Life According to Og the Frog by Betty G. Birney

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Summary:  Room 26 has a new pet: Og the Frog.  Og started his career as a classroom pet in Room 27, but George the bullfrog was something of a bully, so Og got moved next door.  He enjoys watching the kids (whom he calls “big tads”), thinks Mrs. Brisbane is a pretty great teacher, and is intrigued by his excitable hamster neighbor, but Og sometimes wishes he was back in the swamp.  He was “frognapped” by a fisherman, then given to the man’s grandson who is a student in room 27.  A herpetologist from a nearby nature center visits the classroom to tell the kids more about Og, and she informs them that Og can’t be released back into the wild (he may have picked up human germs that he would spread to other frogs).  The kids–and Og–have to decide if it’s best for him to stay in the classroom or if he should move to the nature center.  Of course, Og ends up staying in school, and readers can hope to hear more from the new frog in the future. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of the Humphrey series will be clamoring for a new book about a frog who is every bit as endearing as Room 26’s hamster is.  Og is a poet, and kids may be inspired to try to match some of his rhymes; they’ll also learn a bit about frogs and conservation.

Cons:  I was hoping Og and Humphrey would find a way to communicate, but all Og hears from Humphrey is a bunch of squeaking.

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Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Flora’s fourth grade year gets off to a rough start; her parents have recently separated, her dog died not too long ago, and the kids in her class seem a lot smarter and more confident than they did in third grade.  Flora is quiet and sensitive, and loves spending hours reading at Wing and a Chair Used Books, where her mother works three days a week.  As the year goes on, Flora makes a new friend, Yuri; gets a new cat, Serenity; and discovers her talent for writing.  When spring comes, her family changes once again, this time in an exciting new direction, and Flora is grateful for everything that has happened to her in the previous year.  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A quiet, introspective book about a quiet, introspective girl growing up in 1972 in the small town of Rosewood, Indiana.  The characters are memorable, especially Flora, Yuri, and Miss Meriwether, the book store owner.

Cons:  Readers seeking a lot of humor/action/adventure may be disappointed.

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The Creature of the Pines (The Unicorn Rescue Society, book 1) by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  From the team that brought you The Inquisitor’s Tale comes this new series for the early chapter book crowd.  Elliot Eisner is bummed to be starting school three weeks into the school year.  That ends up being the least of his concerns after he meets a girl named Uchenna.  The two of them get paired up on what turns out to be the weirdest field trip he has ever been on.  Their class travels to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens with their chronically flustered teacher Miss Vole and the strange and perpetually grumpy Professor Fauna.  They wind up rescuing a small dragon-like creature that turns out to be a Jersey Devil.  After they return to school, the creature gets loose and ends up in the home of the evil billionaire Schmoke brothers.  Elliott and Uchenna are forced to seek out Professor Fauna for help.  The rescue complete, he invites them to join the top secret Unicorn Rescue Society, setting the stage for more escapades with mythical creatures in the next books of the series.  192 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A unique and promising start to a new series, with plenty of deadpan humor, one-of-a-kind characters, and magic action.  Short chapters, a fast pace, and plenty of illustrations will appeal to reluctant readers.

Cons:  As a New Jersey native, I would have appreciated some back matter about the Jersey Devil.

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The Missing Baseball (Zach & Zoe Mysteries) by Mike Lupica

Published by Puffin Books

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Summary:  Zach and Zoe are eight-year-old twins who love sports and solving mysteries.  When Zach brings his prized autographed baseball to school for sharing, he is dismayed when it disappears during lunchtime.  Zoe is on the case, scouting the area for clues and trying to piece together what happened when the kids were out of the classroom.  Meanwhile, it’s Spirit Week, and the entire third grade is competing for points to see if the Blue team or the White team will get the highest score.  It all comes down to a final baseball game, with Zach and Zoe each captaining their teams, for the resolution of both the Spirit Week competition and the missing baseball mystery.  80 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  In his first foray into books for younger kids, Mike Lupica does a nice job of creating a mystery that has plenty of sports action.  A good series for fans of David A, Kelly’s Baseball Mysteries and MVP series.

Cons:  I found Zoe and Zach’s parents  pretty annoying; it seemed like every other page featured one of them offering advice or one of the kids recalling some pearl of wisdom from Mom or Dad.

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The Competition Begins (Junior Ninja Champion series) by Catherine Hapka

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Ty, Kevin, Mackenzie, Izzy, and JJ all have different reasons to want to audition for the Junior Ninja Champion show.  When they hear that local tryouts are being held nearby, they come together at Ty’s parents’ gym for kids to practice. Tara, a contestant from the National Ninja Show comes on board as their coach.  Each kid struggles with his or her own challenges, both on the course and off of it.  The story takes the team through two rounds of competition; they all make it through the first round, but only three are chosen to go on to the next one, which will be covered in book 2, coming out in January.  Includes an interview with American Ninja Warrior competitor Allyssa Beird.  176 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A pretty quick read for sports and reality TV show fans that not only delves into the sports action but covers the kids’ emotional ups and downs as well.

Cons:  I was expecting more action and a faster pace from a book about kids competing to be ninjas.

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Two Dogs In a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Colin Jack

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Sassy and Waldo are worried that their boy, Stewart, is having trouble in school.  Waldo has learned some English, so they try sneaking into school.  When that plan fails, they decide they need a costume.  Waldo stands on Stewart’s back, they drape themselves in a trench coat, and voila, two dogs in a trench coat go to school, disguised as Salty, a new student from Liver, Ohio.  After figuring out how to maximize the cafeteria food and use the bathroom, they are ready to tackle the problem of helping Stewart.  Turns out he has a big project due that he hasn’t even started on, and he has lost his all-important Information Sheet.  Sassy and Waldo are on the case, and wind up helping Stewart get an A+, but not before creating complete chaos in the classroom.  192 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Lots of laughs from both the story and the pictures in this crazy, mixed-up story about two determined dogs. Perfect reading if your brain is ready for summer vacation.

Cons:  Seems like poor Sassy would get pretty uncomfortable being the bottom dog all the time.

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Avalanche! (Survivor Diaries series) by Terry Lynn Johnson

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Twins Ryan and Ashley are expert skiers, but they’re no match for an avalanche that thunders down on them when they’ve skied ahead of their parents.  Both get buried, but Ashley manages to dig her way out.  She sees one of Ryan’s ski poles sticking up, and frees him just in time.  A blow to his head has caused temporary amnesia, and it’s up to Ashley to find them shelter for the night and get them to safety the next day.  Ashley’s persistent determination (“grit”) is emphasized as she fights through a knee injury, a threat from a grizzly bear, and deadly cold to save herself and her brother.  Includes tips for surviving an avalanche, websites with additional information, and an excerpt from Lost, the next book in the series due out in July.  112 pages (story is 86 pages); grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of the I Survived series will clamor for these action-packed stories of kids surviving natural disasters.  Plenty of illustrations and non-stop adventure make these a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  Each story starts with the survivor(s) telling their story to a nameless reporter, which seems a bit contrived.

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