We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak ...

Summary:  Although we often learn about violent events in history (wars, assassinations), history is often made by those who embrace nonviolence.  Hasak-Lowy makes a distinction between institutional activism–writing letters and editorials, circulating petitions, lobbying politicians–and nonviolent activism, which “employs disruptive, risky tactics that challenge those in power and interrupt the way things normally work.” He illustrates this with chapters on Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel.  The final chapter is about Greta Thunberg and her current nonviolent activism around climate change.  A list at the end gives brief descriptions of half a dozen other groups that successfully employed nonviolent activism.  Includes notes, a seven-page bibliography, and an index.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  An excellent, accessible, and inspiring introduction to nonviolent activism.  I found it fascinating to learn the distinctions between institutional and nonviolent activism.  The engagingly-written profiles demonstrate the commitment and sacrifices necessary for this type of activism–but also show how effective it ultimately can be.

Cons:  No mention of Henry David “Mr. Civil Disobedience” Thoreau, who is said to have inspired both Gandhi and King.

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Tweet, tweet

What do Donald Trump and I have in common?  That’s right, we’re both on Twitter!  This week, I started a new account as a companion to this blog.  It’s taken me just a little more than 14 years to catch up with exciting new social media platform.  Not for nothing do my kids describe me as “technologically cutting edge” (just kidding).  Anyway, if you want to take a look, go on over to @kidsbookaday.  If you are a more sophisticated Twitter user than I am–and really, just about everyone on Twitter is–feel free to offer feedback on how I can improve my account.

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by Candlewick (Released September 8)

Amazon.com: See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog (9781536204278 ...

See the Cat: Three Stories About a Dog by David LaRochelle, Mike ...

Summary:  “See the cat,” says an omniscient narrator (later identified as Book).  But all the reader sees is a dog, and he’s not happy.  He is NOT a cat.  He is NOT a blue cat.  He is NOT a blue cat in a green dress.  And his name is Max, not Baby Cakes!  But a surprise ending turns him into a red dog.  There are two more stories featuring a snake and a hippopotamus, in which Max ultimately takes matters into his own hands to make the stories go the way he wants them to.  And ultimately the way he wants the stories is to go is to let him take a nap.  64 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  I have a great deal of admiration for easy reader authors, particularly at this very beginner level.  David LaRochelle has created not one, but three stories that even the earliest readers will be able to read on their own.  The cartoon-style illustrations are fun, as well, and will help kids figure out the story.  

Cons:  A couple longer words, like “unicorn” and “embarrassed” may be a challenge for the intended audience.

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Woke: Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany L. Browne with Elizabeth Acevedo and Olivia Gatewood, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, foreword by Jason Reynolds

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice: Browne, Mahogany L., Acevedo ...

Woke | Mahogany L. Browne | Macmillan

Summary:  What does it mean to be woke?  Mahogany Browne answers this question in her introduction:  awake, eyes open, seeing everything around you.  Sometimes what you see will seem unfair, and it’s important to speak up about that.  The two dozen poems by three different writers explore this concept, looking at such topics as community, empathy, gender, immigration, equality, and more.  Each poem gets its own two-page spread with a colorful illustration.  Includes a poem and foreword by Jason Reynolds.  56 pages; grades 3-8.

Pros:  Add this book to your Black Lives Matter reading lists, or any social justice collection.  Each poem is worthy of individual attention and discussion.  My favorites were “Say the Names” by Elizabeth Acevedo and “A Me-Shaped Box” by Olivia Gatwood.  The illustrations reminded me of Raina Telgemeier’s and Victoria Jamieson’s graphic novels, which offer near-universal appeal to kids.

Cons:  I tried reading this book in one sitting, and it started to feel a bit heavy.  I think the poems would be better savored and discussed one at a time. 

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Baloney and Friends by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Amazon.com: Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ...

Amazon.com: Baloney and Friends (Baloney & Friends (1 ...

Summary:  Baloney’s introduction to his book is interrupted by his friends: Peanut, a blue pony; Bizz, a cheerful bee; and Krabbit, a grouchy pink rabbit.  Once introductions are (finally) out of the way, the friends move on to three more stories: Baloney’s somewhat lame magic show, how his friends help him overcome his fear of swimming, and attempts by Peanut to cheer up Baloney when he’s feeling blue.  In between the longer stories are two-page mini-comics.  The last few pages show kids how to draw the four characters so they can create their own comics.  96 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  The straight-guy narrator with the goofy friend(s) has proven a winning combination before (Narwhal & Jelly, Peter & Ernesto, etc.), and undoubtedly will again with this crew.  I found myself laughing out loud a few times, particularly at Krabbit, and I’m sure kids raised on Elephant and Piggie will find this new series (I think it will be a series) delightful.

Cons:  It kind of bugged me how Baloney’s nose seemed off-kilter, like it was being shown in profile, but his eyes and mouth weren’t. 

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96 Miles by J. L. Esplin

Published by Starscape

96 Miles - Kindle edition by Esplin, J. L.. Children Kindle eBooks ...

Summary:  “Dad always said if things get desperate, it’s okay to drink the water in the toilet bowl.”  When we meet John and his younger brother Stew, they are indeed scooping water out of a toilet; things have obviously gotten desperate.  Their father is away on a business trip, and the power grid over much of the U.S. has been out for weeks.  Dad is a bit of a survivalist, but unfortunately his reputation was well-known.  When some unsavory neighbors learned the boys were on their own, their food and water supplies were stolen one night.  Now they’re stocking up on toilet water to make a 96-mile hike through the Nevada desert to the one place they know of that might save them.  Another pair of siblings, Cleverly and Will, who are also trying to stay alive, find them in the bathroom.  Stew convinces a reluctant John to let them come along, and the four of them start out.  For reasons that are not clear until well past the halfway point of the book, they have to make the trip in three days, and even John and Stew’s survivalist training may not be enough to get all four of them safely to their destination.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Holy cow!  Once I got about a third of the way through, nothing would do but to read all the way to the end.  Unlike many survival stories, the situations felt fairly realistic, as did the knowledge the kids had.  The characters were interesting and reasonably well-developed, and the pace did not let up from page one until the very end.

Cons:  I had a very unproductive Saturday morning, thanks to this book.

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Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell

Published by Salaam Reads

Our Favorite Day of the Year: Ali, A. E., Bell, Rahele Jomepour ...

Summary:  On Musa’s first day of kindergarten, his teacher, Ms. Gupta, tells the kids that the first day of school is her favorite day of the year, and announces that they will be sharing their favorite days for show and tell throughout the year.  A few weeks later, Musa is excited to tell his classmates about Eid al-Fitr.  As the year goes along, the other boys at his table get to share Rosh Hashanah, Las Posadas, and Pi Day.  When the rest of the kids learn about the food and fun associated with each of these events, they understand why it is that boy’s favorite day.  At the end of the year, Ms. Gupta gives them a calendar with all their favorite holidays so that they continue to celebrate even when they’re no longer in a class together.  Includes a bit more information on each of the holidays mentioned in the story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would make a great first day of school book, and Ms. Gupta’s idea is a fun one for encouraging her students to learn about each other’s cultures.  The kids in the illustrations are adorable, and the endpapers feature a striking patchwork quilt with patterns and symbols from a wide variety of cultures.

Cons:  What kindergartener’s favorite day of the year is Pi Day?  

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Wink by Rob Harrell

Published by Dial Books

Wink: Harrell, Rob: 9781984815149: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Ross just wants to slink through seventh grade with as little attention as possible, but the diagnosis of a rare, aggressive form of cancer in his eye makes that impossible.  The story opens with his first radiation treatment, then brings the reader up to date with a series of flashbacks that describe his diagnosis and surgery.  Thanks to the radiation, he has to wear a hat at all times and constantly apply a goopy ointment to the eye that no longer has tear ducts.  One of his best friends has stopped talking to him and the other one, Abby, finds out that her family is moving in just a few weeks.  Music saves Ross, as he’s introduced to a whole new way of listening by one of his radiation technicians, Frank, who turns out to be an excellent guitar teacher and mentor.  When Ross, Abby, and an unlikely third kid form a band, Ross gets a chance to express everything he’s been feeling about the changes in his life, and learns not to shrink from the spotlight.  The author’s acknowledgements mention his own experiences with the kind of cancer Ross has.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  From the cover to the irreverent middle-school voice to the illustrations (including some full-page comics), this is a book that will appeal to reluctant upper elementary and middle school readers.  There’s plenty of substance, though, as Ross overcomes a life-threatening illness and finds his own voice and talents.

Cons:  Having witnessed my own guitar-enthusiast daughters taking months to learn to play simple songs, it seemed unlikely that Ross would be performing with a band after just a few weeks.

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Raise Your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America by Jeffrey Kluger

Published by Philomel Books

Raise Your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America: Kluger, Jeffrey ...

Summary:  From the Boston Tea Party to the Dakota Access Uprising and the Women’s March, these twelve chapters cover protests organized by ordinary people that have stood up to the established order and helped effect change.  Other than the Tea Party and the Seneca Falls Convention, the rest are from the 20th and 21st century, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Stonewall Uprising, Earth Day, the March Against Nuclear Weapons, and ACT UP.  Each chapter begins with a photo, then gives some background before launching into the people and places of each protest, and the outcomes they did or didn’t achieve.  There are no source notes, but there’s a “Note on Sources” at the end that gives a good introduction to different types of sources and research; there is also an extensive index.  224 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  Seeing as we seem to be living through chapter 13 of this book, readers may find a lot to connect with and inspire them.  It was encouraging to read about the impact these protests made.  The narratives are engagingly written; each one could be used as a stand-alone research source.  

Cons:  The small font and lack of photos made this not very visually appealing.  Also, in the heads-up category, protesters do use salty language, which is represented as “f—” or other fill-in-the-blank forms.  And there’s no getting around the need to describe the pussy hats of the Women’s March, but it’s pretty sanitized.

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Things That Go Away by Beatrice Alemagna

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Things That Go Away: Alemagna, Beatrice: 9781419744822: Amazon.com ...

Book Review: Things That Go Away by Beatrice Alemagna - Coquette Maman

Summary:  If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the last few months, it’s that nothing is predictable, and here is a book to drive that point home.  Whether they’re things we enjoy (soap bubbles, music) or aren’t so fond of (wounds, lice), things generally go away eventually.  Some, like sleep and dust, regularly return.  Each two page spread has a piece of tracing paper inserted with black marks on it that fit into each illustration when you turn it.  So the black specks that look like head lice become part of the design on the girl’s dress when you flip the page.  “Eventually, everything passes, moves on, or changes.  But one thing never goes away, and never will.”  The last page shows a mother hugging a child with the single word “Never”.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  This unique book is fun for kids, but could also serve as a meditative tool for us oldsters.  The illustrations are beautiful, and the whole book, which was originally published in France, has a bit of a European feel to it.

Cons:  The black marks on the vellum pages weren’t well-incorporated into the left-handed illustrations.

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