Leave It to Abigail! The Revolutionary Life of Abigail Adams by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  “Leave it to Abigail!” is the repeating refrain of this book, as Abigail Adams defied expectations, beginning with her survival from a sickly baby to a rambunctious, inquisitive young girl.  She married John Adams at the age of 19, and continued to live life on her own terms, running a farm and raising a family when John was away for long periods of time. Their correspondence has become famous, as she offered insights and opinions from the home front while he traveled abroad.  When their children were grown, she boarded a schooner and sailed to Europe, where she lived the life of an ambassador’s wife, throwing parties and attending balls and concerts while maintaining a thrifty New England lifestyle. The Adams returned home to the presidency, and Abigail continued to influence politics through her writing and her conversations of John.  The two finally retired to their farm, but Abigail continued writing letters to the end of her life. Includes portraits of twelve American women influenced by Abigail Adams; author’s and illustrator’s notes; and source notes. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  It’s research project season at my schools, and with assignments on early American history and famous Massachusetts people, demand is outpacing supply.  So I’m delighted to find a new biography of Abigail Adams, particularly one that is written and illustrated so engagingly, really making Abigail come to life as a smart, courageous woman of her time.

Cons:  With research in mind, I would have liked to have seen a list of additional books and/or websites to help kids fill out Adams’ story.

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Fly High, John Glenn: The Story of an American Hero by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Maurizio A. C. Quarello

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  John Glenn dreamed of flying from his early days growing up in Ohio.  He earned his pilot’s license at age 20, becoming a fighter pilot during World War II.  He kept flying after the war, flying the first supersonic flight across the United States. When NASA announced Project Mercury, a mission to launch a man into orbit around the Earth, candidates were selected from the country’s 508 test pilots.  Glenn was one of the seven chosen, and on February 20, 1962, he became the first man to orbit the Earth aboard his space capsule Friendship 7.  Despite a few glitches, the mission went well, and Glenn returned to a hero’s welcome.  He continued to serve his country as a U.S. senator, and in 1998, became the oldest person to fly in space at age 77.  Includes additional information, a timeline, and a bibliography. 48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This is quite a complete biography for a picture book, including plenty of information on John’s career and family.  The realistic paintings are beautiful, particularly the ones of outer space.

Cons:  Due to the length, primary-grade audiences might get a bit antsy before the last page.

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The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver by Gene Barretta, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Born into slavery in 1864 (his father died before he was born; he and his mother were kidnapped when he was a baby, and she was never seen again), George Washington Carver showed an early love of plants and nature.  Unable to go to school, he decided to teach himself all he could from the woods. He started a secret garden to study plants and soon developed a reputation for his ability to grow things and restore sickly plants to health.  Later, he was able to go to school and became the first black graduate of Iowa Agricultural College. He was hired by Booker T. Washington to teach agriculture at Tuskegee Institute, and became well-known for his work with peanuts as a crop to replace cotton.  He also traveled to farms to teach people how to improve their crops and their own health. Carver preached the lessons he had learned in his garden as a child: “Regard nature. Revere nature. Respect nature.” Includes a timeline, a bibliography, and a list of books for further reading.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This beautifully-illustrated biography of George Washington Carver opens in 1921 with him testifying to U.S. Congress on the many uses of the peanut, then goes back to show his amazing journey to reach that point.  There’s a fair amount of detail for a picture book, making this an engaging story as well as a good tool for elementary research.

Cons:  I would have liked to see a few photos included at the end.

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In a Jar by Deborah Marcero

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Image result for in a jar deborah marcero

Image result for in a jar deborah marcero

Summary:  “Llewelyn was a collector.  He collected things in jars.”  This young rabbit collects flowers, stones, feathers, and more, keeping them in jars to remind him of “all the wonderful things he had seen and done.”  One night, Llewelyn goes to the beach at sunset, scooping up several jars filled with red water. He gives one to Evelyn, a girl bunny who happens to be there at the same time, and the two become friends.  They collect together, moving to collect “things you might not think would even fit in a jar” like rainbows and the sound of the ocean. Then one day, Evelyn moves away. Llewelyn is terribly lonely, until one night, unable to sleep, he collects a meteor shower in a jar.  He sends it to Evelyn, who reciprocates with her own filled jars. As Llewelyn ventures outside to fill some more jars, he finds a little boy named Max who is eager to help him. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A lovely meditation on memory, friendship, and finding ways to keep in touch across the miles.  The illustrations seem worthy of Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  Being something of a minimalist, it makes me shiver to think of having all those jars around, gathering dust.

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Where Lily Isn’t by Julie Paschkis, illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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Image result for where lily isn't chodos-irvine

Summary:  “Lily ran and jumped and barked and whimpered and growled and wiggled and wagged and licked and snuggled.  But not now.” A young girl deals with the empty places of losing her dog. Lily’s no longer at the side of her bed when she wakes up.  She’s not at the table, waiting for food to fall on the floor, or at the door, barking at the mailman. She’s not begging to go outside when the girl goes to the park, or waiting eagerly at the door when the girl returns from school.  “The house is full of all the places where Lily isn’t. But here inside me–that’s where Lily is and where she always will be,” the girl concludes, surrounded by the pictures she has drawn of herself and her dog. 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Anyone who has ever lost a pet will recognize the emptiness in the house that is left behind.  A perfect choice for a young child experiencing that loss.

Cons:  I seem to have forgotten to write any cons, and now I have returned the book to the library.  So Lily gets a pass.

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Earth Hour: A Lights-Out Event for Our Planet by Nanette Heffernan, illustrated by Bao Luu

Published by Charlesbridge

Image result for earth hour nanette heffernan

Image result for earth hour nanette heffernan

Summary:  All over the world, people use energy to light up the nighttime.  Kids and their families are shown enjoying this illumination at the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, the pyramids of Egypt, and other places around the globe.  “Energy is a wonderful resource from Earth–a gift from nature we respect and conserve.” To honor this, people around the world observe Earth Hour at 8:30 p.m. in late March, when they turn off their lights for 60 minutes.  “Alone we are one…but together we have power. United, we are Earth Hour.” Includes additional information about Earth Hour, and how our energy use is leading to climate change; also, an author’s note about how she came to write this book.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A simple but effective introduction to an event I was not aware of.  I like how the illustrations portray kids and their families at famous landmarks around the world to show that Earth Hour and energy conservation are global concerns.

Cons:  There were no additional resources listed or websites to find out when Earth Hour is this year (it’s March 28, 2020).


Bo’s Magical New Friend (Unicorn Diaries book 1) by Rebecca Elliott

Published by Scholastic 

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Summary:  Meet Rainbow Tinseltail (better known as Bo) of Sparklegrove Forest, a unicorn who sports a rainbow mane and sneezes glitter.  Bo’s a wishing unicorn, which means they (Bo’s gender is never revealed) can grant one wish a week. When new unicorn Sunny pops into existence (that’s how it is with unicorns), Bo’s hoping he’ll become a new best friend (Sunny seems to be a boy).  The unicorns get a challenge to use their special magical powers, but Sunny doesn’t know what his is. Bo wants Sunny to make a wish to learn his power, so that Bo can grant the wish and win Sunny’s friendship. But that’s against the rules, and before long Bo and Sunny have gotten into a fight.  Fear not, there’s a happy ending for all, and a second book coming out in early March. 80 pages; grades 2-3.

Pros:  A new diary series about unicorns written and illustrated by the author of Owl Diaries? Better stock up on extra copies…this is sure to be a hit with the early-reading crowd.

Cons:  Keep a dose of insulin handy for this super-sweet dose of unicorn magic.

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Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Susan Gal

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  While a boy celebrates Passover with his family, a little white kitten waits outside the family’s house.  Inside is light, laughter, and food. Outside is darkness, silence, and nothing to eat. The boy enjoys all the parts of the Seder dinner, eating each food and singing, while the kitten waits in the darkness.  Finally, it’s time to welcome Elijah. When the boy opens the door, the kitten is there waiting for him. “And that’s how Elijah found a home.” Includes an author’s note with additional information about Passover.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun introduction to Passover, and cute illustrations portraying the multicultural family celebration and the adorable kitten.

Cons:  It might have been nice to have an activity or some additional resources about Passover.

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Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for being frog april pulley sayre

Summary:  “A frog is a being./It is watching./It is seeing.”  The rhyming text follows a frog as it sits on a log, hunts for food, cools off in the water, and leaps into the air.  Questions are asked: does a frog remember its tadpole days? Does time move fast or slow for the frog? No one knows; the text simply concludes: “A frog has a life./A frog is a being.”  Includes a two-page author’s note in which Sayre talks about fictional frogs and how real frogs are different. She discusses things she imagines about the frogs she observes at a local pond (a favorite frog responds to her) versus what science teaches us about frogs.  Also includes resources for further exploration. 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  It’s always a pleasure to discover a new science book by April Pulley Sayre, with her gifts for photography and rhyme.  I particularly liked her author’s note introducing kids to various topics dealing with science and scientists.

Cons:  There’s not enough information to use this as a research resource.

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Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Lymon lives with his grandparents, Pops and Ma, in Mississippi. His daddy’s been in jail for as long as Lymon can remember, and he has no memory of the mother who left him to go live in Chicago.  But he loves his grandparents, and especially enjoys learning to play guitar with his grandfather. But when Pops dies, everything changes. Ma and Lymon are forced to go live in Milwaukee, where his aunt and uncle can help take care of them.  Although his father’s gotten out of jail, he’s on the road playing music much of the time, so when Ma gets sick with diabetes, Lymon is sent to Chicago to live with the mother he doesn’t know. She’s married to a man named Robert, who resents having to take care of Lymon, and beats him regularly.  Lymon starts acting out, becoming the bully we met in Finding Langston, stealing money, and running away from home.  He ends up in a home for boys, where a caring music teacher puts him back on the right track.  It’s clear Lymon’s got a rough road ahead, but the ending offers some hope for a better future for him.  Includes an author’s note with more information on the time period. 198 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  It’s been long enough since I read Finding Langston that I’ve forgotten the character of Lymon, but I enjoyed getting to know him in his own story.  His voice rings true, and he shows a lot of resilience in the face of overwhelmingly difficult circumstances.  Cline-Ransome has done an excellent job of showing how bullies are made not born, and readers will empathize with Lymon and understand why he does what he does.

Cons:  I didn’t find Lymon’s story quite as engaging and uplifting as Langston’s.

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