Peter’s War: A Boy’s True Story of Survival in World War II Europe by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle

Published by Holiday House

Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe: Ruelle,  Karen Gray, Durland DeSaix, Deborah: 9780823424160: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  Peter was born to a wealthy family in Berlin, German in 1930.  All that changed when Hitler rose to power, and his Jewish family had to escape, first to Belgium, and then to France.  In the summer of 1942, Peter’s parents sent him to summer camp.  While he was there, they were arrested and taken away.  He got two postcards from them, then never heard from them again.  He spent the next two years living in children’s homes and a boarding school, using his German language skills to spy on the Nazis.  When rumors started circulating that the Germans knew one of the school’s students was a spy, a group of French resistance fighters arranged for Peter’s escape.  On May 22, 1944, he managed to cross the border into Switzerland, where he spent the next two years before joining his aunt and grandmother in the U.S.  Includes an epilogue with photos; notes with additional information about each two-page spread; a bibliography, and an index.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A good choice for upper elementary students interested in the Holocaust and World War II history.  Although it’s revealed in the epilogue that Peter’s parents both died in Auschwitz, the focus of the narrative is mostly on Peter’s courage and survival skills.  The extensive bibliography will guide readers to more resources, and the book list gives recommendations for appropriate age groups for each.

Cons:  The story was so brief that I felt like I never really got to know Peter or any of his family members.  Half the book is back matter, so Peter’s story, covering over a decade, is told in 20 illustrated pages.

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Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Chloe Bristol

Published by Versify

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey: Mortensen, Lori ...

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey plus Author Interview ...

Summary:  Growing up in Chicago, Edward Gorey was an avid reader, enjoying books as different from each other as Alice In Wonderland and Dracula.  A solitary child who skipped three grades and moved a dozen times, he loved passing hours writing and drawing.  After a stint in the army and four years at Harvard, Edward moved to New York City where he worked in the art department of a publisher.  After work, he wrote his own stories filled with ghastly silliness.  A group of mothers found his book The Beastly Baby so disturbing that they ripped it up and mailed the pieces to him.  But Edward was rarely influenced by what other people thought, and went his own way to achieve his own form of success.  Includes an author’s note with additional information, a photo, and additional sources of information.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Any fan of Edward Gorey’s work will appreciate this homage, written and illustrated in a very similar style.  Try introducing Gorey to young Lemony Snicket fans.

Cons:  Those not familiar with Gorey’s works, including most of today’s kids, may not fully appreciate this book. 

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The Fabled Life of Aesop by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Fabled Life of Aesop: The extraordinary journey and collected ...

Ancient Wisdom for Trying Times. An Interview with the Duo Behind ...

Summary:  Aesop was born a slave in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago.  He learned that speaking out could be dangerous in his position, so he learned to talk in code, telling stories about the powerless and the powerful through his fables.  Following an introduction to Aesop’s life, the book presents ten fables.  Each telling is only a few paragraphs, with an illustration or two, and the moral in gold type at the end.  The final few pages recount how Aesop was freed, and how his fables were told for many years before they were finally published in book form.  Includes an afterword that explains more about what we do and don’t know about Aesop and which parts of his story in this book are true; also, a bibliography.  64 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to Aesop’s fables, giving some context  about how they are not only lessons about morality, but give advice on “how to survive in a world in which some have power and some do not.”  Caldecott honoree Pamela Zagarenski will surely get some additional consideration for her beautiful illustrations here.

Cons:  I would have preferred that the afterword were a foreword, so readers would be aware of the uncertainties around Aesop’s history before reading the pages about his life.

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We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak ...

Summary:  Although we often learn about violent events in history (wars, assassinations), history is often made by those who embrace nonviolence.  Hasak-Lowy makes a distinction between institutional activism–writing letters and editorials, circulating petitions, lobbying politicians–and nonviolent activism, which “employs disruptive, risky tactics that challenge those in power and interrupt the way things normally work.” He illustrates this with chapters on Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel.  The final chapter is about Greta Thunberg and her current nonviolent activism around climate change.  A list at the end gives brief descriptions of half a dozen other groups that successfully employed nonviolent activism.  Includes notes, a seven-page bibliography, and an index.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  An excellent, accessible, and inspiring introduction to nonviolent activism.  I found it fascinating to learn the distinctions between institutional and nonviolent activism.  The engagingly-written profiles demonstrate the commitment and sacrifices necessary for this type of activism–but also show how effective it ultimately can be.

Cons:  No mention of Henry David “Mr. Civil Disobedience” Thoreau, who is said to have inspired both Gandhi and King.

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Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo’s First Woman Zookeeper by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Julie Downing

Published by Neal Porter Books (Released August 4)

Cubs in the Tub: The True Story of the Bronx Zoo's First Woman ...

Tessa Takes Wing is Landing — Julie Downing Illustration

Summary:  Helen and Fred Martini wanted to have a baby, but this was not in the cards for them.  One day, Fred, a zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo, brought home a lion cub whose mother had abandoned it.  He told Helen to care for the cub the way she would a human baby, so she went to work feeding him, grooming him, and tucking him into a crib.  The lion, MacArthur, stayed with the Martinis for two months before being transferred to another zoo.  Next came three tiger cubs, named Raniganj, Dacca, and Rajpur.  When it was time for them to go back to the zoo, Helen went along.  Fred showed her a storeroom that she proceeded to turn into a zoo nursery.  When zoo officials found out, they offered her a job as “keeper of the nursery”.  Helen kept this position for the next 20 years, becoming the Bronx Zoo’s first woman zookeeper and pioneering new methods for caring for young animals.  Includes additional information about Helen Martini, a photo, and a bibliography.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Lots of adorable animal illustrations will draw kids to this books, and they’ll learn about a woman who quietly broke down barriers.  The author’s note emphasizes how Helen, like many women of her time, worked within existing power structures to find a way to have a career at a time when women were encouraged to stay home.  

Cons:  The connection between Helen’s wish for a human baby and the fulfillment of that wish through baby zoo animals felt a little uncomfortable, both for Helen and the animals.

HerNaturalHistory [Instagram] | WCS Archives Blog

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Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon by Simran Jeet Singh, illustrated by Baljinder Kaur

Published by Kokila (Released August 25)

Amazon.com: Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest ...

Simran Jeet Singh: Fauja Singh Keeps Going – M is for Movement

Summary:  Throughout his life, Fauja Singh has heard people telling him his limitations.  He didn’t learn to walk until he was almost five years old.  School was too far for him to get to.  After his wife died and his family moved away, he was lonely.  This refrain is repeated throughout the story:  “But Fauja did not listen and Fauja did not stop.”  He did learn to walk, and worked hard to become strong enough to walk a mile.  Because he couldn’t go to school, he learned to be a farmer instead.  And at age 81, he left India to live with his family in England.  At first he was sad and lonely, but one day he saw people running on TV.  They looked so happy that he decided to try it.  Every day, he ran a little further and a little faster.  He eventually decided to run a marathon.  When he heard that people of his faith, Sikhs, were experiencing discrimination in the U.S., he decided to run in the New York City marathon.  After that, he decided to be the first 100-year-old to complete a marathon, and reached this goal in Toronto in 2011.  Includes an introduction by Singh (age 108 when he wrote it); an afterword with additional information and a photo; and a list of the national (UK) and world records he holds.  48 pages; ages 4 to 104 (and up).

Pros:  If you need inspiration to stop reading and get off your couch, here it is!  Even if you are 56 (just as a random example), you still have almost half a century left to run a marathon!  And even if you don’t want to run a marathon, Fauja Singh’s story is an inspiring one of perseverance, kindness, and trusting yourself.  

Cons:  The NYC marathon part of the story is kind of a bummer.

Punjabi by nature: The incorrigible Fauja Singh - chandigarh ...

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Michele Wood

Published by Candlewick

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom: Weatherford, Carole ...

BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom: Weatherford, Carole ...

Summary:  Henry Brown’s story has been told before, probably most famously (for kids) in the Caldecott Award winning Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine. Here, the narrative is in the form of a series of six-line poems.  They focus not only on Henry’s story, but on other aspects of slavery, including Nat Turner’s rebellion and the division of families, both Henry’s family of origin and later, his forced separation from his wife and children.  His harrowing escape in a sealed box traveling for two days from Virginia to Philadelphia is described, as well as the almost fifty years he lived afterward.  Brown published his story, The Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, and created a moving panorama that he exhibited in both the U.S. and England, remaining overseas with his wife and daughter for almost 25 years.  Includes a timeline of both Henry Brown’s life and other significant events that occurred during his lifetime, a bibliography, and an illustrator’s note.  40 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This would make an excellent companion to Henry’s Freedom Box, giving older students a chance to delve into Brown’s life a little deeper.  The first-person poems are enhanced by the mixed media folk art illustrations.  It would be an interesting twist in children’s literature history if this book received a Caldecott medal or honor next year.

Cons:  Due to the nature of poetry, readers have to make a fair number of inferences to understand the details of Henry Brown’s life.  An introductory note would have maybe made this a little simpler, as would reading this in conjunction with Ellen Levine’s book.

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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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Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean’s Biggest Secret by Jess Keating, illustrated by Katie Hickey

Published by Tundra Books (Released June 30)

Ocean Speaks: How Marie Tharp Revealed the Ocean's Biggest Secret ...

Ocean Speaks: Marie Tharp and the Map That Moved the Earth by Jess ...

Summary:  Growing up in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Marie Tharp wasn’t encouraged to pursue her interests in science.  During World War II, however, she was able to study geology and got a job in a lab in New York.  When the men came back from war, they were the ones who went out on research ships to study the ocean, while Marie stayed back in the lab.  She began using the data collected from this research to create a map of the ocean.  Her map revealed a rift valley and mountain ranges under the ocean.  When her work was called into question, she did it over again, coming up with the same results.  Eventually, her mapping was accepted by the scientific world, changing the way scientists think about the geology of the earth.  Includes an author’s note, photo, list of questions and answers, and resources for further reading.  34 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to the life of a little-known woman scientist that could be used alongside Robert Burleigh’s Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea (2016).  The illustrations complement the text nicely; I particularly like the ones that show Marie sailing on an ocean of ink in a paper boat as she pursues her explorations of the ocean back in the lab.

Cons:  This doesn’t offer as much of the science of continental drift that Tharp helped discover as Burleigh’s book does.

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When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

Published by Dial Books

When Stars Are Scattered: Jamieson, Victoria, Mohamed, Omar ...

When Stars Are Scattered on Apple Books

Summary:  Omar and his younger brother Hassan have spent a good portion of their lives in a refugee camp in Kenya.  Originally from Somalia, they have been refugees since their father was killed and their mother disappeared during the civil war there.  An older woman named Fatuma lives in a nearby tent and acts as a foster mother to the boys.  Every day in camp is pretty much the same.  Omar wishes he could go to school, but feels that he must stay at home with Hassan, who is nonverbal and has seizures.  The book covers many of the years the boys are in the camp, starting when they are young, and continuing as Omar finally decides to go to school, where he is able to stay until he graduates high school; and their excruciating wait for resettlement, which finally ends when they get permission to move to the United States in 2009.  An afterword tells what happened to the two after they moved to the U.S.; there are also authors’ notes by both authors telling how they came to create this book.  264 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  This may be my favorite book of the year so far.  I love Victoria Jamieson’s work, and her artwork is as engaging as it was in Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School.  The story is compelling, and readers will experience the boredom of the refugee camp, as well as the seesawing between hope and despair.  Victoria Jamieson has so many fans, and having her name on this book will make this important story accessible to kids who might not otherwise read it.  I’d love to see it considered for the Newbery or other awards.

Cons:  The story is very different from the lighthearted middle-grade fare of Jamieson’s other works.  While there’s nothing in here that’s inappropriate for fourth and fifth graders, kids who pick it up expecting more of the same may need a little guidance.

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