Summary: These two books arrived in the library for me from interlibrary loan land on the same day. Walking Toward Peace is the story of Mildred Lisette Norman, who had a vision of walking across the U.S. advocating for peace in the aftermath of World War II. She changed her name to Peace Pilgrim, and from 1953 until her death in 1981, walked through all 50 states, handing out flyers and talking to people about ending war and living in peace. Remarkably, she never carried any money with her, relying on her knowledge of outdoor living and, to a great extent, the kindness of people she encountered on the road.
Peace draws on Baptiste and Miranda Paul’s experiences growing up in war-torn Mozambique. With simple rhyming text (“Peace is pronouncing your friend’s name correctly/Peace means we talk to each other directly”) and pictures of kids and animals living harmoniously, the book offers concrete actions for fostering peace. The authors’ note explains how war affects not only humans, but animals and the natural world as well. Both books are 40 pages and recommended for ages 4-8.
Pros: I’ve heard about Peace Pilgrim for years, so I was happy to learn about this new book. Her story is sure to intrigue both children and adults, and is a moving testimony to following your own path in life (literally, in her case). Peace would make a great follow-up book to read, with its emphasis on how peace is important to animals as well as humans, something that will resonate with a lot of kids. I loved the simple actions described, and the illustrations, especially the beautiful tree on the endpapers, with the word “peace” written in different languages on its leaves.
Cons: It seems like an ironic bummer that Peace Pilgrim was killed in an accident while riding in a car at the age of 72, and did not live to see the end of the Cold War.
Summary: The narrative begins long ago when nomads traveled through Europe and Asia, fighting wolves for their prey. A girl meets a young wolf and they play together until the pup gets older. This cycle is repeated throughout history, with the bond between child and pup growing, and the certainty that their friendship can’t last becoming less. In the last iteration, the human group packs up and leaves the area, the boy calls to his wolf friend, “and Dog left the wolf pack to follow his boy away.” The last spread shows a contemporary girl and puppy meeting for the first time. Includes two pages of back matter giving additional information on how dogs became domesticated and a bibliography. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Dog lovers will be intrigued by the progression of domestication over thousands of years. The illustrations seem simple with cartoon-inspired characters, but also include gorgeous backgrounds portraying the natural world. The back matter adds to the research value and will make the book more interesting to older kids.
Cons: The process of domestication is very simplified.
Summary: Every night, Cat asks Doggo how his day was, and he responds, “Same old, same old. Could have been worse.” His comfortable routine is interrupted one day when Pupper arrives. Pupper is full of mischief and has millions of questions. When the humans decide to send Pupper to charm school, Doggo is relieved. But school changes Pupper, and one night Doggo finds himself missing the old Pupper. A sleepy human hands over the car keys, and the two dogs head off on a memorable road trip. The final page lists Doggo’s guide to puppies, which includes “Puppies need lots of play.” 96 pages; ages 3-7.
Pros: Beginning readers will have fun with this first chapter book that features funny illustration (that cover is irresistible!) and only a brief sentence or two of text on each page. It’s called book 1, so we can hope there will be more Doggo and Pupper adventures ahead.
Cons: Cat seems like a fun character who deserves a bit more time onstage.
Summary: The first time Patti McGee saw a group of boys on skateboards, she mounted a board on her roller skate wheels, and took off down the tallest hill in her neighborhood. She was hooked, but the wheels kept falling off her board, and a real skateboard was expensive. When she heard about a new skateboarding team starting up, with a free board as part of the deal, she practiced even harder. Making the team inspired her to enter a competition, where she showed off her best trick: a handstand on a moving board that she held for six seconds. Her perfect score won her the championship and launched a skateboarding career. Includes a page answering the question “Where Is She Now?”, an author’s note, a photo of Patty performing her handstand, and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Patti’s enthusiasm and determination (particularly on the page that shows her applying multiple band-aids to her bleeding arms and legs) will be an inspiration and introduce kids to a little-known sports star.
Summary: “Imagine your house is on fire. You’re allowed to save one thing. Your family and pets are safe, so don’t worry about them.” With this assignment, a class starts thinking about what’s important to them: a handknit sweater, a photo, a lock of hair, a collection. The kids express themselves in poems inspired by the ancient Korean poetry form sijo. Their presentations spark comments and debate among their classmates as they contemplate what they value…and even get their teacher to change her mind. 72 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: Not quite long enough to be a novel in verse, this illustrated collection of poems is easy to read, but not simple, and will surely engage students in conversation long after they’ve turned the last page. I loved Linda Sue Park’s final statement in her author’s note about sijo: “Using old forms in new ways is how poetry continually renews itself, and the world.”
Cons: It would have been helpful to have the speaker in each poem identified.
Summary: Cooper’s had to deal with a lot of difficult changes in his family over the last few years; in the opening pages, he’s in the yard venting his anger. The new girl next door sits on a swing and watching him…as usual. Her odd behavior leads Cooper and his sister Jess to investigate, and they learn that the crest on the jacket she wears has been found on clothing at disasters going back to the nineteenth century. Strangest of all is the fact that only Cooper, Jess, and Cooper’s new friend Gus seem to be able to see the girl or the renovations done to the derelict house that she’s moved into. As they get deeper into the mystery, they discover a supernatural world called the In-Between and learn that they may all be in danger. Can the three of them solve the mystery in time to avert the next disaster? 320 pages; grades 4-7.
Pros: A well-crafted spooky tale with plenty of plot twists that will keep readers guessing right up until the end. The family issues of divorce, an absent father, and Jess’s diabetes add some depth to the story.
Cons: I saw some reviews that recommended this for kids as young as 8, but the complicated plot and somewhat creepy story would probably make it a better choice for older readers.
Summary: Shanti leaves her village (in India) to go to her new town (in the United States). in the village, she enjoys the food, language, and traditions; in town, she learns a new language, tries new foods, and makes new friends. It’s exciting to have new experiences, comforting to fall back on the old ones, and sometimes exhausting to travel between the two. Finally, she needs a rest, and she takes one in the in-between that bridges the two worlds. Refreshed, she realizes she can make any place feel like home, including that space between her two cultures. Includes an author’s note about her experiences that inspired Shanti’s story and a glossary of Bangla words. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: There are many books that tell kids’ immigration stories, but this one more than most captures the experience of living in two cultures, both the difficult and the valuable aspects.
Cons: One of my pet peeves: the glossary is on the back end papers, which means approximately 30% of it was covered up by the taped-on dust jacket of my library copy of the book.
Summary: These two books provide a starting point for learning more about climate change and actions kids can take, both now and as they begin their careers. Our World Out of Balance has 17 chapters that address various areas of environmental concern, such as global warming, plastics in the ocean, and extreme weather. In addition to facts, there are sidebars on how kids can help address these problems. Design Like Nature looks at ways people can study nature to inspire designs that will help the environment. Both books include additional resources, an index, and a glossary. Design Like Nature, 48 pages; Our World Out of Balance, 72 pages; both, grades 3-7.
Pros: As environmental problems worsen around the world, it’s important to raise awareness with kids as to what the issues are and what can be done to solve them. Both books take the problems seriously, but also offer a note of optimism that there are solutions.
Cons: The illustrations in Design Like Nature are mostly stock photos that don’t always do a great job supporting the text.
Summary: “Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was outside…went inside.” All over the world, people stayed inside except for those who needed to be out of their homes. People inside worked, played, and worried. Why did people do this? “Mostly because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” While waiting it out, we remembered that spring would come…inside and outside (outside is shown with a gatefold page with unmasked people hugging and playing outside). Includes a two-page author’s note explaining more about the pandemic and how it inspired this book. 48 pages; ages 3-8.
Pros: Not surprisingly, books borne of the pandemic are starting to appear in 2021. This is the best I’ve seen so far, showing many scenes that we’ve experienced or seen on the news in the last year without ever specifically mentioning Covid. Students at my school will be returning April 5 after more than a year at home, and this book will be perfect to help share and process our pandemic stories.
Cons: “Everyone knew it was the right thing to do” seems like a bit of an oversimplification of what really happened in America.
Summary: When the crates containing the pieces of the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York, there was one problem: the pedestal for the statue was only half-built, and there didn’t seem to be much interest in raising the $100,000 needed to complete it. Then Joseph Pulitzer, an immigrant himself and owner of the New York World newspaper, wrote in his paper, “Let us not wait for the millionaires to give money. [The Statue of Liberty] is a gift of the whole people of France to the whole people of America.” The “whole people of America”, including many children, rose to the occasion, sending the pennies and dollars that they could afford to build the pedestal. By August, the full amount had been raised from 120,000 donors, and on October 28, 1886, about a million people came to New York to celebrate the new statue. Includes a timeline, additional facts about the Statue of Liberty, a bibliography of books and websites, and two pages of photos and a map. 40 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: Excellent nonfiction, with just the right balance of engaging and informative, and the perfect amount of back matter–love all those photos!
Cons: It was a little anti-climactic to learn in the back matter that the original $100,000 price tag eventually jumped to $320,000 when construction began. Fortunately, additional donors and Congress footed the bill.