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.

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

Jada Sly Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for jada sly artist and spy amazon

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.

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


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

Published by Candlewick

Image result for give me back my bones norman

Related image

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.

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

The Line Tender by Kate Allen

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Image result for line tender kate allen amazon

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.

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

Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for truman reidy amazon

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.

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

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

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

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

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Image result for moth isabel thomas amazon

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.

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

Save the Cake! by Molly Coxe

Published by Bright Owl Books

Image result for save the cake coxe amazon

Summary:  Snails Kate and Nate try to figure out how to transport their homemade birthday cake to Grandpa Jake while avoiding a snake they’ve seen.  After missing a plane and a train, they take a boat and sail across the lake. When they get there, Grandpa Jake introduces them to his best friend–the snake!  This is part of a series that introduces kids to different phonetic sounds. In case you can’t figure it out from my description thus far, the sound featured here is the long A.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun and somewhat unique way to introduce and reinforce phonics.  The illustrations are photos of fabric creations that may inspire kids to try to craft their own.

Cons:  These only seem to be available in paperback and library bindings.  At $21 each for the hardcovers, I’m probably going to pass on them for my library.

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

The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for next great paulie fink amazon

Summary:  It’s bad enough that Caitlyn’s mom has decided to move to Vermont right before Caitlyn starts seventh grade.  But when Caitlyn starts school at Mitchell, she finds she’s part of a group called The Originals, the first kids to go through the tiny community school that opened eight years ago.  Caitlyn’s arrival in seventh grade isn’t the only big news–class clown Paulie Fink has mysteriously disappeared. Caitlyn hates the school at first, and can’t believe there are no lockers, that she has to sit with a kindergartener at lunch, and that her class is in charge of looking after a bunch of goats.  When her classmates decide to create a reality show to find out who the next Paulie Fink will be, Caitlyn reluctantly takes on the role of leader, creating challenges to find out who can take Paulie’s place. When budget troubles threaten to close the school, she is surprised at how much she wants to keep it open.  Interspersed with interviews, emails, and texts, Caitlyn’s narrative shows how she grows and changes throughout the first months at her new school. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I wasn’t a huge fan of Ali Benjamin’s The Truth About Jellyfish, so my expectations were low for this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the fun and interesting characters.  The format and the reality show idea will appeal to readers. I may have found another fifth grade book club book.

Cons:  Caitlyn comes across as a bit of a brat at the beginning of the book, but readers who persevere will learn the reasons for her behavior and see some positive changes as the story goes on.

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

Rocket Says Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Image result for rocket says look up

Image result for rocket says look up adeola

Summary:  Named for a famous spaceship that blasted off the day she was born, Rocket is always looking up and loves all things space.  Her heroine is Mae Jemison, and she is counting down the days until she can see the Phoenix Meteor Shower. Her brother Jamal, though, isn’t impressed by her enthusiasm.  He prefers to look down…at his phone. Rocket’s marketing skills about the meteor shower are so good that when the night comes, half the neighborhood shows up to accompany her and Jamal to the park.  Everyone is looking up, telescopes and binoculars are trained on the sky, but…nothing. Rocket is so crushed that Jamal actually puts away his phone and looks up, too. They’re just about to give up when a big bright light catches everyone’s attention.  The shower has begun! Jamal and Rocket pour themselves some hot chocolate, lie back, and enjoy the show. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Rocket is a high-energy narrator (she wears an orange space suit throughout the book) who will get kids excited about space and science in general.  This could be a good introduction to the Perseid meteor shower coming up in August. The sibling relationship is a sweet addition to the story.

Cons:  No back matter on meteor showers or Mae Jemison?  Seems like a missed opportunity.  Also, I think the Phoenix Meteor Shower is fictional…why not use a real one (like Perseid) instead?

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

Image result for rocket says look up adeola