This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Harry N. Abrams

This Way, Charlie - Kindle edition by Levis, Caron, Santoso ...

This Way Charlie Caron Levis and Charles Santoso | Lemuria Books

Summary:  Jack the goat keeps to himself, passing his days at Open Bud Ranch watching the other animals from a safe distance.  When Charlie the horse arrives, he ends up tripping right over Jack, which doesn’t make the goat too happy.  But he learns that Charlie is blind in one eye.  Charlie’s a friendly sort, but he has trouble getting around.  After watching him for a while, Jack gets up the courage to lead him to his favorite field to graze.  Jack never goes in the barn with Charlie and the other animals, having apparently suffered some kind of trauma in a barn before arriving at Open Bud.  Eventually, Charlie loses his vision completely and becomes more dependent on Jack.  Charlie tries to convince Jack that they should play with the other animals, but Jack refuses.  Then one day, Jack and Charlie get themselves into a dangerous situation, and it’s up to Jack to find a way out.  Can he overcome his fears to ask the other animals for help?   Includes an author’s note about the real-life inspiration for this story.  40 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  From the team that brought you  Ida, Always comes another based-on-a-true-story tale of animal friendship with super cute illustrations.  Pretty irresistible.

Cons:  I would have liked to have learned more about the true story…maybe with some photos?

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Summer Song by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summer Song: Henkes, Kevin, Dronzek, Laura: 9780062866134: Amazon ...

Summary:  Rounding out the year (with Winter Is Here,  When Spring Comes, and In the Middle of Fall), husband and wife team Henkes and Dronzek have created an ode to the sights, sounds, and feel of summer.  Hot, slow, lazy, filled with the music of fans, sprinklers, and air conditioners, surrounded by greens, blues, fireflies, and beaches, summer is a time to savor.  And just like the other books, this one leads naturally to the next season: “But when the days become shorter and the nights come earlier, the song changes.  Summer gets bored and wants to try something new, something different.  The song is turning turning turning…it’s turning into Fall.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kevin Henkes is sort of like the Tom Hanks of children’s books: you can pretty much count on a quality product with each creation.  His four seasons quartet that includes this book provides an excellent introduction to each season, filled with sights and sounds that readers will relate to.  The lush illustrations offer a diverse cast of characters enjoying the season.

Cons:  With the exception of the illustration showing air conditioning, there’s not any portrayal of summers that city kids might experience.

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Solar System by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Solar System: By The Numbers - Kindle edition by Jenkins, Steve ...

Summary:  Using illustrations, graphs, and diagrams, Steve Jenkins explores the solar system, including the sun, moon, planets, comets, and asteroids.  Comparisons are made of size, climate, gravity, and other features of the different planets, using visuals to make the facts easier to grasp.  Humans’ exploration of the solar system is also shown, with a timeline of solar system discoveries, animals sent to space, and more.  There’s also a page speculating on life in the solar system, and one showing the frequency and effects of different-sized asteroids crashing into Earth.  Includes a glossary and bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  How did Steve Jenkins’s biggest fangirl (as I’m occasionally known) miss this new infographics series?  Dinosaurs and Earth came out last year, and Insects was published simultaneously with Solar SystemAnimals by the Numbers is one of my favorite nonfiction books to book talk.  Just showing kids a page or two sends a bunch of them clamoring for more, so I look forward to sharing these books with science fans.

Cons:  These seem to be marketed as readers for kids starting in first grade, but I think they will find more of an audience with slightly older readers.

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One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Published by Scholastic

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Summary:  Before getting to the title page, this wordless book takes the reader on a brief journey from a forest being logged to a paper mill to a hardware store where a boy and his father buy a flashlight that’s put in a paper bag.  As the main story begins, Dad makes his son lunch and packs it in that paper bag, now decorated with a single red heart.  As the boy grows up, he learns to fix cars and play guitars, still accompanied by the bag that holds tools, music, or snacks.  The bag goes off to college with him and plays a role in the young man meeting his future wife (who adds a second heart).  The two have their own son (heart #3), whose loving grandfather helps the boy add a fourth heart.  The bag’s final job is as a container for a sapling, which the family plants, completing the cycle back to the forest.  Includes an author’s note telling how the first Earth Day inspired him to use the same paper lunch bag for three years of high school (then gave it to a friend who used it for another year!).  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Henry Cole has produced another masterful wordless book that is easy to understand yet deeply celebrates family and the environment.  Young readers will find themselves thinking more about where their “disposable” paper goods come from after enjoying this story.

Cons:  This might not live up to kids’ expectations of “an amazing journey”.

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All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu

Published by Carolrhoda Books

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing after the Oklahoma ...

Q&A with Chris Barton – BookPeople

Summary:  “Sometimes bad things happen, and you have to tell everyone.  Sometimes terrible things happen and everybody knows.  One April morning in 1995, one of those terrible things happened in Oklahoma City.”  How do you tell the story of the Oklahoma City bombing to a picture book audience?  Answer: in a straightforward manner, with an emphasis on different losses and emotions different people experienced (“Some lost friends, neighbors….Some who survived had bodies broken in ways large and small….Some who rushed into help saw horrible things they would never forget”).  But also with an emphasis on healing, helping (and getting help), and moving on.  At the center of this part of the story is the Survivor Tree, an elm that survived the bombing and flourished in the years afterward, providing seedlings that have been planted far and wide.  Those seedlings have grown into trees and produced seedlings of their own, making the spread of trees an apt metaphor for the spread of help and comfort that has come from the survivors of this tragedy.  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes; a list of people interviewed for the book, along with their connections to the bombing; and a list of recommended resources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The Oklahoma City bombing doesn’t seem that long ago…until I look at my 25-year-old daughter who was born seven weeks afterward.  This book does an admirable job of introducing kids to the event, which they may never have heard of.  The illustrations are appropriately subdued; the faceless people in the pictures and the emphasis on grief and healing also make this a story to be read in conjunction with other difficult situations.

Cons:  Readers looking for a lot of information on the actual bombing will need to pursue some of the resources at the end.

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My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

Published by Aladdin (Released September 15)

My Life in the Fish Tank - Kindle edition by Dee, Barbara ...

Summary:  Zinnia (Zinny) has a pretty normal life with her three siblings and two best friends until her brother is involved in a car accident at college.  The hospital staff notices erratic behavior, and Gabriel is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sent to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation and counseling.  Zinny’s family is thrown into turmoil–her mother takes a leave of absence from her job, her father starts working longer hours, and neither parent is doing much for Zinny or her other brother and sister.  The kids are told to keep Gabriel’s issues “private”.  Zinny finds herself drifting away from her friends and not sure what to tell the caring adults who reach out to her.  Her interest in science attracts the notice of her favorite teacher, who offers Zinny an amazing summer opportunity, but Zinny’s not sure she should be away from her family.  Zinny is finally forced to confront her own emotions and to learn that loving her brother doesn’t preclude taking care of herself.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  As I read this book, it occurred to me that Barbara Dee is becoming kind of a Judy Blume of the 21st century.  Her recent books have taken on the issues of sexual harassment, eating disorders, childhood cancer, and now mental illness, but she does it with a light touch and with characters that middle-grade readers readily identify with.  I always find her books easy to book talk with upper elementary and middle school readers, yet they could also serve as bibliotherapy for kids who have experienced the challenges she writes about.

Cons:  The title made me think I was getting a first-person narration, which I wasn’t.

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Brother’s Keeper by Julie Lee

Published by Holiday House (Released July 21)

Brother's Keeper - Kindle edition by Lee, Julie. Children Kindle ...

Summary:  12-year-old Sora lives under the oppressive Communist regime of 1950 North Korea, and the stiflingly low expectations for girls in her traditional Korean family.  When war breaks out between North and South Korea, her father wants to escape to the south, while her mother is sure they won’t survive.  When it finally becomes clear that their lives are in danger at home, the family leaves, racing the Red army through the cold winter weather.  A bombing separates Sora and her 8-year-old brother from their parents and 2-year-old brother, and the two must travel alone, hoping to reunite with the rest of the family at their uncle’s house in Busan on the southern coast.  Sickness, hunger, predatory strangers, and other harrowing obstacles make this a page-turning survival story.  Includes a lengthy author’s note with additional information and photos on whom Sora is based; a glossary of Korean words; and a timeline of the Korean War.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Anyone laboring under the delusion that historical fiction is dull will be disabused of that notion after reading this book.  There is plenty of action and suspense.  Sora is a fascinating protagonist: she’s smart and dreams of a future as a teacher or writer, yet still wants her parents’ approval and tries to be a good daughter (which means giving up school to take care of her brothers).  There’s also lots of interesting information about the “Forgotten War” woven into the plot and in the back matter.

Cons:  Just when you think you’re heading for a happy ending…well, I don’t want to give too much away.

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Rick by Alex Gino

Published by Scholastic

Rick - Kindle edition by Gino, Alex. Children Kindle eBooks ...

Summary:  Rick and his best friend Jeff (from Gino’s 2015 book George) take the center stage in this book as they start middle school.  Rick is starting to be more aware of the fact that Jeff is kind of a jerk, and also that kids around him are starting to be interested in dating.  Rick’s not sure if he’s straight or gay, since he doesn’t feel particularly attracted to either boys or girls.  Although he feels uncomfortable and worried that Jeff might find out, Rick attends a Rainbow Spectrum meeting for kids exploring their genders and sexualities.  When he learns about asexuality, he thinks that might be the right identity for him.  He finds support through new relationships with kids in the group and a closer bond with his grandfather who turns out to have some secrets of his own.  Rick’s newfound confidence helps him to stand up to Jeff and feel more comfortable about expressing himself in public.  240 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Rick’s search for an identity he feels comfortable with feels like an authentic middle school experience.  The Rainbow Spectrum cast of characters provides a vehicle to introduce readers to different genders, sexualities, and pronouns.  Kids who have read George will enjoy catching up with the kids from that story a few years later, and will be happy to find out that George is entering middle school as Melissa.

Cons:  Like another book of Alex’s, You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P., this one felt very agenda-driven.  Too often the characters tell instead of show, and appear unusually “woke” for middle school kids as young as 11, e.g., this from a sixth grade boy: “Rick, if we’re gonna be friends, you’ve got to share how you’re feeling.  Otherwise I’ll never know you.”  

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Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Published by Children’s Book Press (Released August 18)

Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian ...

Summary:  Born in Peru in 1880, Julio Tello grew up in an indigenous community, speaking Quecha, the language of the Inca Empire.  His adventurous nature earned him the Quecha nickname Sharuko, meaning “brave”.  He and his brother discovered bones, pottery, and even some human skulls as they explored the foothills of the Andes.  At 12, he went to live with his aunt and study in Lima, eventually graduating from medical school.  After getting a degree in anthropology and archaeology from Harvard, he worked as an archaeologist at the Museum of Natural History in Lima.  His archaeological discoveries showed that indigenous cultures had existed in Peru more than 3,000 years ago, refuting the theories that these cultures originated in Mexico or Central America.  He became director of the new Museum of Anthropology, where he was able to share his discoveries with Peruvians, transforming their understanding of their history.  Includes maps; an afterword, illustrator’s note, and list of sources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Written in both Spanish and English, this story shines a light on Peruvian history and a man who single-handedly helped rewrite it.  The colorful illustrations feature some of the art and artifacts Tello helped discover.

Cons:  Readers will need some background knowledge to appreciate the story; although the format is a picture book, this will probably appeal more to older elementary and even middle school kids.

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Girl Versus Squirrel by Hayley Barrett, illustrated by Renée Andriani

Published by Margaret Ferguson Books (Released August 11, 2020)

Girl Versus Squirrel: Barrett, Hayley, Andriani, Renée ...

Summary:  Pearl is proud of her three bird feeders: one looks like a house, one looks like a tube, and one looks like a teacup, because it actually is a teacup.  She fills the house one with suet, the tube one with seeds, and the teacup with peanuts.  Birds are soon flocking to the first two, but the peanuts attract a squirrel.  Annoyed, Pearl builds increasingly complicated obstacle courses to try to deter the squirrel, but to no avail.  Finally, Pearl sees the squirrel in a nest with kits, and realizes it’s a mother.  At that point, she gives up and admits that the squirrel is amazingly clever, and will teach her babies how to do all the things she does.  Pearl gets to work creating and filling more bird feeders for her backyard…and some squirrel feeders as well.  Includes a page of facts about squirrels.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Many will relate to the problem of squirrels attacking the bird feeders, and Pearl is a persistent and ingenious girl who uses her engineering skills to try to solve this problem.  She’s also a good sport, knowing when she’s been bested and celebrating her opponent.  Kids will enjoy reading about her efforts and maybe be inspired to try some backyard projects themselves.

Cons:  From the squirrelly facts:  National Squirrel Appreciation Day is January 21, which seems like the completely wrong time of year.  Or maybe we appreciate squirrels more when they’re a bit less omnipresent.

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