A Time to Act: John F. Kennedy’s Big Speech by Shana Corey, Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Published by NorthSouth Books

Summary:  Young John F. Kennedy didn’t always do well in school, and he was often sick.  But as he grew up and studied history, he became interested in the meaning of courage and how he could help others in the world. When his older brother Joe died in World War II, Jack became the focus of his family’s political ambitions.  When he was elected President, he quickly took action in a number of areas, like establishing the Peace Corps and starting the space race.  But he was less decisive on civil rights.  African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jackie Robinson pressured him to act more forcefully, but it wasn’t until he saw young people around the country marching and going to jail that he found the courage to speak up.  The “big speech” of the title is his civil rights address, given June 11, 1963, that ultimately led to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Readers are encouraged at the end of the book to take action like those who inspired JFK to make this famous speech.  An author’s note gives more background; there are also thumbnail profiles of other famous people in the book and additional resources.  56 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An inspirational story of the many accomplishments of John F. Kennedy, as well as a look at an area he where he was slow to act, and how others’ deeds finally led him to do the right thing.  The bold paintings complement the bold actions of the narrative.

Cons:  For a picture book, there’s a lot of content for readers to understand.

Moto and Me: My Year As a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids

Summary:  While trying to rescue her kittens from a fire, Moto’s mother was scared by a truck and dropped one of them in the road.  The tourists on the truck didn’t see the mother.  Thinking they were rescuing the tiny serval, they took it to a ranger station.  By the time they got there, the ranger knew Moto’s mother would never take her kitten back, so he was given to Suzi Eszterhas, who was working as a wildlife photographer.  She became his foster mom, taking care of him, but also making sure that he followed his instincts and learned how to live in the wild.  As Moto grew up, he spent increasingly long periods of time in the wild until one day he didn’t return.  Eszterhas feared the worst, but a week later, she spotted him, and he came over to her jeep to greet her.  He was seen again several times by rangers, and Suzi knew she had succeeded as a serval foster mom.  Includes a page of facts about servals.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An engaging nonfiction narrative that kids could read for either pleasure or research.  Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer, so the many photos are cute and captivating.

Cons:  I’m not really sure how to pronounce “serval”.

Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale, illustrated by Eleanor Shakespeare

Published by Annick Press

Summary:  Sixty five million people worldwide have been forced to leave their homes due to war, persecution, or natural disaster. Many of them, including a large number of children, are seeking refuge in countries in Europe and North America.  This book profiles five refugee kids from Germany, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Ivory Coast over the last 60 years.  They have undertaken dangerous journeys by boat, been attacked by pirates, been turned back from their original destinations, and have often arrived in an unknown place with little more than the clothes on their backs.  Yet each one has worked hard and become a productive citizen of his or her new country.  Each profile includes the narrative of the subject, much of it in his or her own words, a timeline of the journey, and a “What happened to?” section that tells the happy ending to each story.  Includes timelines and a list of resources.  64 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Readers will empathize with the refugees’ stories, and by extension, the plight of refugees everywhere.  Fans of the “I Survived” series will find these suspenseful real-life survival tales riveting reading.  The collage illustrations add interest.

Cons:  There are some disturbing, like the 14-year-old girls from Vietnam who are taken off the boat by marauding pirates.

Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Published by Chronicle Books

Summary:  Pity the poor children growing up in early eighteenth century England.  Although there were plenty of books around for adults, kids only got preachy poems, sermons, and books of rules about manners and such.  Fortunately for them, a young printer named John Newbery thought they deserved better.  The fact that his books were entitled A Little Pretty Pocket-Book and The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes and became overnight bestsellers demonstrates what a deplorable condition children’s literature was in at that time.  John continued to work throughout his career to produce popular books for kids, and we remember him every January when the Newbery Medal is awarded to the book that has made “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”.  An author’s note gives additional biographical information.  44 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A lighthearted look at the life of a man whose name many librarians and teachers know, but whose life we are less familiar with.  Readers will appreciate the wealth of children’s literature that has grown since Mr. Newbery’s time.

Cons:  The subject may be of greater interest to adults than to kids.

Awesome Minds: The Creators of the iPhone by Marne Ventura, art by Drew Feynman

Published by duopress

Summary:  We all take our smartphones for granted these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that portable phones were roughly the size and weight of a brick (at least it doesn’t seem that long ago to me).  It was the genius of Steve Jobs and industrial designer Jony Ive that created the first iPhone.  It was a long road to get there, though, beginning with the creation of the Apple company, and continuing with the many machines and software that came before the iPhone: personal computers in a variety of shapes and sizes, the iPod, iTunes, and more.  This book takes a brief look at the whole history, starting with the creators’ early lives, and concluding with Steve Jobs’ death and the iPhone today.  Includes a glossary, list of books and websites, and index. 56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fast-paced, colorful look at a topic that’s sure to be of interest to kids.  The design is appealing, with plenty of sidebars and graphics .

Cons:  So much material is covered in such a short book that it sometimes seems disjointed and choppy.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky

Published by Boyds Mills Press

Summary:  A year in the life of Vixen, a female fox.  The reader follows her as she hunts in the snow, pouncing on a mouse in an acrobatic move, and escapes a couple of barking dogs.  She meets up with her mate, and eventually moves into a den.  When spring comes, there are four fox kits in the den.  The grow all summer, and on the last page, they are ready to go off on their own, just as autumn arrives.  There are two pages of additional information about the red fox, plus a brief glossary and bibliography.  32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The story of Vixen is packed with information about foxes.  Woven into the story are facts about how foxes find food, what they eat, how they take over other animals’ burrows for their dens, and how the parents take care of their babies.  The illustrations are beautiful and add additional information.  There is plenty here for a research report, or simply to satisfy a curious child.

Cons:  I seriously hope I never stumble across a hole in the snow like the one Vixen used as a storage place for her dead mice.

Hello Spring! by Shelley Rotner

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  Lots of colorful photographs provide an introduction to spring.  The focus is all on flora and fauna as a diverse group of kids discover flowers and other plants and hold baby farm animals.  Wild animals are also mentioned, particularly those who are waking up after a long winter’s sleep.  The text is brief, with some rhyming words and plenty of action verbs (“Frogs hop.  Earthworms creep.  Turtles crawl.”).  The final page announces the longest day of the year, which means the season changes again, to summer.  Includes a brief glossary.

Pros:  Young readers will enjoy familiar springtime sights and will learn to be on the lookout for signs of spring.  The photos are large, colorful, and appealing.

Cons:  It would have been nice to include signs of spring in the city, along with all the suburban/rural photos.