Summary: Agent Anonymoose is recovering from the failure of what would have been his 100th case (he thought the moon was missing, but it was really a lunar eclipse). When he hears that his rival Camo Chameleon has just solved his 100th case, it just rubs salt in the wound. But then a chipmunk arrives with an important message: a key witness in Camo’s last case has disappeared. Agent Moose and his wise sidekick Owlfred head to the chameleon’s 100th-case celebration to investigate. There are adventures and red herrings a-plenty before the two of them manage to crack the case. The mystery is solved, but the villains make a last-minute escape, setting up a second adventure for Agent Moose and Owlfred. 128 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap, rejoice! This is sure to be a hit with the many readers who love graphic novels with plenty of action and zany humor.
Cons: There were a lot of characters to keep track of.
Summary: An eight-year-old is about five times as tall as this book…but only half as tall as an ostrich. The ostrich is half as tall as the tallest land animal, the giraffe, but the giraffe is 20 times shorter than the tallest living thing, a redwood tree. The journey continues outward: skyscrapers, mountains, outer space, all the way to the very edges of the universe. It then comes back to Earth, and that group of eight-year-olds, who are capable of looking into the sky and imagining their place in the universe. Includes additional information on Earth, the solar system, the universe, and making maps and models, as well as notes on the text and the illustrations, and a list of selected sources. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Although this sort of journey has been shown before (Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps or Powers of Ten), Jason Chin brings his own deft touch to it. As always, Chin’s illustrations are amazing in their details, colors, and realistic renderings (I was particularly awed by the panoramic view of Mount Everest showing a juxtaposition with the tallest skyscrapers). The simple comparisons make this accessible to early elementary kids, but the back matter makes it hefty enough for older readers. Sure to be a contender for another Sibert award.
Summary: Collin has never met his mother, but when he gets in a fight at school, his father is frustrated enough to send him away to live with her. Collin has a disorder that compels him to count up and say the number of letters in anything anyone says to him. This has resulted in bullying and misery for him that his dad doesn’t know how to deal with. When Collin moves in with his mother on the Ojibwe reservation in Minnesota, he slowly begins a journey of discovery about his past and who he is. He becomes close with Orenda, the girl next door, and is crushed to learn about her terminal illness. He discovers his own strength and spirituality as he falls in love with Orenda, learns about his late older brother, and comes to terms with his own disability. When his father reaches out to him a few months later, Collin is able to tell him that he has found happiness and peace in his new home. 320 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: This beautifully-written debut novel explores the mysticism of the Ojibwe people while keeping the story firmly rooted in reality with a down-to-earth narrator who is reluctant to believe in magic. Filled with memorable characters, romance, and heartbreak, this will undoubtedly appeal to many middle school readers.
Cons: I’m not a fan of the Fault In Our Stars/Bridge to Terabithia ill-fated romance with the amazingly wise doomed teen (as I may have mentioned once or twice before…maybe even three times), so I didn’t love the Orenda storyline.
Summary: A boy tells of his struggles with stuttering, the sounds that get stuck in his mouth like C, P, and M. He tries not to talk much, but when his teacher calls on him to tell about his favorite place in the world, he’s forced to make an attempt. His classmates look at him like there’s something wrong with him. At the end of the day, his dad picks him up. “It’s just a bad speech day,” Dad says, and takes him to the river where it’s quiet. As they walk along the water, his father can tell he’s sad. Dad points to the river and says, “See how that water moves? That’s how you speak.” The boy thinks about how the water bubbles, churns, crashes, and then becomes calm and smooth, and that helps him to feel okay about the way he talks. The next day, he tells the class about his favorite place in the world: the river. Includes an author’s note about his own experience with stuttering. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: There aren’t a lot of children’s books that address stuttering, and this one does it with poetic text and beautiful illustrations. The kids in the class are blurry, but the boy, his father, and the river are sharp and clear. The author’s note adds a nice personal touch.
Cons: While the boy is fortunate to have such a kind dad who helps him move toward self-acceptance, it seems like he needs more support at school.
Summary: A child and adult are seen in silhouette at the beach as the sun rises. They’re there to visit a sea garden, a reef created by indigenous people for thousands of years by lining up boulders at the lowest tide line. This creates a habitat for a variety of sea creatures, and the two see clams, whelks, sea stars, hermit crabs, and a wide variety of other creatures. They join others digging for clams, planning to steam some and smoke others to eat later. Before they leave, they do their part to tend to the sea garden, fixing a wall and clearing away driftwood and seaweed. As the sun sets, they row away, heading back home. Includes a page of information about sea gardens, including three photos. 32 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: An interesting lesson on a method of sustainably harvesting seafood that has been done on the Pacific Northwest coast for over 3,000 years. The illustrations are magnificent, with different vivid background colors showing the times of day throughout the story. There were interesting faces and designs in the pictures that I wish were explained somewhere.
Cons: I had trouble picturing what a sea garden looked like, and the photos at the end were so small that they still didn’t really clear it up for me.
Summary: A falling apple sparks Newton’s curiosity about how the world works. This leads him to ask other questions about the kids he sees playing on a school playground. Using lessons he learns about simple machines from listening in to the kids’ classroom, he builds a squirrel-size swing and seesaw that his younger sister Curie enjoys playing on. Things take a more serious turn when a robin’s nest falls out of a tree. The two squirrels use a lever and a pulley to solve the problem and get their friends’ nest and eggs back up to safety. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and physics; a glossary; and a list of websites with more scientific information for kids. 40 pages; grades K-3.
Pros: There aren’t many books that introduce simple machines and physical science to early elementary kids, and this one does it with two adorable squirrels and easy-to-understand explanations.
Cons: Newton’s curiosity drove the activities, and he did about 90% of the problem solving. It would have been nice to see Curie more engaged with the science instead of blowing it off to eat or play tag.
Summary: Astrid and Apollo are getting ready to go camping with their parents and little sister Eliana. Apollo is excited, but Astrid is nervous, having heard horror stories from a cousin about mosquitoes, bears, and nasty toilets. When they arrive, though, Astrid finds a lot to enjoy as the family makes a campfire, cooks dinner, then watches the stars come out. Even the dark tent seems cozy, and she’s ready to fall asleep when she hears a scratching sound outside. The whole family goes out to investigate. They find a group of raccoons, and Astrid shines her flashlight at them, scaring them away. The next morning, she learns an important lesson about food storage when she discovers the raccoons stole their sausages, but fortunately Mom brought ingredients for her famous egg rolls. Astrid discovers that camping is fun and an adventure. Includes facts about the Hmong, popular Hmong foods, a glossary, and prompts for discussion and writing. 64 pages; grades 1-3.
Pros: Kids will enjoy getting to know Astrid and Apollo and their Hmong family in this series opener. The full-color anime-inspired illustrations help move the story along, and it looks like more aspects of the Hmong culture are explored in later books.
Summary: Julián from Julián Is a Mermaid is back, and this time, he and his grandmother are going to a wedding. Julián is rocking a lavender suit, and he and a girl named Marisol are attendants, Marisol scattering flower petals and Julián looking after the brides’ dog Gloria. “A wedding”, the narrator explains, “is a party for love.” After the ceremony, the two sneak away from the reception. Marisol plays with Gloria, while Julián explores a fairy house under a willow tree. When Marisol’s dress gets dirty, Julián comes to the rescue with his keen fashion sense. The two grandmothers discover the children, and everyone goes back to the reception for dancing, cake, and a snooze for the kids. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Just like the first book, this one celebrates being yourself. The children, the brides, and the grandmothers all do (and wear) their own thing, and everything is A-OK. The illustrations are gorgeous with a beautiful palette of colors and should get a look at Caldecott time.
Cons: I feel like I should recognize Marisol’s grandmother from the first book, but I can’t place her.
Summary: The story begins on August 31 in a Long Island beach town during World War II. Julie Sweet and her younger sister Martha find a baby on the doorstep of the new library. Bruno is on a secret mission to New York City when he sees Julie, a former friend who has stopped speaking to him, and decides to follow her. The action then goes back to the beginning of the summer, and the three main characters tell the story in alternating voices. Bruno has a secret he’s guarding about his older brother Ben who’s away in the army. Julie is worried that her widowed father is about to get married again. Events unfold to bring all the characters back to August 31, when the reader finally learns where the baby came from. A famous woman makes a surprise appearance and helps Julie figure out what to do with the baby. The war isn’t over yet, and Ben’s fate is still uncertain, yet the three kids manage to find their way to a happy ending for the time being. 192 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This brief story unfolds in short vignettes which prove surprisingly engaging and will draw the reader in quickly. This would make a good first historical fiction book for elementary students, as well as an excellent study of different points of view. The ending is heartwarming yet realistic for the middle of wartime.
Cons: Because this is such a short book, I would consider it a good choice for third or fourth grade. But the multiple perspectives and flashbacks could confuse some young readers who may need some help to understand what’s going on.
Summary: It’s December 1937, and Esther’s family in Poland has just gotten word from Papa that he’s saved enough money to bring one family member to Cuba. 12-year-old Esther manages to convince him that it should be her, not her younger brother, and she sets off on the long journey across the ocean to a tropical island she knows little about. Once there, she learns that her father is trying to make a living as a peddler, but is a terrible salesman. Esther looks for ways to make money, and discovers a talent for dressmaking. As she settles into her new home, she and her father make new friends including wealthy Cubans, a poor black family, and a father and son from China. Meanwhile, they hear of increasing atrocities against Jews in Poland, and work day and night to bring the rest of the family over. Esther tells her story through letters she writes to her younger sister Malka, and by the end of the book, she is able to share the letters with Malka in person. Includes an author’s note telling about her grandmother on whom this story is based and a list of resources. 242 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: I don’t always find the letter writing format particularly engaging, but this book drew me in almost immediately. Excellent historical fiction with compelling characters make this a great choice for a wide range of readers and a book likely to be considered for some awards.
Cons: Papa seemed a bit passive for someone whose family was depending on him for their survival.