Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Groundwood Books

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Summary:  Charlie is finishing up eighth grade; Mr. K., her favorite teacher, assigns everyone in the class to perform a favorite song for the end of the year.  As Charlie tries to figure out what her song will be, she reflects on changes that have taken place during the year. Specifically, she can’t forget a boy named Luka who refused to conform to middle school expectations, and was bullied until he left school.  Both Luka and Charlie have had crushes on the same boy, Emile. As the weeks go by, Mr. K. introduces the class to different types of music. Nothing resonates with Charlie until they get to opera. She finds herself drawn to Maria Callas, and connects with some of the details of her early life and singing career.  Maria’s ability to always go her own way inspires Charlie to reach out to Luka, and she is able to help him find his way back to school. Charlie, Luka, Emile, and another friend find the courage to perform a band called Freaks of Feeling; at the end the band gives Charlie tickets to the opera as a birthday gift. 160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book really captures adolescence, and the tension between conforming and being yourself.  Music fans will enjoy Charlie’s insights about how kids find connections based on the kind of music they enjoy.

Cons:  I didn’t entirely understand the whole Charlie-Emile-Luka dynamic.

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.

Rocket to the Moon by Don Brown

Published by Harry N. Abrams

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Image result for rocket to the moon don brown

Summary:  Rodman Law, an early 20th-century stuntman, narrates the story of America’s space exploration.  Starting with a quick history of rockets, the narrative goes into more details with Werner von Braun, Robert Goddard, and the dawn of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race.  About half of the book is devoted to the Apollo missions, with the bulk of that describing Apollo 11 and the historic moonwalk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. It ends with Apollo 17, the final mission to reach the moon.  Includes a timeline, notes, and a lengthy bibliography. 136 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Don’t be fooled by the graphic novel format, and Rodman Law’s light tone–there is lots of information here, and the extensive back matter provides plenty of additional research avenues.

Cons:  While this is billed as book 1 of a series called Big Ideas That Changed the World, I couldn’t find any information on any more upcoming books.

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

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero, illustrated by Bre Indigo

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for meg jo beth amy graphic novel

Summary:  If the names Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are familiar to you, you will recognize this as a modern-day retelling of the just-turned-150 book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  In this version, the Marches are a blended family, with a black father of Meg, a white mother of Jo, and biracial daughters Beth and Amy who share both parents.  In the opening scenes, the four girls are trying to survive a Christmas without presents while their military father is overseas. Mom (you may know her as Marmee) helps them get some perspective by serving meals in a soup kitchen; on the way home, they meet their wealthy neighbor and his grandson Laurie. There are some plot modifications from the original (a few spoiler alerts): Jo comes out as gay; Beth gets leukemia and almost dies (whew!); Meg breaks up with Brooks and decides to pursue a career as a lawyer.  The theme of family love is still strong, though, and sustains all four girls as they make their way through a tumultuous year.  256 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As a big fan of the original novel, I enjoyed seeing how Terciero stayed true to the essence of the story while realistically updating just about everything.  Even those who haven’t read Alcott’s work will enjoy the story and the touching relationship among all the family members.

Cons:  Meg and Jo’s letters to their father at the beginning of the story, designed to get the reader up to speed on the family’s history, came across as awkward and sounding like their father had lost his memory or something.

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


New Kid by Jerry Craft

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Jordan Banks’ true love is art, and he’d love to be starting seventh grade at an art school, but his parents have a different idea.  They’ve enrolled him in Riverdale Academy Day School, an exclusive, mostly white private school where Jordan is one of the few students of color.  The story follows him from his first day to his last, as he tries to strike a balance between his new friends at Riverdale and old friends from his Washington Heights neighborhood.  Jordan is a smart and observant kid, and the story reflects his observations about the assumptions made about him and other African American and Latinx kids. He also has some of his own beliefs challenged about some of his white classmates.  By the end of the year, he’s feeling more comfortable at school, has kept his connections back home, and is ready for another year at Riverdale, the story of which we can hope will be told in a sequel. 256 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  Jerry Craft tackles racism head-on, but with a light enough touch to make an entertaining and engaging story with a likable protagonist. I feel confident in predicting that this will fly off whatever library shelves it is placed on.  Put it in the hands of fans of realistic graphic novel authors like Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Jennifer Holm.

Cons:  There were a lot of characters to keep track of, which somehow is always more difficult for me in a graphic novel.  

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


A Story About Cancer (With a Happy Ending) by India Desjardins, illustrated by Marianne Ferrer, translated by Solange Ouellet

Published by Lincoln Children’s Books

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Summary:  A 15-year-old girl and her parents are walking through a hospital on their way to a doctor’s visit to learn if she is cancer-free or not.  As they go, she remembers everything that has happened in the five years since she was diagnosed with leukemia. Her friend and hospital roommate Maxine died.  She has met and fallen in love with a boy named Victor. She talks about her relationships with family members–how frustrated she has gotten when her mother calls her strong when she feels weak, and how she feels bad that she has gotten more attention than her younger sister.  Finally, they get to the doctor’s office. The reader doesn’t hear what the doctor says, only the family members’ reactions–the girl and her mother cry, while her father pats her on the shoulder, unable to express his emotions. It’s only when she gets outside and sees Victor waiting that she tells him and the rest of us the good news: “I’m cured!”  Includes an author’s note about the girl who inspired this story. 96 pages; grades 6-9.

Pros:  This illustrated/graphic book is a quick but powerful read.  Despite the spoiler title, you’ll still feel the anxiety of the family as they await the doctor.  Cancer patients and their friends and families will benefit from hearing the perspective of a girl who has been through treatment and encouraged by her happy ending.

Cons:  I wasn’t a big fan of the somewhat surreal illustration style.

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

Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Max serves as Uncle Budrick’s apprentice, learning to be a troubadour, but really wants to be a knight instead. When the two arrive at the city of Byjovia, Uncle Budrick tells of his idyllic childhood there, under the rule of kindly King Conrad.  But when the two arrive, they discover that Conrad is missing, presumed dead, and that his evil brother Gastley has taken over. Most of the townspeople are under a spell that makes them nasty, but kids are immune.  Max and Uncle Budrick meet up with Kevyn, Simon, and Millie; Max reveals that she’s really a girl, and the five of them begin their adventures as the Midknights. They meet up with a wizard, zombies, dragons, and an evil sorceress who’s the real brains behind Gastley.  Eventually, they discover and rescue Conrad, and help him defeat his brother to take his rightful place on the throne once again. Having witnessed Max’s courage and fighting skills as well as Millie’s magic, Conrad decrees that boys AND girls are free to become whatever they want.  Kevyn aspires to be a writer; Millie will train as a magician; and Simon and Max head off to knight school, as all involved prepare for a happily-ever-after ending. 288 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This combination chapter book/graphic novel by the author of the popular Big Nate series is sure to be a huge hit across a wide spectrum of elementary readers.  

Cons:  Everything wraps up neatly at the end, and there’s no mention of a sequel in the book or on Amazon.

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