Rise of the Dragons by Angie Sage

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Sirin is dealing with the loss of her mother in a hardscrabble British city.  Joss and Allie are working off their 19-year indentured servitude after their parents were killed by Raptors (rogue dragons).  The cruel Lennix family is plotting a way to move to the Lost Lands where they can find more humans to keep their Raptors happy and well-fed.  When a baby silver dragon drops out of the sky, and Joss finds it, everything begins to change for all of the humans. Joss and the dragon, Lysander, bond with each other, neither one knowing that the rare silver dragons are the only ones who can travel to the Lost Lands.  The Lennix family learns of Lysander’s existence, and will stop at nothing to steal him away. All the stories converge at the end, which provides the perfect opening for the inevitable sequel in this new Scholastic series. Includes cards and directions for accessing an online game.  272 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Before reading this dragon fantasy, I had read, um, zero dragon fantasies, so I’m no expert.  But after forcing myself to crack it open and read the first chapter, I found the story to be very engaging, with plenty of action and a big battle scene at the end.  The connection between our world and the dragons’ world is sure to intrigue readers.

Cons:  What’s next for me, binge-watching Game of Thrones?

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Spy Runner by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Image result for spy runner eugene yelchin

Summary:  Jake McCauley is a patriotic American at the height of the Cold War, wanting nothing so much as to have his father back with the family.  His dad was MIA in World War II, and all Jake has is a blurry photo of him holding Jake as a baby. When his mother unexpectedly rents out his dad’s old study to a Russian named Mr. Shubin, Jake is sure he’s a spy, and is determined to reveal his true identity using techniques from his favorite comic, Spy Runner.  The kids at school hear there’s a Russian in his house, though, and Jake gets labeled a Communist and is ostracized by his former friends.  A man with gold teeth lurking outside his house at night, a black Buick following him all over town, and Shubin’s odd behavior turn Jake’s life upside down, as he becomes increasingly determined to find his father, unmask Shubin, and prove he is a loyal American once and for all.  352 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Middle grade novel or Cold War film noir?  Eugene Yelchin has carved out a unique niche with this suspenseful story.  The narrator (Jake) seems clueless and unreliable at the beginning, ridiculously suspicious of everyone, but a dozen plot twists later, his paranoia starts to seem well-founded.  Yelchin’s blurry black and white photos of 1950’s suburbia add appropriately bizarre and sinster touches to this fast-paced thriller. A Newbery contender?

Cons:  It’s a pretty intense plot, with Jake almost getting murdered more than once by an potpourri of menacing characters.

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Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Carl is a busy earthworm, going about his wormy activities of eating, digesting, and pooping, when a field mouse asks him, “Why do you do that?”  The question stops Carl cold, and he goes off in search of an answer. He asks different animals, but no one can help him. In the meantime, the soil is getting hard and barren.  When the other animals start to leave in search of new homes, Carl realizes he has a job to do. He gets back to work, and soon the soil is fluffy once again, and the land has become habitable for animals to return.  Includes a brief author’s note about the important job of each animal, and ends with a question for the reader, “How do you help the earth?”  48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Carl is a cute, loveable protagonist–and it’s not often I say that about an annelid–who has important messages for young readers about taking care of the earth and being the best you can at what you do.

Cons:  A list of books and websites for further reading would have been a nice addition.

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Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for motor mouse rylant amazon

Summary:  The Mr. Putter and Tabby team has created a new early chapter book about Motor Mouse, an adventurous mouse who drives a delivery car for a living.  In the first story, he and his friend Telly are disappointed when the cake store where they usually celebrate Fridays is closed. A hedgehog guides them to a pie store, and they broaden their culinary horizons.  Next, Motor Mouse hires a taxi to take him down Memory Lane, where he reminisces about old friends and makes a new one. Finally, Motor Mouse and his brother Valentino go to the movies together and have to figure out the best way to share their popcorn.  When they do, they celebrate by going out for ice cream. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  These cozy, mildly humorous stories are perfect for beginning readers who have already made friends with some of Rylant’s other creations like the aforementioned Mr. Putter and Tabby, Poppleton, and Henry and Mudge.  Plus, they’ll get to read about a lot of good food.

Cons:  While this seems to be targeting the easy reader audience, it’s in the larger picture book format, which will make it a bit tricky to shelve in many libraries.

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I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste and Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Published by Millbrook Press

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Summary:  Growing up in Cameroon, Tantoh was sometimes laughed at for asking too many questions in school.  He loved nature, especially learning how to grow plants. His classmates gave him the nickname Farmer, meant to be an insult, but Tantoh embraced the title.  He purposely failed an exam that could have led to a well-paying office job so he could spend all his time outside growing crops. After studying agriculture in Cameroon and the U.S., Tantoh helped transform Cameroon by focusing on clean water and community gardens.  He founded the organization Save Your Future Association to build community, protect the environment, and promote education.  Includes an authors’ note with additional information about Farmer Tantoh, and photos and African proverbs on both the front and back endpapers.  32 pages; ages 7-11.

Pros:  As the authors write about Tantoh in their note: “His story is a reminder of many things–being true to your passion, using resources wisely, and never forgetting your roots.”  It’s an inspirational tale about one person making a big difference for many others.

Cons:  This is not likely to be a book most kids will pick up without some adult guidance.

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Recipe for Disaster (Didi Dodo Future Spy, book 1) by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Jared Chapman

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Cookie baker Koko Dodo (a character from Angleberger’s Inspector Flytrap series) has been robbed! His Super Secret Fudge Sauce has been stolen just hours before the big cookie contest that he always wins.  Enter Didi Dodo, a high-energy dodo on roller skates who calls herself a future spy.  She’s sure she can solve the case, and whisks Koko off on a whirlwind adventure, trying one scheme after another to track down the culprit, and leaving a path of destruction as they go.  The robber is tracked down, the cookies are baked, and Koko gets another trophy.  On the last page, Didi whips out a card reading “Dodo and Dodo, Future Spies,” ensuring at least one more book, which is scheduled for release in September. 112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Kids will love the manic humor and energy of this new series by the much-loved Tom Angleberger.

Cons:  I liked the illustrations, but why didn’t Tom’s wife Cece Bell do them like she did for Inspector Flytrap?  Maybe she’s working on a sequel to El Deafo…we can hope.

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I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

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Seashells: More Than a Home by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  How is a shell like an anchor?  A crowbar? A butterfly? The team who brought you Feathers: Not Just for Flying explains how shells serve different purposes for the animals who live inside them.  The pages are designed like pages from a scrapbook, with a paragraph of text accompanied by pictures that look like photographs or sketchbook drawings.  Two pages at the end give more information about five different kinds of shells. Also includes notes from the author and the illustrator, as well as resources for further research.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This beautiful science book offers a good introduction to a lot of different types of shells with detailed illustrations that will help kids begin to learn how to identify them.

Cons:  Although I thought Feathers: Not Just for Flying was an equally attractive book, I’ve had a hard time generating any interest in it with kids.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Nikki On the Line by Barbara Carroll Roberts

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Nikki dreams of playing high school basketball, and making the elite eighth grade team Action is an important step toward that goal.  Moving to the next level proves difficult for her, though, since she’s one of the shortest girls on the team and no longer playing point guard. When she overhears her teammate’s father calling her “a black hole on the basketball court”, she loses her confidence, and with it, her joy in playing the game.  A fight with her best friend, a new boy in her life, and some discoveries about her absent father all lead her to a new determination to re-create herself on and off the court. Her coach’s advice, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do” finally inspires her to focus on her strengths on the court that allow her to help her team to victory.  336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  In her debut novel, Barbara Carroll Roberts has created a character readers will root for from beginning to end.  There’s plenty of sports action, too, and several interesting subplots.

Cons:  Nikki’s mom finally came through in the end, but for much of the story she seemed clueless at best and at worst, unsupportive of her daughter’s passion.  And the teammate’s dad who made the black hole comment was awful with nothing to make him the least bit sympathetic.

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The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Published by Versify

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Summary:  “This is for the unforgettable/The swift and sweet ones/who hurdled history/and opened a world of possibility.”  Kwame Alexander’s poem is an ode to African Americans, both the famous and the unknown ones who played important roles in America’s history.  Kadir Nelson’s oil paintings on white backgrounds portray the subjects; a list at the end identifies them and gives more information about each one. Alexander has also written an afterword to tell how he came to write this poem in 2008, the year his second daughter was born and Barack Obama became president.  He concludes in the final line of the poem, “This is for the undefeated./This is for you./And you./And you./This is for us.” 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The poem is extremely moving, as well as being an excellent introduction to a chunk of African-American history.  I hope Kadir Nelson’s amazing paintings will be recognized with some kind of an award.

Cons:  In the group pictures, each person is identified, but it’s just a list, so it’s difficult to tell who is who in the painting.

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