Golden Threads by Suzanne Del Rizzo, illustrated by Miki Sato

Published by Owlkids Golden Threads (9781771473606): Rizzo, Suzanne Del ...

Golden Threads – Miki Sato

Summary:  The stuffed fox narrator lives an idyllic life with his girl, Emi.  On the day that Emi finds the first golden leaf on the gingko tree, a storm comes and washes the fox away.  Torn and battered, he eventually lands on a beach, where a man finds him and brings him home to his daughter, Kiko.  In the same way they repair broken china with gold, Kiko stitches up the fox with gold thread.  The a golden gingko leaf that was with the fox provides the clue needed to get him home again.  After spending winter, spring, and summer with Kiko, the fox is taken on a boat trip with the girl and her father.  They follow the trail of gold gingko leaves in the water until they get to Emi’s house, where there is a happy reunion, a new friendship between the two girls, and maybe even a romance? (Pure speculation on my part, but Emi’s mom and Kiko’s dad both appear to be single).  Includes an author’s note with additional information on two Japanese ideas: kintsugi, in which broken china is mended with gold, encouraging reuse instead of throwing away; and wabi-sabi, finding beauty in things that are imperfect and incomplete.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Edward Tulane fans, rejoice!  This beautiful picture book is also about the miraculous journey of a stuffed animal, an adorable fox in this case.  The themes of kintsugi and wabi-sabi are also beautifully incorporated into the story, not only with the fox, but with a broken branch on the gingko tree and Kiko’s broken leg.  Lots to think about and discuss here. #bigelow.

Cons:  Keep the Kleenexes handy.

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Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Greenwillow Books Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet (9780062893314 ...

Summary:  “Rectangle. Right angle. Window. Wall. A windy canyon where shadows fall.”  The simple rhyming text is accompanied by several photos on each page showing urban landscapes.  Building, vehicles, and other structures focus on shapes, angles, functions, and art.  The last couple pages discuss how to find science, technology, engineering, math, and art in the city.  A list of 40 questions encourages readers to observe what they see in the city with an inquiring mind.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  April Pulley Sayre works her usual magic with her combination of interesting photographs and brief rhyming text.  She moves in a different direction with this book, away from her usual nature topics, and into the city and human-built structures.  There’s a lot to absorb in both the book and the questions at the end, and kids will come away from this book observing their surroundings in a whole new way.

Cons:  Some of the topics seemed somewhat abstract.  On the other hand, this could make the book an interesting read for older kids as well.

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Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Carrie Salazar

Published by West Margin Press

Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires - Kindle edition by Smith, Emma Bland ...

Summary:  Based on a true story, this tale is narrated by Odin, a Great Pyrenees dog charged with looking after the goats on a small California ranch.  When wildfires threaten the ranch, owner Roland and his daughter escape in their truck.  Odin’s sister goes with them, but Odin refuses to leave the goats.  He watches the house and barn burn, desperately seeking a safe refuge.  He finally notices some boulders, and leads the goats there, where they are eventually joined by a few fawns.  When Roland returns a few days later, he is stunned to see Odin and the goats, alive and well except for some burned whiskers and scorched paws.  Includes an author’s note about the actual event in October, 2017, with several photos of the dogs, goats, humans, and house before and after the fire.  36 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A story narrated by a dog featuring a based-on-a-true-story survival of a wildfire?  That’s almost too easy to book talk!  Readers of all ages will fall in love with Odin, and admire his devotion to duty in the face of danger.  They will enjoy poring over the author’s note and photos to learn more about the real people and animals.

Cons:  You might want to throw in some advice to kids about following directions in a fire, as not doing so doesn’t usually result in Odin’s happy outcome.

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Something to Say by Lisa Moore Ramée, illustrated by Bre Indigo

Published by Balzer+Bray

Something to Say - Kindle edition by Ramée, Lisa Moore. Children ...

Summary:  Jenae is starting middle school expecting it to be a lot like elementary school: no friends, keeping to herself, and desperately struggling to get out of any kind of public speaking.  When a new boy, Aubrey, refuses to give up on his friendly overtures, Jenae isn’t sure how to handle it, alternately pushing him away and welcoming his friendship.  Things at home are also difficult for her, with a brother who’s suffered an injury that may have ended his basketball dreams, a grandfather who’s just had a stroke, and a harried mother who doesn’t have much time or sympathy for Jenae.  Jenae’s new English teacher is big on public speaking, and Aubrey eagerly invites her to pair up with him for a debate.  Their topic is a controversy that has their whole school buzzing: whether to keep the school’s current namesake John Wayne, or to change the name to honor Sylvia Mendez.  There’s a lot going on for Jenae, but she slowly faces her fears one by one and learns to bravely embrace the changes that middle school brings.  304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Lisa Moore Ramée’s shares in a note at the beginning of the book that she experienced many of the same anxieties as Jenae when she was a girl.  Jenae’s insecurities and beliefs that she caused her brother’s and grandfather’s health issues are a bit frustrating at times, but also very realistic.  Introverts everywhere will understand her dual urges to push away and embrace a new friend.  

Cons:  The quick resolution of Jenae’s deep fear of public speaking didn’t really ring true.

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Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Books

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Books

Summary:  A boy and his father wake at dawn to go for a hike.  From the drawings scattered about the boy’s bedroom and the way he seems to know just what to do to get ready, it seems like they’ve done this before.  They drive out of the city and into the wilderness, where they enjoy a day of hiking, climbing, and exploring.  They take pictures and look at things with a magnifying glass.  They hunt for animal tracks, find a waterfall, and scale a rocky summit, where they watch bald eagles soar overhead.  At the end of the day, they’re home again, celebrating with milk and cookies and looking at photo albums, having made another memory to share.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will want to get out in nature when they see all there is to explore in a single day.  This book celebrates both hiking and a warm father-son relationship, and would make a perfect pairing with Jennifer Mann’s The Camping Trip.  I’ll definitely be putting this in my “Caldecott contender” collection at the end of the year.

Cons:  I would call this a wordless book, but if I do, kids are sure to tell me, “There’s a word!” as soon as I turn a page.  Do not ask me how I know this.  So, fine, I would say there are between 8 and 12 words in this book, depending on how you count them. 

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Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Published by Candlewick (released September 8)

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Summary:  Jabari, his little sister Nika, and his dad are back for a follow-up book to Jabari Jumps.  This time, Jabari is excited to be building a flying machine.  “It’ll be easy,” he says.  “I don’t need any help.”  His first attempt flies, but crashes, and Jabari works to redesign it.  He thinks about other Black engineers and scientists who have had to solve problems like this one.  When another attempt fails, his dad suggests that he take Nika on as a partner.  Another crash brings frustration, and Dad helps Jabari take a break, then try again.  Nika turns out to have the key to success, and when Jabari implements it into his design, success!  The two engineers are ready for their next project: a rocket to Jupiter.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I was happy to see the return of Jabari and his family from one of my favorite slice-of-life picture books.  This one celebrates both engineering and grit, helping readers see what it takes to persevere.  

Cons:  This story felt a bit more didactic than the first one.

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Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker: 9780525581130 ...

Summary:  When Zura’s teacher talks about the class’s upcoming Grandparents’ Day, the other kids are all abuzz about bringing their grandparents to school.  But Zura is quiet.  When she gets home, readers get to meet Nana Akua, Zura’s “favorite person in the whole universe”.  So why is Zura nervous about Nana Akua visiting her school?  When Nana Akua was a baby in Ghana, her parents tattooed marks on her face to show her tribal family and to represent beauty and confidence.  Zura has overheard Nana being called “scary” and seen people act nervous around her.  When Zura confides her concerns, her grandmother suggests they take Zura’s quilt to school.  Nana made the quilt, using the Adinkra symbols of her people in Ghana.  On Grandparents’ Day, Nana Akua sensibly addresses the issue of her facial markings right away, then offers to let the kids choose which Adinkra symbols they would like painted on their faces.  This proves to be such a hit that the other grandparents line up for face painting as well, and Zura and Nana Akua conclude the day with a big hug.  Includes a glossary, sources, and Adrinka symbols and their meanings on both sets of endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This warm and tender story celebrates differences and also acknowledges that sometimes those differences can be a little scary if you don’t understand them.  You get the feeling that Nana Akua has lived a full life and has the gift at putting anyone at ease.  The colorful illustrations, with lots of interesting prints and details, reminded me of Patricia Polacco.  

Cons:  My usual beef about interesting endpapers that get covered up by taped-down dust jackets on library books.

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Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel, book 1) by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Novel) - Kindle edition by ...

Summary:  Ryan Hart is a fourth grader–and yes, she’s a girl, “a girl with a name that a lot of boys have.”  Her name means “king”, and her parents often remind her to live up to that name by being a leader, which can be tough at times.  Her dad recently lost his job at the post office, and has taken another job working the midnight shift, which also pays less.  At the beginning of the book, when Ryan’s parents offer her and her older brother Ray ice cream before dinner, Ryan knows there must be bad news coming.  It turns out the family is moving.  The new house is much smaller, which takes some getting used to, especially when one of Ryan’s best friends moves to a much bigger, fancier house.  As spring turns into summer, Ryan deals with other ups and downs: stage fright about reciting a speech in church on Easter, figuring out what to do with her hair, and trying to decide what to do in the fourth grade talent show.  The end of school brings the biggest surprise of all, but Ryan takes it (pretty much) in stride, and paves the way for book 2.  192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This book is being compared to Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books: it takes place in Portland, Oregon, features a spunky girl protagonist, and offers slice-of-life stories instead of one major plot.  Ryan is funny, honest, and endearing; her insights into family, friendship, and race ring true for a ten-year-old.  This book would be just right for a third- or fourth-grade book club; the illustrations and larger font make it feel manageable, but there’s also plenty for kids to relate to and want to discuss.

Cons:  Some kids might be turned off by the slightly sappy title.

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Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (Peapod Farm book 1)

Published by Random House

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896858 ...

Stepping Stones (Peapod Farm): Knisley, Lucy: 9781984896841 ...

Summary:  Jen’s having a difficult adjustment from city life to country life, compounded by her parents’ divorce and her mom’s new boyfriend Walter.  When Walter’s two daughters start spending weekends on the farm, Jen has more changes to deal with.  Andy is bossy and seems to be better at everything than Jen (or at least to think she is), and Reese is a bit of a whiner, prone to tantrums when things don’t go her way.  Jen’s mom has always wanted to live on a farm, but Jen’s not so sure about it as she helps out at the farmer’s market, takes care of the new chickens, and performs other chores, sometimes with the help of Andy and Reese.  Things aren’t perfect by the end of the story, but the three kids and their parents are beginning to be something resembling a family.  Includes an author’s note about her childhood, which inspired Jen’s stories 224 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another fun graphic memoir for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, and Jennifer Holm.  Kids will relate to Jen’s family issues, and there’s a relatively happy ending that seems to pave the way for a sequel.

Cons:  Walter seems at best insensitive and at worst, verbally abusive.  I hope he gets a chance to redeem himself in book 2, but in the author’s note, Lucy Knisley refers to the real-life Walter as “loud, bossy, and annoying” and “annoying and beloved until his dying day”, so I don’t have a lot of hope.

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Lift by Minh Lé, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lift - Kindle edition by Lê, Minh, Santat, Dan, Santat, Dan ...

LIFT by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Summary:  Iris loves to push the button on the elevator to her parents’ apartment.  So she feels betrayed when her toddler brother takes over her job, and reacts angrily by pushing all the buttons at once…which breaks the elevator.  While she and her family wait as someone from maintenance fixes it, Iris spies a broken button being tossed into the trash.  She retrieves it, tapes it to the inside of her bedroom closet, and begins to have magical adventures in her own private elevator.  Later, an evening with a babysitter gives Iris an opportunity to bond with her brother, and when she wakes up the next morning, she decides to include him in her next adventure.  The book ends with them in an unfamiliar landscape based on the book they read the night before.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Here’s a Caldecott contender for sure, by the team that brought you Drawn Together.  There’s just enough text (in Iris’s voice) to keep the story going, making this a book that pre-readers can enjoy from the amazing illustrations alone.  A sure-fire winner for a wide range of readers (probably well beyond my 4-8 recommendation).

Cons:  I was confused as to why Iris’s brother’s stuffed tiger was also named Iris.

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