The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the World by Jessica Dee Humphries and the Hon. Rona Ambrose, illustrated by Simone Shin

Published by Kids Can Press (Released September 1)

The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the ...

Summary:  In 2011, the United Nations declared that October 11 would be an annual day of recognition for girls around the world–the International Day of the Girl.  This book tells the stories of nine (fictional) girls from all over the world who experienced gender inequality, and took action to remedy it.  Each one is introduced by name and a personality trait (“This is Abuya.  She is creative”), then tells a brief version of her story, including a sidebar about the more global issue it connects to.  For instance, in Kenya,  Abuya overheard her older sister asking to stay home from school because there was no girls’ bathroom.  Assisted by her father, Abuya used her carpentry skills to build an outhouse.  The sidebar describes the issue of providing safe bathroom facilities so girls are able to get an education.  An illustration accompanies each story.  Includes a timeline of events leading to the creation of the International Day of the Girl and further information about each of the issues facing girls addressed in the book.  32 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This was the first I had heard of the International Day of the Girl, and this introduction explains many of the issues affecting girls around the world in a way that readers will understand and connect with.  The introduction uses the metaphor of a garden that’s been divided into two halves, with one half receiving all the nurturing and attention.  The colorful illustrations continue that metaphor, and the last page encourages kids to “be the world’s gardener”.  Another excellent entry in the CitizenKid series.

Cons:  A map showing where the different girls live around the world and some additional resources would have been useful additions.

A Rainbow of Rocks by Kate DePalma

Published by Barefoot Books

A Rainbow of Rocks: DePalma, Kate: 9781782859925: Books

Summary:  Each page features two rocks of the same color on a black background with rhyming text to identify them (“Pyrite cubes reflect the light. Calcite is glassy–edged with white.”).  After going through red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and rainbow-colored, the author concludes, “Rocks in every shape and hue. Each one’s different, just like you!”  The final three pages contain five questions about rocks and minerals with fairly in-depth answers.  24 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The photos of are gorgeous, and the back matter provides a good introduction to rocks and minerals.

Cons:  There feels like a disconnect between the rhyming text, which seems most appropriate for preschoolers, and the back matter, which would work for kids up to age 10 or so.

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Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by Laura Perdew, illustrated by Katie Mazeika

Published by Nomad Press (released August 13)

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by ...

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations ...

Summary:  Beginning with four haiku about adaptation, the author then moves to a one-page explanation of what animal adaptation is.  From there, it’s a look at individual animals who have interesting adaptations:  ring-tailed lemurs’ stink fights and whales’ earwax from the title, as well as elephants’ ears, star-nosed moles’ noses, giant anteaters’ tongues, and more.  Each two-page spread includes an illustration and a few sentences describing the adaptation and how it helps that animal.  Includes an activity to explore how humans adapt; a page called “Connections” which is a list of fun facts about mammals; and a glossary.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun introduction to animal adaptation (specifically mammals) with playful illustrations and facts that are sure to pique the interest of young readers.

Cons:  There’s not a lot of information or additional resources; some facts, like “Elephants have an excellent sense of smell” don’t get any additional explanation.

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War Stories by Gordon Korman

Published by Scholastic (released July 21)

War Stories: Korman, Gordon: 9781338290202: Books

Summary:  Trevor has always worshipped his great-grandfather, Jacob, who fought in World War II as a 17-year-old.  Trevor’s fascination of WWII has resulted in a room decorated with memorabilia and a passion for war-based video games.  When Jacob announces he’s going back to the French village that he helped liberate to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, Trevor is thrilled to be invited along.  He, his reluctant father Daniel, and Jacob. make a journey that starts at Fort Benning, Georgia, and continues to Normandy, and on into the French countryside.  As they get closer to their destination, Jacob becomes more distant and irritable; Daniel monitors threats against Jacob being made on social media; and Trevor notices a girl about his age who seems to be following them.  Jacob’s war stories begin to take on a different tone, and by the time he finally reveals what happened in that French village, Trevor has learned some new truths about the horrors of war and what really makes a hero.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Told in third-person narratives that switch between 2020 and 1944, the action really builds, and by the time the reader gets to the French village, it’s hard to put the book down.  Gordon Korman and a World War II story make an unbeatable combination for middle-grade readers.

Cons:  Through no fault of his own, Gordon Korman has created a story that would never have taken place.  You will have to suspend your disbelief and pretend we live in a parallel universe where a 93-year-old man could have traveled to Europe during the spring of 2020.

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Accordionly by Michael Genhart, illustrated by Priscilla Burris

Published by Magination Press

Accordionly: Abuelo and Opa Make Music: Genhart PhD, Michael ...

Summary:  The narrator of the story has two grandfathers who love to play their accordions, Abuelo in a mariachi band, and Opa in a polka band.  The boy’s family loves going to performances or listening to each grandfather play at his own home.  The first time the grandfathers get together, though, there are a lot of awkward silences.  The two men don’t speak the same language and can’t seem to find anything they have in common.  Finally, the boy gets out both accordions, and the grandfathers joyously connect over music–music the entire family gets to enjoy.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A short and sweet story to celebrate diversity in families and the power of the universal language of music.

Cons:  It seemed unlikely that both grandfathers would have brought their accordions to their first get-together with the whole family.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Published by Dial Books

When Stars Are Scattered: Jamieson, Victoria, Mohamed, Omar ...

When Stars Are Scattered on Apple Books

Summary:  Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent a good portion of their lives in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Originally from Somalia, they have been refugees since their father was killed and their mother disappeared during the civil war there.  An older woman named Fatuma lives in a nearby tent and acts as a foster mother to the boys.  Every day in camp is pretty much the same.  Omar wishes he could go to school, but feels that he must stay at home with Hassan, who is nonverbal and has seizures.  The book covers many of the years the boys are in the camp, starting when they are young, and continuing as Omar finally decides to go to school, where he is able to stay until he graduates high school; and their excruciating wait for resettlement, which finally ends when they get permission to move to the United States in 2009.  An afterword tells what happened to the two after they moved to the U.S.; there are also authors’ notes by both authors telling how they came to create this book.  264 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This may be my favorite book of the year so far.  I love Victoria Jamieson’s work, and her artwork is as engaging as it was in Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School.  The story is compelling, and readers will experience the boredom of the refugee camp, as well as the seesawing between hope and despair.  Victoria Jamieson has so many fans, and having her name on this book will make this important story accessible to kids who might not otherwise read it.  I’d love to see it considered for the Newbery or other awards.

Cons:  The story is very different from the lighthearted middle-grade fare of Jamieson’s other works.  While there’s nothing in here that’s inappropriate for fourth and fifth graders, kids who pick it up expecting more of the same may need a little guidance.

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Summer at Meadow Wood by Amy Rebecca Tan

Published by HarperCollins

Summer at Meadow Wood: Tan, Amy Rebecca: 9780062795458: ...

Summary:  Vic has been going to camp at Meadow Wood for many years, but this year feels different.  After discovering a secret about her mom, she’s pretty sure her parents are trying to get her and her younger brother out of the house so they can plan their breakup.  Angry and not really in the mood for camp activities, Vic gets pulled into camp life nonetheless.  She finds herself bonding with some unexpected allies, including Chieko, a moody counselor with attitude; Earl, the camp owner’s 67-year-old husband and his new garden; Vera, a precocious younger camper she mentors; and Angel, a boy that she meets when she helps Earl out at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.  Each of these people offers their own helpful insights and wisdom, and Vic ends the summer feeling stronger and happier than she ever thought would be possible.  384 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I always enjoy a good camp story, and this one is chock full of interesting characters–even though there are a lot of people in this story, I had no trouble telling them apart, because their personalities shone through immediately.  With family issues, friendship issues, a crush, and a few trips to the emergency room, this book has everything to make it a satisfying summer read.

Cons:  Vic’s friend Jamie is referenced a few times: Vic’s mom called her a bad influence even though she’s a quiet bookworm; she had a crush that got her into trouble; she’s doing community service at the library.  I kept waiting to find out the full story, but it never came.  Quite by accident while writing this review, I discovered the book with Jamie’s story, A Kind of Paradise.  Still, if one hasn’t read this book (like me), you’ll be left with some questions when you get to the last page.

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111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer (CitizenKid series)

Published by Kids Can Press (Released October 6)

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by ...

Summary:  Growing up in India, Sundar Paliwal watched his mother as she spent hours fetching water, cried over her hungry children, and ultimately died of a snakebite when he was still a child.  As an adult, he worked in a marble factory and witnessed the environmental devastation this work caused.  When his oldest daughter died, he planted trees in her memory.  This gave him the idea to plant 111 trees to honor any girl born in his village.  There were celebrations whenever a boy was born, and Sundar believed that girls should be celebrated as well.  After winning an election to be head of the village, Sundar put his many ideas into practice, and today, there is plenty of food and water, and girls go to school with boys until they are 18.  He continues to plant 111 trees any time a girl is born.  Includes five pages of back matter with additional information, photos, and ways kids can help Sundar’s work.  36 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  I’m a huge fan of the CitizenKid books and review them whenever I can (look for another one coming soon).  Like others in the series, this one profiles a real person who has made a difference in a part of the world American kids may not know much about.  It also empowers kids to see how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things in their community, and gives them ways that kids can contribute.

Cons:  I’d like to see a world map in all the CitizenKid books showing where the story takes place.

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A Long Road on a Short Day by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Published by Clarion Books (Released November 10)

A Long Road on a Short Day: Gary D. Schmidt, Elizabeth Stickney ...

Summary:  When Samuel’s mother mentions that she’d like a cow so that the baby can have some milk, Samuel’s father gets his best Barlow knife and tells Samuel to bundle up.  The two of them head out on a journey as a snowstorm approaches.  Samuel guesses that Dad will trade the knife for a cow, but instead he gets two lanterns.  As they go from house to house, the lanterns are traded for a book, which gets exchanged for a pitcher, and so on, until finally Samuel’s father is able to secure the cow.  At many of the houses, Samuel enjoys playing with a dog or cat, so he is delighted that a border collie puppy is part of the deal for the cow.  His father includes him in all the trades, and Samuel must give up something he really wants (a cart and pony) for what the family needs (the cow).  As they travel, the snowstorm builds in intensity, until they are able to head back to their cozy home with their new cow, which Samuel names Blizzard.  64 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent first historical fiction book, with an award-winning author and illustrator.  Small details in the text and illustrations give hints about the time and place, allowing readers to draw inferences.  Samuel’s parents treat him with respect, but still allow him to enjoy being a kid.

Cons:  An author’s note with a bit more information about the actual setting of this story would have added to the historical value.



Bright Dreams: The Brilliant Ideas of Nikola Tesla by Tracy Dockray

Published by Capstone Editions (released August 1)

Bright Dreams: The Brilliant Ideas of Nikola Tesla by Tracy ...

Bright Dreams: The Brilliant Ideas of Nikola Tesla by Tracy ...

Summary:  Growing up in the 19th-century Austrian empire, Nikola Tesla was fascinated by electricity and dreamed of studying engineering.  Although his father wanted him to become a priest, Nikola eventually got his way.  He was so focused on his questions about electricity, though, that he flunked out of engineering school.  Tesla eventually emigrated to America, where he worked with both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to develop his ideas about AC (alternating current) electricity.  In spite of his brilliance, Nikola lacked the social and business skills to make his inventions a success, and died a poor man at the age of 86.  His life and ideas have experienced a revival in recent years, including the naming of the Tesla car.  Includes a timeline, bibliography, and additional sources of information.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This is a good introduction to Nikola Tesla’s life, and would serve as a good starting point for research for elementary kids.  Plenty of sidebars help explain some of the more technical aspects of Tesla’s work.  

Cons:  Thomas Edison sounds like a pretty terrible person.

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