Say Something! By Peter H. Reynolds

Published by Orchard Books

Image result for say something peter reynolds amazon

Image result for say something peter reynolds

Summary:  “The world needs your voice,” begins this book, then goes on to suggest ways for readers to express themselves.  Sometimes that means talking, like saying “Stop!” if you see someone getting hurt, or telling people why you are angry.  Other times, you can express yourself with painting, planting seeds, or having your own sense of style. It may seem like no one is listening, but if you keep speaking from the heart, you will find someone, and you may be surprised to find the whole world listening.  “Some people find it easier to say something than others,” concludes the author, “but everyone has something to say.” 40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  I love how this book offers ways for introverts to express themselves, as well as those who aren’t shy about speaking up.  As usual, the Peter Reynolds illustrations are adorable and offer a diverse cast of characters.

Cons:  Ironically, the flap of the dust jacket covered up some of the speech bubbles on the front endpaper.

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Good Boy by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Image result for good boy sergio ruzzier amazon

Summary:  It starts out simply enough: “Sit.  Stay. Roll over.” A boy issues commands, and his dog obeys them.  But then the commands get a bit more complex: “Juggle. Cook. Serve.”  Outside, the two get on a bike: “Pedal”. They find a broken-down sailboat: “Fix”.  And finally, they create a rocket ship: “Build” and “Go”. After traveling to another planet, they return home and get ready for bed.  The dog is about to leave the room, when he gets one more command: “Stay”. The last page shows the two snuggled in bed with the caption, “Good boy.”  40 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  A nicely illustrated friendship story with a unique approach and an adorable dog.

Cons:  Does the dog ever get tired of being bossed around?

A Ray of Light: A Book of Science and Wonder by Walter Wick

Published by Scholastic Press

Image result for ray of light walter wick

Image result for ray of light walter wick

Summary:  As he did in his book A Drop of Water, Walter Wick gives a straightforward explanation about different aspects of light, all illustrated with his own photographs.  A variety of topics dealing with light are included, such as the color spectrum, iridescence, light waves, and incandescence. The text and photos present information in easy-to-understand formats, such as showing a ball attached to a rod vibrating at varying speeds in the water to demonstrate differences in wavelengths as a function of vibration speed.  There aren’t any activities or experiments, but several of the pages have information that would easily lend themselves to either one. The final two pages include notes on each topic, with extra details offered “for the benefit of the more advanced or curious readers”. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This visually appealing book will grab the attention of kids interested in STEM.  The clear explanations provide an excellent introduction to the topic, and the photographs lend themselves well to the text.

Cons:  There’s no table of contents, glossary, index, or list of additional resources.

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Let ‘Er Buck: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon C. James

Published by Carolrhoda Books

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Image result for let 'er buck george gordon james

Summary:  Growing up in Oregon in the early 1900’s, George Fletcher was one of the only African-Americans in the town of Pendleton.  He spent a lot of time on the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation, playing with the kids there and learning about horses. His riding skill led him to the rodeo, where he often experienced racism.  Sometimes black cowboys weren’t allowed to compete; other times they weren’t judged fairly against white competitors. This was demonstrated dramatically at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, the biggest rodeo in the Northwest.  George made it to the finals of the Saddle Bronc Championship, where he competed John Spain, a white rancher. It was clear to the audience that Fletcher did the best, but the judges chose Spain as the winner.  Sheriff Tillman Taylor grabbed George’s hat, cut it into pieces, then sold the pieces for $5.00 each, raising more money than the first prize saddle was worth. The audience declared George Fletcher the People’s Champion, parading him around the arena on their shoulders.  Includes a glossary of rodeo terms, additional information about and photos of George Fletcher, John Spain, and Tillman Taylor, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Told with a Texas twang, this action-packed story brings to light a little-known but brave cowboy and his friends and supporters.

Cons:  Because little is known of George Fletcher, especially his early life, some of the details are more speculation than history (as described in the author’s note about the research).

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Borrowing Bunnies by Cynthia Lord, photographs by John Bald, illustrations by Hazel Mitchell

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Image result for borrowing bunnies lord amazon

Image result for borrowing bunnies cynthia lord

Summary:  Cynthia Lord tells of her family’s experience fostering rabbits, focusing on a pair of Netherland Dwarf rabbits named Benjamin and Peggotty.  Coming from a home where they weren’t treated well, the rabbits soon settled into a comfortable life in their new house. The family was just getting ready to think about putting them up for adoption when one morning they discovered four new babies!  They were named Pip, Dodger, Fezzi, and Tiny Tim after characters from Charles Dickens books. Sadly, Pip and Tiny Tim only survived a few days, but Dodger and Fezzi thrived. After eight weeks of fostering, Peggotty, Fezzi, and Dodger were all adopted; Benjamin stayed behind in what had become his new permanent home.  Includes a page of information entitled “Do you want your own rabbit for keeps?” that tells kids all that is involved in having a pet rabbit. 40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  It doesn’t get much cuter than baby bunnies; Cynthia Lord’s photographer husband documented every adorable stage of the bunnies’ stay with them.  The last page is a good checklist to make sure no one gets swept up in bunny fever without being prepared for what it takes to have a rabbit for a pet. This book will pave the way for Lord’s new novel, Because of the Rabbit, due out March 26.

Cons:  The sad fates of Pip and Tiny Tim.

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Jack Montgomery: World War II: Gallantry on the Beaches of Anzio by Michael P. Spradlin

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Summary:  The first entry in a new nonfiction series about Medal of Honor recipients tells the story of Jack Montgomery, a lieutenant with the 45th Infantry Division Thunderbirds,  a division made up almost entirely of Native Americans (Jack was a member of the Cherokee tribe).  They fought valiantly in Sicily, then moved onto the Italian mainland at Anzio in January, 1944.  On February 22, Jack’s platoon found themselves surrounded by three groups of Germans.  Telling his men to cover him, Jack single-handedly attacked each group with grenades and gunfire, killing eleven and taking thirty-two prisoners. That night, in a different battle, Montgomery was injured seriously enough to eventually get sent home.  He received the Medal of Honor from Franklin Roosevelt on January 15, 1945. Includes the medal citation, a glossary, and a bibliography. 112 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Military history buffs will enjoy this brief but detailed account of one man’s experiences in World War II.  The main story is told in about 80 illustrated pages, which, combined with the action-packed subject matter, will appeal to reluctant readers.

Cons:  Many of the illustrations are stock photos, with few of Jack Montgomery and his men.

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How I Became a Spy: A Mystery of WWII London by Deborah Hopkinson

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Bertie has just started volunteering as an air-raid messenger in London.  His first night on the job, he comes across a young woman lying unconscious in the street.  He runs to get help, but when he returns, she’s gone. He also briefly meets an American girl about his age and finds a notebook in the snow.  Eventually, he and the girl, Eleanor, become friends; it turns out the young woman, Violette, used to be Eleanor’s tutor and had given her the notebook for safekeeping.  The two learn about Violette’s work as a spy in France, but her writing turns into code before they can learn why she was back in London. With the help of David, a Jewish friend of Bertie’s whose parents are missing back in Germany, they get to work cracking the code.  Bertie is also harboring a guilty secret about his own family, which gradually is revealed throughout the story. The three kids, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, crack the codes and do their part in helping the cause of the D-Day invasion. Includes lots of information on codes and some back matter that gives further historical information.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  World War II buffs will enjoy this action-packed story about kids who play an important role in the outcome of the war; the codes add a fun hands-on element.

Cons:  I found it hard to believe that Violette would have written about her top-secret life in as great detail as she did, and that the kids were able to break the code.

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Hands Up! By Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evan

Published by Dial Books

Image result for hands up breanna amazon

Image result for hands up breanna amazon

Summary:  The expression “Hands Up!”, sometimes used by Black Lives Matter protesters, is seen through the lens of a young black girl’s experiences.  Starting as a toddler, she lifts her hands to greet the sun or to help her parents dress her. As she grows, she raises her hands to show she has the answer, to reach books on a high shelf, and to dance.  Still later, her hands are up in worship and in basketball…and to hoist the  trophy over her head at the end of the game. The last page shows her as an adult, marching with others, her hands up to show her sign reading “Lift Every Voice.”  Includes notes from the author and illustrator about their inspirations for creating this book. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This empowering picture book transforms an expression that sometimes has connotations of anger or hopelessness into one filled with power and connection.  

Cons:  The librarian who put the adventure books on the top shelf should consider making the collection more accessible.  

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Babysitter from Another Planet by Stephen Savage

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for babysitter from another planet savage

Summary:  The new babysitter takes a little getting used to, but after the two kids adjust to her alien ways, they think she’s the greatest.  The pictures tell the story: while the babysitter performs mundane tasks like helping with tooth-brushing and singing a lullaby, the illustrations show a magical loop of toothpaste traveling to the brushes and the children floating up the stairs to the song.  When the parents go out the next Friday night, the children send their teenage babysitter packing and call up the babysitter from another planet. This time, she bring some friends for a groovy intergalactic party.  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  Readers will be clamoring for their own alien babysitter after seeing the fun these two children have.  Their house looks like it was designed by Mike Brady and furnished by Ward and June Cleaver; parents will enjoy the retro styles.  

Cons:  For some reason, this felt to me like it should have been told with rhyming text.

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Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Don Tate

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

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Image result for carter reads the newspaper

Summary:  Carter Woodson grew up on a poor farm in Virginia, the son of two former slaves.  Although his father couldn’t read or write, he liked Carter to read the newspaper to him.  Later, working as a coal miner, he often met after work with friends for snacks and more newspaper reading.  After three years in the mines, Carter was able to continue his education, and eventually got a PhD in history from Harvard (the second African-American to do so, after W.E.B. Du Bois).  For the rest of his life he championed the cause of black history. In 1926, he started Negro History Week, choosing the second week of February to mark the birthdays of both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  Eventually that became Black History Month, still celebrated today during the month of February.  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes; additional resources; a list of Black leaders pictured in the illustrations; and a timeline of Woodson’s life.  36 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An inspiring story of a little-known man whose influence continues today.  The list of leaders that are pictured in the book would make a good starting point for some research projects.

Cons:  Too bad this book wasn’t released on January 1, instead of February 1, to make it more available during Black History Month this year.

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