Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh, illustrated by Scott Campbell

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for skulls blair thornburgh

Image result for skulls blair thornburgh

Summary:  It may seem alarming to think that every person you’ve ever seen has a skull, but this is a good thing.  Skulls might look a little scary, but they protect our brains. The holes in our skulls allow us to see, hear, and eat.  They give our faces shapes, allow us to open and close our jaws, and hold our teeth in place. By the time you reach the last page, you will be thanking your skull for all it does and shouting along with the girl in the book, “I love my skull!”  Includes a page of cool skull facts. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Pair this book with Kim Norman’s Give Me Back My Bones! to make an excellent story hour for Halloween or any time.

Cons:  In this age of concussions, some safety tips for protecting your skull would have made a nice addition.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Stargazing by Jen Wang, color by Lark Pien

Published by First Second

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Image result for stargazing jen wang

Summary:  Christine’s not sure how she feels when Moon and her mother move into the cottage on Christine’s family’s property.  Moon is an artist who does her own thing and doesn’t fit in with Christine’s family or their Chinese American community.  But she also opens up new possibilities for Christine, introducing her to K-pop, nail polish, and dancing. Christine eventually gets to see a more vulnerable side of Moon, learning how Moon’s beloved father died when she was six, and how Moon sometimes has visions of celestial beings that she believes will one day take her away.  When Christine gets jealous of Moon’s popularity and plays a mean prank, Moon collapses and the truth about her visions comes out. Christine feels terrible about what she’s done to her friend, but by the end, they have learned to forgive each other. Includes an author’s note telling of her own childhood experiences that inspired this book.  224 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A beautiful graphic friendship story that will appeal to fans of Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Victoria Jamieson.  Both Moon and Christine are multidimensional characters who will resonate with many middle grade readers.

Cons:  The artwork wasn’t quite as spectacular as Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Thurgood by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Bryan Collier

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Image result for thurgood jonah winter

Summary:  Thurgood Marshall’s path to legal greatness began at the age of six, when he convinced his parents to legally change his name from Thoroughgood to Thurgood.  Growing up in 1920’s Baltimore, he saw injustice on a daily basis; at home, he learned from his father to back up his statements with factual evidence. After leading his high school debate team, Thurgood went on to college and then to law school at Howard University.  He became a lawyer for the NAACP, and argued 29 cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education.  The book ends with that decision, simply mentioning on the last page that Marshall became the first black Supreme Court justice in U.S. history.  Includes an author’s note with more information about Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court appointment and career. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A powerful narrative about Thurgood Marshall’s life, presenting much of the information in legal terms (“Fact:”; “Verdict:”; “Injustice:”).  Bryan Collier’s illustrations boldly bring to life many dramatic scenes from Marshall’s life, in the courtroom and in unjust, sometimes dangerous settings growing up in Baltimore and traveling through the South.  

Cons:  The author’s note states, “A forty-page picture book such as this cannot possibly convey the magnitude of his legacy”, yet there are no resources for additional research.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Image result for manhattan jennifer thermes

Image result for manhattan jennifer thermes

Summary:  From Henry Hudson’s discovery in 1609 to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, this history looks at the changes made to the island of Manhattan.  Before the arrival of the Europeans, the island was inhabited by the Lenape who called it Mannahatta, meaning “islands of many hills”.  That landscape changed in the early 19th century, when city planners created a grid of roads that flattened hills and straightened curves.  When life in the grid became too congested, Central Park was created to bring some green space to the city. Blizzards, fires, skyscrapers, and bridges have all changed the look of the city over the years, and with close to 4 million people living or working in New York City every week, you can be sure that those changes will continue.  Includes an afterword; an extensive timeline crammed onto a single page; and a list of books, websites, and museums with more information. 64 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  As she did in Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail, Jennifer Thermes has created a picture book featuring beautiful maps that show a changing landscape.  There are plenty of other interesting illustrations as well, but the maps of Manhattan, all with the same shape, but gradually evolving over time, really tell the story of the city’s history.  Plan on putting aside a substantial chunk of time to enjoy this book in its entirety.

Cons:  I was surprised there was no mention of 9/11, except as an entry in the timeline.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Wildfire by Rodman Philbrick

Published by The Blue Sky Press

Image result for wildfire philbrick amazon

Summary:  When Sam’s summer camp in Maine is evacuated due to wildfires, Sam misses the bus when he runs back to get his phone.  Trapped in a forest that is rapidly being engulfed by the flames, he goes on the run to survive. The discovery of an old Jeep at an abandoned cabin saves his life, allowing him to outpace the fire, at least temporarily.  Later he meets Delphy, another lost camper a few years older than Sam. As the two of them combine their wits to find a way to safety, the reader gradually learns details about Sam’s late father and his mom’s hospitalization.  It’s a nail-biting race to the finish as Sam and Delphy face one obstacle after another. Includes additional information about wildfires, with tips and resources for surviving. 208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Another title for those who enjoy the “I Survived” series.  The action is pretty much non-stop from Sam’s ill-fated evacuation in chapter one to the high-speed Jeep race to safety on the final few pages.  The fast pace combined with short chapters make this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  I found 12-year-old Sam’s ability to teach himself how to drive a Jeep in about two minutes while surrounded by fire a little hard to believe. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank’s Diary by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Jordi Solano

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Image result for miep and the most famous diary

Summary:  Beginning on August 4, 1944, when the eight occupants of the Secret Annex under Miep Gies’s care were arrested and taken away, the narrative follows Miep’s story of how she saved Anne Frank’s diary.  Facing arrest for keeping any of the group’s belongings from the Nazis, Miep snuck back into the annex before their return, taking Anne’s diary and a combing shawl with some of Anne’s hair still on it. She kept these, hoping that Anne would return one day to claim them, but it was only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who survived.  After he received the devastating news of his daughters’ deaths, Miep gave him Anne’s things. Even after the diary was published, it was many years before Miep could bring herself to read it. Reading it in one sitting at last, she felt a measure of peace, knowing that Anne would live on, thanks to her efforts. Includes an author’s note and a timeline of Miep’s life.  40 pages; grades 2-6.   

Pros:  Even with so many books about Anne Frank, this one is unique for its perspective from Miep’s point of view.  Her courage in standing up to the Nazis on numerous occasions is inspiring, as is her role in preserving Anne’s words.

Cons:  The illustrations were just okay.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Who Wet My Pants by Bob Shea, illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for who wet my pants shea amazon

Image result for who wet my pants shea amazon

Summary:  When Reuben the bear announces he’s gotten donuts for his scout troop, the rest of the animals can’t help noticing that he’s a bit damp in the crotch area.  He reacts with anger, accusing different friends of wetting his pants. The others respond calmly, telling Reuben it was probably just an accident, and that they’ve done the same thing themselves.  As the bear recounts his day (chugging lemonade, hiking near a waterfall, napping with his paw in his aquarium), it becomes obvious to all what really happened. Finally, Reuben blames his pants (“They sprung a leak”) and sheds them in his tent.  He never admits to his deed, but tells the others he’d forgive them if they did wet his pants. There are a few suppressed giggles, but it’s clear everyone likes Rufus, and they enjoy their donuts around the campfire. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This book will undoubtedly be received amidst hilarious laughter, beginning with the cover and title.  It’s pretty silly all right, but there’s a nice lesson to be learned from the way Reuben’s friends treat him; the sentence on the back cover, “Compassion is no accident” says it all.

Cons:  It may take a little reining in to get kids to see beyond the bathroom humor to the message of compassion.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.