How Old Is a Whale? Animal Life Spans from the Mayfly to the Immortal Jellyfish by Lily Murray, illustrated by Jesse Hodgson

Published by Big Picture Press

Summary:  From the mayfly (5 minutes to 24 hours) and the honeybee (5 to 7 weeks) to the glass sponge (11,000 years) and the immortal jellyfish (in some sense, forever), this book takes a look at the lifespans of a wide variety of animals.  Each two-page spread shows the animal in its habitat with several paragraphs of information about the it over the course of its lifespan.  The introduction raises interesting questions about lifespans, and the final two pages show all the animals with a list of where to find them in the book.  64 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This engaging book will intrigue all kinds of animal lovers.  I found the animals with the shortest and longest lifespans to be the most fascinating, but all of them had some pretty interesting information.

Cons:  One of my favorite books to read to kids is Steve Jenkins’s Biggest, Strongest, Fastest, which states that the animal that lives the longest is the Galapagos tortoise, with a lifespan of 150 years.  This book listed animals that live even longer.

Summer reading for my students

**UPDATE** All three projects have been fully funded! Thank you!

I have three Donors Choose projects posted to give every student in my school a book to take home for summer reading. Starting today, as long as funds last, Donors Choose is matching donations.

I did this last year, and the kids were absolutely thrilled.

As always, no pressure at all, but if you’d like to take a look, here are the links:

Grades PreK-K

Grades 1-2

Grades 3-5

And, also as always, thanks for being a supporter of my blog!

Elena Rides by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Elena is learning to ride a bike, an experience that requires persistence and comes with a few falls.  Sometimes she can motivate herself to get back on the bike and try again; other times she needs some help.  In the end, her hard work pays off, and Elena rides!  Available in three editions: English, Spanish, and bilingual with both English and Spanish.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This cute early reader has plenty of action in the words and illustrations, with a big “KA-BANG!”, “KA-PLUNK!” and “KA-RASH!” when Elena falls.  Kids will relate to her experiences and see how persistence can lead to success.

Cons:  Ouch.

Hoops by Matt Tavares

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  The story opens on a November evening in 1970.  Judi Wilson is watching her older brother and his friends play basketball, while her friend Stacy practices cheers.  When they head off to the high school game, Judi picks up the ball, dreaming of making the winning shot at a big game.  Fast forward five years, and Judi and Stacy are senior co-captains of the cheerleaders, rooting on the boys’ basketball team.  When Judi hears that a girls’ team is forming, she decides to try out, abandoning cheerleading and upsetting Stacy.  Only eight girls show up, so they’re all part of the new team.  Despite the lack of uniforms, a bus, meal money, or the use of the high school gym, the girls love playing and begin to win games.  As they get better known, they’re allowed to use the gym when the boys are done with it, but they still have to wear t-shirts with their numbers taped on with electrical tape and drive to away games in their coach’s borrowed RV.  Finally, when they make it to the state championship, the athletic director apologizes in front of the school for his shabby behavior, and the booster club gives them real uniforms.  In the final game of the championship, the score is tied with just seconds left, and Judi gets a chance for the winning basket, bringing the story full circle to her early dream.  Includes a 4-page author’s note about how he came to write this book and with additional information about Title IX.  224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Based on a true story, this graphic novel is fun and fast-paced, showing the uphill battle female athletes faced in the early days of Title IX.  Although it takes place in high school, the friendships and sports action will be enjoyed by elementary and middle school readers.  While I love Matt Tavares’s picture books, I hope he’ll continue with graphic novels as well!

Cons:  Judi’s sweatshirt on the last few pages indicates that she’s on a college basketball team, but I wish I found out for sure if she and her teammates got to play in college.

The Last Plastic Straw: A Plastic Problem and Finding Ways to Fix It by Dee Romito, illustrated by Ziyue Chen

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  Straws have been around since Queen Puabi, Queen of Ur, used a gold tube to slurp up the barley-based drink Sumerians were partial to 5,000 years ago (her subjects just used reeds).  Dr. Marvin Stone patented a paper straw in 1888, created to sip his mint julep, and Joseph Friedman invented the first bendy straw in 1937.  The post-World War II plastics boom led to the sturdier plastic straws that are still ubiquitous today and that are adding tons of microplastic pollution to the planet.  In 2011, 11-year-old Milo Cress started his “Be Straw Free” campaign to cut back on the 500 million straws Americans toss out each day.  It’s a small change, but an important one for all of us to make.  Includes an author’s note that gives additional information about straws and other single-use plastics, a list of sources, and an index.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A fascinating history of the straw that easily leads to a discussion of single-use plastics and how to cut back on your own personal use.  A great Earth Day read-aloud!

Cons:  I really enjoy using plastic straws.  Guess I will just have to suck it up.

Finally Seen by Kelly Yang

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Lina has lived in China with her grandmother since her parents and younger sister left for the U.S. five years earlier.  Now she is finally going to join them.  When she arrives, she discovers that her family isn’t living the middle-class suburban life her parents described to her.  Her dad works night and day for a curmudgeonly organic farmer, and her mom, who lost her job during the pandemic, is scrambling to put together an Etsy business selling bath bombs to try to pay their back rent.  In school, Lina is afraid to speak after some classmates make fun of her accent.  A kind ELL teacher and librarian help her to come out of her shell, showing her the power of books to reflect her immigrant experience.  Lina feels guilty about leaving her grandmother, who’s now living in a nursing home, and decides to create a graphic novel to bring her up to date on her new life.  This project gives her a boost of confidence and helps her to find her voice.  When a parent attempts to get a book banned from her classroom, Lina discovers the power of speaking up for what she believes is right.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Kelly Yang has written another book about the immigrant experience with a memorable main character and a tremendous amount of heart.  I was engaged immediately and couldn’t put the book down until I found out what happened to Lina and her friends and family. Keep the Kleenexes handy for the scene where Lina speaks at the school board meeting about book banning.

Cons:  I do love a happy ending, but just like in Front Desk, I felt like things fell into place a little too quickly to wrap up the multiple story lines.

Making More: How Life Begins by Katherine Roy

Published by Norton Young Readers

Summary:  A family that’s expecting a baby is out for a hike, where they see signs of reproduction all around them: a robin building a nest, two snakes mating, a deer with her fawn.  From there, the text and illustrations proceed to an explanation of reproduction that covers all sorts of living things, both animals and plants.  Beginning with the process of fertilizing an egg cell, the story moves to embryonic development, then birth.  There’s information on genes and how they create diversity within a species.  The final gatefold spread shows the human family celebrating their new baby at an outdoor party, with some of the animals from the text visible in the background.  72 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An outstanding introduction to reproduction with a lot of technical information explained in terms that will be understandable to upper elementary and middle school readers.  The illustrations are excellent as well, celebrating the diversity of life on Earth.

Cons:  I’m sure the pictures of rabbits and snakes mating will cause some in the book censoring world to break into a sweat.

Twenty Questions by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Published by Candlewick

Summary:  Each spread poses an open-ended question like “Why is the elephant so upset?” and “What is this boy hiding behind his back?” with simple yet thought-provoking illustrations.  For instance, the boy with his hands behind his back is accompanied by an ostrich and a small turtle using wheels to make up for its missing hind legs.  The last page asks, “Where is this ship sailing away to? Will you go with it? Are you ever coming back?”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be a fun book to use for writing prompts or discussion starters.  Both the questions and the illustrations are quirky and just the sort of thing any kid (or adult) will have an opinion about.

Cons:  I wasn’t crazy about the question “Which of these ladies just robbed a bank?’ that shows six different women, each with a different color of skin, and a white woman in a police car.

The Fire of Stars: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of by Kirsten W. Larson, illustrated by Katherine Roy

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Cecilia Payne’s curiosity about the natural world didn’t get much support when she was growing up in England.  Her family moved from the country, where she loved to explore nature, to London so her brother could go to school in the city.  Cecilia was sent to a religious school that didn’t offer any of the math and science classes that she loved.  She went on to study at Cambridge, where she switched her focus from botany to astronomy after hearing a talk by astronomer Arthur Eddington.  There was no place for her at Cambridge after graduation, so she moved to the other Cambridge (Harvard), where she was surrounded by like-minded women scientists.  Persistence with her research paid off as she made important discoveries about what the stars are made of, discoveries that fired up her imagination to ask even more questions.  Includes additional information about both Cecilia Payne and the birth of stars, as well as a timeline and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This fascinating biography is enhanced by the beautiful illustrations that show the parallels between Cecilia Payne’s life and the birth of a star.  A great read for Women’s History Month.

Cons:  There wasn’t much about Payne’s research after she discovered what stars are made of, a discovery she made at the age of 25.

Super Pancake by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abhi Alwar

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  The struggle is real for Peggy Pancake, whose family who wishes she could be more like her brother Patrick, and who is struggling to find a friend at school.  When she sees the new croissant, Luc, being bullied by three strips of bacon, she’s hesitant to defend him.  A bacon prank gone awry causes Peggy to get some superpowers, and before long she and sidekick Luc have teamed up to fight the bullies and to defeat evil in their town.  Peggy defeats the villains, but chooses to keep her powers from her family, although it looks as though Patrick may get in on the act in book 2.  176 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  With an emphasis on goofy fun, this graphic novel is sure to be popular with those just starting to venture into chapter books.  Although I can’t find any information on book 2, the last page assures us that the story is “to be continued.”

Cons:  While I enjoyed this little romp, I’d rather see Megan Wagner Lloyd work on book 2 of Squished.