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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Princess Pulverizer: Grilled Cheese and Dragons by Nancy Krulik, art by Ben Balistrer

Published by Penguin Workshop

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Summary:  Princess Serena is struggling at princess school, so she decides to change her name to Princess Pulverizer and convince her father, the king, to send her to knight school.  He agrees, on one condition: she has to go on a Quest of Kindness, performing eight good deeds, and bringing back proof of each one.  So the princess sets off, and almost immediately hears about some stolen jewels that she is sure must have been taken by an ogre.  She succeeds in getting herself get captured by the monster, and does in fact find the jewels, but is unable to figure out how to escape the locked tower to return them to their rightful owner.  A knight school dropout named Lucas and his gassy dragon Dribble try to come to her rescue, but they have problems of their own.  In the end, the three of them combine their talents to pull off the good deed, and the princess is ready to move on to her next adventure as part of a team.  144 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of The Princess in Black, the Hamster Princess, and Princess Pink will be happy to find a new princess series with some fun twists to the traditional genre.

Cons:  The Princess in Black is still my favorite.

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The Rizzlerunk Club: Best Buds Under Frogs by Leslie Patricelli

Published by Candlewick Press

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Summary:  When Lily throws up on the first day of fourth grade at her new school, she’s sure she’s doomed to have no friends.  To her surprise, a girl named Darby reaches out, but her teasing sometimes makes Lily uncomfortable.  After a play date at Darby’s house, though, Lily decides she likes her, and the two form the Rizzlerunk Club.  Darby’s happy to have a new friend, too, since her old best friend Jill moved to London over the summer. When Jill returns part way through the year, though, trouble ensues. Jill has a talent for convincing Darby and Lily to do things that get them into trouble, while appearing innocent herself.  Lily finally decides to go her own way, but Darby is miserable. She and Lily reconcile, deciding they’ve had enough of Jill’s bossiness. But there’s another side to Jill, and Darby and Lily get a few surprises that make the Rizzlerunk Club a threesome; a chapter called “The Endish” provides a happy ending while leaving an opening for a sequel.  288 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Funny and endearing, this story perfectly captures fourth grade kids.  Lily, Darby, and Jill are all interesting and complex characters, and their classmates and siblings are fun to get to know as well.  Lily’s cartoon illustrations are a nice addition to the text.

Cons:  The class’s science experiment, feeding two rats a healthy diet and two other rats a junk food diet, seems a bit inhumane.

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Abraham Lincoln, Pro Wrestler by Steve Sheinkin (Time Twisters series)

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  When fourth-grader Doc tells his teacher history is boring, he unwittingly changes history so that it really is boring.  Doc and his stepsister Abby discover Abraham Lincoln in an old supply closet at the back of the library, and Abe is ready to make the past as dull as the kids think it is.  Textbooks and documentaries change to show a mundane existence for Lincoln and his contemporaries, while Abe, Doc, and Abby shuttle back and forth through time.  Lincoln ends up in a present-day wrestling ring, while their gym teacher finds himself back in 1860, trying to address the crowds in Illinois who have just elected him President.  It all gets straightened out in the end, but Lincoln warns the kids that now that other historical figures have seen what he’s done, they’ll be up for their own adventures, setting the scene for the series to continue.  160 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Kids will learn a little history and have fun with this goofy time-travel story.  A large font and lots of illustrations, some with cartoon bubbles, will draw in reluctant readers or those just moving up to chapter books.

Cons:  It’s a fun romp, but I hope Steve Sheinkin gets back to doing what he does best: writing fascinating histories for older kids like Undefeated and Most Dangerous.

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Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Baby Monkey solves one case after another: missing jewels, missing pizza, a missing nose, a missing spaceship, and a missing baby.  For each one, Baby Monkey has a routine.  First he looks for clues, then he takes notes and has a snack, and finally, he puts on his pants, a difficult task that generally takes several pages.  The mystery is solved immediately after that, usually by looking no further than outside his office door.  The routine is disrupted in the final mystery, because the missing baby turns out to be…well, I’ll let you take a guess.  Or read the book to find out.  Includes a guide to the different works of art that appear in Baby Monkey’s office for each mystery and an unusual index and bibliography.  192 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Brian Selznick’s award-winning illustrations carry the day here.  Kids will crack up over Baby Monkey’s various struggles with his pants, while older readers will enjoy noticing all the details that change from one rendering of the office to the next.  The text is repetitive, making this a perfect choice for beginning readers.

Cons:  Librarians may have a tough time deciding where to put this book: chapter book, picture book, graphic novel, or early reader?

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