Save the Cake! by Molly Coxe

Published by Bright Owl Books

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Image result for save the cake coxe

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.

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The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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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.

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

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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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?

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Just South of Home by Karen Strong

Published by Simon and Schuster Books

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Summary:  Neither Sarah nor Janie is happy when Janie’s mom leaves her with Sarah’s family while Mom goes off to do a Hollywood screen test.  Janie thinks she’s stuck with a bunch of hicks in Warrenville, Georgia, while Sarah doesn’t appreciate Janie’s condescending attitude.  In a desperate attempt to keep her cousin entertained, Sarah takes her to the old Creek Church, a town landmark with a troubled history of racial violence.  Rumors of “haints” prove to be true when the girls are confronted by a mysterious young boy. With the help of Sarah’s brother Ellis and his friend Jasper, the kids have to figure out who the boy is and try to save him from the evil ghostly forces that are threatening to engulf him.  It turns out that it’s not just the church that’s haunted, and as the four uncover family and town secrets, they learn that the past must be confronted to move ahead into the future. 320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An engaging family and friendship story with a touch of historical fiction and a good ghostly mystery.  The historical part could spark some interesting discussions.

Cons:  This book didn’t strike me as nearly as scary as I was led to believe from the reviews.  I was hoping to shelve it in the “Scary” section of the library, but I think “Mystery” may be more appropriate.

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Vroom! by Barbara McClintock

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

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Summary:  Annie is a race car driver.  One evening she puts on her helmet and gloves, climbs into her car, and goes shooting out her bedroom window.  She explores all kinds of environments from the mountains to the desert to the forest to the city, where she encounters a traffic jam.  Speeding up, she finds herself on a race track, where she wins a race before heading home. Annie’s kind of tired from all her driving, and after roaring through her living room, she settles down for a bedtime story with her dad and little brother.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A celebration of imagination with a strong heroine, beautifully rendered illustrations of a wide variety of settings, and a satisfying ending just right for bedtime.

Cons:  It’s not that easy to leave the traffic behind.

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I’m Trying to Love Math by Bethany Barton

Published by Viking Books for Children

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Image result for im trying to love math amazon

Summary:  When an unnamed narrator declares their dislike of math, a purple three-eyed alien tries to show how interesting and useful it is.  “I know I’m not alone here. 4 in 10 Americans hate math,” claims the narrator. Alien: “Did you just use math to explain how much you don’t like it?”  It then goes on to show how math is used for things the narrator finds enjoyable, like baking cookies or making music. Math is a universal language and gives us a set of rules for measuring, traveling, and using money.  When the kid realizes they already love math, the alien’s job is done, and he returns home…to Planet Homework. 40 pages; grades 1-3

Pros:  A fun way to introduce the different ways math is used in everyday life.  It could serve as a springboard to get kids thinking about other areas where they use math.

Cons:  Those who truly struggle with math are not likely to be convinced by the arguments put forth here.

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This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Published by First Second

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Summary:  At the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, Nathaniel and his pals have agreed to follow the lanterns set afloat down the river.  Lots of kids ride along the river for awhile, but their group is going to find out once and for all where the lights end up. As they travel, though, the other kids turn back one by one until there are only two left: Nathaniel and Ben, the kid nobody likes who has been tagging along, unsuccessfully trying to join the group. Nathaniel begrudgingly agrees to travel with him, though, and the two end up on a madcap adventure where they meet a friendly bear on a quest, a tiny witch and her oversized dog, and some mysterious enlightened beings.  The two slowly bond over their shared experiences and narrow escapes, and by the end they’re still traveling, intent upon circumnavigating the world on their bicycles. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A graphic novel that would appeal to fans of Amulet, with its episodic plot involving ordinary mortals thrust into a magical world.  The dark-blue-and-black illustrations perfectly capture the feeling of a nighttime adventure.  We can hope for more of Nathaniel’s and Ben’s escapades on the road.

Cons:  The plot was pretty meandering.

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