Stand Up! Speak Up! A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution by Andrew Joyner

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Stand Up! Speak Up!: A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution:  Joyner, Andrew: 9780593301586: Amazon.com: Books
Stand Up! Speak Up!: A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution:  Joyner, Andrew: 9780593301586: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Each sentence in this book has just two words: Wake up. Dress up.  Meet up.  The girl in the story is on her way to a rally about climate change.  She’s excited to hold a sign, listen to speakers, and cheer, and that evening she sees the rally on the news.  But the stories after hers are reporting on wildfires, floods, and hurricanes, and she goes to bed feeling discouraged.  Lying awake, she has some new ideas, and the next morning sets about putting them into action.  The final gatefold spread shows her working at a table with information, surrounded by other environmental activists.  Includes drawings and brief profiles of 14 young climate activists from around the world.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  An inspiring book for young activists (the dust jacket is printed on the back to be used as a protest sign) with lots to look at.  The busy illustrations tell the story effectively with minimal words, and convey the message that making social change isn’t a one-day event.

Cons:  I was hoping that the real-life activists were hidden somewhere in the crowd scenes, but I couldn’t find any of them.

Our Subway Baby by Peter Mercurio, illustrated by Leo Espinosa

Published by Dial Books

Our Subway Baby: Mercurio, Peter, Espinosa, Leo: 9780525427544: Amazon.com:  Books
Our Subway Baby: Mercurio, Peter, Espinosa, Leo: 9780525427544: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  Peter Mercurio tells his son Kevin the story of how he came to live with their family.  When Peter’s husband Danny found a baby in a New York City subway station, it seemed at first like the little boy would be spending a long time in foster care.  The two men lived in a small apartment, and their “piggy banks were empty.”  But they had fallen in love with this tiny baby, and a sympathetic judge speeded up the process, choosing a loving family for him over common concerns at that time about whether or not two men could raise a child together.  The ruling gave them just three days to prepare, but friends and family pitched in to get them what they needed for a baby.  They brought Kevin home just before Christmas….opting, of course, to take the subway to get there.  Includes an author’s note with three photos of Kevin as an infant, a toddler, and today as a college student.  40 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Talk about heartwarming.  This book is written like a love letter from a father to a son, but manages to avoid sentimentality or mawkishness.  The colorful illustrations are engaging and perfectly capture the emotions of two people suddenly thrust into the spotlight…and parenthood.  A beautiful celebration of a unique family.

Cons:  Thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong for baby Kevin.  He is one lucky kid.

Curious Comparisons: A Life-Size Look at the World Around You by Jorge Doneiger, translated from the Spanish by Iraida Iturralde and The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names by Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie, illustrated by Julie Benbassat

Published by Candlewick

Curious Comparisons: A Life-Size Look at the World Around You: Doneiger,  Jorge, Chouela, Guido, Sisso, David, Setton, Marcelo: 9781536200218:  Amazon.com: Books
Curious Comparisons: A Life-Size Look at the World Around You by Jorge  Doneiger, Guido Chouela, David Sisso, Marcelo Setton, Hardcover | Barnes &  Noble®

Published by Workman Publishing Co.

The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names:  Murrie, Matthew, Murrie, Steve, Benbassat, Julie: 9781523508112: Amazon.com:  Books
The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names:  Murrie, Matthew, Murrie, Steve, Benbassat, Julie: 9781523508112: Amazon.com:  Books

Summary:  For those kids who enjoy books filled with quirky facts, here’s a double dose.  Curious Comparisons is an import from Argentina showing true-to-size photos of an eclectic mix of animals and objects.  A pound of feathers and a pound of lead; the amount of water a lion can drink at once shown in empty water bottles; a pile of thread representing an unraveled shirt: each item is shown on a white page with a fact or two and often a question.  There are a few fold out pages: glasses filled with the amount of milk a cow produces and the flowers needed for a bee to make a pound of honey.  Includes 4 pages of additional facts about each page.  64 pages; grades K-5.

Screaming Hairy Armadillo starts off with several pages explaining how animals are named, including a description of scientific classification.  From there, the 77 animals are profiled, everything from the monkeyface prickleback to the bone-eating snot flower worm.  The animals are grouped by name: funny names, fierce names, magical names, delicious names, and just plain weird names (looking at you, headless chicken monster).  Each animal gets a page of information; a sidebar telling its species, habitat, and a fun fact; an illustration; and sometimes a photo.  Includes a couple pages of awards (for different name-related categories); how to discover and name an organism; a weird and wild name generator; a glossary; a list of websites for further research; and information on conservation organizations.  176 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Books like these are almost too easy to book talk.  Just show a page or two, maybe read a fact or share a couple of weird names, and boom, kids are clamoring for them.  The photos and simple text in Curious Comparisons makes it a great choice for any elementary grade.  Screaming Hairy Armadillo will appeal to older kids, and contains a lot of great information in addition to the animal profiles.

Cons:  Curious Comparisons seemed a bit random to my well-ordered, Dewey-Decimal-trained brain.

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad by Don Tate

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground  Railroad: Tate, Don, Tate, Don: 9781561459353: Amazon.com: Books
Review: William Still and His Freedom Stories - Mr. Alex's Bookshelf

Summary:  When William Still’s mother escaped from slavery, she was forced to leave her two sons behind.  She and her husband reunited in New Jersey, and they went on to have fifteen children, including William, the youngest, born in 1821.  When William was 23, he moved to Philadelphia, where he got a job as an office clerk at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society.  He worked his way up to manager, and helped freedom-seekers by making his home a stop on the Underground Railroad.  One day a middle-aged man came to the office.  When William heard his story, he realized the man was his long-lost brother, Peter.  This inspired William to start recording the stories of every person who came through the office, thinking these records might help reunite other families.  When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, William’s stories became evidence of crimes, and he was forced to hide them in a cemetery vault.  After the Civil War, he published many of the stories in his book, The Under Ground Rail Road.  Includes a timeline, author’s note, and bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  According to the author’s note, when white writers told the story of the Underground Railroad, they often made themselves heroes and left out the work of many of the black people.  This book does a fabulous job of rectifying that for William Still, who was a tireless worker for many years.  Don Tate has been a busy man this year, creating both the text and beautiful illustrations for this book, as well as the pictures for Swish!, the recent book about the Harlem Globetrotters.

Cons:  I was curious as to what happened to all the papers Sill was forced to hide in the cemetery vault.  Did they survive?  Are they still around today?  There didn’t seem to be an answer in either the story or the author’s note.

One of a Kind: A Story About Sorting and Classifying by Neil Packer

Published by Candlewick

One of a Kind: A Story About Sorting and Classifying: Packer, Neil, Packer,  Neil: 9781536211214: Amazon.com: Books
One of a Kind: A Story About Sorting and Classifying by Neil Packer,  Hardcover | Barnes & Noble®

Summary:  On page 1, we meet Arvo.  On page 2, we meet Arvo’s family: a family tree going back to his great grandparents and to third cousins once removed, including the percentage of DNA each shares with Arvo.  Page 3 is Arvo’s cat Malcolm–and the family of cats, a.k.a. Felidae.  And so it goes throughout Arvo’s day.  His violin lesson is accompanied by an illustration of musical instrument classification; the car ride to the violin lesson includes vehicles and how they are grouped.  There are pages for clouds, foods, the library, and more.  When Arvo’s dad picks him up at the end of the day, though, he’s able to pick his son out of a crowd.  When Arvo asks him how, his dad tells him, “There is only one YOU!”  Includes an additional four pages giving more information on each of the classification systems.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Many years ago, when I worked at the Boston Museum of Science, I looked in vain for good children’s books on classification (my co-worker and I actually tried writing one).  I wish we had had this excellent oversized book to show kids how all kinds of objects in the world are sorted and classified into groups.  Readers will want to spend a lot of time with the detailed illustrations on every page.

Cons:  This is another large book that librarians may struggle to find space for.

The Little Mermaid by Jerry Pinkney

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Amazon.com: The Little Mermaid (9780316440318): Pinkney, Jerry: Books
Watery Fairy Tales - The New York Times

Summary:  Melody, the youngest daughter of the Sea King, has a beautiful singing voice and loves to go exploring.  One day she discovers the world above the sea and sees a girl named Zion.  When Melody starts to sing, Zion sees her, and the mermaid knows the two of them are meant to be friends.  Desperate to find a way to be with her new friend, Melody goes to the Sea Witch, who gives her legs in exchange for her voice.  Melody and Zion meet, but Zion is dismayed when she discovers her new friend can’t speak.  Melody draws pictures in the sand to tell her what happened, and Zion says she should never have given up her voice.  A disturbance in the sea alerts Melody to danger for her family, and she returns to the undersea kingdom in time to help defend it against the witch.  When she sees the shell with her voice in it around the witch’s neck, she manages to get it back and to use her voice to defeat her enemy.  Melody’s father realizes his daughter should be allowed to have adventures, so, even as a mermaid, she can visit with her new friend Zion.  48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Usually, the story of The Little Mermaid kind of bums me out, but I love this retelling with a friendship instead of a romance, and a celebration of being adventurous and using your voice.  Add this to the cannon of beautiful fairy retellings at the hands of Jerry Pinkney.

Cons:  This story is a longer than some of Pinkney’s other folktales, and may be a bit of a stretch for reading aloud to preschoolers.

Friend Me by Sheila M. Averbuch

Published by Scholastic Press

Friend Me: Averbuch, Sheila M.: 9781338618082: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Roisin is struggling to adjust to seventh grade after moving to Massachusetts from Ireland.  A bully named Zara is making her life miserable, so when she discovers a new friend online, she is thrilled.  Haley has dealt with mean girls as well, and always seems to have time to listen to Roisin’s problems and offer sympathetic advice.  But when Zara has a potentially fatal accident and Haley seems unmoved, Roisin begins to have some questions.  Attempts to track Haley down in person prove unsuccessful, and Roisin finds herself in an increasingly dangerous situation.  She realizes she will have to risk reaching out to the people around her to find out who Haley is…and to survive their friendship.  272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Kids who are looking for a fast-paced adventure will enjoy this social media-based thriller, and will get some positive messages about bullying as well.

Cons:  Roisin’s final showdown with Haley requires a little suspension of disbelief…but it did make for an exciting last few chapters.

Too Many Birds by Cindy Derby

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Amazon.com: Two Many Birds (9781250232540): Derby, Cindy, Derby, Cindy:  Books
Two Many Birds | Cindy Derby | Macmillan

Summary:  A grumpy blackbird sits in a lifeguard-type stand monitoring a nearby tree in this nearly wordless book.  He has all kinds of rules he tries to enforce: no running, no yelling, and a maximum capacity of 100 birds.  When he takes a lunch break, an egg cracks open, and two birds hatch, sending the bird count to 102.  “Two many birds!” he cries, grabbing a net.  But the birds organize into the shape of one large bird and drive him off.  Sitting by himself, the blackbird sees an acorn sprouting and decides to help it grow, assisted by the large flock of birds.  Eventually, they have grown dozens of new trees, providing enough space for everyone.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The cute and colorful illustrations show the power of many against a bully, and also show what can happen when the bully reforms.  

Cons:  I had some trouble understanding parts of this story.  Also, the final spread showing all the new trees was on the inside back cover, so the back flap of the dust jacket covered it up.

Turtle Walk by Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

Turtle Walk: Phelan, Matt, Phelan, Matt: 9780062934130: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  A family of turtles sets off for a walk one spring morning.  “Turtle walk. Nice and slow. Here we go. Are we there yet? No.”  This refrain is repeated as they continue to travel through a landscape that turns into summer, fall, and then a snowy winter.  On each page that says “No” they stop for a rest.  Finally, after a long climb up a snowy hill, the answer is “Yes”.  The turtle walk is no longer nice and slow, as they all slide down the hill on their bellies.  They wind up in a cave: “Turtle rest. Nice and long. Here we…zzzzz.”  32 pages; ages 2-7.

Pros:  Even the youngest kids will be able to chant along with the repeating refrain of this book, and the watercolor illustrations provide a delightful feast of details that can be found in each season.  The final page makes it a perfect bedtime story.

Cons:  Speaking of bed, it looks like an exhausting journey.

Tiny Monsters: The Strange Creatures That Live On Us, In Us, and Around Us by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

HMH Books for Young Readers

Tiny Monsters: The Strange Creatures That Live On Us, In Us, and Around Us:  Jenkins, Steve, Page, Robin: 9780358307112: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Maybe you don’t want to think about the tiny eyelash mites that are living on, not surprisingly, your eyelashes, but you can bet there’s some 9-year-old kid out there who does.  And that kid will also enjoy learning about bedbugs, chiggers, dust mites, and a whole host of other small creatures who live on humans, in houses, and outside.  Each spread features Jenkins’ trademark cut paper illustrations, with the actual size shown as a black silhouette (some are just a dot), the magnification of the illustration, and a paragraph of information.  The last two pages give additional information about each critter, and there is also a short bibliography.  32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  I’m always delighted to learn that Steve Jenkins has a new book; even more so when he teams up with his wife Robin Page.  Personally, I did not find the subject of this one particularly engaging, but I just know it will be a huge hit in any elementary library.

Cons:  I feel itchy.