The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

Published by Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books

Image result for book rescuer sue macy

Image result for book rescuer sue macy

Summary:  When Aaron Lansky was growing up, he heard the story of his grandmother, who immigrated to America when she was 16.  Her older brother greeted her by throwing her suitcase into the Hudson River, telling her it was time to break with the past.  Aaron has spent his adult life working tirelessly to find and preserve that past. As a college student interested in learning Jewish history through Yiddish novels, he discovered a passion for Yiddish books, and began traveling around the country to rescue them.  In 1980, he founded the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts. A MacArthur grant in 1989 recognized his work, which he continues today, having collected 1.5 million books in Yiddish that he shares with people all over the world. Includes an afterword by Aaron Lansky, an author’s note, illustrator’s note, glossary of yiddish words, and a couple sources of additional information.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  What could have been a dry, uninteresting topic comes to life in Sue Macy’s capable hands, aided by the Marc Chagall-inspired artwork.  The back matter fleshes out the story even further, and includes information for visiting the Yiddish Book Center, which turns out to be less than 30 miles from my house.

Cons:  I started to feel some pangs of guilt about my enthusiasm for weeding my libraries.

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Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Image result for wintercake perkins

Summary:  Lucy the bird finds her friend Thomas the bear hunting all over for some missing dried fruit that he wants to use to make a wintercake for the Winter’s Eve celebration.  Later, Lucy gets stranded at a cafe during a blizzard and overhears another animal (maybe a weasel?) talking about a basket of dried fruit he found that morning. Lucy is sure he’s up to no good, and follows him when he leaves.  Much to her surprise, he goes to Thomas’s place and returns the fruit. The two friends are so surprised and impressed that, after they make the wintercake, they decide to follow his tracks to find where he lives. It turns out to be an arduous journey, but they finally find his den and celebrate the holiday together.  A friendship is born, as well as a holiday tradition that carries on for many years to come. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  The talented Lynne Rae Perkins has both written and illustrated an engaging story perfect for a long winter’s evening.  The vocabulary (“bereft”, “forlorn”, “melancholy”) shows a respect for young readers’ intelligence, and the illustrations are adorable.  A perfect non-Christmas holiday tale for December.

Cons:  I was initially a little put off by the length of this book, but once I started, I found the story so engaging that it went very quickly.

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Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Bijou Karmans

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  In 1929, women pilots competed in the Air Derby, the first all-female cross-country race, to see who could be the first to fly from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio.  The most famous was Amelia Earhart, but all the women had broken multiple barriers to learn how to fly, and many held records for speed, height, endurance, and long-distance flights.  Starting with a childhood frequently spent jumping off roofs or other high places, Steve Sheinkin traces how each of the women got to the race, then follows the pilots on their nine-day journey.  There were suspicions of sabotage as planes were wrecked and one pilot died, but all the women were determined to see it through. “They started by jumping off roofs. They wound up kicking down doors–for themselves, and everyone else.”  Includes extensive source notes, works cited, and index. 288 pages (60 pages is notes, citations, and index); grades 5-8.

Pros:  Steve Sheinkin does it again, writing a nonfiction book that reads like a novel.  I wasn’t all that excited about starting this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.  Readers will learn that there were many women–not just Amelia Earhart–who defied the social norms to follow their passion for flying.  Lots of illustrations and photos enhance the text.

Cons:  There were so many different pilots to keep track of, some with the same first name, that I sometimes had trouble keeping everyone straight.

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Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Image result for home in the woods eliza wheeler

Summary:  Marvel, age 6, tells the story of her family which consists of her mother and seven siblings ranging in age from 3 months to 14 (she’s number 5).  Dad, she says, “lives with the angels now”, so the family has to find a new home. This turns out to be a one-room shack in the woods, which the family works hard to turn into a cozy home for the eight of them.  Through the seasons, they garden, preserve, chop wood, and trade with their neighbors to feed themselves. Their money covers needs, not wants, so after visiting the general store, the kids set up a play store outside their house.  A year later, spring arrives again, and Marvel sees the shack differently now: “warm and bright and filled up with love…like I feel inside.” The author’s note reveals that the narrative is based on her Aunt Marvel’s life; the family lived there for five years during the Great Depression.  She encourages readers to write down their own family’s histories. 48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  I loved this cozy story about a family working hard and staying optimistic despite pretty bitter hard times (one illustration shows them all, including the mother, sharing the one bed in the house).  Kids will be especially intrigued to learn that this is based on a true story.

Cons:  After making the connection that Eliza Wheeler illustrated Holly Black’s Doll Bones, I couldn’t help noticing that all the family members looked slightly pale and Edward Gorey-esque.

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Hoax for Hire by Laura Martin

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  What if all the sightings of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, and other cryptids were the elaborate work of two hoaxing families?  That’s the premise for this story about the McNeils, one of the families who has been investigating cryptozoology for decades–and staging elaborate hoaxes to fund their research.  Youngest son Grayson McNeil is sick of the whole business, and is secretly applying to a boarding school where he can indulge his passion for photography, and maybe get his work in the public eye instead of always sneaking around like his father, grandfather, and older brother Curtis.  But when the other hoaxing family, the Gerhards, kidnap Dad and Gramps just as they are about to complete a big (and well-paying) job, it’s up to Grayson and Curtis to save the day. The Gerhards are hot on their heels, though, including a well-placed spy from Grayson’s school, and it’s a race against time to try to finish up the job.  As their family’s history is on the brink of collapse, Grayson begins to understand why the McNeils have pursued their secret work and to think he may just be one of them after all. 320 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  There’s always lots of interest in mysterious creatures like Bigfoot, and this is a book that would be easy to book talk.  There’s plenty of humor and intrigue, and readers will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at some of the hoaxes.

Cons:  There were quite a few flashback scenes at the beginning of the story that could be confusing to readers and made it a little slow going to get into the book.

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The Favorite Book by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for favorite book murguia

Summary:  “How do you choose a favorite, a best? Which would you pick before all the rest?” This book whimsically explores how to make a decision.  Children are pictured trying to pick a favorite dog, tree, cake, and hat. Sometimes they weigh the variables carefully, other times they follow their heart with an instinctive choice.  There may be more than one favorite, or no favorites at all. And many times you can make another choice. “From here to the sea to the sky up above–there are so many things in this world you can love.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This deceptively simple book could open up a lot of interesting conversations about choices we make.  The rhymes are catchy and the watercolor illustrations are fun and full of action.

Cons:  Why is it so hard to make up your mind?

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Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Kitty’s mom is a superhero, and Kitty knows she has special powers.  She doesn’t feel ready to go out at night the way her mother does, though.  But when a cat named Figaro comes to her bedroom window one night and tells her he needs help, she decides to be brave and go exploring with him.  First she rescues a cat from a tree. But the real issue is a loud wailing coming from a clock tower. They discover a kitten stuck at the top. Kitty has to figure out a way to climb up before the clock strikes midnight and scares the kitten into falling.  Assisted by her three cat helpers, she makes a successful rescue. The next morning, the cats all gather around Kitty and her family, ready to go off on another adventure.

Pros:  An exciting early chapter book adventure with cute black and orange illustrations, sure to be popular with Princess In Black and Owl Diary fans.

Cons:  It’s a sweet story, but lacks the slight edge that makes the Princess In Black books so much fun.

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