Published by Roaring Brook Press
Summary: Each two-page spread has a watercolor illustration of the tree in its natural habitat with animals that live in or near it, a free-verse poem, and several paragraphs of information about the tree. The “wisdom” aspect of trees is emphasized, showing the remarkable ways trees defend themselves, maintain Earth’s balance, and even communicate with each other. Includes an author’s note; additional information about each tree in the book and the future of forests; how to help forests; glossary; and sources. 48 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This gorgeous science book has some pretty mind-blowing information about trees that scientists are just beginning to discover. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for trees, and it will undoubtedly have the same effect on younger readers.
Cons: It will take a pretty dedicated tree enthusiast to get through the entire book. But the good news is, if this tree book doesn’t grab you, there are a couple dozen more to choose from this year.
Published by Holiday House
Summary: A ruby throated hummingbird narrates a year in his life, starting on May 15 when he hatches out of an egg. A few weeks later, he’s ready to fly, and spends the summer sipping nectar and fighting/playing with the other hummingbirds. August 22: “I’m hearing a lot of chatter about a big trip soon.” In September, he heads to Mexico, where he stays until the end of February. By May 4, he’s back home again, and thinking about finding a mate. Includes additional information about hummingbirds on both the front and back endpapers, as well as a glossary and a list of sources and recommended reading. 40 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Paul Meisel and Holiday House have teamed up for a number of I Like to Read books, and this series feels like it could appeal to the same audience. There’s just a sentence or two of text on each page, and the diary format makes it engaging and fun. Yet there’s plenty of back matter that could make this a great research resource for older kids. There are three other books in this series, which started in 2018.
Cons: As you may recall, I’m not a big fan of using the endpapers for additional information. Fortunately, the book I got from the library didn’t have a dust jacket, so nothing was covered up.
Published by Tundra Books
Summary: A butterfly tells readers that “everyone knows that butterflies are pretty.” If that’s as much as you want to know about butterflies, you’re warned not to read any further. But, of course, who can resist? Keep going, and you’ll learn that butterflies can be drab, noisy, and eat rotten food or poop. Some are stinky, sneaky, and all are shape-shifters, turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly. They taste with their feet and drink other animals’ tears. Butterflies are gross, they are amazing, AND they are beautiful…just like humans! Includes additional information about the butterfly species in the book. 36 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: This is a fun approach that is a nice counterbalance to more traditional butterfly books. I used to teach in a school where there was a second grade field trip to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA, and there were always one or two kids who were completely freaked out by butterflies. They might enjoy having their phobias validated by this book.
Cons: Honestly, I was hoping for something a little bit grosser.
Published by Quill Tree Books
Summary: Gino Bartali gained fame in Europe when he won the Tour de France in 1938. So when Archbishop Elia Dalla Costa recruited him to help Jewish families escape the Nazis, Gino was ready. He began cycling all over Italy, delivering fake identity papers to families in hiding. He also used his fame by visiting train stations and distracting autograph-seeking soldiers while families destined for concentration camps were quickly rerouted onto other trains. Forced into the Italian militia, he became a spy who helped rescue English P.O.W.’s. After the war, he went on to win another Tour de France, but never talked about the more than 800 lives he had saved, stating that “Some medals are pinned to your soul, not your jacket.” Includes a timeline, a letter from Bartali’s granddaughter Lisa, an author’s note, and a list of sources. 40 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: Another gripping story of a modest World War II hero that would pair nicely with Peter Sis’ Nicky and Vera. The illustrations, which look like vintage posters, add a lot to the story.
Cons: There was very little information on Gino Bartali’s life before or after World War II. Also no photos, so here’s one.
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Summary: Carter and Austin play basketball for rival middle schools in the town of Walthorne, and each one has a reason to love–and to hate–the game. Carter’s parents, who are divorced and struggling financially, see basketball as Carter’s ticket to success, while Austin’s former-college-star dad wants his son to have the shot at the NBA he missed out on. Both boys are young enough to remember back to the days when basketball was played just for fun, but now the pressure results in injuries, cheating, and bullying. A crisis at a girls’ game brings things to a head, and Carter and Austin team up to play one more game–on their terms. 320 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: Tommy Greenwald is one of those authors who kind of flies under the radar, but I pretty much always love his books. This one is written in the same style as Game Changer, with alternating points of view, texts, and a blog written by aspiring sports reporter Alfie Jenks. Perfect for sports fans, reluctant readers, and those who enjoy writers like Gordon Korman and Kwame Alexander.
Cons: I found it a bit confusing to have three main characters named Clay, Chase, and Carter.
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Summary: At the start of this book, “Yes” belongs to the dog, while “No” is the domain of the cat, as they are asked questions from their offstage guardian: Are you awake? Did you sleep well? Are you both excited for the day? Sent outside to play, the dog is a whirlwind of activity, digging and chewing everything in sight, while the cat perches in a tree. The owner, seeing the destruction in the yard, sends them farther afield, and they head off. Several wordless pages show the pair traveling together, then gazing at the scenery as they sit side by side. When it’s time to come inside and get ready for bed, it’s the dog who starts saying no, but he finally admits to being ready for sleep, as the cat heads out a window into the night. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Reminiscent of Cooper’s Caldecott book Big Cat, Little Cat, this fun book is sure to spark debate between dog people and cat people. The illustrations and sparse text perfectly capture each animal’s personality.
Cons: It doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of Big Cat, Little Cat.
Published by Triangle Square
Summary: Teenagers lurk in the shadow of Mrs. Lucy’s garage. Before she can stop them, they’ve spray-painted it with graffiti. The next morning, she paints over the words, chasing the kids away when they start to play ball near her house. They move on, but they don’t let Tasha join them. Disheartened, Tasha offers to help Mrs. Lucy, and the two of them finish the job, then have a snack together. That night, the cycle repeats itself, with Mrs. Lucy and Tasha doing clean-up together in the morning. On the third night, Mrs. Lucy hides in the bushes by her garage, determined to catch the culprit. This time, though, there’s only one kid–Tasha. “I just–I just wanted to come over again,” she stammers when Mrs. Lucy catches her. They make plans to work together in the morning. 32 pages; grades K-5.
Pros: An unusual and thought-provoking story with intriguing illustration by Caldecott Medalist Ed Young.
Cons: Kids may need to brush up their inferencing skills to understand what is going on in the story.
Published by Balzer + Bray
Summary: On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him. No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington). The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking. Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources. 104 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked). The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources. Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.
Cons: The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.
Published by Sterling Children’s Books
Summary: Aven Green from Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus tells how she got her start as a detective back in third grade. In this first installment, she’s working on two mysteries: who is stealing food at her elementary school and what has happened to her grandmother’s beloved dog? Aven is confident in her problem-solving ability (“all of the cells that were supposed to make my arms went into making my brain instead”), and has some good friends who are happy to help. Both cases are cracked by the last page, and there’s a preview of book two, due out in August. Includes a glossary of Aven’s sleuthing words. 128 pages; grades 1-4.
Pros: It’s great to meet Aven as a third-grader and learn how she got her start solving mysteries. She is matter-of-fact in her explanation of how she was born with no arms, and both the text and the illustrations show her doing everything for herself with her feet. Her voice is funny and confident, making this a surefire hit with the early chapter book crowd.
Cons: I’m not sure if that crowd will understand the hemorrhoid joke in the “Robot Chickens” chapter.
Published by Graphix
Summary: Maggie is beyond excited to be picking out a new puppy for her tenth birthday, but when she and her family get to the shelter, she has a severe allergic reaction. Not only will there be no puppy for her, but a round of testing rules out any pet with fur or feathers. There are other trials in her life: redistricting means she’s at a new school for fifth grade; the family is getting ready to welcome a fourth child; and a new best friend gets a puppy, meaning Maggie can’t go over to her house anymore. A year of allergy shots puts Maggie on the road to staying healthier around animals, and a new baby sister provides a welcome diversion from the pet issue. Most issues are resolved satisfactorily as Maggie wraps up her fifth grade year. 240 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: Once again, Graphix nails it with a realistic graphic novel that many readers will love. Maggie’s issues with allergies, family, friends, and school make her an easy protagonist with whom kids will connect.
Cons: It seemed unlikely that Maggie’s severe allergies to anything with fur or feathers wouldn’t have come to light before she reached her tenth birthday.