Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Your mama wakes you up with the news that your granny is ill and you need to take her a basket of food.  Do you put on your faux fur cape (turn to page 20) or your favorite red cape (page 6)?  Each choice leads to a new twist in the story, some intersecting with other fairy tales like Snow White and Jack and the Beanstalk, until an end is reached, either happy or tragic.  One path leads to the last few pages, where Red (a.k.a. you) decides to go on more adventures and is told “But whether you adventure far or sit alone or snooze, the thing you must remember is that every day…you choose.”  92 pages; grades K-3.  

Pros:  I was excited about this book when I read reviews, and it did not disappoint.  I’m looking forward to sharing it with some classes, where I’ll have the kids vote on which path to take.  The rhyming text is fun to read, and Dan Santat’s illustrations add delightful touches to all the stories.

Cons:  I got eaten by the wolf pretty early on.

Sir Ladybug by Corey Tabor

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Sir Ladybug is a modest knight who likes to hang out with his friends, Pell, a roly poly bug who serves as his herald, and Sterling, his trusty squire, who’s a snail with a shell that’s bigger on the inside than the outside.  Sir Ladybug claims that he will go on a quest when one presents itself, and soon enough his path crosses with a panicky caterpillar being chased by a “monster” (actually a chickadee).  The insects head inside Sterling’s shell to strategize and come up with a perfect solution: Sir Ladybug will bake his famous lemon cake which will take care of the chickadee’s hunger and save the caterpillar.  Surprisingly, this plan works, and the satiated chickadee declares them all friends.  68 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Caldecott honoree Corey Tabor has created this fun new early graphic novel starring creatures who resemble some of the characters in Mel Fell.  The bugs are pretty cute, the story is pretty funny, and this is sure to appeal to graphic novel fans who enjoy books like Narwhal and Jelly.  Look for books 2 and 3 coming later this year.

Cons:  No lemon cake recipe.

The Great Zapfino by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  The action opens at the circus, where The Great Zapfino is climbing a high, high ladder to a platform from which he will jump onto a tiny trampoline below.  One minute he’s there, and the next he’s gone.  He hightails it away from the circus to an airport, arriving at a high-rise building where he becomes an elevator operator.  Each day he meets all kinds of people on the elevator, and each night he goes back to his room and makes toast for supper until one day the toaster catches on fire.  As the room fills with black smoke, Zapfino runs to the window.  With no choice, he leaps to a trampoline rescuers are holding below, finally nailing the jump he ran away from in the circus.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Mac Barnett and Caldecott honoree Marla Frazee have created a winner with this black-and-white nearly wordless book that feels a little bit like an old silent movie.  The illustrations of the elevator throughout the day are particularly well-done, and kids will want to slow down to get a good look at all the people.  I wouldn’t say no to some Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  That’s a lot of smoke for one little piece of burned toast.

I’m Terrified of Bath Time by Simon Rich, illustrated by Tom Toro

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  You might suspect a child is narrating this book, but no, it’s a bathtub.  Most of its day is spent pleasantly with Sink and Toilet, but every night a giant appears and twists its eyeballs to make water shoot out of its nose.  When the tub is full of water, an equally terrified child appears, resistant to getting in the water.  Sometimes she kicks the tub’s nose, sometimes she screams in its ear, and once she pooped (a low point for both of them).  “You have all the power in the relationship.  Which is why I’m asking for a favor.”  Be kind: decorate the tub’s nose, sing some songs, and bathtime can be fun for all parties involved.  40 pages; ages 3-5.

Pros:  Authored by a Saturday Night Live writer and illustrated by a New Yorker cartoonist, this book is surprisingly kid friendly…bathroom humor in its purest form.  As the parent of a child who was once terrified of baths, I have a special appreciation for a book with this topic.  

Cons: Bath time or bathtime?

I Begin With Spring: The Life and Seasons of Henry David Thoreau by Julie Dunlap, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Baratta

Published by Tilbury House Publishers

Summary:  This biography of Henry David Thoreau looks like a nature journal, with lots of watercolor sketches of the flora and fauna Henry observed through a year in Concord.  A timeline running along the bottom of all the pages takes the reader through changes he would have seen through the seasons.  Beginning with his childhood and continuing through his years as a teacher, writer, activist, and naturalist, the story of Henry’s life is closely tied to Concord and the surrounding countryside. Includes additional information about Thoreau’s Kalendar that he was working on at the time of his death which was a record of his observations of nature over many years, and which has been used recently to track climate change.  There are also instructions for making your own Kalendar and a fairly extensive list of resources.  96 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This beautiful volume combines lots of illustrations with an engaging narrative that integrates the seasons of the year with the story of Thoreau’s life. The additional information makes his work relevant today and encourages kids to pursue their own explorations of the natural world.

Cons:  While Henry’s abolitionist work is celebrated here, there’s no mention of the disturbingly racist ideas of his mentor Louis Agassiz.

A Song Called Home by Sara Zarr

Published by Balzer + Bray

Summary:  Lou’s unhappy about her mother’s remarriage to Steve, which means a move out of San Francisco to the suburbs, leaving her old school and best friend, and dealing with her 15-year-old sister’s rebellion about all the changes.  She misses her dad, but also feels relieved not to have to deal with his drinking.  When a guitar mysteriously appears outside her door on her birthday, she assumes it’s a gift from her dad and decides to learn how to play it for the school talent show, hoping that her performance will help reconnect her with her father.  A new friend becomes part of her act, and kind neighbors help her with her guitar and provide a haven for both Lou and Casey.  Slowly, the whole family starts to adjust to their new situation, and by the time the talent show arrives, Lou has learned some important lessons about the people she cares about and who care about her.  356 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I was fortunate enough to bring this book with me while flying to Washington, DC, and it sustained me at the airport, on the flight, and into the next morning when I finished it.  The family portrayals are so well done, with each character having both good traits and flaws.  I don’t know if it’s Newbery material, but I am definitely putting it on my own short list.

Cons:  I couldn’t put it down and then was sad when I was done with it so quickly.

A Good Place by Lucy Cousins

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Four insects are seeking a good home: Bee wants flowers, Ladybug is searching for leaves, Beetle needs dead wood, and Dragonfly is looking for a pond.  Each time one thinks it has found the perfect place, humans turn out to have made it less than ideal because of garbage, traffic, or pesticides.  Finally, a passing butterfly hears about their dilemma and leads them to a beautiful garden a boy has created.  The garden has flowers, leaves, a pond, and even a dead log.  All four celebrate on the last page.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  And just like that, I have a book to read tomorrow to a class of preschoolers starting a gardening unit.  Lucy Cousins has created four endearing insect characters with a gentle environmental message that even the youngest readers will grasp.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have a little back matter about creating a garden.

Drawing Outdoors by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado

Published by Greystone Kids

Summary:  A girl tells about her school, which has “almost nothing.  A blackboard, some chairs.”  What it does have is an imaginative teacher who greets them at the door every morning.  On this particular day, the teacher leads them outdoors for a day of drawing.  Even the twins who walk a long way and don’t like school are excited for the day’s adventure.   They stop at a river, where a teacher points out a Brontosaurus!  The kids are excited and start sketching it.  From there, they head to a rock where the teacher spots a Triceratops and a stream with a Stegosaurus.  When the sun disappears, the teacher looks up to see the Pterodactyls who are blocking it.  A scary T-rex in the woods sends some of the kids scurrying back to school, but others stay and enjoy a snack on the back of an Ankylosaurus.  As the girl heads home with a smile on her face, the reader can see all the dinosaurs surrounding the school in the background.  36 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Dinosaur fans will love these illustrations and a story that celebrates the power of imagination and good teachers.

Cons:  I wish we had gotten a look at some of the students’ dinosaur drawings.

Serengeti: Plains of Grass by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

Summary:  Each two-page spread depicts a scene from the Serengeti, with a four-line poem and a paragraph of additional information.  An introductory page describes the ecosystem of the Serengeti, and a note at the end gives additional information about the poetic form, which is derived from an East African form called the utendi.  Also includes a glossary, a reading list, and information on Serengeti stewardship, including three organizations that are working to preserve the Serengeti.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  A beautiful science and poetry book, with gorgeous paintings of the Serengeti that will catch the eye of any animal lover.  The additional information about the poems and the Serengeti makes this an excellent resource for language arts, geography, and science.

Cons:  I wish there had been some information about the humans who live in that area.

Happily Ever After Rescue Team (Agents of H.E.A.R.T., book 1) by Sam Hay, illustrated by Genevieve Kote

Published by Feiwel and Friends

Summary:  Evie wants nothing more than to be allowed to help out in her parents’ new diner, especially on the day a judge for the Golden Coffee Cup Best Café Contest is supposed to stop by.  But despite her creativity with food (especially ice cream), Evie is accident prone, and after spilling two large blueberry smoothies, her stepmother sends her outside.  A girl Evie’s age has left an old book of fairy tales in the diner, and when she opens it, Agents C (Cinderella), R (Rapunzel), and B (Beauty) come to rescue her.  They have their own ideas about granting wishes, though, and Evie desperately needs some help controlling them.  That help comes in the form of Iris, the original owner of the book, and her cousin Zak.  The three have a series of madcap adventures as they try to undo the damage the fairy tale agents have done and get them to understand what it is Evie wants.  In the end, all of Evie’s wishes come true…except for one, which will undoubtedly be the premise for book number two.  226 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  This illustrated chapter book provides lots of laughs and adventures.  Woven into the story are recipes, crafts, and other activities that kids will enjoy.  Perfect for elementary kids who are ready to move on from early chapter books but still like plenty of illustrations.

Cons:  The princesses were pretty annoying.