Fibbed by Elizabeth Agyemang

Published by Razorbill

Summary:  Nana’s in trouble again for lying, even though she swears her story about how her teacher’s toupee disappeared is true.  Her parents have had enough, however, and they decide to send her to stay with family in Ghana for the summer.  There she meets relatives and learns about the trickster spider Ananse who exchanges favors and magic for stories.  When Nana, her cousin, and a classmate discover men who are destroying a local forest by stripping it of magic, they end up working with Ananse to defeat the villains and save the forest.  As a reward, Nana gets a wish granted and is happy that her stories are finally believed by family members in both Ghana and the U.S.  Includes four pages of additional information about Ananse.  256 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This graphic novel cleverly weaves together a realistic family story and folklore. The artwork is gorgeous, particularly the wordless pages that show the Ghanian countryside.

Cons:  There’s a lot going on in the story, and I was a little confused about some of the details.

Rosie and the Pre-Loved Dress by Leanne Hatch

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Rosie falls in love with a dress while visiting the thrift store with her mom.  When she gets home with it, she discovers a name on the tag: Mila.  Imagining what Mila might be like, Rosie shows readers a lot about herself: she likes purple nail polish, mismatched socks, skateboarding, origami, and tortilla chips on her tuna sandwiches.  Rosie wears the dress every day until one day it feels too tight.  She considers other uses for it, like decorating her room or putting it on her stuffed giraffe, but ultimately decides to let it go.  Before she takes it back to the thrift shop, she adds her name to the tag.  The last few pages show Rosie falling in love with another thrifted item and another girl looking happy to discover the dress.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A sweet story about a girl with many interests and passions who also learns a lesson about passing on something she loves when it no longer is right for her.

Cons:  As the mother of a daughter who just returned from hiking 300 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one shirt, I can vouch for the fact that it’s good to change your clothes once in a while.

Pineapple Princess by Sabina Hahn

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  “I am deeply, deeply misunderstood,” says the narrator, standing in front of a wall “decorated” in red crayon.  “I know I am a princess, but no one believes me.”  A crown is in order, she decides, eyeing the top of a pineapple.  One messy kitchen later, she’s outside with her pineapple crown, which is soon surrounded by her subjects…flies.  She tries being kind and compassionate, then moves on to imprisoning some “subjects” with a glass jar and executing others with a flyswatter.  Finally, she gives up, tossing the crown into the garbage.  “I never wanted to be a princess anyway.”  Soon she has moved on to become a warrior queen, with her unsuspecting cat about to be lassoed.  “My queendom for a horse!”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Those who enjoy Fancy Nancy and Ladybug Girl will get a kick out of the pineapple princess and her attempts to rule her subjects.  I’d love to see another story about the warrior queen.

Cons:  Wearing part of a sticky pineapple and all those flies.

Let the Monster Out by Chad Lucas

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Bones is struggling to adapt to his new home in a small Nova Scotia town.  He’s one of the few Black kids, and he’s trying to put some past trauma behind him.  Kyle has never received an official autism diagnosis, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to him that his brain works differently from most other people’s.  Although the two are baseball teammates, they seem unlikely to become friends until they both are affected by the strange happenings going on in their town. Kids are having the same nightmares, and the adults around them are acting like zombies.  Everything seems to be connected to Fluxcor, the giant tech company that has an outsized influence in town.  After somewhat reluctantly joining forces with teammates Marcus and Albert, Bones and Kyle race against time to defeat the company and its evil CEO before it’s too late.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This isn’t typically my favorite genre, but I got sucked into the story pretty quickly and polished it off in three days.  I saw Netflix’s Stranger Things referenced in several reviews, and this would definitely appeal to fans of that show.  But it’s not just a scary story; Bones and Kyle are dealing with real issues in their lives and fighting the evil forces around them helps them to move ahead with those situations as well.  It’s also a nice celebration of boys’ friendships.

Cons:  I got kind of tired of Bones and Albert’s constant bickering, and my hopes that Albert had an interesting backstory never really materialized. 

Ali and the Sea Stars by Ali Stroker, illustrated by Gillian Reid

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  Ali is a young girl who dreams of someday singing and dancing on stage.  She shares her ambitions with others around Breezy Beach until one day Kate the lifeguard asks her why she’s waiting for “someday”.  That inspires Ali to organize a performance of Peter Pan, recruiting friends and family for different parts and casting herself in the lead.  On the day of the big show, everything is ready when a sudden rain shower drenches the sets and the cast.  Undeterred, Ali decides that the show must go on and improvises new sets and props.  The play is a smash hit, and the Sea Stars Theater Company is born.  Includes an author’s note about her real-life inspiration for the story. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Tony Award-winning actress Ali Stroker makes her picture book debut, once again showing that being in a wheelchair does not limit one’s possibilities.  The bright cartoon-style illustrations perfectly capture the high energy of the story.

Cons:  I think I would have chosen The Little Mermaid for a seaside production over Peter Pan, even though Ali dismisses it as “too obvious”.

If the World Were 100 Animals: A Visual Guide to Earth’s Amazing Creatures by Miranda Smith, illustrated by Aaron Cushley

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Since there are over 20 quintillion animals on Earth (that’s 20 followed by 18 zeros), it’s easier to get a grasp on that population by reducing it to 100.  For instance, if there were 100 animals on Earth, 6 would be vertebrates and 94 invertebrates.  If there were 100 animals in the ocean, 9 would be known and 91 left to be discovered.  If we imagine 100 animals have lived during the history of the Earth, 10 would still be living and 90 would be extinct.  The final two pages address the issue of extinction and encourage kids to work to save endangered animals.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  I found myself thinking “Wow!” on almost every page; I can’t wait to share this book with kids.  Kudos to Aaron Cushley for creating illustrations that really bring these ideas to life.  

Cons:  There are no source notes or resources listed.

Leave It to Plum! By Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summary:  Plum is a cheerful peacock who loves his job at the Athensville Zoo, where he and the other peacocks are the official greeters.  Itch is a ningbing (the world’s smallest marsupial) who makes up in evil genius what he lacks in size.  Jeremy is a white cat who tries to do the right thing, but who gets an inferiority complex when he hangs around the big cats.  Lizzie is a kind but lonely young zookeeper in a new town with a new job.  All of these creatures’ stories come together as Itch tries to carry out his dastardly plans, and Plum manages to foil them in his own bumbling fashion.  115 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Matt Phelan has created a pretty complex story with lots of interesting characters that he manages to carry out in just over 100 hilarious pages with plenty of illustrations.  The humor and the fast-paced plot will appeal to many different types of elementary readers.

Cons:  The map of the zoo is a little bare-bones.

Smaller Sister by Maggie Edkins Willis

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Lucy and her older sister Olivia have always been close, but when they switch schools right before fifth and sixth grades, things start to unravel.  Olivia develops an eating disorder, and Lucy struggles to try to understand the unhappy person her sister has become and the difficult changes her whole family is going through.  Just as Olivia is starting to recover, the family moves from Indiana to Massachusetts, a transition that proves difficult for both of the girls.  As Lucy faces peer pressure and mean girls, she begins to doubt herself and to adopt some of Olivia’s techniques for losing weight.  Fortunately, Olivia and their parents have learned a lot in the last couple of years and are able to intervene.  Two weeks at a theater camp between sixth and seventh grade give Lucy a huge boost in confidence, helping her to start seventh grade on a much more positive note.  Includes an author’s note telling of her experiences that inspired this book.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Another middle school girl graphic memoir that will undoubtedly be popular with the many readers who love this genre.  The topics of eating disorders and girls’ struggles with body image are addressed sensitively and in an appropriate manner for upper elementary and middle school readers.  I’d love to see how seventh grade goes for Lucy, so I’m hoping for a sequel.

Cons:  The parents, who were sensitive in other ways, seemed kind of oblivious about how tough it was for the girls to change schools twice in two years.

Before Music: Where Instruments Come From by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Madison Safer

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Each section of this book begins with a person observing a natural phenomenon, like the sound rocks make when banged against each other, the sound of a silk thread being plucked, or the sound of air through a reed.  From there, the narrative looks at how that particular item inspired the creation of musical instruments, instruments in different categories (“rock instruments that are struck”, “rock instruments that are blown”) and musical innovators.  Includes a list of selected sources and instructions for making your own instrument.  88 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An excellent addition to any music library, encouraging readers to look deeper into the history of music and instruments, with fabulous illustrations portraying instruments and musicians.

Cons:  This book is almost 15 inches tall, which felt unnecessarily large and unwieldy to read.  Also, I would have appreciated a table of contents, index, and/or glossary to give a little more structure.