Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  A dandelion dreams of becoming a dandy lion and going on many adventures:  riding on a train, sailing on a ship, visiting the city. Finally, he rides in a small biplane, where he gets an aerial view of all the city lights.  As he watches, the blurry lights transform into puffy dandelions, and he is back in the field. He’s gone from yellow to white, and on the last pages, seeds blow from him into the dark sky, forming the shape of a pouncing lion.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The illustrations in this wordless picture book have a surreal, dreamy quality, perfect for the story.  The story is straightforward and easy to understand, but could easily prompt more discussion, writing, or art.

Cons:  I was disappointed that Dandelion didn’t fly off the ship on his bird friend’s back.

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The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Although Frances Perkins was shy growing up, her passion for justice helped her overcome her fears.  As a young woman, she moved from Massachusetts to New York City where she became a social worker. Witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire turned her into an activist, and she was hired by former president Theodore Roosevelt to improve workplace safety.  She caught the eye of New York governor Al Smith, and moved to work at the state level, eventually working for Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became President, he appointed Frances Secretary of Labor, the first female member of a U.S. presidential cabinet.  She was instrumental in many New Deal reforms, including Social Security and the federal minimum wage. Roosevelt wouldn’t let her resign, so Perkins remained in her position until FDR’s death in 1945. Disliking publicity and refusing to write her memoirs, Frances Perkins wasn’t always well-known, but her work continues to benefit us to this day.  Includes additional information and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This lengthy picture book biography of Frances Perkins highlights her work ethic and concern for people in need that led her to work for numerous reforms that have improved lives for almost a century.  Alexandra Bye’s illustrations enhance the text and nicely weave some of Frances’s quotes into the pictures.

Cons:  There aren’t a lot of dates of places in the text or author’s note, and very little is told of Frances’s personal life.  A timeline, kid-friendly list of resources, and some photos would have made this a more useful research book.

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The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  The artist calls these “illustrations for stories that do not exist”.  Each painting is accompanied by a sentence or two scribbled on the back of an envelope or other scrap of paper.  A monkey holding a key: “Ask the monkey what he knows.” A girl sitting by a stream surrounded by animals: “The paradise was different depending on who found it.”  A mermaid sitting on a rock: “She never told anyone what she saw at the edge of the world.” The author finishes with a brief note telling how these works chronicle the process of becoming herself and inviting the reader to join her on her journey.  80 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An amazing tool to unlock the imagination.  This reminded me of The Mysteries of Harrison Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.  Just paging through fires up the imagination; or one could choose one illustration and use it to inspire writing or other art.

Cons:  This book definitely defies categorization.  It seems like a picture book, but the usual picture book crowd would definitely find it puzzling.

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We Had to Be Brave: Escaping the Nazis on the Kindertransport by Deborah Hopkinson

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Following Kristallnacht on November 1, 1938, rescuers organized the Kindertransport to get as many Jewish children out of Germany and Austria as they could.  About 10,000 children’s lives were saved before World War II began in the fall of 1939.  This book focuses on three of those children: what their lives were like before Hitler came to power, how changes gradually or suddenly occurred afterward, and how their parents decided to send them away, not knowing if they would ever see them again.  In most cases, they did not. Many other children are profiled more briefly. There are quite a few photos, although, sadly, not many pictures of the children or their families have survived. The 80 pages of back matter include brief profiles of survivors, rescuers, and historians; a timeline; a glossary; resources for further exploration; a bibliography; source notes; and an index.  368 pages; grades 6-10, although I’m sure there are fourth and fifth graders who would enjoy this.

Pros:  Middle school kids interested in World War II and the Holocaust will find this compelling reading.  Deborah Hopkinson really spells out how Nazism took over Germany, and how ordinary people embraced it and turned on their neighbors–a timely lesson for kids to learn.  The back matter is pretty amazing, including a lot of oral history resources where kids can hear the voices of the survivors.

Cons:  There were so many kids’ stories told, I couldn’t keep them all straight.

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Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  From a young age, Althea Gibson excelled at all sports.  Growing up in Harlem, she didn’t know much about the world of tennis, but when she started hanging out at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club (tennis club for black people in her neighborhood), people immediately took notice.  She worked at the club in exchange for lessons, and before long she was traveling with the all-black American Tennis Association. But Althea had higher aspirations, and, in 1950, she courageously moved to the all-white world of professional tennis.  She lost a lot at first and was not always a gracious loser, but she decided to learn from her defeats, and slowly started moving up the ranks. In 1957 and 1958, she made history with back-to-back Wimbledon wins, opening the door for other black players to compete at the top levels of tennis.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and a list of additional resources. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring picture book biography of a natural athlete with a big personality who refused to accept the social norms of her day.  The back matter makes it an excellent choice for research–although the author’s note only hints at Althea’s post-tennis life which sounds pretty interesting.

Cons:  Once again, no photos.  Here’s a woman who lived into the 21st century, for crying out loud, there must be a ton of photographs of her.  

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Chirp by Kate Messner

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Mia is excited to be moving back to Burlington, Vermont, where she hopes she can help save her grandmother’s cricket farm.  Although Gram is feisty and determined, she’s recently had a stroke, and it’s beginning to look like someone is trying to sabotage her farm.  During summer vacation, Mia gets involved with two day camps: one a place where she can create a business plan to help her grandmother, and the other a camp where kids learn to navigate Ninja Warrior-style obstacles.  Mia’s not quite up to the obstacles, having suffered a badly broken arm at gymnastics not long ago. As the summer goes on, the reader learns of the sexual harassment by one of the coaches that led to her accident and destroyed her confidence.  By summer’s end, she’s begun to regain some of that confidence by making friends, growing physically stronger, helping Gram, and finally talking to some other women in her life about her gymnastics experience. 240 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  There seem to be more middle grade novels lately that address the sexual harassment issue, and this one does it with lots of other fun plot lines, including a pretty good mystery.

Cons:  The story seemed a bit too agenda-driven; it would have been nice to see some strong, sympathetic male characters as well as the many female ones.

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Such a Good Boy by Marianna Coppo

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Buzz is a dog who lives in a beautiful house, with healthy food to eat, and daily walks.  He always stays on his leash, does his business where he is supposed to, and doesn’t interact with the less well-behaved dogs at the park.  He is such a good boy. But sometimes Buzz feels the pressure of living up to his well-bred ancestors, and he occasionally finds himself wishing he were someone else.  One day, after being cooped up for a whole rainy week, Buzz throws himself into a puddle. His horrified owner immediately takes him to the Good Boy pet groomer. Buzz is cleaned up again, but his taste of freedom has changed him.  While his owner pays, Buzz sneaks out the door and heads back to the park, where he does all the things that have always been forbidden to him. On the way out, he sees lost dog posters everywhere with his face on them. “Uh-oh! Buzz should have known this wouldn’t last…Or will it?”  48 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  So much to think about in this seemingly simple book.  Will Buzz return to his home or embrace freedom? This could start some discussions about what makes pets (and people) happy.  Pair it with Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild for a story hour filled with existential soul searching.

Cons:  Kids might be disturbed that the well-cared-for dog doesn’t want to return home.

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