Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and A Journey to the New World by David Macaulay

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for crossing on time macaulay

Summary:  In September of 1957, David Macaulay left with his mother, sister, and brother to travel to America, where his father had been offered a new job.  Their mode of transportation was the SS United States, the fastest, most advanced steamship ever built.  Macaulay starts the story with himself at age 10 getting ready to go to America, then goes back to the 18th century and traces the history of steam power and the steamship.  The text is illustrated with his trademark detailed, technical drawings illuminating each page, including a six-panel foldout cutaway of the United States with 100 labeled parts.  The last chapter tells about his family’s journey and their move to New Jersey.  Includes an afterword, a timeline, and a list of selected reading. 128 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  If you’re interested in engineering, you will never go wrong with David Macaulay.  The personal connection to his family made the story interesting to non-techies like myself.  The illustrations range from amazing to truly mind-boggling, like the one of the ship described above.

Cons:  It will take a pretty dedicated shipping enthusiast to get through all the details in the text.

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Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for birds of a feather susan roth

Summary:  What does collage artist and illustrator Susan Roth have in common with the bowerbirds of Australia?  For starters, they are both collectors who like to use their collections in unusual ways. They both work in small spaces.  No two compositions are the same. And they both hope their finished works are greater than the sum of their parts. The comparisons are, not surprisingly, illustrated with collage art.  The last few pages give more facts about bowerbirds and how they work; how Susan works; and expanded information on how they are the same. Includes a photo of a bowerbird and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and unique, and the unusual comparison could be used as an inspiration for kids to find ways they are similar to other animals.

Cons:  It’s a little anthropomorphic to speculate what bowerbirds hope about their finished works.

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We Are the Change: Words of Inspiration from Civil Rights Leaders with an introduction by Harry Belafonte

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for we are the change belafonte amazon

Summary:  “So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.”  This quote from American Civil Liberties Union founder Roger Baldwin appears on the dedication page (the book is dedicated to the ACLU) and sets the tone for the book.  16 children’s book illustrators have each chosen a quotation to illustrate that captures the spirit of human rights, along with text explaining their choice. The last several pages include brief biographies of each illustrator.  48 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  A beautiful collection of inspiring quotes and art that could serve as a springboard for students to choose their own favorite quotations and illustrate them.  This would make a nice graduation gift.

Cons:  Sometimes the text appeared before the illustrations; other times it was after.  I found this format a little confusing.

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Mummies Exposed! (Creepy and True #1) by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Whether discovered in tombs, bogs, or ice, mummies give a unique glimpse into the past through the well-preserved bodies of ancient humans.  Some were intentionally mummified, like Egyptian kings, while others were mummified by the right combination of elements that prevented their flesh from decaying.  Each of the ten chapters tells the fascinating story of a different mummy–its discovery and the stories it tells. Sometimes it takes years to piece together theories of how a person or group of people met their end and wound up in a place where they were found centuries later.  There are plenty of gruesome photos, as well as a glossary, index, and extensive bibliography. 212 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The conversational tone, fascinating subject matter, and plethora of photos will make this a popular choice for middle schoolers.

Cons:  Although this is billed on Amazon as book #1 in the series Creepy and True, I couldn’t find any upcoming books in the series.

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Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg

Published by Creston Books

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Summary:  Born five months apart in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank grew up in very different circumstances on different continents.  Both experienced prejudice and discrimination, though, and both loved to learn and express their ideas through writing and speaking. Although Martin lived more than twice as many years as Anne, they both had their lives cut short by hatred.  And both left legacies of peace and love that continue to this day; includes a timeline and bibliography. 32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  This would be a perfect text to introduce a unit on people who have made a difference, or to encourage students to compare the lives of two famous people.  An inspiring book.

Cons:  An author’s note with more information about Anne and Martin would have been a nice addition.

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Beastly Puzzles: A Brain-Boggling Animal Guessing Game by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  “What animal can you make with dinosaur feet, several feather dusters, a lion-killing kick, black toenails, three billiard balls, the speed of a greyhound, and a hose?  Here’s a hint: This animal uses its wings to make sharp turns, quick stops, and zigzagging moves. But don’t look for it in the skies!” If you guessed an ostrich, good for you.  If you didn’t have a clue, you could unfold the gatefold page of this book to get the answer, plus an explanation of how all the parts help the animal. There are 13 animals in all.  The last page tells more about how early explorers described new animals that they found using parts of animals that were familiar to them (think duck-billed platypus). Includes a glossary.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This unique, beautifully illustrated book would be a fun read-aloud to get kids guessing all the animals.  Listeners will definitely want a closer look afterward to learn about the different features of each creature.

Cons:  These were tough…I only could figure out a couple without peeking.

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We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai

Published by Little, Brown and Company

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Summary:  Malala Yousafzai begins by telling the story of her own family’s displacement from their home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan.  As an internationally-known human rights activist, she has traveled around the world and met many others who have experienced displacement, and she shares nine of their stories (all girls and young women), as well as the story of Jennifer, a woman in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who has helped one of the families profiled.  The stories take place all over the world, in countries in Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. Malala concludes with a story of her family returning home, and wishes the same for those she has written about. Includes photos, a section on how you can help, and a little more information on where each of the young women is today.  224 pages; grades 6+ (there are many references to violence, but nothing too graphic; nothing that a mature fifth grader couldn’t handle).

Pros:  These stories will humanize the refugee crisis for readers who may have only thought about it in an abstract way.  The stories are compelling, and the subjects are close in age to middle and high school readers, sometimes even younger at the beginning of their journeys.  Their courage and determination will inspire kids to want to help others around the world.

Cons:  Some of the stories were only a few pages long and left me wanting to know more.

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