of fields and from diverse backgrounds, all placed in the context of the history of feminism.  The illustrations and page layouts make this easy to browse.

Cons:  While I liked the illustrations, photos of each woman would have been a useful addition as well.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs, illustrated by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Growing up in North Carolina, Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten loved playing music.  She learned to play her brother’s guitar, but because she was left-handed, she played it upside-down and backwards.  When her brother moved out, taking his guitar with him, Libba did chores until she had saved $3.75 to buy her own instrument. When she was 12, she wrote a song called “Freight Train”.  But an early marriage and a baby derailed her musical ambitions for many years. In the 1940’s, she took a job as a housekeeper for the musical Seeger family.  When they heard her play, they helped launch her career. She recorded her first album in 1958, then went on tour. “Freight Train” became a hit, and her songs were covered by many artists.  Libba won a Grammy award in 1985, when she was in her 90’s. Includes a lengthy author’s note with additional biographical information and a list of works cited. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids may not appreciate the “it’s never too late to follow your dreams message”, but it’s an inspiring one for us older readers, and Libba’s unconventional way of playing the guitar will help kids to see there’s more than one path to greatness.  Look on YouTube for a video of Libba playing and singing “Freight Train” to really appreciate her guitar talents.

Cons:  Although the illustrations are lovely, the cover didn’t really grab me, and I had this out of the library a couple times before I finally read it.

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