Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Clarion

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Summary:  When Ethan’s dad serves him his pancakes with applesauce, Ethan knows they’ve run out of maple syrup.  Dad tells him that they’ll have to wait for the days to get warmer and longer before they can make more.  In the meantime, Ethan discovers a loose tooth, and waiting for the tooth to fall out and sugaring season to begin get tied together in a mood of anticipation.  One day, at long last, the tooth falls out, and when Ethan gets off the school bus to show his dad, he realizes that the buckets are on the maple trees as well. For the next week, father and son work to collect and boil sap, and on Sunday morning, Ethan enjoys his reward–pancakes with maple syrup.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect late winter book to start conversations about making maple syrup and the difficulty of waiting for exciting events.  The charming illustrations and warm father-son relationship make this a perfect book for sharing.

Cons:  Seems like dad could have sprung for a bottle of maple syrup to tide them over until sugaring season.  No one in this day and age should have to eat pancakes without maple syrup.

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  When Zoe gets a letter from her father on her 12th birthday, she is stunned.  Marcus has been in prison all her life, and she has never had any contact with him.  She begins to secretly correspond with him, and learns that he has written her many letters that she’s never received.  When he tells her he didn’t commit the crime he’s imprisoned for, Zoe wonders if she can find the alibi witness from so many years ago who might be able to verify Marcus’s story.  With the help of her friend Trevor and her grandmother, Zoe sets out to discover the truth about her family and learns that even a 12-year-old can make a difference in the world. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will be happy to get to know Zoe, an aspiring baker who hopes to win a spot on a Food Network show for kids.  The messages about racism in the justice system come through but are woven into a story full of love and friendship that would be perfect for starting some interesting discussions.

Cons:  I wished Zoe’s Froot Loops cupcake recipe had been included somewhere.

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Lizzie Demands A Seat! Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights by Beth Anderson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Published by Calkins Creek

Image result for lizzie demands a seat

Image result for lizzie demands a seat

Summary:  When Lizzie Jennings was denied admission onto a New York City “Whites Only” streetcar in 1854, she stood her ground, refusing to leave until she was forcibly thrown off by the driver and conductor.  Lizzie was a teacher whose parents were abolitionists. When she told the people of her church what had happened, they hired a lawyer and formed a committee to make sure she had plenty of support. Her case became Elizabeth Jennings v. The Third Avenue Railroad Company, and she was represented by Chester A. Arthur, who went on to become President of the United States.  Lizzie won her case, and the “Colored People Allowed on This Car” came off the Third Avenue streetcars.  Others were inspired by her courage, and continued the fight against segregated public transportation, including, a century later, Rosa Parks.  Includes a lengthy author’s note with additional information and photos; and an extensive bibliography. 32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A fascinating and little-known story about an ordinary person whose courageous deeds led to real change.  Caldecott honoree E. B. Lewis’s colorful paintings complement the story perfectly.  

Cons:  It would have been nice to tie this to the more familiar story of Rosa Parks, either through the text or the illustrations.

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Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon

Published by Sourcebooks Jaberwocky

Image result for bedtime for sweet creatures grimes

Image result for bedtime for sweet creatures grimes

Summary:  As a mother tries to corral her unwilling child into bed, she uses all kinds of animal comparisons to get him interested.  The child’s eyes are as wide as an owl’s; he coils under his blankets like a snake, then clings to his mother like a koala.  After the lights are out, he bounds out of bed like a wolf to get a glass of water, then lopes back like an antelope. Inevitably, the child appears at his parents’ bedside in the middle of the night, and they welcome the owl, snake, koala, etc.–and one small child–into bed with them.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun bedtime story–what little kid doesn’t love pretending to be an animal?–with large, eye-catching collage and acrylic illustrations.

Cons:  Dad seems to be a pretty passive parent, leaving all the bedtime struggles to Mom.

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A Voice Named Aretha by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  From her early days singing in her father’s church, Aretha Franklin had a powerful voice and the ability to express her emotions through her singing.  At age 18, she moved to New York to try to make it in the music world. She recorded and performed throughout the 1960’s, always making certain that her performances were in venues open to all races.  She hit the big time with her gold album “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”; the song “Respect” from that album became her signature song, and she was crowned the Queen of Soul. Her voice continued to move and inspire people for many years, until it was finally silenced with her death in 2018.  Includes a lengthy note with additional information on Franklin; a list of her songs; a list of sources; and two photos. 40 pages; grades 1-5.  

Pros:  This gorgeously illustrated picture book biography will introduce a new generation to the amazing voice of Aretha Franklin.

Cons:  Although there’s a list of sources, there’s no kid-friendly listing of resources for additional research.

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Cub by Cynthia L. Copeland

Published by Algonquin Young Readers

Image result for cub copeland

Image result for cub copeland

Summary:  On the first pages, Cindy is watching Wild Kingdom with her family and comparing the predators and prey she sees with her situation in seventh grade.  The predators are the mean girls, and she and her best friend Katie are they prey–at least until Katie starts sitting with the “predators” at lunch.  Cindy’s self-confidence needs a boost, and that’s just what she gets when a caring teacher notices her flair for writing and puts her in touch with a young woman reporter on the local paper.  Before long, Cindy is traveling around town, shadowing her hip young mentor, and occasionally writing her own articles. With Watergate and the Equal Rights Amendment shaking up institutions from the free press to her own family, Cindy can’t help feeling like she’s on a roller coaster as she navigates a seventh grade year that includes a new boyfriend and some pretty empowered new friends.  By the end of the year, she’s no longer skulking around the halls like a hunted animal, but has claimed her rightful place in middle school as she heads into eighth grade. Includes an author’s note and four pages of drawings showing the fun and games of the 1970’s. 240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Readers of a certain age (me) will enjoy this fond look back to what now seems like the naively innocent age of the 1970’s.  Current kids will be treated to another fun and relatable graphic novel memoir that will inspire them to follow their own dreams.

Cons:  One of the mean seventh graders is introduced as having French kissed an eighth grade boy, which is enough to raise eyebrows with teachers and parents in my elementary school.  Believe me, I’d be the last person to champion censorship, but I kind of wish writers would leave out those casual references (that don’t further the plot line) that make me hesitate to buy their books.  I acknowledge I’m a bit conflict-averse, so feel free to add your own differing opinion in the comments.

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Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome

Published by Holiday House

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Summary: Ruth Ellen tells the story of traveling by train from North Carolina to New York City with her parents during the Great Migration.  They’ve left their lives as sharecroppers secretly, without telling the boss. After traveling to Baltimore, Maryland, the “Whites Only” sign is removed, and Ruth Ellen and her family can leave the colored car and explore the rest of the train.  They pass the time by playing cards, eating from a shoebox (they’re not allowed in the dining car until the sign comes down), and reading a book by Frederick Douglass. Finally, they arrive at Penn Station in New York, where the city lights and bright stars seem to offer promise for the future.  Includes an author’s note with additional information on the Overground Railroad. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This husband-and-wife team has produced a beautiful historical fiction picture book about a time not often written about in children’s literature.

Cons:  There were no dates given for Ruth Ellen’s journey or the Great Migration in general.

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