Close Calls: How Eleven U.S. Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death by Michael P. Spradlin

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of ...

Summary:  These stories relate how eleven United States presidents narrowly escaped death, either before their administration or during it.  Quite a few are war stories, including George Washington in the American Revolution, and John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George H. W. Bush, and Gerald Ford in World War II.  A few were assassination attempts on sitting presidents: Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan.  The story of Abraham Lincoln is how rumors of assassination were thwarted while Lincoln traveled to Washington, D.C. after he was elected president.  Each story includes at least one sidebar with information on a topic related to the main narrative.  Includes a list of sources and an index.  128 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  These exciting survival stories with some name recognition of at least the most famous presidents will surely entice some reluctant readers to sample some nonfiction.  Each chapter is relatively short with plenty of action.

Cons:  Not a single photo, and some of the stories (Kennedy, Carter, Reagan) have no dates.

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Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Greenwillow Books Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet (9780062893314 ...

Summary:  “Rectangle. Right angle. Window. Wall. A windy canyon where shadows fall.”  The simple rhyming text is accompanied by several photos on each page showing urban landscapes.  Building, vehicles, and other structures focus on shapes, angles, functions, and art.  The last couple pages discuss how to find science, technology, engineering, math, and art in the city.  A list of 40 questions encourages readers to observe what they see in the city with an inquiring mind.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  April Pulley Sayre works her usual magic with her combination of interesting photographs and brief rhyming text.  She moves in a different direction with this book, away from her usual nature topics, and into the city and human-built structures.  There’s a lot to absorb in both the book and the questions at the end, and kids will come away from this book observing their surroundings in a whole new way.

Cons:  Some of the topics seemed somewhat abstract.  On the other hand, this could make the book an interesting read for older kids as well.

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Solar System by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Solar System: By The Numbers - Kindle edition by Jenkins, Steve ...

Summary:  Using illustrations, graphs, and diagrams, Steve Jenkins explores the solar system, including the sun, moon, planets, comets, and asteroids.  Comparisons are made of size, climate, gravity, and other features of the different planets, using visuals to make the facts easier to grasp.  Humans’ exploration of the solar system is also shown, with a timeline of solar system discoveries, animals sent to space, and more.  There’s also a page speculating on life in the solar system, and one showing the frequency and effects of different-sized asteroids crashing into Earth.  Includes a glossary and bibliography.  40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  How did Steve Jenkins’s biggest fangirl (as I’m occasionally known) miss this new infographics series?  Dinosaurs and Earth came out last year, and Insects was published simultaneously with Solar SystemAnimals by the Numbers is one of my favorite nonfiction books to book talk.  Just showing kids a page or two sends a bunch of them clamoring for more, so I look forward to sharing these books with science fans.

Cons:  These seem to be marketed as readers for kids starting in first grade, but I think they will find more of an audience with slightly older readers.

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All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu

Published by Carolrhoda Books

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing after the Oklahoma ...

Q&A with Chris Barton – BookPeople

Summary:  “Sometimes bad things happen, and you have to tell everyone.  Sometimes terrible things happen and everybody knows.  One April morning in 1995, one of those terrible things happened in Oklahoma City.”  How do you tell the story of the Oklahoma City bombing to a picture book audience?  Answer: in a straightforward manner, with an emphasis on different losses and emotions different people experienced (“Some lost friends, neighbors….Some who survived had bodies broken in ways large and small….Some who rushed into help saw horrible things they would never forget”).  But also with an emphasis on healing, helping (and getting help), and moving on.  At the center of this part of the story is the Survivor Tree, an elm that survived the bombing and flourished in the years afterward, providing seedlings that have been planted far and wide.  Those seedlings have grown into trees and produced seedlings of their own, making the spread of trees an apt metaphor for the spread of help and comfort that has come from the survivors of this tragedy.  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes; a list of people interviewed for the book, along with their connections to the bombing; and a list of recommended resources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The Oklahoma City bombing doesn’t seem that long ago…until I look at my 25-year-old daughter who was born seven weeks afterward.  This book does an admirable job of introducing kids to the event, which they may never have heard of.  The illustrations are appropriately subdued; the faceless people in the pictures and the emphasis on grief and healing also make this a story to be read in conjunction with other difficult situations.

Cons:  Readers looking for a lot of information on the actual bombing will need to pursue some of the resources at the end.

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Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello/Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown, illustrated by Elisa Chavarri

Published by Children’s Book Press (Released August 18)

Sharuko: El Arqueólogo Peruano Julio C. Tello / Peruvian ...

Summary:  Born in Peru in 1880, Julio Tello grew up in an indigenous community, speaking Quecha, the language of the Inca Empire.  His adventurous nature earned him the Quecha nickname Sharuko, meaning “brave”.  He and his brother discovered bones, pottery, and even some human skulls as they explored the foothills of the Andes.  At 12, he went to live with his aunt and study in Lima, eventually graduating from medical school.  After getting a degree in anthropology and archaeology from Harvard, he worked as an archaeologist at the Museum of Natural History in Lima.  His archaeological discoveries showed that indigenous cultures had existed in Peru more than 3,000 years ago, refuting the theories that these cultures originated in Mexico or Central America.  He became director of the new Museum of Anthropology, where he was able to share his discoveries with Peruvians, transforming their understanding of their history.  Includes maps; an afterword, illustrator’s note, and list of sources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  Written in both Spanish and English, this story shines a light on Peruvian history and a man who single-handedly helped rewrite it.  The colorful illustrations feature some of the art and artifacts Tello helped discover.

Cons:  Readers will need some background knowledge to appreciate the story; although the format is a picture book, this will probably appeal more to older elementary and even middle school kids.

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All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team by Christina Soontornvat

Published by Candlewick Press (released October 30)

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer ...

Summary:  In the summer of 2018, the entire world watched as rescue teams struggled to save the twelve members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach who were stuck inside the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand.  This book tells the story from the beginning, when this close-knit group of boys ranging in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach decided to take a trip to the cave one day after practice.  After the cave unexpectedly flooded, an international team of cavers and divers were called in to figure out the best rescue strategy: pump out the water, drill into the side of the cave, or dive and swim the team out.  In the end, the dive and swim strategy was used, and as the story unfolds, the reader finds out it was nothing short of a miracle that all thirteen were rescued (although a Thai Navy SEAL died delivering oxygen tanks a couple days before the rescue procedure began).  Sidebars give more information about Thailand, caves, and Buddhism (the coach spent much of his life in Buddhist monasteries, and his teachings on meditation helped everyone stay calm inside the cave).  Includes an author’s note that tells of her connection to the story (she was visiting family in Thailand during the rescue); extensive source notes, a bibliography, and an index.  288 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  I didn’t think anything could compel me to read a 288-page book on my phone, but once I started reading this story, I couldn’t stop.  The boys and especially their coach are likeable from page 1, and the rescuers endure hunger, sleep deprivation, and what sounded like a really disgusting foot fungus condition to accomplish something that seemed impossible from beginning to end.  The numerous photos draw the reader in, and the sidebars add to the content, and remind me that I’d really like to visit Thailand someday.

Cons:  This book appears to be retailing for almost $25.00.

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I’m Trying to Love Rocks by Bethany Barton

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

I'm Trying to Love Rocks: Barton, Bethany: 9780451480958: Amazon ...

I'm Trying to Love Rocks by Barton, Bethany -

Summary:  The author of three other I’m Trying to Love… books makes seemingly dull, boring rocks come alive with a spirited girl narrator who corrects the off-the-page speaker by showing how rocks tell interesting stories.  She identifies the three types of rocks, explaining how each kind is formed, and goes on to show examples of work geologists do that kids will relate to.  She makes a brief plug for scientists in general, “Science isn’t about having the answers–it’s about asking questions.”  A careful examination of the end papers indicates that her mission has been accomplished: the front papers show a bunch of rocks, each one labeled “rock”, while the end ones have each rock correctly labeled.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another lively, informative entry in this series, with plenty of humor, bright cartoon-style illustrations and comic bubble dialogue. This would make a perfect introduction to a unit on rocks for preschool and primary grades.

Cons:  No back matter. 

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The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the World by Jessica Dee Humphries and the Hon. Rona Ambrose, illustrated by Simone Shin

Published by Kids Can Press (Released September 1)

The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the ...

Summary:  In 2011, the United Nations declared that October 11 would be an annual day of recognition for girls around the world–the International Day of the Girl.  This book tells the stories of nine (fictional) girls from all over the world who experienced gender inequality, and took action to remedy it.  Each one is introduced by name and a personality trait (“This is Abuya.  She is creative”), then tells a brief version of her story, including a sidebar about the more global issue it connects to.  For instance, in Kenya,  Abuya overheard her older sister asking to stay home from school because there was no girls’ bathroom.  Assisted by her father, Abuya used her carpentry skills to build an outhouse.  The sidebar describes the issue of providing safe bathroom facilities so girls are able to get an education.  An illustration accompanies each story.  Includes a timeline of events leading to the creation of the International Day of the Girl and further information about each of the issues facing girls addressed in the book.  32 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This was the first I had heard of the International Day of the Girl, and this introduction explains many of the issues affecting girls around the world in a way that readers will understand and connect with.  The introduction uses the metaphor of a garden that’s been divided into two halves, with one half receiving all the nurturing and attention.  The colorful illustrations continue that metaphor, and the last page encourages kids to “be the world’s gardener”.  Another excellent entry in the CitizenKid series.

Cons:  A map showing where the different girls live around the world and some additional resources would have been useful additions.

A Rainbow of Rocks by Kate DePalma

Published by Barefoot Books

A Rainbow of Rocks: DePalma, Kate: 9781782859925: Books

A Rainbow of Rocks | Ages 3-7 | Barefoot Books

Summary:  Each page features two rocks of the same color on a black background with rhyming text to identify them (“Pyrite cubes reflect the light. Calcite is glassy–edged with white.”).  After going through red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and rainbow-colored, the author concludes, “Rocks in every shape and hue. Each one’s different, just like you!”  The final three pages contain five questions about rocks and minerals with fairly in-depth answers.  24 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The photos of are gorgeous, and the back matter provides a good introduction to rocks and minerals.

Cons:  There feels like a disconnect between the rhyming text, which seems most appropriate for preschoolers, and the back matter, which would work for kids up to age 10 or so.

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Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by Laura Perdew, illustrated by Katie Mazeika

Published by Nomad Press (released August 13)

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations by ...

Stink Fights, Earwax, and Other Marvelous Mammal Adaptations ...

Summary:  Beginning with four haiku about adaptation, the author then moves to a one-page explanation of what animal adaptation is.  From there, it’s a look at individual animals who have interesting adaptations:  ring-tailed lemurs’ stink fights and whales’ earwax from the title, as well as elephants’ ears, star-nosed moles’ noses, giant anteaters’ tongues, and more.  Each two-page spread includes an illustration and a few sentences describing the adaptation and how it helps that animal.  Includes an activity to explore how humans adapt; a page called “Connections” which is a list of fun facts about mammals; and a glossary.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun introduction to animal adaptation (specifically mammals) with playful illustrations and facts that are sure to pique the interest of young readers.

Cons:  There’s not a lot of information or additional resources; some facts, like “Elephants have an excellent sense of smell” don’t get any additional explanation.

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