Peter’s War: A Boy’s True Story of Survival in World War II Europe by Deborah Durland DeSaix and Karen Gray Ruelle

Published by Holiday House

Peter's War: A Boy's True Story of Survival in World War II Europe: Ruelle,  Karen Gray, Durland DeSaix, Deborah: 9780823424160: Books

Summary:  Peter was born to a wealthy family in Berlin, German in 1930.  All that changed when Hitler rose to power, and his Jewish family had to escape, first to Belgium, and then to France.  In the summer of 1942, Peter’s parents sent him to summer camp.  While he was there, they were arrested and taken away.  He got two postcards from them, then never heard from them again.  He spent the next two years living in children’s homes and a boarding school, using his German language skills to spy on the Nazis.  When rumors started circulating that the Germans knew one of the school’s students was a spy, a group of French resistance fighters arranged for Peter’s escape.  On May 22, 1944, he managed to cross the border into Switzerland, where he spent the next two years before joining his aunt and grandmother in the U.S.  Includes an epilogue with photos; notes with additional information about each two-page spread; a bibliography, and an index.  40 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  A good choice for upper elementary students interested in the Holocaust and World War II history.  Although it’s revealed in the epilogue that Peter’s parents both died in Auschwitz, the focus of the narrative is mostly on Peter’s courage and survival skills.  The extensive bibliography will guide readers to more resources, and the book list gives recommendations for appropriate age groups for each.

Cons:  The story was so brief that I felt like I never really got to know Peter or any of his family members.  Half the book is back matter, so Peter’s story, covering over a decade, is told in 20 illustrated pages.

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Lost Cities by Giles Laroche

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Lost Cities - Kindle edition by Laroche, Giles. Children Kindle eBooks @
Lost Cities: Laroche, Giles: 9781328753649: Books

Summary:  Thirteen lost cities are profiled from all over the world.  Each includes an illustration of the city, a second-person introduction (“If you were a young Roman living in Herculaneum…”), the location, who lived there, why the city was lost, how it was rediscovered in modern times, and an unsolved mystery about it.  Includes a map showing the location of each city, a timeline of when each was first settled, a page showing how the illustrations were created, and a list of selected sources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  These amazingly detailed cut-paper illustrations will draw readers in to learning more about ancient cities from around the world.  The information, especially the “What’s mysterious?” section will definitely whet some appetites to look for more information.

Cons:  This is a jumping-off place for getting kids interested, rather than a resources for any kind of serious research.

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The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

The Talk: Conversations about Race, Love & Truth - Kindle edition by  Hudson, Wade, Willis Hudson, Cheryl. Children Kindle eBooks @

Summary:  Seventeen authors and illustrators have contributed a story, poem, letter, or essay with the theme of “The Talk”: what they’ve said to their children or what their parents said to them about race.  They are black, indigenous, immigrants or the children of immigrants, Puerto Rican, and white.  They’ve experienced racism, prejudice, or privilege, depending on their background.  They communicate to their children pride, humility, and/or the rules for navigating a world that doesn’t always accept them for who they are.  Includes thumbnail portraits and information about all the writers.  160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I found this collection very moving, and gratifying that there are so many talented people of color and different backgrounds writing with such honesty for kids and young adults today.  A book like this would never have existed in my own white suburban childhood, and I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on with people who lived just a few miles from me.  I personally found Adam Gidwitz’s talk with his daughter about white privilege particularly eye-opening.  Any of these talks could serve as a stand-alone work, and would serve as an excellent catalyst for discussion in a middle school classroom.

Cons:  The experiences of these talented and creative people in America is infuriating.

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We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

Published by Roaring Brook Press

We Are Water Protectors - Kindle edition by Lindstrom, Carole ...
We Are Water Protectors | Carole Lindstrom | Macmillan

Summary:  The Ojibwe narrator has been taught by her Nokomis (grandmother) that water is sacred, “the first medicine”.  A prophecy tells of a black snake that will destroy the land, poisoning the water and killing plants and animals.  Now it seems as though that prophecy has come true, and the girl wants to fight the black snake and save the water.  She’s fighting for the plants and animals that can’t protect themselves and for Mother Earth herself.  The last page shows the protest at Standing Rock: “We are water protectors.  WE STAND!  The black snake is in for the fight of its life.”  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes with more information about Standing Rock; a glossary of six words from various indigenous languages from the text; and an “Earth Steward and Water Protector Pledge” to sign.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A brief but powerful message about the importance of protecting water and other natural resources.  The illustrations are amazing; some of them would make beautiful posters all on their own.

Cons:  Despite the determination of this girl and others like her, the author’s note reports that the Dakota Access Pipeline (the construction of which was being protested at Standing Rock) has been given the green light, and that leaks were reported even before construction was completed.

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The Ocean In Your Bathtub by Seth Fishman, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg

Published by Greenwillow Books

The Ocean in Your Bathtub: Fishman, Seth, Greenberg, Isabel ...
The Ocean in Your Bathtub: STEM Activities with Seth Fishman ...

Summary:  Oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth, and contain 97 percent of Earth’s water.  Almost four of ten people live within 60 miles of an ocean.  Those are a few of the facts about oceans you’ll learn in this book, which is relevant even if you’re not one of those four out of ten.  The oceans affect our weather, drinking water, and food supply.  Plants in the ocean provide oxygen for the air we breathe.  And, of course, humans are doing an outstanding job of messing up the oceans with pollution and overfishing.  But even small deeds done to protect the oceans can have an impact.  Includes additional information on phytoplankton, the water cycle, aquifers, and what you can do to help the oceans.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun and accessible introduction to the ocean with interesting facts and lively illustrations.  I wasn’t familiar with this author-illustrator team, but it looks like they’ve written a couple of other interesting science books as well.

Cons:  Trying to cover such an enormous topic in a picture book is challenging, and there are some facts (“The ocean is NOT a major source of drinking water–it’s way too salty!”) that may leave kids wanting more of an explanation.  Some additional resources would have been helpful for this.

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The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham and Karim Shamsi-Basha, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

Published by G. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Karim Shamsi-Basha, Irene Latham ...

Summary:  Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel, a.k.a. Alaa, lives in Aleppo, a Syrian city that has been devastated by war.  He’s stayed in the city, driving an ambulance and helping people however he can.  When he finds stray cats wandering around his neighborhood, he decides to buy them some food.  Before long, he’s feeding dozens of cats, and needs help to support them all.  Volunteers hear about “The Cat Man of Aleppo”, and so do donors from all over the world.  Eventually, Alaa is able to buy a building with a shaded courtyard.  As more money pours in, he starts rescuing other animals, builds a playground for the children still living in Aleppo, and helps dig a well to give people clean water.  Although he still longs for the day his country is at peace and his city can be rebuilt, Alaa has found joy in helping the people and animals around him.  Includes notes from the authors and illustrator.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Summary:  A story about kitties, a lesson about kindness, and a window for readers into a different part of the world…a winner all around, and one with beautiful illustrations.

Cons:  Some additional information about Aleppo and the Syrian civil war, photos, and resources for more information would have been useful.

Cat Man of Aleppo' Forced to Start Again — From Scratch

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If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful Presidential Pets by Erin McGill

Published by Schwartz & Wade

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful ...

If You Want a Friend in Washington: Wacky, Wild & Wonderful ...

Summary:  Harry S. Truman allegedly once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”  He didn’t take his own advice, but plenty of other presidents did.  A two-page spread shows all the presidential dogs, from the dozen owned by George Washington (including Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy…hmm) to Bo and Sonny Obama.  Not a dog person?  Don’t worry, you can also get acquainted with cats, horses, birds, and farm animals owned by the chief executives.  Then, there were the unusual animals: Calvin Coolidge apparently owned a wallaby, pygmy hippo, black bear, and two lions named Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.  The pygmy hippo was a gift that went straight to the National Zoo, as, presumably, did the other wild animals.  From silkworms (John Quincy Adams) to a herd of elephants (sent to James Buchanan; didn’t arrive until he was succeeded by Lincoln, who sent them back to the king of Siam), pets have played an important role in the lives of almost all our presidents.  (Except, of course, the current one.) Includes a list of all the presidents, their years in office, their pets, and some fun facts; several photos on the endpapers.  44 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  This seems like an easy sell to kids, as many are interested in the presidents, and who doesn’t want to read about pets?  The illustrations are a bit goofy, but fun, and there’s lots of interesting trivia to share.

Cons: Some of the anecdotes were so short that they left me wanting to know more; for instance, I didn’t really understand the scandal around Jackie Kennedy’s horse being naked.  In that particular case, after reading more about it, I still don’t get it.

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The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca by Amanda Abler, illustrated by Levi Hastings

Published by Little Bigfoot

The Spirit of Springer: The Real-Life Rescue of an Orphaned Orca ...

Picture Books That Show the World Through a Child's Eyes - The New ...

Summary:  In January, 2002, an orca calf was discovered by herself near Seattle.  Scientists could tell from her dialect that she was from a pod that lives near Vancouver Island.  Using photos from that pod, they identified her as Springer, a two-year-old female.  Springer was too malnourished to be transported that distance, so scientists began a program of rehabilitation, trying to interact with her as little as possible so she could be reintroduced to her pod.  Six months later, she was healthy enough to travel, and made the trip to Dong Chong Bay in Canada, where she was welcomed by a group of First Nations people and two bald eagles.  It took awhile, but Springer eventually reconnected with her pod and was adopted by a female cousin.  Fourteen years later, in 2016, Springer was spotted again, this time with a calf of her own, whom scientists named Spirit.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids will fall in love with Springer and root for her to get back to her family.  They’ll also learn about the painstaking work scientists do to learn about orcas.  This would make a nice companion to A Whale of the Wild, the new book by Rosanne Parry.

Cons:  While I liked the illustrations, the predominantly blue, black, and white palette didn’t make for a very eye-catching cover.

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We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World by Todd Hasak-Lowy

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World: Hasak ...

Summary:  Although we often learn about violent events in history (wars, assassinations), history is often made by those who embrace nonviolence.  Hasak-Lowy makes a distinction between institutional activism–writing letters and editorials, circulating petitions, lobbying politicians–and nonviolent activism, which “employs disruptive, risky tactics that challenge those in power and interrupt the way things normally work.” He illustrates this with chapters on Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Václav Havel.  The final chapter is about Greta Thunberg and her current nonviolent activism around climate change.  A list at the end gives brief descriptions of half a dozen other groups that successfully employed nonviolent activism.  Includes notes, a seven-page bibliography, and an index.  320 pages; grades 5-9.

Pros:  An excellent, accessible, and inspiring introduction to nonviolent activism.  I found it fascinating to learn the distinctions between institutional and nonviolent activism.  The engagingly-written profiles demonstrate the commitment and sacrifices necessary for this type of activism–but also show how effective it ultimately can be.

Cons:  No mention of Henry David “Mr. Civil Disobedience” Thoreau, who is said to have inspired both Gandhi and King.

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Raise Your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America by Jeffrey Kluger

Published by Philomel Books

Raise Your Voice: 12 Protests That Shaped America: Kluger, Jeffrey ...

Summary:  From the Boston Tea Party to the Dakota Access Uprising and the Women’s March, these twelve chapters cover protests organized by ordinary people that have stood up to the established order and helped effect change.  Other than the Tea Party and the Seneca Falls Convention, the rest are from the 20th and 21st century, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the March on Washington, the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Stonewall Uprising, Earth Day, the March Against Nuclear Weapons, and ACT UP.  Each chapter begins with a photo, then gives some background before launching into the people and places of each protest, and the outcomes they did or didn’t achieve.  There are no source notes, but there’s a “Note on Sources” at the end that gives a good introduction to different types of sources and research; there is also an extensive index.  224 pages; grades 6 and up.

Pros:  Seeing as we seem to be living through chapter 13 of this book, readers may find a lot to connect with and inspire them.  It was encouraging to read about the impact these protests made.  The narratives are engagingly written; each one could be used as a stand-alone research source.  

Cons:  The small font and lack of photos made this not very visually appealing.  Also, in the heads-up category, protesters do use salty language, which is represented as “f—” or other fill-in-the-blank forms.  And there’s no getting around the need to describe the pussy hats of the Women’s March, but it’s pretty sanitized.

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