My Friend Earth by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Francesca Sanna

Published by Chronicle Books My Friend Earth: (Earth Day Books with ...

Let's Talk Picture Books: MY FRIEND EARTH

Summary:  “My friend Earth wakes from a winter nap,” says the narrator on page 1, with a flap that changes a sleeping girl into one who has just woken up.  The flap also reveals a hole in the snowbank (and the page) with a robin peeping out.  Turn the page, and it’s spring, with Earth hearing the sounds of that season.  The narrative goes through the year, as Earth sees and hears the rhythms and changes of each season.  And she’s not just a passive listener: she guides and guards animals, pours summer rain down, and blows autumn winds.  Finally, snow has fallen once again, and Earth settles down for a rest, ending up where she started.  44 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An unusual way to represent Earth and look at the seasons.  Kids will love the busy illustrations with die-cuts that offer a hint of what’s coming on the next page.

Cons:  Those flaps and die cuts often don’t hold up well in the library.  The copy I borrowed from my library had already been ripped and repaired.

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Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing

Published by Neal Porter Books (Released August 4)

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo's First Woman ...

Tessa Takes Wing is Landing — Julie Downing Illustration

Summary:  Helen and Fred Martini wanted to have a baby, but this was not in the cards for them.  One day, Fred, a zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo, brought home a lion cub whose mother had abandoned it.  He told Helen to care for the cub the way she would a human baby, so she went to work feeding him, grooming him, and tucking him into a crib.  The lion, MacArthur, stayed with the Martinis for two months before being transferred to another zoo.  Next came three tiger cubs, named Raniganj, Dacca, and Rajpur.  When it was time for them to go back to the zoo, Helen went along.  Fred showed her a storeroom that she proceeded to turn into a zoo nursery.  When zoo officials found out, they offered her a job as “keeper of the nursery”.  Helen kept this position for the next 20 years, becoming the Bronx Zoo’s first woman zookeeper and pioneering new methods for caring for young animals.  Includes additional information about Helen Martini, a photo, and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Lots of adorable animal illustrations will draw kids to this books, and they’ll learn about a woman who quietly broke down barriers.  The author’s note emphasizes how Helen, like many women of her time, worked within existing power structures to find a way to have a career at a time when women were encouraged to stay home.  

Cons:  The connection between Helen’s wish for a human baby and the fulfillment of that wish through baby zoo animals felt a little uncomfortable, both for Helen and the animals.

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A Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry, illustrated by Lindsay Moore

Published by Greenwillow Books (Released September 1)

A Whale of the Wild: Parry, Rosanne, Moore, Lindsay: 9780062995926 ...

Summary:  Vega and her orca family live in the waters near land, taking care of each other and hunting for the salmon that sustains them.  Vega is learning to be a wayfinder, taught by her mother and grandmother in the matriarchal orca society.  When an earthquake and tsunami separate the family, Vega must keep herself and her younger brother Deneb safe.  They wind up in a much deeper part of the ocean, where they discover sights and creatures they have never seen before.  A harrowing journey back to their home reunites them with a couple of family members and gives them hope that they may find the rest of their kin some day.  Includes maps; facts about orcas; the real orcas who inspired the story; and additional information about salmon, the various habitats in the story, earthquakes and tsunamis, and how to help the orcas (not seen by me in the advanced review copy I got).  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fascinating animal adventure by the author of A Wolf Called Wander, probably my top book club book in 2019.  Readers will learn a lot about the orcas and their ocean environment, as well as the threat humans pose to them.  I was sorry not to get to see Lindsay Moore’s illustrations (who is oddly not credited on the cover), which I’m sure are beautiful based on her work in Sea Bear.

Cons:  I found myself struggling a bit to get through this book, although it is beautifully written and has plenty of action.  I hope I’ll get to try it out on kids soon to see if they enjoy it as much as Wander

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Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh, illustrated by Baljinder Kaur

Published by Kokila (Released August 25) Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest ...

Simran Jeet Singh: Fauja Singh Keeps Going – M is for Movement

Summary:  Throughout his life, Fauja Singh has heard people telling him his limitations.  He didn’t learn to walk until he was almost five years old.  School was too far for him to get to.  After his wife died and his family moved away, he was lonely.  This refrain is repeated throughout the story:  “But Fauja did not listen and Fauja did not stop.”  He did learn to walk, and worked hard to become strong enough to walk a mile.  Because he couldn’t go to school, he learned to be a farmer instead.  And at age 81, he left India to live with his family in England.  At first he was sad and lonely, but one day he saw people running on TV.  They looked so happy that he decided to try it.  Every day, he ran a little further and a little faster.  He eventually decided to run a marathon.  When he heard that people of his faith, Sikhs, were experiencing discrimination in the U.S., he decided to run in the New York City marathon.  After that, he decided to be the first 100-year-old to complete a marathon, and reached this goal in Toronto in 2011.  Includes an introduction by Singh (age 108 when he wrote it); an afterword with additional information and a photo; and a list of the national (UK) and world records he holds.  48 pages; ages 4 to 104 (and up).

Pros:  If you need inspiration to stop reading and get off your couch, here it is!  Even if you are 56 (just as a random example), you still have almost half a century left to run a marathon!  And even if you don’t want to run a marathon, Fauja Singh’s story is an inspiring one of perseverance, kindness, and trusting yourself.  

Cons:  The NYC marathon part of the story is kind of a bummer.

Punjabi by nature: The incorrigible Fauja Singh - chandigarh ...

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Thank You, Garden by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Simone Shin

Published by Beach Lane Books

Thank You, Garden | Book by Liz Garton Scanlon, Simone Shin ... Thank You, Garden (9781481403504): Scanlon, Liz Garton ...

Summary:  A community rooftop garden takes shape, bringing together a diverse group of neighbors who grow an equally diverse collection of fruits and vegetables.  From “Garden ready, garden new/Garden so much work to do” to “Garden growing like a child, rosy, leggy, fresh and wild/Wild in this muddy mess, garden, thank you…Garden, yes!”, the brief rhyming text celebrates different stages of gardening.  A girl and a boy meet each other through the garden, and enjoy all the different aspects, even the rainy days and the bugs and worms that they discover.  The final illustration shows the whole group sitting down to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This bouncy rhyming ode to gardens is a perfect summertime read.  Kids with gardens will connect with the different phases of growing produce, and everyone will enjoy finding details in the cheerful illustrations, such as the recurring appearances of a garden gnome and two toy vehicles: a blue truck and a yellow car. 

Cons:  A gardening activity at the end would have been nice.

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My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

My Best Friend: Fogliano, Julie, Tamaki, Jillian: 9781534427228 ...

My Best Friend: Fogliano, Julie, Tamaki, Jillian: 9781534427228 ...

Summary:  A young girl introduces her new best friend, who is smart and she laughs at everything.  The two friends like to run around, quacking like ducks, then sit quietly under a tree.  Even though one loves strawberry ice cream and the other hates it, they are still friends.  When they’re drawing, she draws her friend and her friend draws her, and they make hearts around their pictures.  “She is my best friend I think.  I’ve never had a best friend so I’m not sure.”  As the two girls go their separate ways, each with a parent, the narrator reveals that they don’t know each other’s names, but they can find out tomorrow “because we are best friends.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  As she did in When’s My Birthday?, Julie Fogliano perfectly captures the voice of a very young child and explores what it’s like to instantly become friends with someone new.  Caldecott honoree Jillian Tamaki explores their friendship in green and peach illustrations surrounded by white space; she’s deserving of some Caldecott consideration once again for this book.

Cons:  I have a personal preference for illustrations using a wider palette of colors.

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Published by Candlewick

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom: Weatherford, Carole ...

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom: Weatherford, Carole ...

Summary:  Henry Brown’s story has been told before, probably most famously (for kids) in the Caldecott Award winning Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. Here, the narrative is in the form of a series of six-line poems.  They focus not only on Henry’s story, but on other aspects of slavery, including Nat Turner’s rebellion and the division of families, both Henry’s family of origin and later, his forced separation from his wife and children.  His harrowing escape in a sealed box traveling for two days from Virginia to Philadelphia is described, as well as the almost fifty years he lived afterward.  Brown published his story, The Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, and created a moving panorama that he exhibited in both the U.S. and England, remaining overseas with his wife and daughter for almost 25 years.  Includes a timeline of both Henry Brown’s life and other significant events that occurred during his lifetime, a bibliography, and an illustrator’s note.  40 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This would make an excellent companion to Henry’s Freedom Box, giving older students a chance to delve into Brown’s life a little deeper.  The first-person poems are enhanced by the mixed media folk art illustrations.  It would be an interesting twist in children’s literature history if this book received a Caldecott medal or honor next year.

Cons:  Due to the nature of poetry, readers have to make a fair number of inferences to understand the details of Henry Brown’s life.  An introductory note would have maybe made this a little simpler, as would reading this in conjunction with Ellen Levine’s book.

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Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the ...

Summary: In this “remix” of Ibram Kendi’s award-winning book Stamped from the Beginning, Jason Reynolds tells the history of racism in America, going back to the fifteenth century and continuing to (almost) the present day.  Focusing on people such as Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Jennings Bryan, and Angela Davis, Reynolds explores their lives and beliefs in the context of racism vs. assimilation vs. antiracism.  Starting off with the statement (revisited many times) that “this is not a history book”, the book is written in a tone designed to appeal to young readers.  Includes an afterword, acknowledgements from both Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, a lengthy reading list, and extensive source notes.  320 pages; grades 6-12.

Pros:  Jason Reynolds’ book could not have been more timely, and will undoubtedly find its way into the curriculum of many a school district in the coming year.  As he has proven in his fiction writing, his writing style is extremely engaging for young adults, who may be relieved to hear this isn’t a history book and will enjoy reading it for their own edification.  The content will reveal to them–and to adults as well–what has traditionally been left out of the telling of America’s past, and will give them an antiracist lens with which to view the present.

Cons:  Covering 600 years of history in a book of this length is a daunting task, and readers may struggle to keep all the names, places, events, and belief systems straight as they quickly travel through the centuries.

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A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faru

Published by Quill Tree Books (Released October 6)

A Thousand Questions - Saadia Faruqi - Hardcover

Summary:  Mimi’s not thrilled to be visiting the grandparents she’s never met in Karachi, Pakistan, but her mom has decided it’s time to go back after a long estrangement.  Sakima helps her father cook in Mimi’s grandparents’ house, but dreams of going to school if she can improve her English.  At first, Sakima can’t imagine being friendly to the wealthy, spoiled visitor from America, but slowly the girls begin to find ways to communicate in broken English and Urdu.  Mimi offers to tutor Sakina in English, and in return, Sakina helps Mimi find the father who left her several years ago.  As the weeks go by, the two families’ lives become intertwined.  By the end of the summer, much has changed for both Mimi and Sakina, but their new friendship promises to last even when they are living half a world away from each other.  Includes an author’s note about Karachi, where she grew up and a glossary.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Kids will learn a lot about life in Pakistan, and the inequities between the rich and the poor.  The characters are interesting and well-developed, not only the two girls, but their family members as well.

Cons:  The girls seemed to communicate remarkably well, considering neither one of them was particularly fluent in the other’s language.

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Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raul Colón

Published by Make Me a World

Child of the Universe: Jayawardhana, Ray, Colón, Raul ...

Child of the Universe: Jayawardhana, Ray, Colón, Raul ...

Summary:  As a girl is getting ready for bed, she and her father look out at the moon.  “The universe conspired to make you,” he tells her, then goes on to compare her to the beauty and majesty of the universe: her hair swirls about her face like the Milky Way, she lights up the room like the sun lights the moon, and the cosmos are reflected in her eyes.  He gives more concrete examples as well, like the fact that the iron and calcium in her blood and bones comes from stars that lived long ago.  On the last page, she gets tucked into bed, and looks out at the moon smiling back at her.  Includes an author’s note that tells of the strong connections to the cosmos that are part of Earth and humanity.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The gorgeous illustrations showing the girl traveling through the cosmos are worthy of Caldecott consideration.  Their brilliant, yet slightly muted colors fill every inch of each two-page spread.  Young scientists will be amazed to learn the science that connects them to the universe.

Cons:  If you’re going to use rhyming text, it has to be really, really good, and this isn’t quite there.  Jayawardhana, a dean at Cornell University who has researched planetary systems and the prospect for life on other planets, seems more comfortable writing his author’s note. 

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