Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex, illustrated by Laurie Keller

Published by Beach Lane Books 

Image result for pluto gets the call

Image result for pluto gets the call

Summary:  On the title page, three scientists are seen arguing about who will call Pluto; we then travel to the outskirts of the solar system to meet Pluto, a friendly fellow, who introduces himself as the ninth planet.  While he’s giving a tour of his part of the universe, he gets the call. He is no longer a planet. Devastated, he seeks out advice from other planets, who turn out to have their own distinctive personalities.  Neptune is a bit slow on the uptake; Saturn is gushing with charm and just might have a crush on Pluto; Jupiter is a big bully. Finally, Pluto heads for the big guy–the Sun–who tells Pluto to enjoy being himself.  “You’re still a planet to everyone who was too short to ride the Ferris wheel…to all the people picked last for kickball.” Besides, scientists are still debating. At one point in history, they said there were 23 planets. Two pages of planetary facts round out this wacky tour of the solar system.  48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  I laughed out loud more than once, enjoying the planets’ personalities (“People talk about Uranus for reasons I don’t really want to get into.”  “Aww, shucks, you must mean my charming personality.”) There’s plenty of information tucked into the text and illustrations; kids will be having so much fun, they won’t even notice that they’re getting educated.

Cons:  48 pages seemed a little long and rambling to me.

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Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  13-year-old Carlos Cooper is still adjusting to life in a wheelchair following a car accident that killed both his parents.  When his aunt and uncle encourage him to try wheelchair basketball, he’s pretty sure he’s not going to like it. A basketball star in his former life, he struggles with no longer being the best shooter on the team.  But the coach and the other kids on the team convince him that they need his talents, and gradually, basketball becomes a big part of his life again. When the old gym that houses their practices is condemned and scheduled to be torn down, the kids uncover a nefarious plot involving the mayor, the father of their school’s biggest bully, and the editor of the local paper.  The good guys come together for a last-minute reprieve on the gym, and the team finds its groove at the state championships, making for a feel-good happy ending. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Mike Lupica and Tim Green will enjoy this heartwarming sports story, which has a cast of dedicated athlete characters and plenty of basketball action.  And, yes, it was just Monday when I said there aren’t many kids’ books with a protagonist in a wheelchair.  It’s a funny world.

Cons:  The “bad guys” were all caricatures, particularly the mayor with his slicked-back hair, wraparound sunglasses, and bright red limo.

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Black Canary: Ignite by Meg Cabot, illustrated by Cara McGhee

Published by DC Zoom

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Image result for black canary ignite cara mcgee

Summary:  Dinah Lance is your typical middle school girl: as the story opens, she and her two best friends are looking forward to competing in the Battle of the Bands, she’s prepping for cheerleader tryouts, and she dreams of becoming a police officer in Gotham City like her dad.  But things keep breaking at school–big things, like a glass trophy case–and Dinah seems to be the common element, even though she knows she’s not doing anything intentionally. As the story unfolds, Dinah learns that her mom used to be superhero Black Canary, and it appears that Dinah has inherited her superpower voice.  Bonfire, the villain her mom put in jail years ago, has escaped, and it’s up to Dinah to put her behind bars again. It all comes together at the Battle of the Bands, and by the last page it looks like Dinah’s future–as a crime fighter and a rocker–is assured. 144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I did not know that DC had a character called Black Canary.  But this spiffy little graphic novel gave me a good introduction, and sent me seeking more information.  Meg Cabot is a master of the middle school story, and does an excellent job, not only with Dinah, but with her friends Kat and Vee.  The artwork is colorful and captures the action perfectly.  

Cons:  There’s a lot of ground to cover in 144 pages, and the climactic showdown between Black Canary and Bonfire wrapped up a little too quickly.

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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

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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.

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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

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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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