Summary: Growing up in Sierra Leone, Joe had big dreams. He decided he needed to go to America to follow them. Family and friends told him people in America would laugh at his accent and be afraid of his dark skin, but Joe said, “Watch me,” and moved to America. People did, in fact, make fun of his accent and sometimes told him to go back to Africa. Joe was homesick, but he persisted. Sometimes he felt he had to work twice as hard to prove himself, but in the end he kept going and became a doctor. How does the narrator know all this? Dr. Joe was his dad. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This inspiring narrative tells Dr. Joe’s story, but also asks a lot of questions of the reader: do you know people like Joe? Do you see them at your school? Did they come by plane or boat? Maybe you did, too? The text is simple, but it is sure to provoke discussion and encourage kids to make connections between Joe and themselves or people around them.
Cons: I wanted to know a lot more about Dr. Joe, but there was no additional information.
Summary: The story of Peter Pan gets an update featuring stepsisters Lily, who is Muscogee Creek, and Wendy, a white girl originally from England. Lily’s mother is married to Wendy’s father, and they share a half-brother, 4-year-old Michael. Mr. Darling has taken a new job in New York, while Lily’s mother plans to stay in Tulsa, and divorce is threatening to tear the family apart. On the eve of Wendy’s departure, Peter Pan appears with a fairy named Belle, whisking Wendy and Michael away to Neverland. Lily follows, and winds up connecting with a group of Native kids who live in hiding to escape Peter and his Lost Boys. There are mermaids, more fairies (and lots of fairy dust), pirates (led by Pirate Queen Smee), and wild animals that Peter and his band are quickly hunting to extinction. Wendy and Lily have to put aside their differences to figure out how to rescue everyone, and even Peter winds up a somewhat reformed character as the book winds up with a happily-ever-after ending. Includes an author’s note that discusses the questions she had about the original story that led her to create this one. 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: The story manages to explore serious themes like colonialism, bullying, and the environment without losing any of the fairy tale fun. The truth about the “bad” characters from the original story, the Indians and the pirates, turns out to be far more interesting and shows how storytelling can be misleading and result in harmful prejudices.
Cons: I’ve never read the original book and it’s been years since I saw the Disney movie, so I felt I wasn’t always appreciating all the details of the story.
Summary: It’s hard to envision 8 billion people (the current population of Earth), so what if that number is reduced to 100? 60 people live in Asia, 5 in North America. 11 don’t have enough to eat (although enough food is wasted each day to feed them), and 29 don’t have access to clean water. 26 are under 14, and 8 are over 65. And, as you may have already heard, 10 people have 85% of the world’s wealth. Each of these facts is accompanied with an infographic that helps readers see the information. The final two pages attempt to answer the question, “What are the big questions?” as we move into a future that will likely see 10 billion people on the planet by 2050. 32 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: I love information like this, and really, who doesn’t? It makes demographics so much more accessible, with the fun illustrations adding another level of access. I learned some surprising facts, as I’m sure most readers would. This could be used for social studies into middle school or even high school.
Summary: When Josie decides she wants to dance at her tribe’s powwow, she enlists her mom, grandmother (kookum), aunty, and tribal elder Grandma Greatwalker to sew and bead her costume and to dream her spirit name. Josie practices all winter and spring, excited about all the preparations but a little anxious that they won’t be done in time. On the morning of her dance, though, everyone surprises her with their completed work, and Elder Grandma Greatwalker tells Josie that she has dreamed her spirit name: Migiziinsikwe, or Young Eagle Woman. Josie is welcomed into the circle of dancers as the singers say her name, Migiziinsikwe, and Young Eagle Woman soars into the dance. Includes a glossary and information about Turtle Mountain, a reservation where the author lives as a citizen of the Tribal Band of Chippewa and the illustrator is a tribal member. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This would pair well with Bowwow Powwow for a story hour about contemporary kids participating in their powwows. The colorful illustrations and text give a real flavor of what goes into preparing for the dance and the excitement of the actual event. I loved the endpapers portraying a variety of powwow participants.
Cons: I wish there had been some more information about Josie’s dance in the back matter.
Summary: Thirty animals from the rainforest are profiled, beginning with an introduction that tells readers a little bit about rainforests, specifically the Amazon, where the animals in the book live. From there, the two-page spreads show two or three animals with a paragraph of facts about each one. The animals are pictured in their natural habitats and shown in proportion to each other. A final spread includes black-and-white outlines of all the animals with a color-coded list that categorizes them by class. There’s also information on the layers of the rainforests and rainforest preservation, as well as a glossary, index, and list of additional information sources. 32 pages; grades 2-5.
Pros: The large, full-color illustrations really make this book, which also includes interesting tidbits of information about each animal, and excellent backmatter which can lead readers to further research.
Cons: It’s a beautiful and interesting catalog of animals, but kids will have to look elsewhere for more comprehensive information about the rainforest.
Summary: Amara has loved bats since one got into her attic and a wildlife rescue team gave her a close look when it came to get it out. When the family moves, she’s dismayed to learn that there are no bats at the local park. After reading about other young environmental activists, Amara gets the idea to build bat houses to try to get her favorite animals to return. She bravely makes a presentation about it at her new school, and is joined by a couple of other kids who also love animals. It takes a lot of time and patience, but the kids raise money, build the houses, and wait. Finally, Amara gets a call one night from the park ranger, and when she and her family get to the park, they see that the bats have returned! Includes facts about bats, echolocation, setting up bat houses, and ways kids can help bats. 48 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: An empowering story of how one kid can make a difference in her community. Amara stays true to her passion for bats while also dealing with moving and making new friends. The material at the end could be good for starting some research.
Cons: Sorry, Amara, I just can’t share your excitement for finding a bat in the attic.
Summary: Nathan thinks he’s in for a boring summer vacation staying with his Nali (grandmother) on the Navajo reservation. Before long, though, he’s discovered his ability to see Holy Beings, creatures from Navajo lore that only children can see before going through puberty. One of these creatures, Pond, is a water monster who has been poisoned by radiation. Nathan is tasked with traveling to a different world to bring back medicine for his new friend, which will in turn save the reservation from a long drought. Meanwhile, back in the human realm, his uncle Jet is battling his own demons since coming back from military service in Afghanistan. Nali is trying to convince Jet to partake in a ceremony to begin his own healing, but Jet’s drinking and a demon that only Nathan can see make Jet resistant. Both Nathan and his uncle are eventually able to successfully make their journeys, and although neither one turns out quite as anticipated, it’s clear that, in both cases, healing has begun. Includes a Navajo glossary and an author’s note. 368 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: Another compelling tale from Native imprint Heartdrum. Nathan, who loves video games, doesn’t like sports much, and has his share of family and friend problems, is a kid many readers will relate to, and cheer for as he becomes the hero of his story. It’s great to have another middle grade book with a contemporary Native setting, and fans of Rick Riordan’s books will enjoy the mix of realism and folklore.
Cons: I was kind of bummed about the outcome of Pond’s story.
Summary: The husband-and-wife team of Jenkins and Page introduce readers to the world of sharks through cut-paper illustrations and text describing different types of sharks, how sharks reproduce, what they eat, and more. Of course, what readers REALLY want to know is how dangerous sharks are to humans, and this is addressed as well, along with additional information about how dangerous humans are to sharks. Includes a chart showing size, range, danger to humans, and conservation status of all the sharks in the book as well as a bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: One can never have too many shark books on the library shelves, and, as per usual, Jenkins and Page do a stellar job of making the information interesting and accessible to the intended audience, with excellent illustrations as well as text.
Cons: The font seemed a bit small to me, especially since it was one that looked like handwriting.
Summary: Q and U are the closest of friends until Q starts to notice that U has quite a few other friends, and that Q needs U more than U needs him. When U announces she needs a break, other letters start to realize how they need some alone time (S to L: “You’re slowing me down”; W to R: “We’re just wrong for each other”). Going solo is fine for a while, but when things start to fall apart, U realizes her mistake and apologizes to Q. Other letters follow suit, and the world is restored to normalcy. Although once in a while, Q and U still spend a few quiet–or silent–moments apart. 32 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Not only is this a great friendship story, but it is perfect for introducing beginning readers to letter combinations and the sounds they make. Fun for everyone.
Cons: Seems like Q could have gotten a little break from U by visiting Qatar or practicing some qigong.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Summary: A mother tells of her undying love for her son, imagining him as a bumblebee snuggled in a flower until it starts to rain. Then the illustrations change to show a father and young daughter imagining themselves as a mole and mouse in a cozy hole. The pictures alternate between the two pairs as they dream about different roles…and also as they grow older. Finally, it’s time for the kids, now adults, to go out into the world on their own, but the parents are always loving them and meeting them in their dreams. The final pages show the young man with a son and the young woman playing guitar, with the ghostly figures of the parents in the sky overhead. 40 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: A beautiful book that would make a perfect bedtime story. The illustrations by Pura Belpré Medalist López are particularly moving, enhancing the text to show how a parent’s love extends throughout the child’s life.
Cons: I’ve really struggled trying to remember the title of this book. I keep wanting to call it I’ll See You in My Dreams, which apparently is the title of a number of other movies, songs, etc.