Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a boy imprisoned in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II by Andrea Warren

Published by Margaret Ferguson Books

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Summary:  Norman Mineta spent his first decade living a happy middle class life with his family in San Jose.  His father sold insurance and his mother was a housewife. Both his parents were born in Japan, but second-generation Norm felt very much an American.  After World War II started, though, all Japanese Americans were seen as suspect, and in May of 1942, the Mineta family was forced to leave behind their home and business for the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming.  They were more fortunate than most: Norm’s father eventually got a job in Chicago, and after a little over a year in the camp, the family was able to relocate there. They rented their San Jose house, and moved back at the end of the war.  During his time at the camp, Norm met a local boy named Alan Simpson at a Boy Scout gathering; the two became friends, and later reunited when both served in Congress as adults. Extensive back matter tells more about the Japanese American experience during World War II and lists many resources for further research.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The story of Norm’s journey from a seemingly all-American childhood to being held prisoner by his own country is an eye-opening one that is told in terms many young readers will relate to.  The Mineta family’s unwavering optimism and courage is inspiring.  Andrea Warren should receive some Sibert award consideration.

Cons:  It would have been interesting and informative to hear more details about some of the Japanese American families who didn’t fare so well at the end of the war.

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The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle

Published by Schwartz + Wade

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Summary:  Growing up in Oxford, Venetia Burney loved learning.  Her grandfather, the former head librarian at Oxford University, encouraged her curiosity.  When Grandfather shared a news item with 11-year-old Venetia about the discovery of a new planet beyond Neptune, she thought of how frozen, dark, and lifeless it must be.  It reminded her of the underworld in Greek mythology, and so she suggested naming it Pluto. Her grandfather sent a letter with her suggestion in it to a friend at the Royal Astronomical Society; he liked it, and eventually the name was voted on by astronomers.  Fast forward more than 70 years later: on the day before her 89th birthday, Venetia, still active and curious, gets an invitation to the Observatory Science Centre, where she finally gets a chance to see the planet she named. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Venetia and Pluto–including the change in its designation from plant to dwarf planet–and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun story for kids learning about space; they will be inspired to hear how a planet was named by a kid, albeit one with a wealthy, connected grandfather.

Cons:  I think we all still feel a little sad about the fate of former planet Pluto.

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Planet Earth Is Blue by Nicole Paneleakos

Published by Wendy Lamb Books

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Summary:  Nova and her older sister Bridget have been in the foster care system for years.  To Nova, Bridget has been like a mother: she’s five years older, and Nova is autistic with limited verbal abilities.  As the story opens, Nova is counting down the days until the 1986 launching of the space shuttle Challenger, not only because she and Bridget are huge NASA fans, but also because Bridget is missing and has promised to watch the launch with Nova.  Nova is with a new foster family who finally seem to understand and appreciate her, and she’s placed in a sixth grade classroom where she begins to thrive.  Her story is told in chapters that alternate between third-person narration and letters that Nova writes to Bridget–they appear mostly as scribbles to others but are meaningful to her.  When Nova sees the Challenger explode on TV, she finally understands what has happened to Bridget; it’s a sad day, but one that sets her on a path of hope for the future.  Includes an author’s note with more details on the Challenger and autism, which she herself has.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will gain some amazing insights into the mind of a nonverbal protagonist that may shift their assumptions about kids with autism.  There’s some depressing stuff about kids in foster care, particularly kids with special needs, but Nova’s final foster parents are nothing short of heroic.

Cons:  Another 2019 middle grade novel with themes of grief and loss.  Yay.

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Sweet Dreams, Sarah by Vivian Kirkfield, illustrated by Chris Ewald

Published by Creston Books

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Summary:  Born into slavery, Sarah dreamed of having a family and doing work that she loved.  After the Civil War, she moved to Chicago, where she married Archibald Goode and started her family.  The daughter of a carpenter, Sarah decided to open her own furniture store. When customers told her of the cramped spaces they lived in, she had the idea to build a cabinet that turned into a bed.  It took plenty of determination and perseverance to build it and to apply for a patent (her first application was rejected), but on July 14, 1885, Sarah Goode became one of the first black women to receive a patent.  Includes an author’s note, additional information on patents, a timeline of what is known of Sarah’s life, a timeline of black women patent holders, and a list of selected sources. 32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Although the timeline reveals some sad aspects to Sarah’s life (she eventually lost her business and died at age 49), both the text and illustrations are hopeful and uplifting, with a well-delivered message about following your dreams.

Cons:  There was no author or illustrator information anywhere in the book.

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Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed

Published by Salaam Reads/Simon and Schuster

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Summary:  Bilal invites his friends over for dinner to sample some of the daal his father  is cooking.  The kids help get things started, but when his friends think the ingredients look and smell funny, Bilal is worried. Dad starts the cooking, then tells them to go outside to play, as it will take a long time.  They have fun together playing hopscotch, swimming, and hiking, but after each activity, they stop back at Bilal’s to check on the daal, only to hear “Daal takes time”. Finally, as the sun sets, the daal is almost ready.  It’s time for Dad and the kids to add some herbs and spices, then sit down to eat it with some naan and rice.  Bilal can breathe a sigh of relief as his friends dig in and give the dinner two thumbs up. Includes an author’s note and recipe for chana daal.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Suffice it to say that this very cute book has inspired me to plan on trying out the recipe myself next week.

Cons:  The recipe doesn’t specify how many servings it makes.  I may be eating daal all week.

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You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks by Evan Turk

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  “To the chipmunk in her burrow, sleeping beneath the leaves to keep warm; to the resilient bison in the steaming oases of of an endless winter: you are home.”  Evan Turk goes on to welcome animals and humans from all over America to more than 20  national parks: children in the city, children on farms, children who have just arrived to the United States, as well as those whose ancestors predated the United States by centuries are all welcomed.  The accompanying illustrations show scenes from the parks, each one captioned with a small label to identify it. The author’s note tells more about the history and importance of the parks, as well as the need for changes to preserve them going forward. There’s also a note about the art that encourages kids to experience some of the parks by creating art in them.  56 pages; ages 5 and up.

Pros:  This touching and beautiful ode to America’s national parks would make a perfect read for Independence Day, and is sure to inspire readers of all ages to spend some time in a national park or two this summer.  A Caldecott contender for sure.

Cons:  I guess the word “ode” in the title should have tipped me off, but I was hoping for more travel guide type information about each park.

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The Friendship War by Andrew Clements

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Grace is a collector and a scientist.  When her grandfather takes her for a tour of an old warehouse he’s recently purchased, she’s delighted to have permission to keep any artifacts she finds inside.  On a whim, she asks if she can have the 30 boxes of buttons they find there, and her adoring grandfather ships them to her home. Fast forward a few months:  her class is studying the industrial revolution, and Grace volunteers to share some of her finds from the mill. A few bags of the buttons spark a fad, and before long her classmates are bringing in buttons of their own to trade and show off. The fad turns into a war, and Grace’s longtime friendship with Ellie becomes a casualty.  Grace’s idea to use the science of economics to stop the craze backfires, but new friend and fellow scientist Hank helps her to keep things in perspective and begin to move toward a reconciliation with Ellie. 208 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Another engaging school story from Andrew Clements; I’m already considering this for a back-to-school fourth grade book club choice that will appeal to kids starting to move into “real” chapter books.

Cons:  Ellie seemed like such an unpleasant kid for most of the book that it was hard to understand why Grace was so anxious to preserve their friendship.

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Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  It’s the last day of seventh grade, and Jaime and Maya are having some major friendship issues.  For the past few months, they’ve been hanging out with Celia and Grace, and Jaime has increasingly felt pushed away.  She starts the day determined to confront Maya about it, while Maya is planning to convey Celia’s news that Jaime is out of the group.  When Maya finally sends her text, Jaime is devastated, and seeks solace in French teacher Madame Zukosky’s classroom.  She rallies for an afternoon of field day, realizing who her true friends are, and beginning to reach out to new ones.  Readers of Terri Libenson’s other books, Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy will recognize many of the characters, including Maya and Jaime.  The story is told in a similar format to the other two, with Jaime’s story in illustrated text and Maya’s in comic book style.  The road to the end of seventh grade is definitely a bumpy one, but both Jaime and Maya persevere to a happy ending. 247 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Terri Libenson has her finger firmly on the pulse of 12- and 13-year-olds; anyone who has survived middle school–or is in the process of doing so–will recognize many of the situations and kids.  That, combined with the graphic format, makes this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  There was a bit of a twist at the end, but not nearly as fun and surprising as the ones in the first two books.

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Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and A Journey to the New World by David Macaulay

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  In September of 1957, David Macaulay left with his mother, sister, and brother to travel to America, where his father had been offered a new job.  Their mode of transportation was the SS United States, the fastest, most advanced steamship ever built.  Macaulay starts the story with himself at age 10 getting ready to go to America, then goes back to the 18th century and traces the history of steam power and the steamship.  The text is illustrated with his trademark detailed, technical drawings illuminating each page, including a six-panel foldout cutaway of the United States with 100 labeled parts.  The last chapter tells about his family’s journey and their move to New Jersey.  Includes an afterword, a timeline, and a list of selected reading. 128 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  If you’re interested in engineering, you will never go wrong with David Macaulay.  The personal connection to his family made the story interesting to non-techies like myself.  The illustrations range from amazing to truly mind-boggling, like the one of the ship described above.

Cons:  It will take a pretty dedicated shipping enthusiast to get through all the details in the text.

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The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly by Rebecca K. S. Ansari

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Charlie O’Reilly’s younger brother Liam went missing a year ago–but Charlie is the only one who remembers him.  His mother, struggling with depression, and his father, often away on business, assure him that he is, and has always been, an only child.  The only person who believes him is his neighbor and best friend Ana, even though she has no memory of Liam. Charlie tells Ana about the dreams he has where he is Kiernan, a boy living a tragic life first in Ireland and then in America.  When Charlie receives a mysterious note to talk to Jonathon, his kind but distant assistant baseball coach, he finally finds out what has happened to Liam. It may be possible for Charlie and Ana to rescue him, but only if they are willing to risk giving up everything they have ever known and loved.  389 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Part family story, part time-traveling fantasy, part historical fiction, this debut novel grabs readers from the first chapter and takes them on a wild roller coaster ride to a well-earned happy ending.

Cons:  There is a lot to keep track of–many characters and setting from the past, present, and an alternative world.

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