Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  When Cilla Lee-Jenkins was five years old, a woman in the grocery store asked, “What are you, exactly?”  Cilla, unaware that the woman was referring to her Chinese-American heritage responded, “I am a future author extraordinaire.”  Now in second grade, she is well on her way, recording the story of her life as she waits for the arrival of her new baby sister.  Flashbacks to her younger years are interspersed with present-day tales, as Cilla explores friends, school, and the Chinese and Caucasian sides of her family who do not always get along.  Cilla’s not at all sure that she wants to be a big sister; she doesn’t have much choice about it, though, and when baby Gwendolyn arrives, Cilla can’t help but feel excited.  Not only is the baby somewhat cute and cuddly, but she helps unite the four grandparents in a way that gives Cilla hope for a closer extended family.  Book #2, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, was published simultaneously.  Includes a glossary, mostly of literary terms that Cilla uses while writing her book.  272 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A promising start to a new series about a girl who loves both sides of her family and is struggling to understand her own identity.  Cilla is smart and funny, and readers ready to move on from Junie B. Jones and Clementine will enjoy getting to know her.

Cons:  Cilla is in second grade, which would seem to make this a book for second and third grade readers, but at 272 pages, it may be daunting for many of them.

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Bigfoot and Little Foot by Ellen Potter, art by Felicita Sala

Published by Amulet Books

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Summary:  Hugo lives with his Sasquatch family and friends in the North Woods.  He’s curious about the outside world, especially humans, and one day he sends a toy boat into a stream to have an adventure.  When the boat returns with a plastic human figure inside, Hugo can’t resist replacing it with a tiny wooden Sasquatch and sending it back out again.  Before long, he and human boy Boone are exchanging notes.  Finally, against all the Sasquatch rules, Hugo goes in search of Boone, and the two become friends.  Sworn to secrecy, Boone comes back and meets Hugo’s Sasquatch community.  Their adventures will continue in book 2, due out in September.  144 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Beginning chapter book readers will love Hugo, Boone, and the rest of the Sasquatches.  Hugo faces some pretty typical 8- or 9-year-old problems, often with a lot of humor, and there are plenty of illustrations to help those just transitioning to longer books.

Cons:  It’s hard for me to believe Boone won’t ever tell anyone about his Sasquatch sighting.

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Road Trip With Max and His Mom by Linda Urban, illustrated by Katie Kath

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Max is surprised when his mom tells him they are going to drive to a family reunion to celebrate his great-great-aunt’s 100th birthday.  He’s in the middle of a book report on explorer Ernest Shackleton, so he starts incorporating what he’s learned about exploration into the road trip.  This has a few unfortunate consequences, like bringing a collapsible fishing pole instead of clean clothes, but Max is undaunted as he and his mom make their way from Michigan to an amusement park in Pennsylvania.  There are many unfamiliar relatives there, but Max finds some cousins to pal around with, and has a pretty good adventure at the park.  By the end of the weekend, he has learned a little more about his extended family, his own (divorced) parents, and himself .  160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  The second book about Max shows him continuing to adjust to his new family dynamics (in the first book learned to enjoy spending weekends with his dad at his new apartment).  His mom is also learning to do things on her own, and their ups and downs make for a realistic story full of gentle humor and love.

Cons:  Loved the first book, but no matter how much I’ve book talked it, it never seems to be very popular at my library.

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Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Peter and Ernesto are two sloths who enjoy life in their treetop, but one day Ernesto decides he wants something more.  He climbs down from the tree to go out into the world and see the rest of the sky.  A whale and a camel help him travel through the ocean and desert.  Meanwhile, Peter is scared to death to leave home, but finally decides he must make sure Ernesto is okay.  Helped by other animals, he finds the courage to cross a rickety bridge, swim across a stream, and finally reunite with Ernesto.  The two friends return to their tree, Ernesto with a greater appreciation of home, and Peter with a bit more of a taste for adventure.  128 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  This quirky story will appeal to both graphic novel fans and beginning readers just starting to move on from Elephant and Piggie.

Cons:  Great liberties have been taken with sloths’ actual abilities and speed.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond by Sam Hearn (Baker Street Academy book 1)

Published by Scholastic Press

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Summary:  When John Watson is accepted at Baker Street Academy, it’s elementary that he’ll become friends with classmates Martha Hudson and Sherlock Holmes.  The three have already started palling around when their class witnesses a robbery (“flash rob”) of a valuable diamond while on a field trip. For the remainder of the story, John is trying to figure out what happened; Sherlock, of course, is always several steps ahead of him.  A return trip to the museum results in a showdown between Sherlock and his archenemy James Moriarty, and the thief is revealed, along with a few other secret identities.  In the final chapter, John’s parents are off on an extended business trip and Sherlock’s older brother has mysteriously left for awhile, so Sherlock and John move in with the Hudsons at 221B Baker Street.  More adventures?  Elementary again.  176 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Readers will find the blend of text, illustrations, and cartoon bubbles engaging, while getting a taste (in younger versions) of many of the classic Sherlock Holmes characters and settings.

Cons:  For a book targeted to younger elementary readers, there were a lot of characters to keep track of and a somewhat tangled web of a mystery.

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The Un-Friendship Bracelet (Craftily Ever After book 1) by Martha Maker, illustrated by Xindi Yan

Published by Little Simon

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Summary:  Maddie and Emily are two best friends (they call themselves Mad-ily) who bond over crafting.  When Maddie makes friendly overtures to new girl Bella, Emily is worried that she is being excluded.  She starts to spend lunch time in the art room, where she gets to know Sam, a budding artist who loves to draw and paint.  Eventually, Mad-ily’s misunderstanding is resolved, and the four kids bond over a project turning an old shed at Bella’s new house into a craft studio.  By the end of the book, they’ve created a space with a desk, tool cabinet, shelf, easel, and worktable to allow them all to pursue their hobbies.  Includes instructions for making a friendship bracelet and a sneak peek at book 2.  128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  The combination of crafts and friendship will appeal to many early chapter book readers.  A large font and plenty of illustrations make this an accessible choice.

Cons:  Those kids seem awfully young to be building tables and sewing cushions.

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New Shoes by Sara Varon

Published by First Second

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Summary:  Francis is living his dream, working as a shoemaker on the outskirts of the jungle.  He uses the finest coconut wood for the soles, goats’ wool for extra padding, and wild tiger grass collected from his friend Nigel the squirrel monkey to weave into fabric.  When he gets a rush order for famed calypso singer Miss Manatee, and Nigel is nowhere to be found, Francis decides to venture into the forest himself.  Clearly leaving his comfort zone, Francis eventually finds the tiger grass, resolves a darker side of Nigel’s personality, and meets some new types of animals who become friends.  Upon his return, he comes up with an innovative way to create shoes for Miss Manatee (who, it turns out, doesn’t have feet), and works with his old and new friends to help her make her dry-land debut.  Includes photos from Guyana, the real-life inspiration for Francis’s home. 208 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  This graphic novel combines the best of the picture book and chapter book worlds, with a big cast of fun and funny characters, an interesting story with chapters, and lots of engaging artwork.  It was an extra treat to see the photos of Guyana. Sure to be popular with the newly independent reading crowd.

Cons:  I worried that the “downstairs chickens” who wove the wild tiger grass into fabric could be experiencing some unfair labor practices.

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