Saturday by Oge Mora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for saturday oge mora

Image result for saturday oge mora

Summary:  Ava’s mom works six days a week, so Saturdays are extra special for the two of them.  They love to go to the library’s story hour, get their hair done, and have a peaceful picnic in the park.  This week they’re going to a special one-day-only puppet show.  But when Saturday arrives, everything starts to wrong. Story hour is canceled, their hairdos get soaked by a passing bus, and the park is filled with noisy people and animals.  Worst of all, they barely catch the bus to the puppet show, only to discover that Mom left the tickets at home. “I ruined Saturday,” she says. But Ava sees it differently.  “Don’t worry, Mommy. Saturdays are wonderful…because I spend them with you.” They head for home, where they both have the same idea: to kick off their shoes and spend the rest of the day making their own puppet show.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A simple, but heartfelt story that every harried parent will embrace.  The gorgeous collage illustrations are sure to be Oge Mora in the running for another Caldecott recognition this year.  Happy Saturday!

Cons:  A six-day work week.

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Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by Roaring Brook

Image result for fry bread kevin noble maillard

Image result for fry bread kevin noble maillard

Summary:  Starting with the endpapers, which list all the Indigenous nations and communities in the United States, this book celebrates many different Native groups while showing the commonality they share in making and eating fry bread.  Each page starts with a statement about fry bread: “Fry bread is food”, “Fry bread is shape”, “Fry bread is sound”, followed by a few lines of poetic text elaborating on this idea,  shown in illustrations featuring a diverse group of children and their families.  The author shares his fry bread recipe at the end, followed by eight pages that give a lot more historical and cultural information about each page of the main text. 48 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  Although this is an excellent resource to share with young children, all the end matter also makes it a useful book for older kids and even adults.  The simple act of making fry bread is elevated to a unifying part of Indigenous cultures and heritage. The cute illustrations by Caldecott honoree Martinez-Neal will appeal to the youngest readers.

Cons:  The word “story” in the subtitle made me think I was going to get a story, but this is really more in the nonfiction category.

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Sunny Rolls the Dice by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Published by Graphix

Image result for sunny rolls the dice

Image result for sunny rolls the dice

Summary:  It’s 1977, and Sunny is starting seventh grade in her third graphic novel.  Her best friend, Deb, is interested in boys, makeup, and clothes, while Sunny sees the boys as partners for playing the new game Dungeons and Dragons.  For awhile, she gives into peer pressure, even telling the guys she’s through with D & D. At the big middle school dance, though, Sunny has curled her hair and bought a fancy dress, but she ends up with her three gaming friends out in the hall and decides she’d rather hang out with them.  Readers of the first books will enjoy cameo appearances by her grandfather and troubled older brother (who seems to be doing well in the Navy), but this book is mostly a middle school tale about Sunny. 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  The first two books have been very popular among the Raina Telgemeier/Victoria Jamieson groupies in my library, and I’m sure this one will be as well.  Lots of ‘70’s nostalgia (Sunny’s one year younger than me, and I’m pretty sure that the word “groovy” wasn’t as popular in the 1977-78 school year as this book would lead you to believe) and a fun lesson about being yourself.

Cons:  This book is pretty light and fluffy and doesn’t tackle the tough issues like the first two did.

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Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books

Image result for look both ways jason reynolds

Summary:  This collection of ten short stories follows various middle school kids on their way home from school.  These are kids who are dealing with a lot: sickle cell anemia, parents with cancer, a brother in prison, a grandfather with dementia. But those details are slipped casually into the main action of the story, which generally centers on the more mundane parts of life.  Hanging out with friends, getting up the nerve to tell a girl you like her. Teasing your best friend about his boogers, trying to avoid a new dog in the neighborhood. The characters make cameo appearances in each other’s stories, which may send readers back to the beginning once they’ve met everyone.  Each story also contains a reference to a school bus falling from the sky. It’s mentioned in the first sentence of the first story and the third from the last sentence of the final story, which concludes: “Canton smiled, knowing a school bus is many things. So is a walk home.” 208 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book seems destined to wind up in the reading curriculum of many a middle school, showing kids what effortlessly amazing writing looks like, and how to create a host of distinctive characters from everyday life in a short amount of space.  This is already a National Book Award Finalist, and it’s sure to win more awards next year.  

Cons:  I’m not a huge fan of the short story format.  I always feel like I’m just getting to know the characters when the story ends.

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Archimancy (Shadow School, book 1) by J. A. White

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Image result for archimancy shadow school

Summary:  Cordelia’s not happy with her family’s move from sunny California to cold and snowy New Hampshire.  Her new middle school, Shadow School, is unusually elegant but seems to have a few dark secrets dating back to the time of its founder, Elijah Z. Shadow.  When Cordelia realizes that she is seeing ghosts that others can’t see, she is pretty freaked out. New friends Agnes and Benji (the only other kid in the school who can see ghosts) soon come to her aid, and as the year goes on, Cordelia slowly begins to feel more comfortable at her new school.  The three kids work to understand the ghosts and unlock some of the more dangerous mysteries hidden within their school. They manage to dispense with the main ones, but the ending and the fact that this is book 1 make a sequel seem inevitable. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fun blend of spooky ghost story, mystery, and friendship story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Cons:  Although there was plenty of mystery and suspense, this wasn’t as scary as some kids might wish it were.

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Rabbit and the Motorbike by Kate Hoefler, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

Published by Chronicle Books

Image result for rabbit motorbike hoefler

Image result for rabbit motorbike hoefler

Summary:  Every night, Rabbit listens to the traffic on a distant road and dreams of traveling.  He lives vicariously through old Dog, who used to travel all over the country on his motorbike.  Dog loves to share his stories, and Rabbit loves to hear them. Then one day, Dog is gone, and the motorbike comes to live with Rabbit.  The seasons pass, and the motorbike sits quietly while Rabbit goes about his chores. Then one night, he dreams of the bike’s engine howling.  The next morning, he tells the bike, “Just down the road.” But the road is longer than Rabbit anticipates, and it’s a long time until he returns home, full of stories of his own to share with a new friend.  48 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  A deceptively quiet and simple story about slowly moving on from loss and overcoming your fears.  This book was as thought-provoking for me as I imagine it would be for any 6-year-old.

Cons:  Dog’s death is described so subtly that kids might miss it.

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A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for big bed for little snow

Summary:  At the beginning of winter, Little Snow’s mother makes him a new feather bed, reminding him not to jump on it.  Of course, the minute her back is turned, he can’t resist, bouncing on the bed until feathers start to spill from it.  All winter long, he jumps whenever he can, feathers leaking out each time. One time, the bed rips open: “What a lot of feathers fell that day!”  The illustration on that page moves from Little Snow’s bed to a city block blanketed in snow. Ah-ha! Little Snow and his mother live up in the clouds, and the feathers are snow.  On the last page, Little Snow’s mother has discovered the featherless bed, and the boy is unrepentant: “Aren’t you glad? Now all we have to do is fill it again next winter!” 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This follow-up to Lin’s Caldecott Honor book A Big Mooncake for Little Star has the same feel of a myth or folktale with a child and parent pairing that will be familiar to young readers.  Perfect as a bedtime or winter read-aloud.

Cons:  The story and illustrations aren’t quite as rich as A Big Mooncake.

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