I Got Next by Daria Peoples-Riley

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Image result for i got next daria peoples-riley

Summary:  A young boy’s shadow comes to life and becomes his coach as a basketball game is about to begin.  “Show me your game face!” he says, and after a few tries, the boy finds the right face, going from scared to ferociously confident.  With ten seconds left in the game, the shadow tells the boy to show what he knows. Using his skills, he slowly closes the five-point gap to win the game.  “Work hard”, “Don’t quit”, and “Never give up” are the final words of wisdom as the boy gets ready for another game. The endpapers include a mural with pictures of famous African-Americans along the bottom of the pages. 40 pages; ages 4-9.  

Pros:  A beautiful, empowering book for sports fans with collage illustrations that the Caldecott committee might want to take a closer look at.

Cons:  I might have appreciated the story more if I knew one thing about basketball.

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Published by Ten Speed Press

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Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Summary:  Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy have all been in and out of institutions, diagnosed with dissociative psychosis for believing they can travel to other worlds.  They wind up together in a research lab, where Dr. Rutherford hopes to learn more about their powers. Alice, angry over her years feeling like a prisoner, steals Dorothy’s silver slippers and escapes to Oz.  The other two go after her, along with their nanny (who may or may not be Mary Poppins), and before long they are dropping in and out of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in an attempt to foil the Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook (the last two have a budding romance in Neverland).  Everyone is reunited back in the lab in the end, but a last page hints that there may be a sequel. 128 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  There’s plenty of girl power with these three, as they refuse to let anyone control their destinies or overshadow them in their adventures.  The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s great fun to see elements of the three familiar stories woven together.

Cons:  I was hoping this would find a home in my grade 4 and 5 library, but the frequent swears and sexual innuendos (there’s a great subplot where Peter Pan grows up, Alice shrinks him, and he has a thing with Tinkerbell) make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

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Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! By Cori Doerrfeld

Published by Dial Books

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Image result for goodbye friend hello friend amazon

Summary:  Every cloud has a silver lining in this book that traces a friendship between two girls, Stella and Charlie.  Stella says a teary goodbye to her mom as she gets on the school bus, but the goodbye leads to a hello from new friend Charlie at school.  Goodbye to snowmen means hello to puddles; goodbye to the sun means hello to the stars. The final goodbye, as Charlie moves away, seems insurmountable (“goodbye to holding tight is hello to letting go”), but by the last page a new girl has moved in, and Stella is saying “hello” just like Charlie did to her.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be a great book for anyone going through a transition, whether it’s starting a new school, moving, or even losing a pet (“goodbye to an empty [fish]bowl is hello to a full heart”).  Kids could enjoy brainstorming hellos and goodbyes.

Cons:  A few of the transitions, like the dead fish example above, seemed a little contrived.  Sometimes it’s okay to just be sad and not have to find that silver lining, at least not right away.

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Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Published by Bloomsbury

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Summary:  Cat is excited to be traveling with her mom and younger brother Chicken to visit her best friend in Atlanta.  When there’s a sudden change in plans, Cat and Chicken end up on Gingerbread Island in North Carolina with their mother’s parents whom they’ve never met.  Grandma Lily is warm and inviting, and seems to have an intuitive understanding of Chicken’s special needs. But Grandpa Macon is distant, and Cat feels like he doesn’t want them there.  As the summer goes on, Cat makes a new friend, learns how to fish, and gradually comes to understand the estrangement between her mother and grandfather. In the same way her mom felt pushed aside by her grandfather’s dedication to his work as a surgeon, Cat often feels the weight of the responsibilities that come from her mother’s hard work and her brother’s Asperger’s.  A fishing contest at the end of their stay provides Cat with an opportunity to confront her mother about some of the issues their family needs to deal with. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This beautifully written book by first-time author Gillian McDunn makes a perfect late summer read.  The descriptions of the island and its community sound idyllic, and the various relationships are layered and complex.  The ending is satisfying without being unrealistic.

Cons:  I found Cat’s mom annoying and didn’t always fully understand her motivation for treating Cat and Macon the way she did.

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As Warm As the Sun by Kate and Jim McMullan

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for as warm as the sun mcmullan

Summary:  Toby loves the warmth of the sun, a friendly lap, and the rug in front of the fireplace.  But sometimes the warmth goes away, and Toby wishes he could keep it with him always. One day, Pinkie shows up.  She steals his place in the sun and on the lap. Dejected, Toby heads down to the basement where he curls up in a cold corner.  But who should follow him down there but Pinkie, who snuggles up right next to him. And suddenly Toby realizes that the warmth he’s been looking for is with his new friend.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  What’s not to like when two dogs become buddies?  This would also make a great book for a child dealing with a new sibling.

Cons:  Toby seems like a bit of a martyr, banishing himself to the basement when the going gets rough.

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You Are My Friend: The Story of Mister Rogers and His Neighborhood by Aimee Reid, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  For those familiar with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this book explains how Freddie Rogers’ childhood created the adult Fred Rogers that millions loved to watch on his TV show.  Freddie was a sickly child who had to learn to entertain himself during long periods indoors. He loved surrounding himself with puppets and telling them how he was feeling.  Bullied at school, Freddie appreciated the love and safety of his Grandfather McFeeley, who assured him he was special just being himself. When Fred grew up, he saw people fighting on TV and wanted to create a program that showed people helping each other.  The result was his own neighborhood where both people and puppets could express their feelings and learn how to care for one another. Includes additional biographical information, notes from both the author and the illustrator, and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  With the new Tom Hanks movie coming out this fall, this provides an excellent introduction to Fred Rogers and all he stood for, and will serve to introduce a new generation to the neighborhood.  Matt Phelan’s gently muted illustrations provide a perfect complement to the text.

Cons:  I’m pretty sure it’s a federal offense to say anything negative about Mister Rogers.

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The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Augusta, a.k.a. Gus, hasn’t had much time for her younger sister Lou since middle school started.  She feels bad about it, so creates this collection for her describing 47 people she’s met since starting sixth grade.  There’s the usual middle school cast of characters: the old friend who’s grown distant, the surprising new friend, the boy who may be more than a friend, and the pack of mean girls.  Gus’s parents have recently divorced, and negotiating between their two homes sometimes adds to her stress. As she goes through the first few months of the school year, she slowly finds a new group of friends who have her back and learns to feel more confident about speaking up for herself.  304 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Gus’s voice is pitch-perfect, and took me back to my own early middle school days, which is quite a ways back.  Fans of Dork Diaries and other tween realistic fiction will enjoy meeting Gus and the other 47 characters.

Cons:  The mean girls picked on Gus for wearing glasses, which seemed unrealistic, since it seems to me about half the kids in middle school are bespectacled these days.

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