The Fisherman and the Whale by Jessica Lanan

Published by Simon and Schuster

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Image result for fisherman whale lanan amazon

Summary:  While a boy and his fisherman father work at hauling in their catch in this wordless tale, a whale gets tangled in nets and line under the water.  As the boat is heading home, the boy spots the whale’s tail in the distance and convinces his father to investigate. As they get closer, they can see that the whale’s mouth is wrapped in fishing line.  In a daring rescue, the fisherman jumps into the water with a knife, and manages to cut the whale free, repeatedly diving beneath the water to slice away the lines and nets. Safely back on the boat, the man and his son share a hug before hearing something in the water.  They look to see the whale leap from the water, and they exchange a wave and some smiles before each one heads off into the sunset. Includes an author’s note with more information about the dangers of fishing to whales, dolphins, and porpoises, as well as a note cautioning kids not to try any sort of rescue themselves.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I do love a good wordless book, and this one has gorgeous watercolor illustrations that tell the story clearly enough for preschoolers to understand.  The environmental message is a nice bonus.

Cons:  Even though the fisherman managed to save this particular whale, he still seems to be engaging in an activity that has the potential to kill other marine mammals.

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Born Just Right by Jordan Reeves and Jen Lee Reeves

Published by Jeter Publishing

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Summary:  Jordan Reeves was born with what she calls a “little arm”; her left arm ends just above the elbow.  Her mom has become her strongest advocate, making sure she participates in every area of life she can, including dance, soccer, softball, and Crossfit.  Jordan also has become passionate about design and STEAM, launching her Project Unicorn, a device she invented that can fit onto her left arm to shoot glitter.  Through her design work, she has become a spokesperson for people with disabilities, including working with Mattel to help design Barbies and American Girl dolls with limb differences. She and her mom cover a variety of topics in this book, not only their family’s story, but also what it’s like to have a disability, how to talk to a person about their disability, and resources for getting involved with design and the maker movement.  Includes a list of websites. 160 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Kids will learn a lot about what it’s like to have a disability and how to interact with people with disabilities.  Jordan is unfailingly upbeat, but also honest about her occasional frustrations and sadness about her arm. Her mom has written a few sections giving her perspective which makes this a useful resource for parents as well as kids.

Cons:  It was hard for me to get as excited about a glitter shooter as Jordan seems to be about it.

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Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for juana lucas big

Summary:  Juana and her dog Lucas are back for another adventure.  Coming to you from Bogotá, Colombia, Juana does a quick review of all the good things in her life for those who may have missed them the first time in Juana and Lucas.  But then she launches into her big problema:  her beloved Mami has a new friend Luis, and it looks like things are starting to get serious.  Much to Juana’s chagrin, the two get engaged and start planning a wedding. Juana is not excited, and is adamant that she won’t be a flower girl.  She wishes she could meet her father, who, we learn, died in a fire when she was a baby. But Luis is pretty nice, and gradually Juana gets used to the idea of him joining the family and moving to a new casa.  By the last few pages, she is planning where to hang the wedding photos of her new extended family in her new bedroom.  96 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Fans of the first book (which won a Belpré Award in 2017) will enjoy the new one just as much.  The large, colorful illustrations are adorable, and fans of Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody will recognize a kindred spirit in Juana.  The Spanish words are given context clues for non-Spanish speakers, and the glimpses of Bogotá make it look like a fun place to visit or live.  Thank you to Candlewick for sending me an advance reading copy of this book.

Cons:  Just like with the first book, I found myself wishing for a list of Spanish words with English translations at the end.

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Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  Ninita is a pygmy marmoset, the smallest kind of monkey in the world, who was born deaf and abandoned by her parents after a few weeks.  Rescued by humans, she found a new home at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Florida, where she thrived. Eventually, she was introduced to a male pygmy marmoset, Mr. Big, and the two now live together at the Foundation.  Includes additional information about pygmy marmosets and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, along with a couple of photos of Ninita. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This cute animal story with its messages of love and friendship will undoubtedly appeal to a wide variety of young readers.  

Cons:  There’s quite a bit of anthropomorphism, e.g., “Ninita wished she had a marmoset friend to share her adventures.”

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Make a Wish, Henry Bear by Liam Francis Walsh

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for make a wish henry bear

Summary:  Why do Henry Bear’s parents insist on keeping him up late at night, feeding him chocolate cake three times a day, and suggesting he stay home from school to watch TV?  Turns out Henry made a wish on his last birthday that his parents could be more fun. It’s been a year now, and Henry is ready to go back to some rules. When he finally gets to school on his birthday (late, thanks to Mom and Dad), he meets a new girl, Marjani, and invites her to to his house, where they discover, to Henry’s horror, that they’re having candy instead of cake for his birthday dinner.  With no candles to blow out, is Henry doomed to have another year of fun parents? Marjani just might have the solution. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  There’s a moral to this story, but it comes wrapped in a beautifully illustrated (Henry’s city is inspired by Ticino, Switzerland) and humorous package, that kids won’t mind at all.  

Cons:  If Henry’s new birthday wish doesn’t come true, Mom and Dad Bear might be getting a visit from the child welfare authorities.

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The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Summary:  Ever since her mother and two sisters were killed in a car accident, Coyote and her father, Rodeo, have been traveling around the U.S. in an old school bus.  Rodeo declares anything that would remind them of their past a “no-go”, but when Coyote hears from her grandmother that a park near her old home is being destroyed, she is determined to go back there.  It turns out that, shortly before the accident, Coyote, her mom, and her sisters buried a memory box in the park. Coyote has to figure out a way to get Rodeo back to their hometown without revealing her motivation for doing so.  As they travel from Florida to Washington, they pick up an interesting assortment of people and animals who make the trip with them and become part of Coyote’s conspiracy to get back home. As they slowly make their way, Rodeo and Coyote have to both finally face the tragedy that befell their family and start to come to terms with their grief.  352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fun cast of characters and a comedy of errors road trip make this an engaging story that also tugs on the heartstrings.  I have seen this mentioned on a few Newbery lists.

Cons:  The journey was fun, but once Coyote got back home, the search for the memory box got bogged down in some pretty mawkish sentimentality, something I though marred two other Gemeinhart books I’ve read, The Honest Truth and Good Dog.

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Hector: A Boy, A Protest, and the Photograph That Changed Apartheid by Adrienne Wright

Published by Page Street Kids

Image result for hector a boy a protest and the photograph that changed apartheid

Image result for hector a boy a protest and the photograph that changed apartheid

Summary:  In 1976, Hector Pieterson was an ordinary 12-year-old boy living in Soweto, South Africa.  He went to school, played soccer, did chores, and hung out with his friends. On June 16, he went to school like he did every day; when he got there, he discovered a student demonstration going on to protest a new law forcing them to have half their lessons in Afrikaans instead of English.  A single moment is shown from three different perspectives: Hector, his older sister Antoinette, and Sam Nzima, the photojournalist who took a picture of Hector getting shot by police. The police confiscated all the film, but Sam managed to hide a roll in his sock. His picture of Hector’s lifeless body appeared in The World newspaper the next day, ending Sam’s career, but opening up the eyes of the world to apartheid in South Africa.  48 pages; grades 3-8.

Pros:  I didn’t know this story, and was shocked when Hector was killed at the end of it, much as Hector’s family must have been shocked by the turn of events on June 16, 1976.  This is an important book for American kids, many of whom are probably unfamiliar with South African apartheid.

Cons:  It’s difficult to know what ages to recommend this for.  It definitely could be disturbing to younger kids, and would be best read with some adult discussion.

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Popcorn Country: The Story of America’s Favorite Snack by Cris Peterson, Photographs by David R. Lundquist

Published by Boyds Mills Press

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Summary:  Who can resist a bowl of buttery, salty popcorn?  It’s one of the top snacks in the U.S., this book tells us, with an annual consumption of four and a half billion gallons.  If you’ve ever wondered how the popcorn gets to your movie theater, you’ll find some answers here, beginning in the Corn Belt, where over ninety million acres of corn are grown each year.  You’ll learn about the different types of corn, how popcorn is processed, and what causes the hard kernels to explode into the light, fluffy snack. There’s a brief history of popcorn at the end, along with a list of books and websites for further research.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The straightforward writing with kid-friendly explanations (“plants that stretch so tall that they could tickle the chin of a young giraffe”) and lots of photos showing a diverse group of kids make this a great nonfiction choice for preschool and early elementary ages.

Cons:  I guess it’s unknowable, but I’ve always wondered how the first consumers of popcorn figured out that those hard kernels could pop.  This book doesn’t offer any speculation on that.

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Groundbreaking Guys: 40 Men Who Became Great By Doing Good by Stephanie True Peters, illustrated by Shamel Washington

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  From John Stuart Mill to Kendrick Lamar, these 40 men have become great by being good people.  As the author states in her introduction, “These men served their communities. They treated people with respect.  They lifted up others. They chose to listen and to care, even when doing so meant giving up control or feeling nervous or standing out.”  The men are from a variety of countries, mostly the United States and Great Britain, but also others like Japan, China, and Bangladesh. They contributed in all sorts of areas, including politics, literature, art, and music.  Some names will undoubtedly be familiar to readers, while others will be new, but all will inspire and possibly lead to further research. Includes source notes for each subject. 96 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  There have been a lot of collective biographies of women lately, so it’s nice to see this collection of interesting men, particularly with the theme of men who contributed positively to the world.  Each profile has a head shot of the subject. The interesting profiles and endnotes would make this a great resource to begin a biography research project.

Cons:  A timeline would have been a nice addition.

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The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  “The important thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that she wrote books.”  And some of the important things about this book about Margaret Wise Brown are that it’s 42 pages because she lived 42 years.  That it celebrates the quirkiness of both Brown and her books. That the illustrations pay homage to many of Brown’s works. That critics of her works are humorously but firmly put in their place (Anne Carroll Moore, New York City’s children’s librarian, does not fare well here).  That you may not learn everything there is to know about Margaret Wise Brown, but you will learn interestingly odd facts like that every copy of the first edition of Little Fur Family were covered in fur.  That “sometimes you find a book that feels as strange as life does…Margaret Wise Brown wrote books like this, and she wrote them for children, because she believed children deserve important books.”  42 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Mac Barnett is not afraid to go way outside the box in this picture book that pays tribute to Margaret Wise Brown, her art, and her books.  It is full of the kinds of details that kids will love, like the fact that, as a child, Brown skinned one of her pet rabbits after it died and wore the pelt around her neck.  Or that she bought every flower on a flower cart after selling her first book, then had a big party in her flower-filled house. Any readers who aren’t familiar with Brown’s books will want to go looking for them after reading this one.

Cons:  Some will definitely find this book odd.  On the other hand, isn’t that kind of the point?

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