Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

Published by Scholastic Graphix

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Summary:  Dani is struggling to make friends in seventh grade after she and her two best friends are put in different classes.  When she finds her deceased great aunt’s sketchbook (at a truly dysfunctional family gathering), she soon realizes that it’s magic.  When she draws dreamy Prince Neptune’s head (from her favorite comic series), not only does it come to life, but it starts calling her Princess Dani and declaring its love for her.  Dani’s next creation is a new best friend named Madison; this situation soon becomes awkward as Madison starts to wonder why her parents have left her in a new town and never call. As Dani tries to figure out how to use her new powers, she begins to make some non-magical friends as well.  When Prince Neptune turns out to have an evil plan in mind, Dani’s new friends rally to her side to defeat him. Turns out they all have a bit of magic in them, and there’s a hint of a sequel for these newly minted 7th grade superheroes. 272 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Fans of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, Jennifer Holm and the rest of the “girl” graphic novel crew will enjoy this new entry.  The middle school angst and friendship drama are real, and this one has a bit of the supernatural added.

Cons:  The battle against Prince Neptune bordered on the absurd.

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Sunny by Jason Reynolds

Published by Atheneum

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Summary:  Sunny’s the fastest miler on the Defenders track team, and easily takes first place at most of their meets. But he’s struggling with his reasons for running, and one day he comes to a halt before the finish line and refuses to finish his race.  Turns out his mom was a runner; when she died giving birth, his dad decided it was up to Sunny to carry on her legacy. Writing in his diary, Sunny tries to figure out his dad, his homeschool tutor Aurelia, his Defenders teammates, and himself. What Sunny really loves is dancing.  When he shows the coach some of his moves, Coach sees the beginnings of a champion discus thrower, and Sunny moves into a new role in the team. Book 4 in this series, Lu (the final installment) is due out in October.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Another excellent entry into Jason Reynolds’ Track series that includes Ghost and Patina.  You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate the humorous narration, interesting characters, and emotional impact of all three of these books.  Can’t wait for the thrilling conclusion!

Cons:  I don’t know if it was the diary format or the slightly shorter length, but I just wasn’t quite as invested in Sunny as I was in Patina and (still my favorite) Ghost.

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Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Image result for mr. monkey bakes a cake amazon

Image result for mr. monkey bakes a cake amazon

Summary:  When Mr. Monkey decides to bake a cake, bananas figure heavily into the production.  So much so, that Mr. Monkey is too stuffed to sample his cake when it comes out of the oven.  No problem…he decides to take it to the big cake contest. The trip is fraught with peril, as Mr. Monkey encounters traffic, a deranged biker, and multiple chases by a variety of animals.  He manages to arrive safely with his cake, only to discover that the contest is over. Don’t worry, Mr. Monkey has a way of making pretty much any situation turn out okay. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Filled with slapstick humor, this is sure to be a hit with the newly independent reading crowd.  A second book, Mr. Monkey Visits A School is also available.

Cons:  64 pages seemed a little long to me.

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The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  Boy has lived his life on a French manor that has recently been ravished by pestilence and other misfortune.  As a hunchback, he is frequently the object of bullying and ridicule. When a stranger named Secundus appears and tells Boy he is on a pilgrimage to collect relics of St. Peter, Boy is intrigued.  He thinks if he can get to Rome, he can ask St. Peter to remove the hump on his back and turn him into a regular boy. As the two travel together, meeting up with all kinds of adventure, it becomes clear that Boy is not a regular boy and never will be one.  He has a secret that he slowly begins to share, and by the end of their journey, both Secundus and Boy have been transformed. Boy ends up back home on the manor, but it is clear life will never be the same for him again. 288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An intriguing story that may appeal to fans of The Inquisitor’s Tale, which also takes place in France about a century earlier (1242 vs. 1350).  Boy is a kind and gently funny narrator, and Secundus is a fascinating character of mysterious origins who is transformed by traveling with Boy.  Beautiful woodcut illustrations appear at the beginning of each chapter.  A possible Newbery contender.

Cons:  These medieval French tales can be a hard sell for most elementary school crowds, and if I had to choose one to recommend, I would go with The Inquisitor’s Tale.

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Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for stumpkin amazon

Image result for stumpkin amazon

Summary:  As pumpkins are chosen one by one to become jack-o-lanterns, Stumpkin realizes he’s not getting picked because he doesn’t have a stem.  With Halloween approaching, there are fewer pumpkins in the shop and more jack-o-lanterns in the windows of the apartment building across the street.  Finally, it’s Halloween evening, and even the gourd has found a home. Only Stumpkin is left. But wait! There are two black pages. Then a white triangle appears on one, and two white triangles on the next page.  The shopkeeper has transformed Stumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. With a black cat on one side and a bowl of candy on the other, he is ready for trick-or-treaters. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Preschoolers and early elementary kids will enjoy this Halloween tale.  The illustrations showing Stumpkin’s change from pumpkin to jack-o-lantern are ingenious.

Cons:  It felt a little bit like no one wanted Stumpkin because of a physical difference, maybe not the best message for young kids.

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Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for nothing stopped sophie mcclintock

Image result for nothing stopped sophie mcclintock

Summary:  Growing up during the French Revolution, Sophie Germain faced a number of obstacles to a career in mathematics.  Girls received little education, and Sophie’s parents tried discourage her late-night studies by taking away her candles and warm clothing.  She was undaunted, though, and they finally realized there was no way to stop her from studying math. When she grew up, she corresponded with other mathematicians under a pen name, but they tended to lose interest when they discovered she was a woman.  She kept studying any way she could, and when the Academy of Sciences offered a medal worth 3,000 francs to find a mathematical formula that would predict patterns of vibration, Sophie was determined to find a solution. It took her several years, but in 1816, she became the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences.  Her work helped other mathematicians and engineers build modern skyscrapers, including the Eiffel Tower. Includes additional information about Sophie and the problem of vibration she solved. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Perseverance is the theme of Sophie Germain’s story, and readers will enjoy learning of her eventual success in the face of daunting obstacles.  The illustrations do an amazing job of incorporating numbers and mathematical formulas into Sophie’s world.

Cons:  I really didn’t understand the vibration problem that Sophie was working on.

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The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage

Published by Shen’s Books

Image result for turtle ship rhee amazon

Image result for turtle ship rhee

Summary:  Sun-sin lived in a small village in Korea; there weren’t any other children close by, so his closest friend was a turtle named Gobugi.  When Sun-sin heard about a contest sponsored by the king to design a battleship, the boy looked to his turtle for inspiration. He convinced his parents to travel to the royal palace, where Sun-sin was ridiculed for trying to compete with the adults.  But when Gobugi protected himself against an attack by the palace cat, the king saw the value of the turtle’s shell, and, like Sun-sin, was able to envision transforming the idea into a ship’s design. Years later, Sun-sin became a navy admiral and defeated 130 ships with just thirteen of his Turtle Ships.  An afterword tells the history of the Turtle Ship and Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s contributions to its design. Includes an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, and a photo of a Turtle Ship in a museum. 32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  An interesting blend of Korean folklore and history, meticulously researched.  The collage illustrations are rich and detailed, and the lessons of persevering and staying true to your vision make this a good choice to share with kids.

Cons: It seemed like a pretty big leap for the king to come up with a ship design after watching the cat attack the turtle.

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