Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tson

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for trees verlie jing

Summary:  Fourteen different trees are profiled, each one getting a brief free-verse poem and a two-page illustration.  Some of the taller trees’ pages require turning the book 45 degrees, as the tree stretches from roots on the left-hand side to the treetop on the right.  The trees are personified, often being assigned a gender, and sometimes compared to a human (a sycamore is a “fashion queen” and the white pine, an “unruly uncle”).  Other trees include maple, aspen, oak, palm, pussy willow, apple, redbud, dogwood, spruce, willow, birch, and sequoia. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Just enough information is given in the brief poems and illustrations to help kids start to identify some of the trees in their neighborhoods.  The short, easy-to-understand verses and familiar subject matter would make this a good introduction to poetry.

Cons:  There were no additional resources to help readers learn more about trees.

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

A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Mónica Armiño

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Swift may not be the biggest member of his pack, but he is the fastest, and determined to some day beat out his larger brother Sharp.  When another pack of wolves attacks, though, Swift finds himself alone.  He travels through miles of wilderness,  searching for members of his pack, or any wolves that will be his companions.  Along the way, he has encounters with a variety of animals, including humans, and barely survives some narrow escapes. He finally meets a female wolf, and after renaming himself Wander, they work together to create a new pack of their own.  Includes several pages of information and photos of the real wolf that was the inspiration for the book; additional facts about wolves; a map of Swift/Wander’s journey; and a list of resources for more information. 256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An exciting nature story that will be especially appreciated by animal lovers.  Lots of adventure and plenty of illustrations make this a good choice for reluctant readers.  

Cons:  The illustrations added a lot to the text, and Mónica Armiño’s name doesn’t appear on the cover, nor is there any information about her on the back flap.

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

The Hawk and the Dove by Paul Kor, translated by Annette Appel

Published by Kids Can Press

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Image result for hawk and dove kor

Summary:  The hawk, sad and tired of war, puts on a mask and gloves to become a dove, and the world begins to change: tanks turn into tractors, planes become butterflies, warships are replaced with sailboats, and bullets morph into flowers.  Alternating pages are smaller, giving a glimpse of what’s on the next page. The whole world is happy and grateful to the dove, but the dove still worries that a hawk may be lying in wait.  “Hawk or dove? Foe or friend? How ever will this story end?”  Includes two pages at the end that tell how the late Israeli artist Paul Kor was moved to create this book by his experiences in World War II as a child and in the Six Day War later on.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This unusual book could serve as a springboard to discussing war and peace, as well as an inspiration for creating paper crafts.

Cons:  Some of the rhymes are a bit too Hallmark greeting card: “The entire land is filled with light/A rainbow of colors sunny and bright.”

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

Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, and A Bear by James Sage, illustrated by Lisk Feng

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  I’ve always had some vague notion that the teddy bear is named for Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, but thanks to this book, I now know the specifics.  When T.R. went on a bear-hunting trip to Mississippi, there was nary a bear to be found. His hosts finally found a small bear and tied it to a tree, but he refused to shoot it on the grounds that it would be unsportsmanlike.  Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman, suffering from a slow news day, turned the anecdote into a cartoon that went viral.  It caught the eye of Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michtom. When Rose stitched up a replica of the bear and put it in the store window, stuffed animal history was made.  The Michtoms were overwhelmed by the demand, and opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company to crank out Teddy bears of all sizes and shapes. Includes an author’s note with a few photos that sorts out the fact and fiction of his story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun telling of the (mostly) true story about the original Teddy bear.  

Cons:  Tying a bear to a tree to be shot.


I met this guy back in 1973, and we still hang out.  He “bears” an uncanny resemblance to the cover of this book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here. Sorry, the bear is not for sale.

Two Brothers, Four Hands: The Artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for two brothers four hands hadley hooper

Summary:  The two brothers in the title are Alberto and Diego Giacometti, and their four hands created two different types of art.  Alberto loved art from an early age, and pursued it with a passion, moving from Switzerland to Paris to become the proverbial starving artist at a young age.  Diego had no such passion, spending much of his time outdoors with animals, and having occasional scrapes with the law until his exasperated mother shipped him off to Paris to join his brother.  There, he learned how to help Alberto by creating models for his sculptures and casting them when they were finished. After World War II, Alberto’s art became well-known, but Diego stayed in the background.  After Alberto died in 1966, Diego dealt with his grief by pouring his energies into his own work, crafting metal sculptures and furniture that incorporated the animals he loved, and built his own following over the next two decades.  Includes an in-depth look at Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Walking Man, an extensive timeline, photos, and a bibliography.  64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A fascinating look at two very different brothers and how they helped each other create their own unique art.  The beautiful paint and ink illustrations help bring the story to life. The authors have received multiple Sibert honors, and may get another one for this book.

Cons:  Reviews I read started the recommended age at kindergarten, but this is definitely a book for older kids.  Nothing inappropriate; it’s just a longer book with subject matter that will be appreciated more by upper elementary and middle school students.

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

Acorn Books by Scholastic

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Similar to the Branches imprint, Scholastic now has Acorn, books for emerging readers.  They’re described as being at a Grade 1 Scholastic Reading Level, which translates to about a Level J in the Fountas and Pinnell world.  There are four series so far: Hello, Hedgehog! by Norm Feuti, featuring a friendly hedgehog and his guinea pig pal; Unicorn and Yeti by Heather Ayris Burnell, the somewhat surreal pairing of an extra-sparkly unicorn and a yeti; Crabby by Jonathan Fenske, all about a really crabby crab; and a reissued Dragon series by Dav Pilkey.  Each series has 2-3 books so far, each 48-64 pages long, with almost all the words in the form of cartoon bubble dialogue.  A final page offers extension activities, such as directions on how to draw a character and a writing prompt. 48-64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  If the Branches series are any indication, these are sure to be a hit.  Cute, friendly, and mildly humorous characters paired with a graphic novel look and cartoon bubble dialogue seems like a recipe for success.

Cons:  At the risk of sounding like a cranky old librarian, I wonder if kids will even know what quotation marks are in another generation.

If you would like to buy the first Hello Hedgehog book, click here.

For Crabby, click here.

For Yeti and Unicorn, click here.

For Dragon, click here.

Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

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Image result for sweet dreamers simler

Summary:  Twenty eight poems tell how different animals sleep: “Toes clinging to the ceiling/kite-fingers folded like a blanket/the bat dreams upside down/As the day shines, she slips into darkness.”  Each spread has a picture of the animal from a short distance on the page with the poem, and a close-up of the animal on the facing page. There are a few wordless spreads of nighttime landscapes interspersed among the poems.  The last poem is for the reader (or listener): “She clambers onto the whale/straddles the seahorse/clings to the elephant/swoops with the swallow./All night long, cuddling her koala/The child dreams beneath the moon.” 80 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Nothing was lost in the translation of this book from the original French to English.  The poems are brief but expressive, and convey at least a fact or two about each animal.  The big and beautiful illustrations are digitally created, which is hard to believe. They look like scratchboard, with bright bits of color on dark backgrounds, perfect for the subject matter.

Cons:  Some additional information on the animals at the end would have added to the educational value.

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

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship by Michael Foreman

Published by Andersen Press

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Image result for stubby michael foreman

Summary:  During basic training during World War I, the soldier narrator tells how a stray dog started hanging around every time he sat down to eat.  The dog’s odd flat face and short legs earned him the name Stubby, and he became an unofficial mascot for the soldier’s division. Smuggled onto a train, then a boat, Stubby made it all the way to France, where he joined the soldier in the trenches, warning them of approaching enemy soldiers and impending gas attacks.  Severely wounded, Stubby spent time in an army hospital, but returned to the front six weeks later. Both Stubby and his soldier friend survived to the end of the war, and happily returned to a peaceful life back in the U.S. An afterword tells more about Stubby (who met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge), and Corporal Robert Conroy, the soldier who adopted him.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Dogs and the military are always popular subjects in my schools, so this story of a cute dog who courageously served in World War I is sure to be popular.

Cons:  Stubby is always portrayed with slightly bugged-out eyes and a big grin, making him look a few cards short of a full deck.

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

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Shayla’s palms start to sweat whenever she thinks she’s about to get in trouble.  As she starts seventh grade, she tries to blend in and avoid trouble whenever possible.  She feels good that her two best friends always have her back–Puerto Rican Isabella, Japanese American Julie, and African American Shayla call themselves the United Nations.  But junior high brings lots of changes–Julie starts hanging around with the “Asian kids” and sometimes ditching Isabella and Shayla; Shayla discovers a love of running and joins the track team; boys enter the picture in a variety of ways; and Shayla’s older sister encourages her to become part of Black Lives Matter when a trial for a police shooting brings about a wave of protests.  Shayla ends her first year of junior high with her friendships changed but intact, a new sense of confidence, and the knowledge that sometimes it’s worth getting into trouble to stand up for what you believe. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This is a great late-elementary and middle school alternative to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give.  Shayla is a character many kids will relate to. First-time author Ramée doesn’t back down from the racial issues, but she also makes it clear there are no easy answers.  The three girls are open about the issues they face because of their race/heritage, but don’t let them stand in the way of their friendship.

Cons:  A heads-up to elementary school librarians to be aware this contains a certain amount of puberty discussion.

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

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illustrations by Chris Sasaki

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for home is a window ledyard

Summary:  Houses can change, but home goes with you from one to another.  “Home is a table with something good and the people gathered there.  A book before you fall asleep, and a kiss afterward.” With these meditations on home, we see a family–mother, father, boy, and girl–getting ready to move, then making a day-long drive to their new house.  There’s the sadness of saying goodbye, and the excitement of exploring the new place. The family picnics together on the floor of their new house, then the little girl looks out the window to see her parents sitting with arms around each other as she gets ready for bed in her new home.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect read for those who are moving, and for anyone who wants to think about what home is.  This would make a good writing prompt to explore the idea of home.

Cons:  Not everyone’s home is quite so picture-perfect.

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