The Women Who Caught the Babies:  A Story of African American Midwives by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Alazar Press

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Image result for women who caught the babies minter

Summary:  Eloise Greenfield kicks things off with a five-page introduction giving a brief history of midwives, starting in Africa a few hundred years ago, traveling to slavery in America, and finishing up with midwives today.  This section is illustrated with black and white photographs. The rest of the book is her poetry, celebrating midwives of the past and present. There are seven poems altogether, from “Africa to America” to “After Emancipation, 1863” to “The Early 2000s”.  The final piece, “Miss Rovenia Mayo” is about the midwife who “caught” Eloise Greenfield on May 17, 1929. Includes a bibliography. 32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  We should all hope to be producing works of art like this at the age of 90.  The poetry is lyrical and the illustrations are unique and fascinating. The Caldecott committee can add this to its list of works to consider, along with another Daniel Minter book, Going Down Home With Daddy.

Cons:  This doesn’t seem like a book most kids will pick up on their own. 

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Roll With It by Jamie Sumner

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for roll with it sumner

Summary:  Ellie is in sixth grade, and having cerebral palsy makes middle school extra tough.  She has to have an aide who helps her at lunch and going to the bathroom, which, of course, is extremely embarrassing for a 12-year-old.  When her grandfather’s dementia starts getting worse, Ellie’s mom decides they’re going on an extended visit to help both the grandparents.  Ellie’s nervous about being the new kid, but is delighted to make two new friends–the first real friends her age she’s ever had. The big pie contest at her grandparents’ church helps her to focus on her love of baking, and many of the chapters begin with a letter she’s written to a different chef.  After several months at her grandparents’, Ellie decides she needs to find a way to convince her mother that they’ve found a new home…for keeps. 246 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A protagonist in a wheelchair isn’t common in children’s literature, and Ellie is refreshingly honest about the difficulties she faces.  She’s not a quitter, though, and throughout the book is exploring who she is and where her talents lie. Readers can use this book as both a mirror and a window, as they will undoubtedly connect to many aspects of Ellie’s life while learning what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy.

Cons:  The last chapter skipped ahead a couple months and wrapped things up a little too quickly.

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Finding Kindness by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Irene Chan

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Image result for finding kindness deborah underwood

Summary:  “Kindness is sometimes a cup and a card/or a ladder, a truck, and a tree;/a scritch and a cuddle, a rake and a yard,/a cookie, a carrot, a key.”  The rhyming text goes on to list all sorts of ways to be kind. Sometimes being kind just involves taking a break or sitting with someone who is sad.  There’s also being kind to yourself, forgiving yourself when you’ve made a mistake. The book goes through a day, ending with reading a bedtime story and wishing on a star.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The catchy rhymes and busy, diverse illustrations will engage even the youngest readers and get them thinking about everyday kindnesses they can give to others.  A good springboard for discussion and brainstorming about how to help friends and family.

Cons:  There’s no real action, just a list of ways to be kind.  Kids’ attention might start to wander before the last page.

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The One and Only Wolfgang: From Pet Rescue to One Big Happy Family by Steve Greig and Mary Rand Hess, illustrated by Nadja Sarell

Published by Zonderkidz

Image result for one and only wolfgang grieg

Image result for one and only wolfgang nadja sarell

Summary:  Steve Grieg’s Instagram account, wolfgang2242, is the inspiration for this story of a family of rescued animals that includes nine dogs, a rabbit, a chicken, and a pig.  Each one has its own distinctive personality, likes/dislikes, and quirks, but they all help each other and enjoy spending time together. The illustrations are photographs of the animals superimposed on cartoon-style artwork.  One of the dogs is blind, one has no teeth, one has bad hair days six days a week, but no matter. All are loved and happy to be part of the family. Includes an afterword by best-selling author Jodi Picoult about her own love of animals and enjoyment of Steve’s Instagram.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  What’s not to like about this motley crew of lovable animals?  Kids will get a good laugh out of all their antics, and also appreciate the message of a family’s unconditional love.  I had never heard of Steve Grieg, but apparently, he has become quite an advocate for older pet adoption through his Instagram.

Cons:  Not being familiar with Steve Grieg or Wolfgang, I was a bit mystified by the title and premise of this book until I read the reviews and afterword.

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Playlist: The Rebels and Revolutionaries of Sound by James Rhodes, illustrated by Martin O’Neill

Published by Candlewick

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

Image result for playlist the rebels and revolutionaries

Summary:  James Rhodes starts this book with his “ultimate playlist”, then profiles the seven classical composers from the list: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, and Ravel.  Each profile includes two pages of biographical information, listing popular music and movies that have been inspired or include soundtrack music from this composer. Then he details two of the composer’s pieces in kid-friendly terms, using stories to explain the music.  There are many pop culture references connecting the music and history to the present. Sections describing the orchestra and a timeline of western classical music are inserted between the chapters on the composers. Includes a glossary and index. 72 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  I’m not particularly knowledgeable (or, I’m sorry to say, interested) in classical music, yet I found myself immediately drawn into this book.  The conversational tone, fascinating stories, connections to the present, and eye-popping, psychedelic illustrations make this a book that will appeal to middle and high school students and should be sought out by music teachers everywhere.

Cons:  It would have been nice to at least acknowledge somewhere that not all composers of classical music were white men.

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Driftwood Days by William Miniver, illustrated by Charles Vess

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Image result for driftwood days charles vess"

Image result for driftwood days charles vess"

Summary:  As a boy watches a beaver build a lodge, a stick breaks away and floats down the river.  It gets stuck against a boulder for the winter, but when spring comes, it continues along the river to the ocean.  After getting tangled in fishing nets, the stick washes up on shore, where it is discovered by the same boy, now on vacation at the beach.  He takes the stick–now a piece of driftwood–back with him to his home by the river. The last page shows him sitting in a tree with his driftwood, watching the beaver once again. Includes a two-page author’s note with additional information on driftwood.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This gorgeous science book tells the stick’s journey in the context of the changing seasons, showing the cyclical nature by ending the story where it began.  The colored pencil illustrations realistically and beautifully portray the different landscapes.

Cons:  Humans do it again: as per usual, the author’s note mentions how humans have messed up the production of driftwood, which plays an important part in beach ecosystems.

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White Bird by R. J. Palacio

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for white bird palacio

Image result for white bird palacio

Summary:  Julian (from Wonder) wants to interview his grandmother about her childhood in France during World War II.  She tells the story of growing up Jewish in occupied France. One day, Nazi soldiers came to round up all the Jewish children at her school.  She managed to hide, and was rescued by a boy named Julien. Julien was crippled from polio, and Sara and her classmates had always shunned him.  But he takes her to his family’s barn, where she hides for the next year, helped by his whole family. The two become close friends, and just as it looks like a romance is beginning, everything falls apart.  Julien is arrested by the Nazis, and Sara is discovered by the neighbors, whom Julien’s parents believe are German informants. Sara concludes by remembering Julien’s kindness, which she memorialized when naming her son, whose name has been passed to her grandson.  224 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Another engaging Wonder story, this one in graphic novel format, that celebrates kindness.  There are enough deaths and disturbing details about World War II to make this more of a middle school book, but those who loved Wonder will not be disappointed by this latest entry.

Cons:  This book has an odd binding that does not look it will hold up well in a library.  Apparently the “Wonder Story” sticker on the cover is reason enough to charge $24.99 for this title, but as a librarian, I don’t appreciate this combination of high price and fragile binding.

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