Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harve, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  Maya Lin grew up surrounded by nature, books, and parents “who never told her what to be or how to think”, having left China to escape that kind of doctrine.  Maya loved to create, inspired by her artist father and poet mother.  In college, she decided to study architecture, combining her love of art, science, and math.  When she was a senior, she entered a contest to design a memorial for the Vietnam War.  Her entry was selected from 1,421 others.  When the judges found out how young she was, they were shocked, and many felt that another design should be chosen.  Maya persisted, however, and her dream of a beautiful black wall with the names of those who died in the Vietnam War became a reality. It was the first of many art-architecture installations that Maya continues to create today.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Maya Lin and the memorial.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A quiet, beautiful work about a talented artist who persisted in bringing her creation to fruition.  The digital watercolors by first-time illustrator Phumiruk perfectly capture tone of the book and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Cons:  This only touches on details of Lin’s life, and is not a complete biography.

Moonwalk: The Story of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing by David Jenkins, illustrated by Adrian Buckley

Published by Circa Press

Summary:  48 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.  This book looks at what happened each day of that Apollo 11 mission.  It begins with a bit of context to clarify the importance of the mission, then starts in on July 15, 1969 as people are arriving to camp out and witness takeoff the next morning.  Each two-page spread covers one aspect of the journey, with a paragraph of information and a large digitally enhanced photo.  The excitement builds as the various parts of the trip unfold, climaxing with Neil Armstrong’s one small step onto the moon on July 20.  The final page shows the New York City ticker tape parade a few weeks later, celebrating the triumphant return of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  The final two pages include a collection of interesting facts.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent combination of exciting storytelling and clear explanations of the more technical parts of the space voyage.  The illustrations provide a you-are-there feeling.

Cons:  Some back matter like a bibliography or resource list would have been a nice addition.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

Published by Readers to Eaters

Summary:  Roy Choi’s family moved from South Korea to Los Angeles when he was two.  He grew up exploring the streets of L.A. and coming home to his mom’s delicious Korean cuisine.  After graduating from culinary school, Roy became a chef in a fancy restaurant.  When he lost his job, he decided to partner up with a friend and open a taco truck with a Korean twist.  The Kogi Korean taco trucks were a hit, and Roy built on this success by starting the Locol restaurant in the Watts neighborhood of L.A.  He continues to expand his culinary offerings, bringing his cooking to as many different types of places and people as he can.  Includes notes from both authors and the illustrator, as well as a bibliography and list of resources.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The third collaboration between Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Readers to Eaters, this mouth-watering, fast-paced biography is designed to inspire kids to cook and eat new foods.  The graffiti-influenced illustrations are the perfect complement for this ode to the city streets.

Cons:  You’ll be craving a Korean taco before you’re halfway through this book.

Martina and Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Published by Candlewick Press

Summary:  During the 1970’s and 1980’s, women’s tennis was dominated by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.  Although they were staunch competitors and from countries that were engaged in a cold war (the U.S. and Soviet Union-controlled Czechoslovakia), the two were friends off the court and remain so to this day.  In the early years, Chrissie won the most; then Martina got more serious, and was ultimately victorious more times over the course of their careers.  But the important takeaway from their rivalry isn’t winning or losing, but how each one pushed and encouraged the other to be a better player and a better person.  Includes a three-page annotated timeline, a paragraph about both women’s lives after tennis, and a page of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The fast-paced, chatty writing will engage readers who may have never heard of these two tennis superstars from a generation ago.  Lessons on hard work and good sportsmanship can effortlessly be extracted from their story.  And don’t worry, Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Helquist has rendered both players more Violet Baudelaire than Count Olaf.

Cons:  “The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports” is arguably a bit of an overstatement.

The Quest for Z: The True Story of Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli

Published by Viking

Summary:  British explorer Percy Fawcett was fascinated by stories of a mythical city that had thrived in the Amazon rain forest, then mysteriously disappeared.  He called the city “Z”, and he was determined to find it.  For many years, he worked as a member of the Royal Geographic Society, surveying areas in Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru. He had many dangerous adventures on these expeditions, including a close encounter with a huge anaconda and the discovery of a missing member of his party with 42 arrows in his body (he was dead).  He heard more stories from the locals about the lost city of Z, and became obsessed with finding it.  The Royal Geographic Society wouldn’t support such a wild goose chase, so Fawcett organized a trip himself, taking only his son Jack and Jack’s friend Raleigh.  They set off for unknown territory in the Brazilian jungles, and (spoiler alert) were never seen again.  To this day, other explorers have tried to find out what happened to them, but their fate remains a mystery, and the city of Z has never been discovered.  Includes an author’s note, a page of “Fawcett hunters” describing other explorers who have tried to find out what happened to Percy Fawcett, a glossary, and a page of sources.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A perfect addition to a unit on explorers.  Fawcett’s story is compelling, but ultimately tragic, not unlike some of the better-known European explorers.  The cartoon-inspired illustrations add some fun, and sidebars provide context to the explorer’s life.

Cons:  Fawcett definitely seems to be a product of his time, with his stiff upper lip British Empire approach to exploration.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Sharks can seem scary, but a world without sharks is even scarier.  Because they’re at the top of the food chain, they keep the populations of their prey in balance.  By feeding on weaker animals, they allow the stronger ones to reproduce and survive.  Williams makes the case that removing sharks from the ecosystem could ultimately destroy the oceans and all the animals that depend on it for life–including humans.  The final two pages include additional information on why sharks are in trouble and what kids can do to help save them.  Also includes a glossary and bibliography; labeled drawings of a variety of shark species are included on the endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A simple yet scientific explanation of the interconnectedness of all species.  The focus on sharks will make this a popular choice for kids.

Cons:  The destruction of all life on earth is kind of a downer.

Apex Predators by Steve Jenkins

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary:  After a one-page explanation of what an apex predator is (animals at the top of their food chain), Jenkins launches into his trademark cut-paper illustrations with facts about various apex predators, past and present.  He starts with several modern-day animals, then works his way backward through time, from the giant short-faced bear (extinct 11,000 years ago) to the Anomalacaris (strange shrimp) that’s been extinct for 500 million years.  On the last two pages, he shows a couple imagined face-offs between living and extinct animals.  Who would win–the Siberian tiger or the Utahraptor?  The great white shark or the Dunkleasteus?  There’s also a sidebar about the deadliest predator of all times; bet you can guess what that is.  Includes a brief bibliography and a list of websites.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Jenkins has produced another collection of amazing illustrations and kid-friendly facts.  Readers will wish for more of the “Who would win?” scenarios…maybe they could learn about some of the apex predators and create their own.

Cons:  After reading many Steve Jenkins books, some of his facts sound familiar.