Rachel’s Roses by Ferida Wolff, illustrated by Margeaux Lucas

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  Rachel is excited about Rosh Hashanah, but not as thrilled to be wearing last year’s skirt.  When her aspiring dressmaker mother offers to add new buttons, Rachel goes to the store to see what she can find.  The cheapest solution is to get one card of buttons for her and her little sister Hannah, but Rachel wants something of her own.  When she finds three beautiful rose buttons, she arranges with the storekeeper to buy them when she’s earned the money–if she can get it before the holiday.  Rachel’s entrepreneurial spirit works well for her until she gets so busy with her errands that she loses Hannah. Finding her sister and discovering a surprise her mother has created help Rachel to understand what’s really important as she gets ready for a new year.  112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The close Jewish family and tenement living reminded me of the All-of-a-Kind Family series that I loved as a child.  There’s not a lot of historical fiction available for third graders, and this would make an excellent and accessible introduction to the genre.

Cons:  I was hoping for more information about Rosh Hashanah.  There’s a brief author’s note at the end, but not much detail about the history and traditions of the holiday or how it is celebrated.

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A Is for Elizabeth by Rachel Vail, illustrated by Paige Keiser

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  Elizabeth is excited to be in second grade and getting homework, just like her big brother Justin (from Vail’s Justin Case series).  But she’s dismayed when she finds out the homework–posters showing everyone’s names–will be displayed in alphabetical order, meaning that bossy Anna will get to go first, like always.  When Anna tells Elizabeth “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” Elizabeth decides to make her poster by gluing sticks and stones to form the letters of her name.  She also uses a phonetic (sort of) spelling, which means her name now starts with a double A. The poster doesn’t come out quite as she planned, and when she has to show it to the class, she deflects attention from it by staging a protest against alphabetical order.  The whole class gets involved in the discussion, and their wise teacher leads them to a decision about how to make sure everyone gets to go first sometimes. First in a four-book series. 128 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Junie B. Jones fans will enjoy meeting this spunky narrator who deals with difficulties in a very second-grade way.  Short chapters and plenty of illustrations make this a good first chapter book.

Cons:  I’m normally a fan of short chapters, but many of these are only a few sentences, which felt just a bit too choppy.

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Mr. Penguin and the Lost Treasure by Alex T. Smith

Published by Hodder Children’s Books

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Summary:  Mr. Penguin has invested his life savings into a new business: becoming a Professional Adventurer.  He’s just beginning to feel nervous about his quiet office when the phone rings. It’s Miss Bones, owner of the Museum of Extraordinary Objects, and she’s on a quest to save her falling-down building.  She and her brother have learned there may be treasure buried on the grounds, so Mr. Penguin and his trusty (spider) sidekick Colin go off on their first adventure. They find plenty of it at the museum: an underground jungle, an alligator, and jewel thieves.  After more than one narrow escape, Mr. Penguin and Colin manage to solve the mystery, recover the treasure, and get the thieves behind bars. A ringing phone on the final page indicates this won’t be Mr. Penguin’s last adventure! 203 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Fans of Dog Man and Inspector Flytrap will enjoy this longer, but just as zany, illustrated chapter book.  Filled with plot twists, narrow escapes, as well as a protagonist who’s likely to be a step or two behind the reader, this is a promising start to a new series.

Cons:  I wasn’t a huge fan of the illustrations or the black and orange color scheme.

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Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas by Juana Medina

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Juana and her dog Lucas are back for another adventure.  Coming to you from Bogotá, Colombia, Juana does a quick review of all the good things in her life for those who may have missed them the first time in Juana and Lucas.  But then she launches into her big problema:  her beloved Mami has a new friend Luis, and it looks like things are starting to get serious.  Much to Juana’s chagrin, the two get engaged and start planning a wedding. Juana is not excited, and is adamant that she won’t be a flower girl.  She wishes she could meet her father, who, we learn, died in a fire when she was a baby. But Luis is pretty nice, and gradually Juana gets used to the idea of him joining the family and moving to a new casa.  By the last few pages, she is planning where to hang the wedding photos of her new extended family in her new bedroom.  96 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Fans of the first book (which won a Belpré Award in 2017) will enjoy the new one just as much.  The large, colorful illustrations are adorable, and fans of Junie B. Jones and Judy Moody will recognize a kindred spirit in Juana.  The Spanish words are given context clues for non-Spanish speakers, and the glimpses of Bogotá make it look like a fun place to visit or live.  Thank you to Candlewick for sending me an advance reading copy of this book.

Cons:  Just like with the first book, I found myself wishing for a list of Spanish words with English translations at the end.

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Acorn Books by Scholastic

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Similar to the Branches imprint, Scholastic now has Acorn, books for emerging readers.  They’re described as being at a Grade 1 Scholastic Reading Level, which translates to about a Level J in the Fountas and Pinnell world.  There are four series so far: Hello, Hedgehog! by Norm Feuti, featuring a friendly hedgehog and his guinea pig pal; Unicorn and Yeti by Heather Ayris Burnell, the somewhat surreal pairing of an extra-sparkly unicorn and a yeti; Crabby by Jonathan Fenske, all about a really crabby crab; and a reissued Dragon series by Dav Pilkey.  Each series has 2-3 books so far, each 48-64 pages long, with almost all the words in the form of cartoon bubble dialogue.  A final page offers extension activities, such as directions on how to draw a character and a writing prompt. 48-64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  If the Branches series are any indication, these are sure to be a hit.  Cute, friendly, and mildly humorous characters paired with a graphic novel look and cartoon bubble dialogue seems like a recipe for success.

Cons:  At the risk of sounding like a cranky old librarian, I wonder if kids will even know what quotation marks are in another generation.

If you would like to buy the first Hello Hedgehog book, click here.

For Crabby, click here.

For Yeti and Unicorn, click here.

For Dragon, click here.

Brute-Cake (The Binder of Doom book 1) by Troy Cummings

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Alexander Bopp, hero of The Notebook of Doom series, is feeling at loose ends as summer begins.  The Super Secret Monster Patrol (S.S.M.P.) has succeeded in clearing the monsters out of Stermont, and consequently, Alexander and his pals Rip and Nikki have drifted apart.  But when his dad signs him up for the Stermont Summer Maker Program (hey, that’s also S.S.M.P.!), he runs into Nikki again. Mysterious monster cards start appearing, and Alexander begins to suspect that a monster or two may have crept back into town.  Nikki and Alexander find Rip; they use their free binders from the new club to get organized; and just like that, the original S.S.M.P. is back in business. Includes a page of questions and activities. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Second and third graders everywhere will rejoice that the Notebook of Doom team is back for another series.

Cons:  Personally, one of these books was enough for me, but there are those who have read (and loved) all 13 of the original series.

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Recipe for Disaster (Didi Dodo Future Spy, book 1) by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Jared Chapman

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Summary:  Cookie baker Koko Dodo (a character from Angleberger’s Inspector Flytrap series) has been robbed! His Super Secret Fudge Sauce has been stolen just hours before the big cookie contest that he always wins.  Enter Didi Dodo, a high-energy dodo on roller skates who calls herself a future spy.  She’s sure she can solve the case, and whisks Koko off on a whirlwind adventure, trying one scheme after another to track down the culprit, and leaving a path of destruction as they go.  The robber is tracked down, the cookies are baked, and Koko gets another trophy.  On the last page, Didi whips out a card reading “Dodo and Dodo, Future Spies,” ensuring at least one more book, which is scheduled for release in September. 112 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  Kids will love the manic humor and energy of this new series by the much-loved Tom Angleberger.

Cons:  I liked the illustrations, but why didn’t Tom’s wife Cece Bell do them like she did for Inspector Flytrap?  Maybe she’s working on a sequel to El Deafo…we can hope.

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