Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

Image result for mr. penguin and the lost treasure amazon

Image result for mr. penguin and the lost treasure amazon

Summary:  Mr. Penguin has invested his life savings into a new business: becoming a Professional Adventurer.  He’s just beginning to feel nervous about his quiet office when the phone rings. It’s Miss Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, and she’s on a quest to save her falling-down building.  She and her brother have learned there may be treasure buried on the grounds, so Mr. Penguin and his trusty (spider) sidekick Colin go off on their first adventure. They find plenty of it at the museum: an underground jungle, an alligator, and jewel thieves.  After more than one narrow escape, Mr. Penguin and Colin manage to solve the mystery, recover the treasure, and get the thieves behind bars. A ringing phone on the final page indicates this won’t be Mr. Penguin’s last adventure! 203 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap will enjoy this longer, but just as zany, illustrated chapter book.  Filled with plot twists, narrow escapes, as well as a protagonist who’s likely to be a step or two behind the reader, this is a promising start to a new series.

Cons:  I wasn’t a huge fan of the illustrations or the black and orange color scheme.

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Jada Sly Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Jada is moving back to New York City after several years spent in France.  She’s dealing with the recent death of her mom in a plane crash, but she can’t accept that her mother is gone.  In fact, she’s sure she has seen her on more than one occasion, although her father assures her that’s just part of her reaction to grief.  New York seems full of strange characters, though, and Jada enlists the help of four new friends to try to figure out who they are and what is going on.  By the end of the story, they’ve revealed everyone’s true identities and learned the truth about Jada’s mother. The epilogue sets up the next book in the series.  272 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  Illustrated with Sherri Winston’s artwork, this story has plenty of plot twists and nefarious characters to keep kids turning the pages.  Jada and her friends are a bit smarter and more worldly than the average fifth grader, but that’s all part of the fun, as they go undercover and discover truths that elude the adults around them.

Cons:  Jada’s father’s new relationship with his assistant Cécile seems a bit odd when we learn (spoiler alert) that her mother is actually still alive.

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Give Me Back My Bones! by Kim Norman, illustrated by Bob Kolar

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  A pile of bones on the ocean floor slowly reassembles itself into a pirate with the help of some sea creatures.  “Help me find my head bone, my pillowed-on-the-bed bone, the pirate’s flag-of-dread bone–I’m scouting out my skull.”  He continues working his way down, each rhyme ending with the name of the bone he’s seeking: from mandible and clavicle all the way to tibia, fibula, and phalanges.  At last, he’s ready to don his pirate’s hat, and climb aboard his shipwrecked ship where he’s sure he’ll find treasure–”I feel it in my bones!” The endpapers show the separate bones on the front and a labeled skeleton on the back.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Although this has the feel of a preschool-to-primary-grade picture book, older kids would find this a humorous introduction to different bones.  The rhymes are catchy and the skeleton is oddly endearing. It could even be a nice alternative to traditional Halloween reading. Great fun!

Cons:  Back matter about the skeleton with additional resources would have been useful.

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The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When a fisherman friend accidentally catches a great white shark, Lucy and Fred are among the first to go see it.  Fred is excited by anything having to do with science, and Lucy has a connection to sharks because her late mother studied them and even swam with them.  The two of them are working on a field guide about the wildlife they find in their hometown of Rockport, Massachusetts, and they plan to include information and drawings of the shark.  When tragedy strikes, though, the field guide project is put on hold, and Lucy must deal with another huge loss in her life. Fortunately she’s surrounded by community–her dad, neighbors, teachers, and friends–who each offer her a chance to heal in their own unique ways.  When Lucy gets the opportunity to help continue the shark research her mother started, she realizes it’s a chance to move forward into her new life. 384 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The beautiful writing, memorable characters, and moving story make this award material for sure.  Kate Allen captures the feeling of summer on the Massachusetts shore, with just the right amount of nostalgia for the 1990’s.  Lucy’s drawings of different sharks grace the beginning of each chapter.

Cons:  Out of 37 non-graphic middle-grade books that I’ve read this year, ten feature a main character dealing with the loss of a parent and/or sibling.  That’s a lot, isn’t it? When I got to the Bridge to Terabithia moment of this book, I almost gave up and  chucked it into the library book drop.  I’m glad I persevered, but I wonder how many 11- and 12-year-old readers will.

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Truman by Jean Reidy

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Image result for truman reidy amazon

Summary:  Truman is a turtle, “”the size of a donut…and every bit as sweet” who is inseparable from his friend Sarah.  But one day Sarah eats a big breakfast, gives Truman some extra green beans, straps on an enormous backpack (it could fit 32 small tortoises!) and with the parting words, “Be brave”, boards the number 11 bus.   Truman is determined to wait bravely, but after waiting “a thousand hours”, he decides it’s time for a search. Using three rocks in his tank, he makes a break for freedom, and is plodding across the living room rug when Sarah finally returns.  She is amazed to see him, and puts him safely back in his tank. As they share a bedtime story that night, Truman dreams of a day he might go with Sarah on her bus, perhaps as part of Show and Tell. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This little gem would make another great back-to-school book.  Truman will win your heart, and Sarah is pretty darn likeable as well.  Kids going off to school for the first time will be reassured that their pets will be okay…even if they miss their humans.

Cons:  As the mother of a former turtle fan, I’m pretty sure that small turtles like Truman carry salmonella and are illegal to buy.  Sorry, kids.

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Wolfie Monster and the Big Pizza Battle by Joey Ellis

Published by Graphix

Image result for wolfie monster and the big bad pizza battle

Image result for wolfie monster and the big bad pizza battle

Summary:  Wolfie Monster is the youngest of three brothers who run Magik Cheez Pizza.  Jackson is the grumpy boss, Roy is the slacker video game player, and Wolfie is the perennially optimistic goofball.  When competitor Happy Leaf threatens to put them out of business, Jackson decides to cut his losses and sell their store to CEO Lord Mudpant.  Unfortunately, Lord Mudpant turns out to be an evil mastermind, and Happy Leaf juice turns everyone into a zombie. The only cure? Magik Cheez Pizza.  It’s up to Wolfie and his new friend Bea to save the day…and maybe the whole world. 144 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  I’d have to be a Happy Leaf zombie to not realize this is going to be a big hit with Dog Man fans (meaning pretty much every kid under the age of 11).  The non-stop action, goofy fun, and comic book format make this a certain winner.

Cons:  Teachers may not be quite as excited about Wolfie’s popularity

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Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneús

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Before the Industrial Revolution, most peppered moths had speckled wings.  The ones that were all black didn’t blend into tree bark as well and were more likely to get eaten.  But the smoke and soot from burning coal turned tree bark black, and before long, there were more black peppered moths than speckled ones.  After clean air laws were passed in the middle of the 20th century, the proportions started to shift again as tree bark returned to its original color. Includes additional information that explains defines evolution, natural selection, and adaptation.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  How do you explain evolution and natural selection to a 7-year-old?  Isabel Thomas has done an amazing job here, ably assisted by Daniel Egneús collage-style illustrations.  The blue and silver cover is particularly eye-catching. This belongs in the science section of every elementary library.

Cons:  No photos of the real moths.

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