Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuko Ando by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz

Published by little bee books

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Summary:  Walking around postwar Japan in the late 1940’s, Momofuko Ando was saddened to see hungry people waiting in long lines to get a bowl of soup with noodles…if they were lucky enough to have money and not to be eating grass and bark or scrounging through the trash.  He believed that peace was only possible if people had enough to eat, and set out to make a cheap, easy, and nutritious food. After many, many failed attempts, he learned to make noodles in chicken soup that could be cooked by adding boiling water. He and his family started a business making and selling ramen, a passion he continued to work on into his 90’s.  Includes an afterword with more information about Ando and the Nissin Foods company. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  This beautifully illustrated picture book demonstrates Momofuko Ando’s perseverance through many failed attempts to create a food that has helped millions in all kinds of conditions throughout the world.  

Cons:  I’ve never actually eaten ramen.

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Side by Side: A Celebration of Dads by Chris Raschka

Published by Phaidon Press

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Summary:  A diverse group of kids and their dads take turns leading and following each other.  For instance, the first spread shows Dad as a horse and his daughter as the rider; in the next one, she is the queen and he is the jester.  In the next, a boy and his father are crane and cargo, followed by engine and railcar. The book concludes with “Today and tomorrow. Side by side.”  Front endpapers show the hats for each character, and back ones show their shoes, which will make for some fun matching games. 40 pages; ages 2-7.

Pros:  Chris Raschka, who lists being a dad as his greatest achievement, surpassing even his three Caldecotts, has created a perfect gift for Father’s Day, or any occasion that celebrates dads.  This could also be a good prompt for writing and drawing about one’s own father.C

Cons:  You try coming up with a con for a book celebrating fathers by a man who has won two Caldecott medals and a Caldecott honor.

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A Green Place to Be: The Creation of Central Park by Ashley Benham Yazdani

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  The opening spread shows a busy day in Central Park; turn the page to see the swampy, rocky landscape of the early 19th century.  How did this transformation take place? Architect Calvert Vaux and park superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted teamed up to create the winning entry in New York City’s contest to design a new park.  Their scale-model drawing was ten feet long and so detailed that they almost missed the deadline.  The first part of the park, the lake, opened in 1858. From there, they moved on to paths, bridges, and a children’s area.  Olmstead worked carefully to select and plant trees, keeping in mind what they would look like for the next century. After their success creating Central Park, Vaux and Olmsted moved on to design many more green spaces throughout America. Includes additional information about these two men; questions and answers that provide more tidbits about the park; an author’s note, and a bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Ashley Benham Yazdani’s debut picture book is packed with fascinating information and beautifully illustrated with detailed ink and watercolor pictures.

Cons:  I was wishing for a list of the parks Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted created.

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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Summary:  Vijji tells Rukku the story of their lives: how Vijji had always taken care of the developmentally disabled Rukku even though Rukku was the older sister.  How Vijji decided they had to run away the night their father beat them instead of their mother. How they found a new home under a bridge with two boys, Muthi and Arul, who showed them how to make money ragpicking and became like family to them.  Although the four lived in miserable poverty, they managed to have good times together until Rukku and Muthi got sick from malnutrition, bad water, and mosquito-borne disease. A chance encounter with a woman running a home for street children gave Vijji opportunities she never dreamed she would have had, and, despite tragedy, she learns to move ahead with hope.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about her personal experiences with homeless children in India. 208 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I’m guessing this beautifully-written story will be considered for some award next January.  Readers will learn about the plight of countless children in India while getting to know some unforgettable characters.

Cons (spoiler alert):  With Eventown and Right As Rain, this makes the third book I’ve read in the span of a few weeks that deals with a child grieving the loss of a sibling. I am ready for something a bit lighter.

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Rocket to the Moon by Don Brown

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Rodman Law, an early 20th-century stuntman, narrates the story of America’s space exploration.  Starting with a quick history of rockets, the narrative goes into more details with Werner von Braun, Robert Goddard, and the dawn of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race.  About half of the book is devoted to the Apollo missions, with the bulk of that describing Apollo 11 and the historic moonwalk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It ends with Apollo 17, the final mission to reach the moon.  Includes a timeline, notes, and a lengthy bibliography. 136 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Don’t be fooled by the graphic novel format, and Rodman Law’s light tone–there is lots of information here, and the extensive back matter provides plenty of additional research avenues.

Cons:  While this is billed as book 1 of a series called Big Ideas That Changed the World, I couldn’t find any information on any more upcoming books.

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Otto and Pio by Marianne Dubuc

Published by Princeton Architectural Press

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Summary:  Otto the squirrel isn’t particularly interested in the spiky green ball that has landed on a branch outside his front door until it breaks open, and a fuzzy white creature emerges.  After leaving the creature outside for awhile, Otto reluctantly brings him inside for the night. Over the next several days, the squirrel hunts around his neighborhood for the creature’s mother, while Pio grows substantially larger every night.  While Otto worries about what to do with this gigantic creature who is taking over his house, Pio busies himself cooking and cleaning for Otto. Finally, Otto leaves home, feeling like he no longer can share space with such a large roommate. As he searches for a new place, an eagle swoops down, ready to grab the squirrel in its talons.  It’s Pio to the rescue as the monster arrives in the nick of time. Otto finally realizes that Pio has become part of his family, and the two head back home hand in hand. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A sweet story of friendship and an unconventional family, endearingly illustrated with ink and watercolors.

Cons:  The 64-page length may not lend itself to all preschool attention spans.

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Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  On page 1, Riley has just entered a treatment program for her anorexia, and has started a journal to record her experiences.  During the next 53 days, she slowly and painfully looks at what got her there: her perfectionism; a gymnast sister with a “perfect” body; parents who don’t always listen or try to understand the implications of their actions.  Riley makes a new friend, reconciles with her old friends who have been hurt by her eating disorder, and rediscovers her passion for drawing and art. She describes therapy sessions and some of the drama with the other girls in the program.  By day 53, she’s ready to go home again, fearful of a relapse, but hopeful that she has acquired the tools to stand up for herself and do what’s best to keep herself healthy. 272 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Anyone who has ever had to deal with an inner critic or feeling not good enough will relate to Riley’s struggles as learns how to be kind to herself and tell people around her how she is feeling and what she needs.  Jen Petro-Roy has also written a nonfiction book (published simultaneously with this one) called You Are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery.

Cons:  I was extremely frustrated by Riley’s parents who seemed unwilling to even look at any behaviors that might have led to their daughter’s eating disorder.

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