The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Fabled Life of Aesop: The extraordinary journey and collected ...

Ancient Wisdom for Trying Times. An Interview with the Duo Behind ...

Summary:  Aesop was born a slave in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago.  He learned that speaking out could be dangerous in his position, so he learned to talk in code, telling stories about the powerless and the powerful through his fables.  Following an introduction to Aesop’s life, the book presents ten fables.  Each telling is only a few paragraphs, with an illustration or two, and the moral in gold type at the end.  The final few pages recount how Aesop was freed, and how his fables were told for many years before they were finally published in book form.  Includes an afterword that explains more about what we do and don’t know about Aesop and which parts of his story in this book are true; also, a bibliography.  64 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to Aesop’s fables, giving some context  about how they are not only lessons about morality, but give advice on “how to survive in a world in which some have power and some do not.”  Caldecott honoree Pamela Zagarenski will surely get some additional consideration for her beautiful illustrations here.

Cons:  I would have preferred that the afterword were a foreword, so readers would be aware of the uncertainties around Aesop’s history before reading the pages about his life.

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Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright

Published by Graphix (Released October 6)

Twins (Twins #1) (1): Johnson, Varian, Wright, Shannon ...

Review: Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright | 100 Scope Notes

Summary:  Twins Mauren and Francine are starting middle school.  Maureen, who’s the narrator, is known as the thinking twin, while Francine’s reputation is as the talking twin.  Francine, now calling herself Fran, seems to be reinventing herself with tons of friends and not much time for Maureen.  Although Maureen excels in her classes, she struggles to connect with other kids and ends up eating lunch in the library.  Everything changes, though when the twins decide to run against each other for class president.  Although their parents try to keep things civil, emotions run high as each twin assembles a campaign staff and decides on a platform.  The tension finally leads to a heart-to-heart conversation where each girl is able to share her own insecurities and see what her sister is going through.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fun graphic novel from Graphix, this one written by Coretta Scott King honoree Varian Johnson.  A fast-paced middle school story, excellent artwork, and a multicultural cast of characters will make this a popular choice for sure.  This book is billed as book 1, so we can hope there will be more to come in the Francine/Maureen saga.

Cons:  Although Shannon Wright did a commendable job of giving Francine and Maureen distinctive characteristics, it was sometimes a little difficult telling the identical twins apart in the illustrations. 

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Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk: 9780525555568 | PenguinRandomHouse ...

Summary:  Ellie’s family has moved to a farm on a mountain in Maine after losing almost all their money in the Great Depression.  Ellie and her father love the self-sufficiency of the farm, while her mother and older sister Esther hate it.  When their father is hit by a falling tree and lapses into a coma, it falls on Ellie to do much of the work he did.  Feeling alone, she wanders up the mountain to the home of a legendary “hag”, who turns out to be an ordinary old woman named Cate with a life-threatening leg injury.  Ellie learns some occasionally stomach-turning healing techniques (maggots, vinegar poured into the wound) from Cate as she works to save her.  Cate’s grandson, Larkin, becomes a good friend, and Ellie is finally able to tell someone her secret: she didn’t cause her father’s accident, as her family thinks, but she’s letting them believe it to protect Esther and her younger brother Samuel.  While Ellie’s mother is suspicious of Cate, Ellie finds her friendship with the older woman and her grandson a lifeline, and is certain they can help wake up her father and restore him to health.  368 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Lauren Wolk has crafted another beautifully written historical fiction novel featuring a strong girl protagonist with a unique perspective and set of talents.  This is sure to be considered for a second Newbery (like Wolf Hollow) or Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction (like Beyond the Blue Sea)

Cons:  Usually I am a big Lauren Wolk fan, but this one didn’t grab me as much as her previous two.  I found Cate, with her endless store of sage wisdom, a little too good to be true.  It’s gotten starred reviews in journals and lots of 5-starred ones on Amazon, though so clearly I’m in the minority.

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Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Published by Clarion Books

Amazon.com: Federico and the Wolf (9781328567789): Gomez, Rebecca ...

Federico and the Wolf by Rebecca J. Gomez

Summary:  Federico heads off in his red hoodie, ready to shop from Abuelo’s grocery list for the ingredients to make the perfect pico.  After he leaves the market, he takes a shortcut through the woods to get to his grandfather’s store.  There he encounters a hungry wolf, but manages to escape on his bike.  When he gets to la tienda, it’s mysteriously closed with pawprints outside the front door.  Abuelo, waiting inside, seems to have grown an extra-thick beard and some hefty biceps, and acquired a new set of dentures.  When Federico realizes it’s the wolf, he fends him off with quick thinking, chili pepper, and an extra hot habanero.  The wolf runs off, and Abuelo is found inside a locked box.  None the worse for their experiences, Federico and his grandfather work together to cook up a new treat: Wolf’s Bane Salsa.  Includes a recipe for the perfect pico, and a list of Spanish words with their location in the story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This clever rhyming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood includes a fun Mexican twist that extends to the bright, colorful illustrations.  This reminded me of Corey Rosen Schwartz’s rhyming fairy tales, and a little investigation revealed that Rebecca J. Gomez was the co-author of one of these.

Cons:  Seemed like Abuelo and Federico should have made Wolf’s Bane pico, not salsa.

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Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Swashby and the Sea - Kindle edition by Ferry, Beth, Martinez-Neal ...

Swashby and the Sea @ Juana Martinez-Neal

Summary:  Captain Swashby and the sea have been friends throughout his sailing career, so when he retires, it’s only natural that he settles down by the sea.  But avast!  The captain’s peaceful retirement is interrupted by an exuberant girl and her granny who have moved into the previously vacant house next door.  When they start invading the beach, Swashby leaves messages in the sand to keep them away.  But the sea, knowing what’s best for the Captain, intervenes, and washes some letters away.  “No Trespassing” becomes “Sing”; “Now vanish” turns into “w–ish”.  When “Please go away” is transformed into “Pl–ay”, Swashby no longer can resist, and ends up tutoring the girl on how to build a sand castle.  The sea has one more trick to play to seal their friendship, and before long, Swashby is leaving a new message, “Thank ye, friend”.  Which gets transformed to “Th-e end.”  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  An adorable and clever story about friendship and the power of words.  The illustrations by Caldecott honoree Juana Martinez-Neal could be in the running for some awards this year.

Cons:  Swashby is quite the grouch.

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