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

Published by little bee books

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Image result for magic ramen urbanowicz

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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Image result for side by side chris raschka

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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Image result for rocket to the moon don brown

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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Image result for otto and pio amazon

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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Lubna and Pebble by Wendy Meddour, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Published by Dial Books

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Image result for lubna and pebble

Summary:  When Lubna arrives by boat with her father on a strange beach, she finds a pebble.  The next morning, she and her father have arrived at a city of tents. They stay there for awhile, and Lubna’s best friend becomes Pebble.  She draws a face on it, and tells it about her home, her brothers, and the war. When Amir arrives, he and Lubna become friends. One day, Lubna’s father tells her he’s found them a new home.  It’s time for Lubna to leave, and after much consideration, she gives Pebble to Amir. The final pages show Lubna leaving on a boat, whispering goodbye to Pebble while Amir whispers hello. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  While this describes the experience of refugees, any child will be able to connect to the story’s ideas of friendship, having an imaginary friend, and missing home.  The illustrations are beautiful and capture the desolate surroundings from a child’s imaginative viewpoint.

Cons:  I can’t decide if an author’s note about refugees would have been a useful addition, or if it’s better to let this story be more universal.

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Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

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Summary:  “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music–a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.”  And that music inspired people to form an orchestra. And individuals worked hard to get into the orchestra.  When a man with a ticket to hear the orchestra got sick, his wife invited their niece to go to the concert instead.  That performance got her so excited about music that she grew up to be a conductor, and eventually, a composer. She named her first symphony “The Cold”, and the last page shows the music wrapping around another child…”And that night, someone else was changed.  That is how it happens.” 40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A cute story with an interesting message about cause and effect and how we all make a difference in the lives of others.  I loved debut illustrator Amber Ren’s pictures, and hope she will be illustrating more picture books in the near future.

Cons:  Willems’ legion of fans may be disappointed in this story, which is quite different from his usual wildly goofy fare.

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Right As Rain by Lindsey Stoddard

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Rain and her parents have just moved from Vermont to New York City, partly because of her mother’s new job and partly to escape the memories of her older brother’s death almost a year before.  Rain has heard that three out of four couples divorce following the death of a child, and it seems like her parents may be on their way to becoming part of this statistic. She escapes from her difficult home life through running.  Her middle school track team gives her some new friends, as does Ms. Dacie’s house, a place where kids drop in after school to bake cookies and get help with their homework. As the story unfolds, readers get glimpses of the night Guthrie died and Rain’s role in helping him sneak out that night.  She learns to express her feelings through poetry, and a poetry slam in her English class allows her to open up to her new friends about what is going on with her. Rain and her parents survive the one-year anniversary of Guthrie’s death, and, although there are still plenty of uncertainties in her life, she knows she has a team of people supporting her as she moves forward.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Lindsey Stoddard’s second novel is every bit as moving as last year’s Just Like Jackie, and Rain is another strong character who has to learn that she can’t always go it alone.  Keep the Kleenexes close at hand when you get to the poetry slam chapter.

Cons:  I think reading this right after finishing Eventown was too much; I had to force myself to keep going through the first several chapters as the family is dealing with their grief over Guthrie’s death.

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