Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  A man arrives at a lighthouse to take his new job as its keeper.  A cutaway illustration shows him busy, tending the light, painting the walls, and cooking food.  Despite his activity, he’s lonely, and often writes messages that he puts in bottles and tosses into the sea.  After awhile, a tender arrives, bringing supplies and the man’s wife.  They are happy together in the lighthouse, and eventually they’re joined by a third person, their new daughter.  Several years later, electricity comes to the lighthouse, and the family moves away.  A fold-out final page shows a little house on the coast, lights from its windows shining to meet the light coming from their old lighthouse home.  Includes additional information about lighthouses and the people who kept them going.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A lovely blend of fact and fiction, Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall makes life in a lighthouse seem indescribably cozy, while presenting each scene creatively (I especially admired the lighthouse cutaway, the shipwreck, and the circular images of the wife in labor).  Hello, my new favorite picture book of 2018!

Cons:  I suspect real life in a lighthouse was not this idyllic.  This sentence in the author’s note about foghorns particularly caught my attention: “Some lighthouse keepers learned to sleep through the din of the horn; others nearly went mad when the fog lasted for days.”

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Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  In a first-person narration, the Mars rover Curiosity tells her story, beginning before she was built, when scientists at NASA started designing probes to learn more about Mars.  Curiosity (she was named by a sixth grader from Kansas) was to be larger and more advanced than any of the previous probes.  Labeled illustrations show the processes of designing and building her in Los Angeles, then flying her to Florida, where she was launched on November 26, 2011.  After 253 days of space travel and a somewhat precarious landing, Curiosity began the work of exploring Mars that she continues today.  Includes additional information about Mars rovers, a timeline, and a glossary.  56 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The personification of the rover makes it accessible for elementary school kids; the text, illustrations, and labeled diagrams provide a lot of information.

Cons:  Two design issues: the book is so large it feels a bit unwieldy, and some of the black-on-blue or blue-on-black type/background combinations are difficult to read.

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In the Past by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Twenty poems are illustrated with oversized paintings of a variety of prehistoric creatures from the trilobite (“So many of you./So long ago./So much above you./Little below.”) to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  (You thought/(if you could think)/you’d live forever./The great T. rex/would never die!/But even kings/are vanquished/when stars fall/from the sky.”).  Early mammals like the smilodon (a.k.a. Saber-tooth tiger) and mammoth are included.  Each illustration is labeled with the geological period when that animal lived.  Back matter includes a note from the author and information about the animals that inspired the poems. 48 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Dinosaur fans will love the giant (and appropriately ferocious) illustrations as well as the brief, funny poems.

Cons:  Additional scientific information on each page would have made some of the poems more understandable.

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Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination by Dave McGillivray, with Nancy Feehrer, illustrated by Ron Himler

Published by Nomad Press

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Summary:  As a child, Dave McGillivray aspired to be an athlete, but he was too small for most sports.  On his 12th birthday, he decided to try a new sport, running, and ended up running 12 miles.  Encouraged by his grandfather, he ran 13 miles on his 13th birthday, and continued that pattern for four more years.  At age 17, he announced he was ready for the Boston Marathon, but his lack of training caught up with him, and he collapsed at mile 18.  His grandfather encouraged him again, advising him that big dreams require hard work, and Dave promised him he’d cross the finish line the following year.  Sadly, his grandfather died before that marathon, and Dave almost gave up before the end of the race.  Taking a break at mile 21, he realized he was resting next to his grandfather’s cemetery.  This inspired him to finish the race, and he has continued to run it every year since.  Now he runs it two ways, as the director of the race and as the final runner, traversing the course at night after everyone else has finished.  Includes a challenge to run 26 miles, read 26 books, and do 26 acts of kindness in 26 weeks.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Just in time for marathon day, this inspiring story encourages kids to work hard and challenge themselves in a variety of ways.

Cons:  Reading 26 books seems a LOT easier than running 26 miles.

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The Boo-Boos That Changed the World: A True Story About an Accidental Invention (Really!) by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Iris Hsu

Published by Charlesbridge

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Summary:  When Earle Dickson married Josephine in 1917, he noticed she was accident prone, often cutting or burning herself in the kitchen, then trying to clean up with the nearest rag.  As the son of a doctor, Earle didn’t want her injuries to get infected, so he stuck some sterile gauze on a long strip of adhesive tape.  Josephine would cut off what she needed to bandage her wound.  Earle convinced his boss, James Johnson, to mass produce these bandages, calling them Band-Aids, but they didn’t really catch on until they were turned into individually-wrapped bandages and distributed for free to Boy Scouts and World War II soldiers.  After the war, Band-Aids really took off, and today they come in all kinds of sizes and designs and are used around the world.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, and additional resources.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute story of the invention of something we all take for granted with appealing illustrations that have the feel of a retro magazine ad.

Cons:  I didn’t really enjoy reading about the details of Josephine’s kitchen injuries.

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Midnight Teacher: Lilly Ann Granderson and Her Secret School by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by London Ladd

Published by Lee and Low

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Summary:  As a young child working in the master’s house, Lilly Ann Cox was sometimes included in games of school with the other children.  She learned how to read and write, and enjoyed teaching other slaves when the master’s family went visiting on Sundays.  When the master died, Lilly was sold to a plantation in Mississippi, where she was forced to work in the cotton fields, often beaten for not being able to keep up.  When she became ill, she was moved into the kitchen.  On her trips to the market, Lilly discovered an abandoned cabin, and eventually opened a school there.  Slaves would sneak out in the middle of the night.  The penalty if they were caught was 39 lashes with a whip; however, when they were finally found out seven years later, they were miraculously allowed to keep the school going with no punishment.  After the Civil War, Lilly married and raised three children, while continuing her career as a teacher.  An afterword describes her work in greater detail and how it positively influenced her descendants, including great-grandson Charles C. Diggs, Jr., who became a Congressman and helped found the Congressional Black Caucus.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fascinating story about one woman’s courage to improve the lives of others that had an impact for generations after her.  The acrylic paintings nicely illustrate Lilly’s story.

Cons:  Be prepared to answer questions about Lilly’s difficult days working in the cotton fields of Mississippi.

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The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Maria Merian faced some tough obstacles to studying science in the 17th century, not the least of which was the risk of being painfully executed for practicing witchcraft.  Fortunately, she had a supportive family who was pretty tolerant of her obsession with insects.  Her father was a printer and engraver; after he died, she had an artist stepfather.  Both included her in the family business, and Maria used her artistic skills to capture what she observed in nature.  She set about disproving the theory of spontaneous generation by studying the life cycles of as many moths and butterflies as she could.  As an adult she produced books of her subjects, usually in their natural habitats, making connections between plants and animals that few of her contemporaries observed.  In her 50’s, she traveled with her daughter to Suriname, where she was among the first European naturalists.  Her final masterpiece, an illustrated guide to the insects and plants she observed there, was well-received throughout Europe and influenced John James Audubon and other naturalists more than a century later.  Includes an author’s note, timeline, bibliography, and index.  160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A fascinating biography of a woman who was many centuries ahead of her time, balancing family and running a household with her art and science careers.  Her paintings and engravings throughout the book are almost unbelievably detailed and realistic.  Newbery poet Joyce Sidman named each chapter for a stage of a butterfly’s life and wrote an appropriate poem for each.

Cons:  While the book seems like it could appeal to third and fourth graders (only 120 pages of text and lots of pictures), the subject matter makes it more appropriate for grades 5-8.

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