Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Published by Lee and Low Books

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Summary:  A young girl talks about the different women in her life–her baker grandmother, doctor mother, artist aunt, and fashionista older sister–and how each one has a distinctive way of wearing her hijab.  Her mother tucks hers inside her white coat, while her aunt wears hers piled up high and pinned with a jewel. At home, each woman removes her head scarf, and the girl comments on the different hairstyles as well.  She usually doesn’t wear a hijab, but enjoys trying one on occasionally. Includes a note at the end entitled “About the Hijab” that gives more information about the role it plays in the lives of Muslim women, and the different options to wear it that women have.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The rhyming text and cheerful illustrations will empower Muslim kids, especially girls, and will answer questions in a straightforward manner that non-Muslim children might have about the hijab.

Cons:  The author talks about how some Muslim women, like herself, only wear the hijab occasionally, such as when visiting a mosque or praying.  It would have been interesting to have a woman like that included in the story.

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The Donkey Egg by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Bear and Hare, the main characters from the authors’ Tops and Bottoms return in this tale.  Bear would rather sleep in his chair than work on his farm, and growls at Fox when he comes around to try to sell him a donkey egg.  Fox convinces Bear that he needs a donkey for a companion, and that the egg (which bears an uncanny resemblance to a watermelon) will hatch one if Bear takes care of it.  Bear is skeptical, but after paying Fox $20, he does his best to make sure the egg is warm and safe. Hare stops by periodically to see how things are going.  Disaster seems to strike when the egg escapes and rolls to the bottom of a hill where it splits open to reveal…watermelon.  When Bear sees the seeds, though, he gets an idea. He and Hare plant and care for a large watermelon patch, and when they ripen, Bear sells them to buy himself a donkey. Includes sidebars with interesting facts about seconds, minutes, hours, and days as the time Bear spends hatching the egg goes by.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will love this funny story and illustrations, and will applaud Bear for his cleverness that allows him to turn the “egg” into a real donkey.

Cons:  Here’s hoping it doesn’t take another 24 years to produce book three of this series.

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Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar and Kathleen Van Cleve

Published by Aladdin

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Summary:  Ona Judge, one of Martha Washington’s favorite slaves, traveled north with the Washingtons when George became President.  In Philadelphia, she saw free blacks for the first time and began to consider what that life would be like. When Martha Washington decided to give Ona to her spoiled granddaughter as a wedding present, Ona escaped.  She traveled on a ship to New Hampshire, where she spent the rest of her life, despite determined efforts on the part of both the Washingtons to capture her and send her back to Mt. Vernon. Although Ona had a difficult life of poverty and hardship, she never looked back.  In an 1845 interview, when she was 72 years old, she was asked if she was sorry to have left the Washingtons. “No,” she replied. “I am free, and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means.” Includes an epilogue describing how some of Ona’s younger relatives, inspired by her escape, were able to obtain their own freedom and make better lives for themselves.  Includes copies of her newspaper interviews and an 11-page bibliography. 272 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This young reader’s edition of the 2017 National Book Award finalist for nonfiction is compelling reading that brings to light some of the less-than-heroic aspects of George and Martha Washington.  This would be interesting to read in conjunction with Kenneth Davis’s In the Shadow of Liberty for a different look at some of the founding fathers.  The story is impeccably researched, given the lack of historical record about Ona Judge.

Cons:  Because of that lack of records, the author frequently speculates about what Judge may have been thinking or feeling, which, while interesting, is not necessarily historically accurate.

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Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Malia stumbles across an old copy of the first Babysitters Club book (Kristy’s Great Idea), she’s inspired to start her own club with her two best friends Dot and Bree.  The three girls want to have an amazing joint 13th birthday party, and they figure the club will get them the money to fund it.  Things don’t turn out quite the way they did in the Ann M. Martin books: the girls have no experience with kids, the children can be bratty, and worst of all, Malia’s overachieving older sister Chelsea decides to start her own child care service, putting the younger girls out of business.  Malia, Dot, and Bree, however, are a force to be reckoned with, and when they combine their talents, they figure out a way to turn the tables on Chelsea. By the end of the story, they’re ready to expand, a topic that will undoubtedly be covered in book 2 of the series. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Dork Diaries will enjoy this somewhat snarky send-up of the original Babysitters Club.  Malia, Bree, and Dot have their struggles, but grow and change enough over the course of the story that readers will be rooting for them by the end.

Cons:  As a diehard fan of the original BSC, I almost gave up on this book about halfway through because of my initial dislike of the three main characters.  I’m glad I stuck it out, though, as they really redeemed themselves by the end. 

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My Heart by Corinna Luyken

Published by Dial Books

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Summary:  “My heart is a window/my heart is a slide./My heart can be closed/or open up wide.”  This extended metaphor shows how a heart can grow or shrink, break or mend. The gray, black, and yellow illustrations show the same girl as she experiences ups and downs of the heart.  Readers are empowered by the final few pages to see that they have some control over the unpredictabilities of the heart: “My heart is a shadow,/a light, and a guide./Closed or open…/I get to decide.”  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  From the creator of The Book of Mistakes comes this beautiful meditation on the heart.  Kids and adults will want to savor it slowly, enjoying the illustrations and discussing the text.

Cons:  It’s probably not a book kids will gravitate toward without some adult assistance.

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The Lost Book by Margarita Surnaite

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books

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Summary:  Henry is the only bunny in Rabbit Town who doesn’t like to read, preferring to play games and have real-life adventures instead.  When he finds a lost book one day, he goes looking for the owner, leaving the comforts of Rabbit Town to venture into the human realm.  Eyes glued to their electronic devices, the humans don’t see him until he finally catches the eye of a little girl on a train. The two become friends and spend the rest of the afternoon together, supervised by her oblivious phone-addicted father.  At the end of the day, Henry gives the girl the book. The final pages show Henry sharing his adventures with his siblings and the girl reading the book to her friends…which looks to be identical to the book you have just read.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Don’t let the seriously cute Henry in his hoodie distract you from the messages that books are good and phones are distracting.  There’s also a nice little mind-blowing touch when the lost book turns out to be The Lost Book.

Cons:  I was hoping Henry was going to embrace books and reading by the end of the story, but he didn’t, although he does tell a bedtime story “for the first time”.

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New Kid by Jerry Craft

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Jordan Banks’ true love is art, and he’d love to be starting seventh grade at an art school, but his parents have a different idea.  They’ve enrolled him in Riverdale Academy Day School, an exclusive, mostly white private school where Jordan is one of the few students of color.  The story follows him from his first day to his last, as he tries to strike a balance between his new friends at Riverdale and old friends from his Washington Heights neighborhood.  Jordan is a smart and observant kid, and the story reflects his observations about the assumptions made about him and other African American and Latinx kids. He also has some of his own beliefs challenged about some of his white classmates.  By the end of the year, he’s feeling more comfortable at school, has kept his connections back home, and is ready for another year at Riverdale, the story of which we can hope will be told in a sequel. 256 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Jerry Craft tackles racism head-on, but with a light enough touch to make an entertaining and engaging story with a likable protagonist. I feel confident in predicting that this will fly off whatever library shelves it is placed on.  Put it in the hands of fans of realistic graphic novel authors like Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Jennifer Holm.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, which somehow is always more difficult for me in a graphic novel.  

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Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by Katy Wu

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

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Summary:  Most people know Hedy Lamarr as a film star, but she was also a dedicated inventor who spent her spare time coming up with ideas like a glow-in-the-dark dog collar and a flavor cube to turn plain water into soda.  Her biggest invention, working with composer George Antheil, was the “frequency hopping” guidance system, designed to prevent the enemy from jamming radio signals on torpedos. She and Antheil received a patent for their work in 1942, but unfortunately the system was never implemented by the Navy during the war.  Forty years later, the idea was declassified, and is used today to help keep cell phone calls and texts private. The two inventors never received recognition or money for their creation, but in 1997, they received the Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As Hedy commented, “It’s about time.” Includes a timeline, additional information about frequency hopping, a bibliography, a filmography of Lamarr’s works, and a reading list about other women in STEM.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Who knew Hedy Lamarr was a talented scientist and inventor as well as an actress?  This engaging biography includes information on her both her careers; the lively illustrations incorporate relevant quotes from Lamarr.  I was hoping to include a review of another book on this same topic, Hedy and Her Amazing Invention by Jan Wahl, published the same week, but no one in my library network has gotten a copy of this one.

Cons:  Some of the technical details may be a bit much for younger readers.

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Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Growing up in England, Leonora Carrington never conformed to the expectations for a proper young lady.  Instead, she pursued art, creating fantastic pictures inspired by Irish legends her grandmother told her.  As an adult, she discovered surrealism, and became part of a group of artists in France. When World War II started, she fled to Mexico, where she eventually married and had children, but continued to paint.  She spent the rest of her life in Mexico, creating surreal paintings and sculptures until her death at the age of 94. Includes notes from both the author and the illustrator and a short bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting biography of an artist who is probably unknown to most kids.  The illustrations, inspired by Leonora Carrington’s art, will spark young readers’ imaginations.

Cons:  None of Carrington’s actual artwork is included anywhere in the book.

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Straw Into Gold: Fairy Tales Re-Spun by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Sarah Gibb

Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books

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Summary:  Hilary McKay has created new stories based on ten well-known fairy tales, including Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, and more.  Each story has at least one twist; for instance, Rapunzel’s tale is told from the point of view of her twin son and daughter and Hansel and Gretel tell what happened to them in essays for their new teacher on “What I Did In the Holidays”.  Some of the mysteries readers may have wondered about are solved, like what is up with Rumpelstiltskin and that strange king who demands that his bride be able to spin straw into gold–then never asks her to do it again after they’re married (I personally have wondered a lot about Rumpelstiltskin over the years).  The stories are not connected to each other, and can be read on their own or as a collection. Includes an author’s introduction and a brief bibliography. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  These humorous and interesting tales would work well with folktale units, and might inspire kids to try their own.

Cons:  Full disclosure: I only read about half the stories in the collection.

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