Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, and A Bear by James Sage, illustrated by Lisk Feng

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  I’ve always had some vague notion that the teddy bear is named for Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, but thanks to this book, I now know the specifics.  When T.R. went on a bear-hunting trip to Mississippi, there was nary a bear to be found. His hosts finally found a small bear and tied it to a tree, but he refused to shoot it on the grounds that it would be unsportsmanlike.  Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman, suffering from a slow news day, turned the anecdote into a cartoon that went viral.  It caught the eye of Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michtom. When Rose stitched up a replica of the bear and put it in the store window, stuffed animal history was made.  The Michtoms were overwhelmed by the demand, and opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company to crank out Teddy bears of all sizes and shapes. Includes an author’s note with a few photos that sorts out the fact and fiction of his story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun telling of the (mostly) true story about the original Teddy bear.  

Cons:  Tying a bear to a tree to be shot.

Carm

I met this guy back in 1973, and we still hang out.  He “bears” an uncanny resemblance to the cover of this book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here. Sorry, the bear is not for sale.

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Identical twins Iris and Lark look the same, but they are very different people.  Lark is artistic and dreamy, always spinning fantastic stories from everyday items and happenings.  Iris sees herself as Lark’s protector, fiercely taking on anyone who tries to make fun of her. When their parents decide to put them into two different fifth grade classes, both girls are sure they’re in for a disaster.  As time goes on, it seems to Iris that they are right, as Lark has to deal with a teacher she calls “the ogre” who makes her do oral presentations and stressful math drills. Iris starts looking for answers at a mysterious new store in town called Treasure Hunters, whose strange proprietor seems to know more about her and Lark than he should.  An occasional first-person narrator also appears to have some unusual insights into the two girls, and slowly the reader sees that there is magic at play…and some of it is pretty dark. When Iris gets in over her head, it’s up to Lark and some awesome new friends to step in and save the day. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An enchanting mix of realism and fantasy, with a pretty blurry line between the two.  The themes of love and hate are explored in a unique and engaging way. This may make it on to some Newbery lists.

Cons:  I didn’t love this book as much as I felt like I should have.  Although I could appreciate the beautiful writing, it seemed slow to get going, and I could see kids abandoning it before the end.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Rise of the Dragons by Angie Sage

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Sirin is dealing with the loss of her mother in a hardscrabble British city.  Joss and Allie are working off their 19-year indentured servitude after their parents were killed by Raptors (rogue dragons).  The cruel Lennix family is plotting a way to move to the Lost Lands where they can find more humans to keep their Raptors happy and well-fed.  When a baby silver dragon drops out of the sky, and Joss finds it, everything begins to change for all of the humans. Joss and the dragon, Lysander, bond with each other, neither one knowing that the rare silver dragons are the only ones who can travel to the Lost Lands.  The Lennix family learns of Lysander’s existence, and will stop at nothing to steal him away. All the stories converge at the end, which provides the perfect opening for the inevitable sequel in this new Scholastic series. Includes cards and directions for accessing an online game.  272 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Before reading this dragon fantasy, I had read, um, zero dragon fantasies, so I’m no expert.  But after forcing myself to crack it open and read the first chapter, I found the story to be very engaging, with plenty of action and a big battle scene at the end.  The connection between our world and the dragons’ world is sure to intrigue readers.

Cons:  What’s next for me, binge-watching Game of Thrones?

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Knights vs. Dinosaurs by Matt Phelan

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  When a group of boastful knights regale each other with slightly exaggerated tales at the Round Table, Merlin sends them off on a mission to slay the Terrible Lizard.  Knights Bors, Hector, Erec, and the mysterious Black Knight are joined by squire Mel on a quest that unexpectedly takes them back in time to the days of the dinosaurs. There they have one adventure after another with spinosauruses, triceratops, and more, all the while seeking the tyrant king, Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Along the way, some surprises are revealed about the knights and their squire, and they slowly learn to stop competing and start working as a team. After they finally meet and defeat their enemy, they learn that Merlin has been up to his old tricks, but they can’t help being pleased with the results. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  With lots of illustrations and a few comic-style pages, this would be a good choice for those still getting their feet wet in the chapter book realm.  There’s plenty of humor and a couple of unexpected strong female characters.

Cons:  I probably didn’t appreciate the humor as much as, say, a nine-year-old might.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

Dragons In a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Published by Random House

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Summary:  Jaxon’s not happy when Mama has to go to court to fight their eviction and drops him off with a strange and somewhat unfriendly older woman.  He can’t help but feel curious, though, when she receives a mysterious package from Madagascar that seems to contain something alive. Before long, he learns that the woman, Ma, is a witch with a long-term connection to his mother that Jax never knew about.  He gets drawn into a fascinating world of magic, meeting an unusual cast of characters that includes his long-lost grandfather, and finds out that Ma’s mysterious package contains three tiny dragons. When he and Ma travel back in time, though, things start to go wrong, and Jaxon fears he may have ruined everything.  By the time Mama returns, he’s found a way to begin to fix his mistakes and has agreed to become Ma’s apprentice. His mother isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, but an invitation from Ma to move in with her sets the stage for an interesting sequel. 160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This would make a good first fantasy book–the magic is fairly straightforward and the book is fairly short with quite a few illustrations.  Kids will relate to Jaxon as he tries to figure out the strange circumstances he is thrust into, and will be curious to find out what happens to him and his new dragon friends.

Cons:  It felt like the story was just getting going toward the end; here’s hoping the sequel will be out soon.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann

Published by NorthSouth Books

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Summary:  The Professor teaches at the University of Mice, located behind the shelves of a bookstore.  One day, a new student named Pete approaches him with a request for help in finding out more about an ancestor who supposedly lost a treasure at sea.  It’s unclear whether or not the ancestor went down as well. The Professor is reluctant to help much at first, but when he discovers Pete experimenting with a submarine, he gets caught up in the adventure.  After many trials and occasional missteps, the two of them manage to create a sub and two diving suits. Hitching a ride on a cargo ship, they travel to the spot where the sunken boat lies. They’re able to launch their submarine and go aboard the ship, where they discover the treasure–Pete’s ancestor’s journal.  They learn that he created the light bulb, then managed to get to America where he was able to share his plans with Thomas Alva Edison. And the rest is history–for both mice and humans. Includes historical facts about the history of the light bulb and Edison. 112 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  I’ve somehow missed Kuhlmann’s other books on famous mice (Lindbergh and Armstrong), but was enchanted with this book, particularly the illustrations.  The details of the mouse world and their creations are amazing, and the hard work and serendipity required to come up with a successful invention are well documented.  This would be a great read-aloud, allowing plenty of time to take in all the artwork.

Cons:  The story and writing aren’t as strong as the illustrations.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.