Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Osh found Crow as a baby, when the dilapidated skiff she was riding in washed up on his tiny island off the coast of Massachusetts.  At age 12, Crow begins to want to know more about her past.  Rumor has it she came from Penikese, the island that used to house a leper colony, and this causes most of her neighbors to shun her.  One notable exception is Miss Maggie, a neighbor who is like a mother to Crow.  Osh, Miss Maggie, and Crow take a trip to Penikese to try to find clues about her past, and meet up with a nasty man who claims to be in charge of the bird sanctuary there.  This trip and their encounter begin a chain of events that eventually include buried treasure, a violent crime, shipwreck, a long-lost brother, and Crow’s discoveries about her families…both the one that gave her up and the one that has loved her all along.  304 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Lauren Wolk’s follow-up to her Newbery honor Wolf Island does not disappoint in the least.  The story is well-paced, with fascinating details about life on the Elizabeth islands in the 1920’s, and well-developed characters.  Readers will take Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie to heart, and enjoy the secrets that are slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

Cons:  Here it is the end of July, and this is only the second Newbery contender I’ve read this year and the first for fiction (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Undefeated by Steven Sheinkin).  Anyone else have any thoughts about this?  Leave a comment if you’ve read something else that you think is Newbery-worthy this year.

Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Summary:  A little girl takes her favorite stuffed fox to school for show-and-tell in this wordless picture book.  After school, she goes to the playground, her fox sticking out of her backpack.  As she’s swinging, a real fox comes along, takes her stuffed one, and heads off into the forest.  She runs after the fox; her friend sees her go and follows her  The two combine forces, and eventually discover a woodland world populated by many different animals.  After a long, convoluted search, they find the fox, who really just wants a stuffed fox to love.  The girl and the fox make a trade, and there is a happy ending for everyone.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A seemingly simple tale opens up a whole new world in this beautifully detailed wordless book.  Kids will find the animals’ community enchanting, and will discover something new with each repeated reading.

Cons:  Plan on spending a long time with this book.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harve, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  Maya Lin grew up surrounded by nature, books, and parents “who never told her what to be or how to think”, having left China to escape that kind of doctrine.  Maya loved to create, inspired by her artist father and poet mother.  In college, she decided to study architecture, combining her love of art, science, and math.  When she was a senior, she entered a contest to design a memorial for the Vietnam War.  Her entry was selected from 1,421 others.  When the judges found out how young she was, they were shocked, and many felt that another design should be chosen.  Maya persisted, however, and her dream of a beautiful black wall with the names of those who died in the Vietnam War became a reality. It was the first of many art-architecture installations that Maya continues to create today.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Maya Lin and the memorial.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A quiet, beautiful work about a talented artist who persisted in bringing her creation to fruition.  The digital watercolors by first-time illustrator Phumiruk perfectly capture tone of the book and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Cons:  This only touches on details of Lin’s life, and is not a complete biography.

Moonwalk: The Story of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing by David Jenkins, illustrated by Adrian Buckley

Published by Circa Press

Summary:  48 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.  This book looks at what happened each day of that Apollo 11 mission.  It begins with a bit of context to clarify the importance of the mission, then starts in on July 15, 1969 as people are arriving to camp out and witness takeoff the next morning.  Each two-page spread covers one aspect of the journey, with a paragraph of information and a large digitally enhanced photo.  The excitement builds as the various parts of the trip unfold, climaxing with Neil Armstrong’s one small step onto the moon on July 20.  The final page shows the New York City ticker tape parade a few weeks later, celebrating the triumphant return of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  The final two pages include a collection of interesting facts.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent combination of exciting storytelling and clear explanations of the more technical parts of the space voyage.  The illustrations provide a you-are-there feeling.

Cons:  Some back matter like a bibliography or resource list would have been a nice addition.

A Dog Like Daisy by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  When we first meet Daisy, she’s in a cage at the pound, situated between the door leading to the Good Side, full of sunshine and happiness, and the door that goes to the Bad Side, smelling of fear, from which dogs never return.  Daisy knows it’s almost her time to go to the Bad Side, but she’s rescued by a military veteran named Victor and his son Micah.  Victor suffers from PTSD, and he’s enrolled in a program to train a service dog.  The VA will pay for ten weeks of training, so that’s how long Daisy has to prove herself, or get sent back to the pound.  But Daisy’s got some trauma in her own past, and sometimes that can interfere with her training.  And as much as she wants to help, figuring out humans can sometimes seem impossible.  When Daisy fails her first test as a service dog, she’s given a second chance…will she be able to make the most of it?  177 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A heartwarming story with a very funny canine narrator.  Readers who are struggling to get that summer reading requirement taken care of might want to consider this relatively short book that is both compelling and humorous.

 

 

Cons:  The ending seemed a little implausible; however, readers will find it very satisfying.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

Published by Readers to Eaters

Summary:  Roy Choi’s family moved from South Korea to Los Angeles when he was two.  He grew up exploring the streets of L.A. and coming home to his mom’s delicious Korean cuisine.  After graduating from culinary school, Roy became a chef in a fancy restaurant.  When he lost his job, he decided to partner up with a friend and open a taco truck with a Korean twist.  The Kogi Korean taco trucks were a hit, and Roy built on this success by starting the Locol restaurant in the Watts neighborhood of L.A.  He continues to expand his culinary offerings, bringing his cooking to as many different types of places and people as he can.  Includes notes from both authors and the illustrator, as well as a bibliography and list of resources.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The third collaboration between Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Readers to Eaters, this mouth-watering, fast-paced biography is designed to inspire kids to cook and eat new foods.  The graffiti-influenced illustrations are the perfect complement for this ode to the city streets.

Cons:  You’ll be craving a Korean taco before you’re halfway through this book.

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff

Published by Philomel Books

Summary:  When Winnie’s parents divorce, they are determined to divide her time equally between the two of them.  They buy two houses on a circular street with a huge tree in the middle.  Winnie spends three days a week with her mom, three days a week with her dad, and one day, Wednesday, by herself in her treehouse.  As her parents become increasingly competitive in making her time with each of them the best, Winnie finds the treehouse to be more and more of a haven.  Finally, she’s had enough, and retreats to the tree, refusing to come down until her parents are willing to sit down and listen to what she has to say.  Inspired by her actions, nine of her friends join her, each with his or her own demands to parents.  Who will win in this war between kids and parents?  288 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  What kid wouldn’t want to live in a giant treehouse with no parents?  Winnie and her friends have a pretty good time, and document their activities with craft instructions, Scrabble tips, and Post-It note footnotes to the main narrative.  This makes for a fast-paced, appealing read that will draw in reluctant readers.

Cons:  I found the Post-It notes distracting.