Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero, illustrated by Bre Indigo

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for meg jo beth amy graphic novel

Summary:  If the names Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are familiar to you, you will recognize this as a modern-day retelling of the just-turned-150 book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  In this version, the Marches are a blended family, with a black father of Meg, a white mother of Jo, and biracial daughters Beth and Amy who share both parents.  In the opening scenes, the four girls are trying to survive a Christmas without presents while their military father is overseas. Mom (you may know her as Marmee) helps them get some perspective by serving meals in a soup kitchen; on the way home, they meet their wealthy neighbor and his grandson Laurie. There are some plot modifications from the original (a few spoiler alerts): Jo comes out as gay; Beth gets leukemia and almost dies (whew!); Meg breaks up with Brooks and decides to pursue a career as a lawyer.  The theme of family love is still strong, though, and sustains all four girls as they make their way through a tumultuous year.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As a big fan of the original novel, I enjoyed seeing how Terciero stayed true to the essence of the story while realistically updating just about everything.  Even those who haven’t read Alcott’s work will enjoy the story and the touching relationship among all the family members.

Cons:  Meg and Jo’s letters to their father at the beginning of the story, designed to get the reader up to speed on the family’s history, came across as awkward and sounding like their father had lost his memory or something.

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Ten Rules of the Birthday Wish by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

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Image result for ten rules of the birthday wish lichtenheld

Summary:  Turns out, there are ten rules for making a wish on your birthday.  First of all, it has to be your birthday.  Or at least close to your birthday.  (Unless you’re an animal with a lifespan of a month or less, and then you should celebrate immediately).  There should be a party, food, lights, and a song. (Exceptions are made on all these rules for certain kinds of animals). You should take a deep breath, make a wish, and blow out the candles.  But keep your wish a secret…you can dream about it that night after the party is over and you’re in your bed. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  From the team that brought you Stick and Stone comes this fun and funny book that celebrates the joy of being the birthday boy or girl.  This would be good to pair with last year’s When’s My Birthday?

Cons:  I missed rule #11: eat a large slice of birthday cake.

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Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Elodee’s family is moving from Juniper to Eventown, and not a moment too soon.  Elodee is tired of the searching, pitying looks people give her and her twin sister Naomi.  Naomi tends to get quieter and try to fit in, while Elodee gets angry and sometimes lashes out.  In Eventown, though, everything is simple and easy. The sun is always shining, everything Elodee cooks turns out perfectly, and, best of all, Mom and Dad seem happy and relaxed again.  As part of their orientation, the girls have a session at the Welcoming Center, where they have to tell six stories about their happiest and saddest memories. After the memories have been shared, they go away forever.  Elodee’s storytelling gets interrupted, though, and the memories she hangs onto seem to change the whole town. The townspeople aren’t happy with those changes, and soon Elodee’s family is the target of whispers and stares once again.  Elodee and her new friend Veena become determined to find out what is going on in Eventown, and what it is doing to them and their families. 336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A beautifully written, moving story about the nature of grief, memory, and storytelling.  Everyone in Eventown is burying their sadnesses and living a simple, happy life, but at what cost?  Did a Kleenex or two come into play for me as I read the final chapters of this book? Maybe….

Cons:  The pace is a bit slow, and at times Eventown felt a little too much like one big extended metaphor, which may not grab the average middle grade reader.

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The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  The Good Egg likes to help others and follow the rules.  The other eggs in his carton…not so much. As they stay up late, eat sugary cereal, and throw tantrums, the Good Egg tries to keep the peace and get everyone to behave.  Finally, the stress is too much, and he begins to crack. His doctor tells him the cracks are from all the pressure he is putting on himself. The Good Egg decides to take a little me time, and leaves the carton for an extended vacation.  Some R & R fixes those cracks, and he returns to the carton with new tools for taking care of himself and not worrying so much. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A little bibliotherapy from the team who brought you The Bad Seed.  Kids will enjoy the antics of the “bad” eggs, and hopefully learn a few lessons about the dangers of perfectionism.

Cons:  It seemed a bit preachier and not quite as much fun as The Bad Seed.  Guess it’s more fun to root for the bad guy than the good guy.

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The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  A caterpillar notices that others are climbing a tree; they tell him they are going to metamorphosize.  He’s never heard of this, but doesn’t want to get left behind. After a few attempts, he manages to wrap himself in a chrysalis, but it’s boring waiting to become a butterfly!  Unable to make it the full two weeks, he emerges after a day, only to discover he hasn’t grown wings. Back he goes, and after 14 days of giving himself pep talks, he manages to get through the wait and turn into a butterfly.  He’s sure he’s transformed in more ways than one, and plans to be way more patient. The last page shows him joining a butterfly migration, and, of course, asking, “Are we there yet?!” 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Great goofy fun that will be enjoyed by children of all ages.  The whole story is told through cartoon bubble dialogue, and the comic-style illustrations will provide lots of laughs.

Cons:  The scientific content is pretty light.

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Titanosaur: Discovering the World’s Largest Dinosaur by Dr. Jose Luis Carballido and Dr. Diego Pol, illustrated by Florencia Gigena

Published by Scholastic Press

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Image result for titanosaur gigena

Summary:  When an Argentinian gaucho told museum staff that he had found a dinosaur bone much larger than the one they had on display, paleontologists Jose Luis Carballido and Diego Pol wanted to investigate.  They visited the ranch and found out the gaucho was right–he had discovered a dinosaur bone bigger than any previously discovered. The two paleontologists assembled a team and began excavating the fossils.  They eventually were able to estimate the size of the dinosaur, which would have weighed in at seventy tons. Over 100 bones were found, belonging to several dinosaurs.  The team had to work around the clock to uncover them all before cold weather set in, which could damage the fossils. When the titanosaur’s skeleton was finally assembled, it was 122 feet long and almost 26.5 feet tall, making it the largest ever found…for now.  40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Dinosaur enthusiasts will be blown away by this gigantic dinosaur, and the work it took to dig up and assemble.  The illustrations and photographs add a lot of information, and make a paleontology career look like a very fun adventure.

Cons:  Some back matter would have added a lot; for instance, I couldn’t find any dates for when the expedition took place or the name of the museum where the skeleton is now on display.

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Lety Out Loud by Angela Cervantes

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Lety is excited to be part of a summer camp program at Furry Friends Animal Shelter, but also apprehensive about making new friends.  Since moving from Mexico almost three years ago, she’s always been in the ELL class, and has tended to hang out with other ELL kids.  On the first day, she has a run-in with Hunter, a boy who wants the same job as her her: shelter scribe, the volunteer who writes up descriptions of the animals.  Hunter brags about his reading and writing skills, and Lety is intimidated. Her friend Kennedy stands up to him, though, and pretty soon they’ve set up a contest to see whose write-ups will lead to the most animal adoptions.  As the weeks go on, Lety learns that there’s a reason Hunter sometimes acts mean. She also falls in love with a little black and white dog named Spike and hopes that doing a good job at the shelter will convince her parents to adopt him.  It’s an eventful summer for Lety that leads her to a greater confidence and a happy ending for her, Spike, and Hunter. 208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Who doesn’t like a good dog story?  Lety’s struggles with English will be relatable to other ELL kids and possibly eye-opening for others.  Readers will also connect with her friendship issues with Hunter. This takes place in the same shelter as Gaby, Lost and Found, and Gaby is mentioned, although she no longer volunteers there.

Cons:  As a former Girl Scout leader whose charges were eager to volunteer in an animal shelter, I feel pretty confident saying that shelters never take volunteers under the age of 16.  Readers may be disappointed to learn this after ready about Lety’s summer camp experience.

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Another by Christian Robinson

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Image result for another christian robinson amazon

Summary:  It’s bedtime for a girl and her cat as this wordless picture book opens; the cat sees a portal open in her wall, and a nearly-identical cat walks through and grabs a red toy mouse from the floor.  The girl wakes up, and the two follow the new cat out through the hole. They find themselves in a new world where up is down and down is up.  Other portals lead to new places where dozens of other children are playing. Finally, the girl and cat meet up with their doubles (except for a few details that are blue instead of red).  The blue-collared cat tosses the red mouse to the red-collared cat, and he and the girl return to their bedroom. Everything seems to be just as it was at the beginning of the story…except that now there is a blue toy mouse on the floor.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This is a real feast for the imagination…so much to look at it in the illustrations and a lot to speculate on in the crazy mixed-up world that Christian Robinson has beautifully created.

Cons:  I was pretty confused my first time through this book.

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The Frog Book by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Similar in format to Steve Jenkins’ The Beetle Book, this book provides information on frogs’ diets, habitats, defenses, and reproduction.  There’s a page about extreme frogs (smallest, largest, most poisonous, etc.), and another on the endangered status of frogs around the world.  You can also learn the differences between a frog and a toad and a little bit about other amphibians. The last two pages have a table showing all the frogs in the book, with their body lengths, diets, and where in the world they can be found.  Includes lists of books and websites for further information. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  There’s a wealth of information that would come in handy for any kind of frog research or report-writing.  The format is inviting, with beautiful cut paper illustrations, and small sections of text with the kinds of interesting facts kids love.

Cons:  I wasn’t a huge fan of the tiny font.  Also, a table of contents or list of the sections in the book would have been helpful.

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To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Published by Dial Books

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Summary:  Avery and Bett are horrified to learn that their fathers have fallen in love and are sending them to camp to get to know each other better.  Avery is a worrier, afraid of deep water, germs, and a bunch of other things; Bett is fearless, an animal lover who is always on the lookout for her next adventure.  Avery travels from New York, and Bett from California, to reluctantly attend camp in Michigan while their fathers take a trip to China. Slowly, the girls start talking to each other, and by the end of the summer are excited to become sisters–but unfortunately, their fathers have decided to end their relationship.  The story covers a year and a half that includes two summer camp experiences and ends with the two families coming together in an unexpected way. 304 pages; grades 5-7.

Pros:  Middle schoolers will love this Parent-Trap-esque story told entirely in emails and letters.  There are many quirky, interesting characters, including the girls, their dads, a free-spirited biological mother, and an unforgettable grandmother.

Cons:  Based on the authors, I was hoping to love this book a little more than I did.  It may have been the email format, but I felt like I never got to know the girls as well as I would have liked to, and the roller coaster ride of a plot went on a little too long.

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