Summary: The first two pages in the book show the questions asked of each person: What is your name? How old are you? Where do you live? What makes you happy? People from all over the world from ages 1 to 100 are pictured with the answers to the questions. The last several pages give additional information about artist JR and his Inside Out Project that inspired this book. 216 pages; ages 1-100.
Pros: A fascinating look at how people appear at different ages and what makes them happy. Any child or adult will enjoy poring over this book and finding out more about the Inside Out Project.
Cons: The people all seemed so interesting, and there was only a little information about each one.
Summary: Divided into three sections–human body, animal kingdom, and earth and science–this book investigates life on earth through comic book-style stories about a day in the life of various things. From the profound (brain, blue whale, moon) to the profane (fart, pimple, dung beetle), these stories will educate and entertain many different types of kids. Includes a glossary. 128 pages; grades 2-6.
Pros: Both the format and the wide range of topics make this a very appealing book that is perfect for browsing.
Cons: There’s a little information on a lot of topics, so probably not the best for research.
Summary: International children’s advocate Warren Binford was shocked by his 2019 visit to the Clint Border Patrol Station in Texas where he found over 350 children locked in a warehouse, a loading dock, and overcrowded cells. After Donald Trump and Mike Pence refused to acknowledge the truth about Clint, Warren and his colleagues went on social media to ask artists, writers, faith leaders, and anyone else to help these children tell their stories. Project Amplify has resulted in songs, plays, billboards, works of art, and now this book, which is a collection of the children’s stories in their own words. Illustrated by 17 Latinx artists, the text is in both English and Spanish, and lets the kids tell why they left their countries for the U.S. and the deplorable conditions they experienced once they got here. Includes a foreword by Michael Garcia Bochenek of Human Rights Watch and several pages about Project Amplify and the book, including thumbnail portraits of each artist and questions to ask children about the text. 96 pages; ages 8 and up.
Pros: An incredibly powerful book, made more so by the amazing illustrations (some realistic and some more fantastic), and the back matter.
Cons: It’s hard to recommend an age group for this book. While I think there are plenty of elementary kids who would learn a lot from it, it should definitely be read with some adult guidance.
Summary: Each two-page spread has a watercolor illustration of the tree in its natural habitat with animals that live in or near it, a free-verse poem, and several paragraphs of information about the tree. The “wisdom” aspect of trees is emphasized, showing the remarkable ways trees defend themselves, maintain Earth’s balance, and even communicate with each other. Includes an author’s note; additional information about each tree in the book and the future of forests; how to help forests; glossary; and sources. 48 pages; grades 3-6.
Pros: This gorgeous science book has some pretty mind-blowing information about trees that scientists are just beginning to discover. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for trees, and it will undoubtedly have the same effect on younger readers.
Cons: It will take a pretty dedicated tree enthusiast to get through the entire book. But the good news is, if this tree book doesn’t grab you, there are a couple dozen more to choose from this year.
Summary: A ruby throated hummingbird narrates a year in his life, starting on May 15 when he hatches out of an egg. A few weeks later, he’s ready to fly, and spends the summer sipping nectar and fighting/playing with the other hummingbirds. August 22: “I’m hearing a lot of chatter about a big trip soon.” In September, he heads to Mexico, where he stays until the end of February. By May 4, he’s back home again, and thinking about finding a mate. Includes additional information about hummingbirds on both the front and back endpapers, as well as a glossary and a list of sources and recommended reading. 40 pages; ages 4-9.
Pros: Paul Meisel and Holiday House have teamed up for a number of I Like to Read books, and this series feels like it could appeal to the same audience. There’s just a sentence or two of text on each page, and the diary format makes it engaging and fun. Yet there’s plenty of back matter that could make this a great research resource for older kids. There are three other books in this series, which started in 2018.
Cons: As you may recall, I’m not a big fan of using the endpapers for additional information. Fortunately, the book I got from the library didn’t have a dust jacket, so nothing was covered up.
Summary: A butterfly tells readers that “everyone knows that butterflies are pretty.” If that’s as much as you want to know about butterflies, you’re warned not to read any further. But, of course, who can resist? Keep going, and you’ll learn that butterflies can be drab, noisy, and eat rotten food or poop. Some are stinky, sneaky, and all are shape-shifters, turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly. They taste with their feet and drink other animals’ tears. Butterflies are gross, they are amazing, AND they are beautiful…just like humans! Includes additional information about the butterfly species in the book. 36 pages; grades K-4.
Pros: This is a fun approach that is a nice counterbalance to more traditional butterfly books. I used to teach in a school where there was a second grade field trip to The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA, and there were always one or two kids who were completely freaked out by butterflies. They might enjoy having their phobias validated by this book.
Cons: Honestly, I was hoping for something a little bit grosser.
Summary: On November 24, 1971, a man named Dan Cooper boarded a flight from Portland, Oregon to Seattle. Six hours later, that man parachuted out of the back of the plane with $200,000 strapped to him. No trace of him has ever been found, and only a small portion of the money has been recovered ($5,800 was discovered by a 10-year-old boy in 1980 when he was camping with his family in the woods of Washington). The details of what happened that day are retold here with brief text, illustrations, and primary documents such as Cooper’s boarding pass and the transcript from the plane alerting the authorities about the hijacking. Includes half a dozen photos and a list of sources. 104 pages; grades 3-7.
Pros: It’s hard to imagine a kid unimaginative enough not to be intrigued by this mystery (and gobsmacked that in 1971 you could walk into an airport with a bomb, buy a ticket for $20, and saunter onto a plane unchecked). The graphic format is appealing, but it’s also well-written nonfiction, with theories put forth and then carefully debunked, primary documents, and an impressive list of sources. Look for book 2, Jailbreak at Alcatraz, coming in early September.
Cons: The font, designed to look like it was made with a typewriter that needs a new ribbon, feels authentic but is not necessarily the easiest for kids to read.
Summary: When the narrator’s sister calls the nursery to order “a trillium, please”, the worker there hears “a trillion trees”. Before long, the first installment–a thousand saplings–is delivered to their house. The whole family races to plant the trees all over town, identifying many of them as they go. Exhausted, they return home, only to face the next delivery arriving. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: This follow-up to Billions of Bricks has the same fun rhyming text and big numbers incorporated into the story. There’s some good information on trees here as well as plenty of humor tied to the impossibility of the family’s tree-planting situation.
Cons: The lack of back matter about trees and/or large numbers.
Summary: These two books arrived in the library for me from interlibrary loan land on the same day. Walking Toward Peace is the story of Mildred Lisette Norman, who had a vision of walking across the U.S. advocating for peace in the aftermath of World War II. She changed her name to Peace Pilgrim, and from 1953 until her death in 1981, walked through all 50 states, handing out flyers and talking to people about ending war and living in peace. Remarkably, she never carried any money with her, relying on her knowledge of outdoor living and, to a great extent, the kindness of people she encountered on the road.
Peace draws on Baptiste and Miranda Paul’s experiences growing up in war-torn Mozambique. With simple rhyming text (“Peace is pronouncing your friend’s name correctly/Peace means we talk to each other directly”) and pictures of kids and animals living harmoniously, the book offers concrete actions for fostering peace. The authors’ note explains how war affects not only humans, but animals and the natural world as well. Both books are 40 pages and recommended for ages 4-8.
Pros: I’ve heard about Peace Pilgrim for years, so I was happy to learn about this new book. Her story is sure to intrigue both children and adults, and is a moving testimony to following your own path in life (literally, in her case). Peace would make a great follow-up book to read, with its emphasis on how peace is important to animals as well as humans, something that will resonate with a lot of kids. I loved the simple actions described, and the illustrations, especially the beautiful tree on the endpapers, with the word “peace” written in different languages on its leaves.
Cons: It seems like an ironic bummer that Peace Pilgrim was killed in an accident while riding in a car at the age of 72, and did not live to see the end of the Cold War.
Summary: The narrative begins long ago when nomads traveled through Europe and Asia, fighting wolves for their prey. A girl meets a young wolf and they play together until the pup gets older. This cycle is repeated throughout history, with the bond between child and pup growing, and the certainty that their friendship can’t last becoming less. In the last iteration, the human group packs up and leaves the area, the boy calls to his wolf friend, “and Dog left the wolf pack to follow his boy away.” The last spread shows a contemporary girl and puppy meeting for the first time. Includes two pages of back matter giving additional information on how dogs became domesticated and a bibliography. 40 pages; ages 4-8.
Pros: Dog lovers will be intrigued by the progression of domestication over thousands of years. The illustrations seem simple with cartoon-inspired characters, but also include gorgeous backgrounds portraying the natural world. The back matter adds to the research value and will make the book more interesting to older kids.
Cons: The process of domestication is very simplified.