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.

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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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Butterflies in Room 6 by Caroline Arnold

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  Mrs. Best’s kindergarten class, featured in Hatching Chicks in Room 6, is back, this time hatching butterflies.  The kids are shown observing eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises, and finally, full-grown painted lady butterflies.  They do more than observe, feeding the caterpillars, helping to move them to the cup where they’ll build their chrysalises, and getting to (gently) hold butterflies before releasing them.  Photos and text provide plenty of information about each step in the process. The camera captures kids’ expressions from concentrated attention to wonder to joy on the last page as their butterflies fly away.  Includes a page of questions; vocabulary; and lists of websites and books for more information. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I’d like to spend a few days hanging out in Mrs. Best’s room.  The kids look like they’re having a ball, and learning about science in the process.  There’s plenty of information about the butterfly’s life cycle; integrating it with a real class makes it accessible to young kids.

Cons:  You just know some kid is going to take the fact that larva poop is called frass and run with it.

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Her Fearless Run by Kim Chaffee, illustrated by Ellen Rooney

Published by Page Street Kids

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Summary:  Growing up in the 1950’s, Kathrine Switzer loved to run at a time when girls weren’t encouraged to pursue athletics.  At Lynchburg College, she was recruited for the men’s track team. When she transferred to Syracuse University, she was no longer allowed to compete, but she still worked out with the men.  Their coach had run the Boston Marathon many times, and Kathrine decided she wanted to try it. Registering as “K. V. Switzer”, she became the first officially registered woman to complete the race (Bobbi Gibb entered as a “bandit”, running the Boston Marathon in 1966).  When asked by reporters why she had done it, she replied simply, “I like to run. Women deserve to run too.” Includes an author’s note, a note about women and the Boston Marathon, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  It’s a compelling sports story, and Kathrine comes across as down-to-earth and someone who young readers will relate to.  

Cons:  Bobbi Gibb is mentioned in the women and the Boston Marathon note as someone who completed the marathon “after hiding in the bushes and slipping into the race”, which discounts her achievement as somewhat sneaky.  This is misleading…read a more complete account of her story in last year’s Girl Running.

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Daring Dozen: The Twelve Who Walked on the Moon by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Alan Marks, with an afterword by Alan Bean, fourth man on the moon

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  Everyone knows the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon, but maybe not Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, the last men to do so.  In between were eight more who traveled to the moon between 1969 and 1972. This book has a few pages about each of the Apollo missions, 8 through 17, the astronauts who traveled on them, and what they accomplished on each trip.  The back matter includes an afterword by astronaut Alan Bean; a timeline to the moon from 1958-1972; additional information about the space vehicles used; and a page on each mission with photos, facts, and a summary paragraph.  48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A fascinating look at the men who were well-known in their time, but tend to be forgotten today.  The author reminds readers of the courage it took, and the danger that accompanied all the missions.  She ends the timeline with the present, stating that lunar missions are currently being planned, and that kids may some day walk on the moon.

Cons:  There’s not much background given on the Apollo missions; page 1 begins with Apollo 11’s lunar module approaching the moon.

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Poetree by Shauna LaVoy Reynolds, illustrated by Shahrzad Maydani

Published by Dial Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Sylvia celebrates spring by writing a poem, she decides to share it with a birch tree in the park, tying it around the trunk.  The next day, there’s a new poem tied to the tree, and Sylvia can’t believe it–the tree has written back! She thinks about the tree during school, which helps distract her from Walt, the most annoying boy in her class.  The class studies haiku, and Sylvia shares her creation with the tree on the way home. Once again, her efforts are reciprocated the next day. A few days later, on a visit to the tree, who should appear but Walt, who actually starts acting nice.  It turns out it is Walt, not the tree, who is writing the poems. He writes one on the spot to commemorate the beginning of their friendship: “If you want to share a poem with me/Give it to the tall birch tree/Or if you need a friend for writing/Playing with, or sit beside-ing/I’ll be here for you joyfully/Right beneath the Poetree.”  32 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  This lovely story of a new friendship would also make a perfect introduction to a poetry unit.

Cons:  Walt seems like a good guy…so why is he so mean at school?

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