Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Summary:  Growing up in England, Leonora Carrington never conformed to the expectations for a proper young lady.  Instead, she pursued art, creating fantastic pictures inspired by Irish legends her grandmother told her.  As an adult, she discovered surrealism, and became part of a group of artists in France. When World War II started, she fled to Mexico, where she eventually married and had children, but continued to paint.  She spent the rest of her life in Mexico, creating surreal paintings and sculptures until her death at the age of 94. Includes notes from both the author and the illustrator and a short bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An interesting biography of an artist who is probably unknown to most kids.  The illustrations, inspired by Leonora Carrington’s art, will spark young readers’ imaginations.

Cons:  None of Carrington’s actual artwork is included anywhere in the book.

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Fearless Mary: Mary Fields, American Stagecoach Driver by Tami Charles, illustrated by Claire Almon

Published by Albert Whitman and Company

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Summary:  When Mary Fields heard about a job opening for a stagecoach driver to make deliveries to a school over the mountains, she was determined to get hired.  She lined up with forty cowboys to apply for the job, but the manager wasn’t interested in considering a black woman. Mary wouldn’t go away, though, and finally she got a chance what she could do.  The manager was so impressed by her skills with horses and driving that he hired her, and she became the first black female stagecoach driver in Cascade, Montana. Traveling with her trained eagle, she fought off thieves and wolves, and never lost a horse or package.  Mary held the job for eight years, into her seventies, and paved the way for other women to become mail deliverers. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Mary. 32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A little-known story of a fearless and determined woman, told in a way that will be understandable and interesting to primary-grade kids.

Cons:  So little is known about Mary’s life that the author says some of the scenes and dialogue are made up, making this a cross between biography and historical fiction.

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Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  “Every spring, across the land…Seeds sprout.  Stems pop out.  Bloom boom!” This book celebrates plants as they grow and blossom.  The large, close-up photos show all kinds of flowers, as well as leaves, bulbs, and an occasional animal (caterpillar, bee, lizard).  The phrase “Bloom boom!” is repeated as blossoming flowers are shown in a variety of habitats.  There are several pages of back matter, including information about flowers organized by habitat; additional resources; and thumbnail photos of each page in the book with further information about the plants and animals pictured.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  April Pulley Sayre has produced another beautiful and informative science book for preschoolers on up.  Keep it in mind for a spring read-aloud.  The additional resources and information at the end make it a valuable resource for older kids.

Cons:  I found “Bloom boom” to be a little bit of a tongue-twister.

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Sea Bear: A Journey for Survival by Lindsay Moore

Published by Greenwillow Books

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Summary:  A polar bear explains how she uses the sea ice to travel and to hunt.  As summer ends, the ice has thinned, and she spends more time swimming.  For much of the story, she is trying to reach land, which entails a long swim past other Arctic creatures like narwhals, walruses, and a whale.  Finally, after an exhausting three-day swim, she reaches land, where she will eat kelp and wait for the ice to thicken again so she can hunt seals.  Includes a page of information on sea ice, polar bears, and the implications of global warming; as well as a page describing some of the other animals shown in the book.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The lovely watercolor and ink illustrations perfectly capture the blues and whites of the Arctic, and the spare text introduces a lot of information about the polar bear.

Cons:  The global warming aspect makes it a sad story.

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This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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Summary:  Jo Ann Allen Boyce tells the story of her role in integrating Tennessee’s Clinton High School in 1956.  She and other black families lived on “the hill”; blacks and whites had a fairly peaceful relationship, but lived completely separate lives.  When she and 11 other students decided to go to the town’s high school, they became the first to integrate a public high school in the American South.  Their town erupted into protests and violence. After months of escalating harassment, Jo Ann’s family decided to join other relatives in Los Angeles, where she graduated from an integrated school.  A couple of the other Clinton students became the first black male and female to graduate from an integrated school in Tennessee. The book, written in verse, covers the period from January 1955 to December 1956, and ends with Jo Ann and her family driving away from Clinton.  Includes an epilogue that tells what happened to each of the 12 students; several pages of photos; a timeline of school desegregation and civil rights landmarks; a bibliography; and a list of books and websites for further reading. 320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A lesser-known story of desegregation, Jo Ann is an inspiring narrator who describes herself as optimistic and felt bad moving away instead of “finishing what she started”.  The verse format works well, and excerpts from news media of the day are scattered throughout the text, providing support for Jo Ann’s narration.

Cons:  It’s unfortunate these history-making teenagers were not as well-known as the Little Rock students.

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Just Right: Searching for the Goldilocks Planet by Curtis Manley, illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Are we alone in the universe?  Going back to ancient astronomers, this book quickly traces the history of what humans have learned about the place of Earth in the galaxy.  It then details how scientists are looking for a “just right” planet–not too big, not too small, not too hot, not too cold–that might support life.  Huge telescopes sitting on mountaintops or floating through space gather information on stars and the exoplanets around them. The illustrations show a girl and her family visiting a planetarium, then getting her her own telescope as she learns about the universe.  The last several pages speculate on what life on other planets might be like, and how we might communicate with those life forms. Includes a page of additional information; a bibliography; books and websites with additional information; and a timeline of space exploration on the front and back endpapers.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Packed with scientific information, the author does a great job of making a complicated topic accessible to elementary kids; the illustrations of the girl and her family help make it kid-friendly as well.

Cons:  Some of the information was a bit over my head…but readers will still find something interesting, even if they don’t understand it all.

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Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids by Donalyn Miller and Colby Sharp

Published by Scholastic Professional

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Summary:  Book Whisperer Donalyn Miller and fellow Nerdy Book Club member Colby Sharp share insights about how to get kids to read a lot of books, across many genres, at school and at home, all through the year.  They address common issues: kids who don’t have access to books, kids who don’t like to read, finding time in a busy school day and in homes that are filled with other distractions. There are no easy answers, but if teachers are willing to put in the hard work of doing a lot of reading themselves and employing a variety of strategies, and administrators are willing to give teachers the autonomy to try those strategies, they will be rewarded with schools filled with enthusiastic readers.  In addition to the two authors’ experiences, there are stories from over twenty teachers and administrators. Includes a list of references, author bios of all the contributors, and an index. To get additional resources, you have to go to https://www.scholastic.com/pro/Game-Changer!.html; the password is “opportunities”.  144 pages.

Pros:  Teachers and librarians needing a shot in the arm in the middle of the school year will find inspiration here, as well as lots of new ideas to try in their schools and classrooms.  

Cons:  Too many times, the takeaway from books like this is “let kids read whatever they want”, which unfortunately leads to a lot of Diary of A Wimpy Kid and graphic novel reading (don’t ask me how I know this).  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you read this book carefully, you’ll see how much work is required of teachers, librarians, and administrators to create readers who appreciate a deep variety of literature.  

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