The Ocean In Your Bathtub by Seth Fishman, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg

Published by Greenwillow Books

The Ocean in Your Bathtub: Fishman, Seth, Greenberg, Isabel ...
The Ocean in Your Bathtub: STEM Activities with Seth Fishman ...

Summary:  Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth, and contain 97 percent of Earth’s water.  Almost four of ten people live within 60 miles of an ocean.  Those are a few of the facts about oceans you’ll learn in this book, which is relevant even if you’re not one of those four out of ten.  The oceans affect our weather, drinking water, and food supply.  Plants in the ocean provide oxygen for the air we breathe.  And, of course, humans are doing an outstanding job of messing up the oceans with pollution and overfishing.  But even small deeds done to protect the oceans can have an impact.  Includes additional information on phytoplankton, the water cycle, aquifers, and what you can do to help the oceans.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun and accessible introduction to the ocean with interesting facts and lively illustrations.  I wasn’t familiar with this author-illustrator team, but it looks like they’ve written a couple of other interesting science books as well.

Cons:  Trying to cover such an enormous topic in a picture book is challenging, and there are some facts (“The ocean is NOT a major source of drinking water–it’s way too salty!”) that may leave kids wanting more of an explanation.  Some additional resources would have been helpful for this.

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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books (Released September 1)

Before the Ever After - Kindle edition by Woodson, Jacqueline ...

Summary:  ZJ can remember “before the ever after” when his NFL star dad was a football star, and he and his parents lived a happy life in suburban Maplewood.  But his father has started having severe headaches, memory lapses, and irrational behavior that have put an end to his football career.  Doctors are baffled by his case, and by similar cases of some of his NFL teammates.  12-year-old ZJ finds support from his mom and three close friends, as he tries to enjoy his dad’s more lucid moments, and worries when things start to fall apart.  A crisis near the end of the story results in Dad being admitted to the hospital, with the hope that he’ll get the care he needs, but nothing guaranteed.  176 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This novel in verse by superstar Jacqueline Woodson will appeal to fans of Kwame Alexander and K. A. Holt.  Set in the early 2000’s when doctors were just beginning to understand the effects of multiple concussions for NFL players, there’s no happy ending, but ZJ’s voice hits just the right note between hope and despair.  An awards contender, for sure.

Cons:  It seemed surprising that none of the four 12-year-old boys in the story had any crushes or mention of romance.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Nat Enough by Maria Scriven

Published by Graphix

Nat Enough (Nat Enough #1) - Kindle edition by Scrivan, Maria ...

Summary:  Natalie is pretty nervous for the first day of middle school, and grateful to have her best friend Lily by her side.  Lily moved over the summer and has been somewhat uncommunicative, but Natalie is sure everything will be fine once they’re back in school together.  But on the first day, Lily’s hanging out with cool and popular Alex, and dismisses Natalie as a nerd.  Fortunately, Natalie quickly makes a new friend, Zoe, but she still wants her best friend back, and spends weeks trying to figure out how to be cooler so Lily will like her again.  Slowly, Natalie starts to discover her artistic talents, and to listen when Zoe points out that Lily isn’t acting like a friend.  Winning a contest with her graphic story turns things around for Natalie, and she learns the importance of discovering what she can do versus focusing on what she can’t do.  Book 2 is due out September 1.  240 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  The latest graphic series from Graphix is sure to be a hit, checking all the boxes for a tried-and-true middle school series:  the end of a friendship, the beginning of another, a first crush, and learning to be yourself.  Appealing to reluctant and avid readers alike.

Cons:  The plot was a little too tried-and-true for this reviewer, who has read many, many books with similar stories.  Hopefully, kids will bring a fresher perspective to the story.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

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

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha, Irene Latham ...

Summary:  Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a.k.a. Alaa, lives in Aleppo, a Syrian city that has been devastated by war.  He’s stayed in the city, driving an ambulance and helping people however he can.  When he finds stray cats wandering around his neighborhood, he decides to buy them some food.  Before long, he’s feeding dozens of cats, and needs help to support them all.  Volunteers hear about “The Cat Man of Aleppo”, and so do donors from all over the world.  Eventually, Alaa is able to buy a building with a shaded courtyard.  As more money pours in, he starts rescuing other animals, builds a playground for the children still living in Aleppo, and helps dig a well to give people clean water.  Although he still longs for the day his country is at peace and his city can be rebuilt, Alaa has found joy in helping the people and animals around him.  Includes notes from the authors and illustrator.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Summary:  A story about kitties, a lesson about kindness, and a window for readers into a different part of the world…a winner all around, and one with beautiful illustrations.

Cons:  Some additional information about Aleppo and the Syrian civil war, photos, and resources for more information would have been useful.

Cat Man of Aleppo' Forced to Start Again — From Scratch

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Gold Rush Girl by Avi

Published by Candlewick

Gold Rush Girl - Kindle edition by Avi. Children Kindle eBooks ...

Summary:  Victoria (Tory) lives with her parents and younger brother, Jacob,  in Providence, RI, where she chafes under the expectations of her parents and strict Aunt Lavinia.  When her father loses his job and proposes going west with Jacob to seek gold, Tory sneaks on board their boat, revealing herself only when it’s too late to turn back.  The three of them are dismayed by the primitive living conditions, filth, and lawlessness of San Francisco.  Determined to improve their fortunes, Father leaves Jacob and Tory in a temporary tent home and heads out to the gold fields.  Tory starts dressing as a boy and finding carpentry work to support her and her brother, while Jacob grows more and more despondent about their situation.  One day, Tory gets delayed working; when she returns after midnight, Jacob is gone.  She learns that he may have been kidnapped to be used as a cabin boy on a ship heading back east.  Hundreds of abandoned ships, called Rotten Row, sit in  San Francisco Bay.  It’s up to Tory and her new friends Thad and Sam to figure out which ship Jacob is on and rescue him before it’s too late.  Includes an author’s note and a map showing where ships from Rotten Row have been discovered in San Francisco.  320 pages; grades 4-7. 

Pros:  You can always count on Avi for exciting, well-researched historical fiction, and this book really brings the California gold rush to life with lots of adventures and a winning heroine/narrator.  The end definitely leaves open the possibility of a sequel.

Cons:  Fond as I am of Avi’s The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle, I was expecting more plot twists and edge-of-your-seat suspense than I found here.  

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Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Published by Candlewick

Don't Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton: 9781536211191 ...

Don't Worry, Little Crab + Paper Crab Puppets and Coloring Page ...

Summary:  Little Crab and Very Big Crab live in a tiny tide pool, but today they’re off to visit the ocean.  It’s a long journey, and when they get there, Little Crab is scared.  As one big wave after another washes over them, Little Crab is ready to turn around and go home.  But with encouragement from Very Big Crab, he manages to slowly make his way into the water.  When they see an enormous wave coming, the two crabs dive down, where they find beautifully colored coral and fish who welcome them to the ocean.  Of course, by the end of the day, Little Crab has fallen in love with the ocean and doesn’t want to leave.  They take the long way home, with Very Big Crab assuring Little Crab that he is now brave enough to go wherever he wants.  48 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  The interactions between Very Big Crab and Little Crab are spot on for anyone who has ever tried to encourage a reluctant child to attempt something new.  The artwork, especially the undersea scenes, is beautiful.

Cons:  How do those crabs not get washed out to sea?

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Back to school with books

Whatever plan your school is going with this year, it’s going to be unfamiliar territory.  It seems impossible to escape the first-day jitters this year, even if you’re a 30-year veteran.  Here are ten of my favorite back-to-school books from this blog to help get you through those first few days.

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 ...

Musa’s teacher tells the class that the first day of school is her favorite day of the year. She invites them to share their favorites as they go through kindergarten, resulting in a celebration of holidays, foods and cultures all year long.  Click here to buy on Amazon


Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Published by Abrams

Mae's First Day of School - Kindle edition by Berube, Kate ...

Mae would rather sit up in a tree all day than face the uncertainties of the first day of school.  When others join her, including her new teacher, she realizes she’s not the only one feeling nervous.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


Monkey Not Ready for Kindergarten by Marc Brown

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten: Brown, Marc: 9780553496581 ...

Monkey worries about all the ways he might not be ready for kindergarten.  A simple tale with a reassuring ending.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


Lena’s Shoes Are Nervous by Keith Calabrese, illustrated by Juana Medina

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma: Calabrese ...

Lena’s shoes are nervous about starting school.  So are her socks.  It’s up to her headband to remind them that they’ve tried out new things before that turned out well.  By the end, the shoes are joined by the friendly sneakers, shoes, and boots of the other kids.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


Camp Tiger by Susan Choi, illustrated by John Rocco

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

Camp Tiger: Choi, Susan, Rocco, John: 9780399173295: Books

A boy who’s worried about starting first grade meets a tiger on an end-of-summer camping trip with his family.  Is the tiger real or imaginary?  Either way, he helps the boy to find courage for a new beginning.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


A New School Year by Sally Derby, illustrated by Mika Song

Published by Charlesbridge

A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices - Kindle edition by Derby ...

Six kids from grades K-5 tell about their first day of school in a series of poems that takes from the night before to the end of the first day.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Roaring Brook Press

School's First Day of School - Kindle edition by Rex, Adam ...

Even though the janitor assures him that he’ll do fine, the new school building is worried about school starting.  The first day brings its share of ups and downs, but overall, School is pretty happy and ready to move on to the rest of the school year.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


Butterflies on the First Day of School by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Dream Chen

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

Butterflies on the First Day of School - Kindle edition by ...

Mom calls Rosie’s nerves on the first day of school “butterflies in your stomach”.  Whenever something good happens at school that day, a butterfly flies out of her mouth.  She even sees one come out of another girl’s mouth!  By the end of the day, the butterflies are all gone.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Nana Akua Goes to School: Walker, Tricia Elam, Harrison, April ...

Zura’s worried about bringing her Ghanaian grandmother to school for Grandparents’ Day, because she’s seen people stare at Nana Akua’s facial tattoo.  But Nana knows the secret for helping people feel comfortable, and the visit is a huge success.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


The Pigeon HAS to Go to School by Mo Willems

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!: Mo Willems: 9781406389012: Amazon ...

The pigeon has a long list of reasons why he shouldn’t have to go to school…until he sees that he gets to ride there on a bus.  Click here to buy on Amazon.


If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful Presidential Pets by Erin McGill

Published by Schwartz & Wade

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful ...

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful ...

Summary:  Harry S. Truman allegedly once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”  He didn’t take his own advice, but plenty of other presidents did.  A two-page spread shows all the presidential dogs, from the dozen owned by George Washington (including Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy…hmm) to Bo and Sonny Obama.  Not a dog person?  Don’t worry, you can also get acquainted with cats, horses, birds, and farm animals owned by the chief executives.  Then, there were the unusual animals: Calvin Coolidge apparently owned a wallaby, pygmy hippo, black bear, and two lions named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.  The pygmy hippo was a gift that went straight to the National Zoo, as, presumably, did the other wild animals.  From silkworms (John Quincy Adams) to a herd of elephants (sent to James Buchanan; didn’t arrive until he was succeeded by Lincoln, who sent them back to the king of Siam), pets have played an important role in the lives of almost all our presidents.  (Except, of course, the current one.) Includes a list of all the presidents, their years in office, their pets, and some fun facts; several photos on the endpapers.  44 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This seems like an easy sell to kids, as many are interested in the presidents, and who doesn’t want to read about pets?  The illustrations are a bit goofy, but fun, and there’s lots of interesting trivia to share.

Cons: Some of the anecdotes were so short that they left me wanting to know more; for instance, I didn’t really understand the scandal around Jackie Kennedy’s horse being naked.  In that particular case, after reading more about it, I still don’t get it.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

Published by Kokila [Jessica Kim ]-[Stand Up, Yumi Chung!]-[Hardcover ...

Summary:  Yumi Chung knows what she wants: to be a stand-up comedian.  She practices for hours, inspired by her YouTube hero, Jasmine Jasper.  Unfortunately, reality doesn’t match Yumi’s dreams.  She attends an exclusive private school, pushed by her parents to get ready for a top college.  She’s spending the summer studying for a scholarship exam, because her parents’ Korean restaurant is failing.  So when she accidentally wanders into Jasmine Jasper’s comedy camp and is mistaken for another girl, she decides to go with it.  With new friends and a sense of empowerment on stage, Yumi is happier than she’s ever been, until one day when her whole web of lies unravels.  With her beloved sister going to Nepal for two years, the restaurant days away from failure, and her parents and friends angry with her, it’s up to Yumi to figure out how to be true to herself and save the day.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Yumi is a worthy successor to Front Desk’s Mia, a funny and insightful narrator who must deal with her immigrant parents’ expectations while trying to figure out who she is.  Her parents seem stereotypical at first, but a few heart-to-heart talks reveal to Yumi (and the reader) their hopes, dreams, and motivations for doing what they do.  And like Mia, Yumi is ultimately committed to her family’s success and is the one who comes up with the idea to save their business.

Cons:  The series of events that got Yumi into Jasmine’s comedy school were a bit of a stretch.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca by Amanda Abler, illustrated by Levi Hastings

Published by Little Bigfoot

The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca ...

Picture Books That Show the World Through a Child's Eyes - The New ...

Summary:  In January, 2002, an orca calf was discovered by herself near Seattle.  Scientists could tell from her dialect that she was from a pod that lives near Vancouver Island.  Using photos from that pod, they identified her as Springer, a two-year-old female.  Springer was too malnourished to be transported that distance, so scientists began a program of rehabilitation, trying to interact with her as little as possible so she could be reintroduced to her pod.  Six months later, she was healthy enough to travel, and made the trip to Dong Chong Bay in Canada, where she was welcomed by a group of First Nations people and two bald eagles.  It took awhile, but Springer eventually reconnected with her pod and was adopted by a female cousin.  Fourteen years later, in 2016, Springer was spotted again, this time with a calf of her own, whom scientists named Spirit.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids will fall in love with Springer and root for her to get back to her family.  They’ll also learn about the painstaking work scientists do to learn about orcas.  This would make a nice companion to A Whale of the Wild, the new book by Rosanne Parry.

Cons:  While I liked the illustrations, the predominantly blue, black, and white palette didn’t make for a very eye-catching cover.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.