The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

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Summary:  When a child takes a book off the shelf and begins to read, he learns a lot about elephants.  Much of the book is nonfiction, giving facts and information about elephants, including the different species, their size, what they eat, their habitat, and why they are endangered.  The child appears in some of the illustrations, and there are connections to his world, like the picture that shows four cars piled on top of each other that are equal in weight to a male elephant.  Although elephants sleep a lot less than most other mammals, the same is not true for the reader, and the final page shows him asleep in his dark house, his head pillowed by the elephant book. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An appealing nonfiction book, with the whimsical illustrations adding some humor, but also informing (the car picture, the one above that shows the length of an elephant’s trunk with two children lying on it toe-to-toe).  Jenni Desmond has written similar books on polar bears and blue whales, which I am now looking to add to my libraries.

Cons:  There is no back matter–some additional resources would have been useful.

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Attucks: Oscar Robertson and the Basketball Team That Awakened a City by Phillip Hoose

Published by Farrar Straus Giroux

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Summary:  Crispus Attucks High School opened its doors in 1927, a school built by the Ku Klux Klan to segregate the high schools of Indianapolis.  Because so many black teachers couldn’t get jobs at white schools, the faculty was outstanding, with many teachers qualified to be college professors.  When Ray Crowe was hired to teach math in the junior high next to Attucks, he brought with him basketball talent and knowledge that had made him a college star.  Within a few years, he was coaching Attucks players in a new style of playing basketball. It took a decade of overcoming barriers, but his team won the Indiana state champion in 1955 and 1956, with an undefeated season in 1956, the first time ever since the championship began in 1911.  The star of the team both years was Oscar Robertson, an unbelievably disciplined and hard-working player who went on to play on the 1960 gold medal-winning Olympic team and in the NBA. Attucks’ championship team led to heavy recruiting of black players by other Indianapolis schools, which in turn helped desegregate the cities’ schools.  Includes several pages of sources and notes, as well as a very complete index. 224 pages; grades 6+

Pros:  Sports fans will enjoy this gripping narrative nonfiction story of the amazing Attucks team, and will learn a lot about 20th century racism and civil rights as well.  Plenty of photos and interesting sidebars make this an engaging read.

Cons:  Although I wouldn’t have wanted the book to be any longer, there were many interesting people whom I would have liked to get to know more in depth.

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Thirty Minutes Over Oregon: A Japanese Pilot’s World War II Story by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Melissa Iwai

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  On September 9, 1942, Nobuo Fujita set out on a mission to drop two bombs in Oregon, with the intention of setting a forest fire that would spread to nearby towns.  The raid was successful, but only one bomb ignited, and the resulting fire was quickly contained. Residents of the town of Brookings, Oregon were somewhat alarmed to discover pieces of a Japanese bomb in a nearby forest.  The mission was repeated a few weeks later, with similar results. After the war, Nobuo settled down in Japan, never telling anyone about his raids over America. In 1962, the Brookings Jaycees, trying to boost tourism, decided to track down the Japanese bomber pilot and invite him to America.  For the first time, Nobuo told his family about his role in the war, and the whole family traveled to Oregon, not sure about what to expect. Despite some protests, most of the townspeople welcomed the Japanese visitors with open arms, and the trip ended up being the first of four that Nobuo made; he also sponsored three Brookings high school to visit him in Tokyo.  The day before he died in 1997, a town representative flew to Japan to make Nobuo an honorary citizen; a year after his death, his widow scattered some of his ashes in the Oregon town. Includes an author’s note and additional sources. 40 pages; grades 1-6.

Pros:  Kids who are interested in World War II may pick this up, but there is a lot more to the story than just military history.  It’s a tale of forgiveness and pacifism, and raises the interesting question about Nobuo: “He went from fighting to uniting.  Which took more courage?’’ An engaging story and meditation on war and peace.

Cons:  It does make you wonder what would have happened if those bombs had worked the way they were supposed to.

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Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, this book starts with a look at the history that led up to the first manned flight to the moon.  The first chapter explores the space race, John F. Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the early Soviet successes, and the tragic deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a fire.  The rest of the book is about Apollo 8 and its crew, commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, who risked their lives to reach the moon. They succeeded in entering into orbit around the moon, becoming the first humans to view its dark side, then left lunar orbit and returned to Earth.  Their TV broadcast from space was watched by millions of people, and and helped generate excitement about the space program.  Bill Anders’ iconic photograph of the Earth rising is one of the most famous ever taken. The success of the Apollo 8 mission laid the groundwork for Apollo 11 six months later, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to walk on the moon. Includes a bibliography and index.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Packed with exciting details and photos about the space program in general and Apollo 8 in particular, this large glossy book will appeal to aspiring astronauts in late elementary, middle, and high school.  The cover design is one of my favorites of the year.

Cons:  Every several pages, there were 2-3 pages on a related topic inserted into the text.  While these sidebar-type entries were interesting, they interrupted the main narrative in a way that was somewhat jarring.

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Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransom, illustrated by James E. Ransome and Sisters and Champions: The True Story of Venus and Serena Williams

Game Changers published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Sisters and Champions published by Philomel Books

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Summary:  When I went to write a review about Game Changers, I discovered Sisters and Champions, another 2018 book about Venus and Serena Williams.  Both are picture book biographies that emphasize the girls’ unlikely background, growing up in Compton, a rough Los Angeles neighborhood.  Richard Williams, their father, is introduced in both books as their coach who never wavered from his belief that they could become professional tennis stars.  Venus’s rise to success and fame, followed shortly by Serena’s is documented in the books, as well as the fact that the sisters often played each other for the championship at many professional matches.  Cline-Ransome’s book talks a bit more about the racism the two of them encountered as they moved up the ranks in what had traditionally been an almost all-white sport. Her story ends with Venus taking pictures of Serena after Serena had beat her for the first time at the French Open.  Bryant’s goes a bit further, touching on illness and injuries that both women have had to overcome. Game Changers includes an afterword, source notes, a selected bibliography, and a list for further reading; no back matter in Sisters and Champions.  48 pages (Game Changers) and 32 pages (Sisters & Champions); grades 1-4 for both.

Pros:  I’m happy to see two excellent books on the Williams sisters by acclaimed authors and illustrators; Serena and Venus are a frequent topic of research in my third grade libraries.  Both books are well done, but if I had to pick one, it would be Game Changers.  I preferred the sharp, action-packed cut-paper illustrations to Cooper’s pastels, and the back matter makes it a better choice for research.

Cons:  There were some inconsistencies between the two. Cline-Ransome: “Venus won every single one of her sixty-three junior tournaments by age ten.”  Bryant: “Their father wouldn’t let his girls play junior tournaments even though everyone played juniors.”  Also, no photos in either book.

If you would like to buy Game Changers on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy Sisters and Champions on Amazon, click here.

The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss, illustrations by Jeremy Holmes

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  In a follow-up to last year’s Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective, Marissa Moss traces the history of Allan Pinkerton, the man who founded the Pinkerton Detective Agency.  Born in poverty in Scotland, Pinkerton had a good memory, sharp eyes, and a thirst for justice that got him into trouble with the British government.  He and his bride fled to America on their wedding day to escape his arrest.  In Chicago, he started a business making barrels, until he almost accidentally solved a counterfeiting case while collecting wood on an island.  He worked with the Chicago police for awhile, then started his own private investigation firm. Much of the book is about his most famous case, outwitting secessionists who planned to assassinate Abraham Lincoln as he traveled by train from Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C.  It was a complicated operation that required disguises, codes, and moving Lincoln’s railroad car through the streets of Chicago in the middle of the night. Lincoln rewarded Pinkerton by appointing him to run the newly-formed Secret Service, an organization that exists to this day, as does PInkerton’s detective agency.  Includes a timeline, author’s and illustrator’s notes, a bibliography, and a brief index. 48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Who doesn’t love a good spy story?  Or a rags-to-riches tale? Allan Pinkerton’s life provides both; Marissa Moss’s narrative and Jeremy Holmes’ unique illustrations will have readers turning the pages to see how Abraham Lincoln got safely to the White House.

Cons:  While the illustrations are very cool (they’re done on digital scratchboard and include vintage typography–read the artist’s note for more details, because, honestly, I don’t really know what that means), some of them could be a little confusing to younger readers.

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The Hen Who Sailed Around the World: A True Story by Guirec Soudee

Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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Image result for hen who sailed around the world amazon

Summary:  When Guirec Soudee decided to sail around the world, he brought with him a chicken named Monique.  Even though he was told that Monique would hate ship life and wouldn’t lay eggs, she proved to be an adventurous sailor who produced over 1,000 eggs during their journey.  The two of them became the first solo sailor and first chicken to travel the Northwest Passage over Canada. It took them over three years, including a 130-day layover with the ship frozen in ice.  After traveling 17,500 miles, they decided it was time for a break, but both Guirec and Monique are certain they will be starting a new voyage soon. Includes a map of the trip with additional photos. 40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  This was one of the most fun books I read this year.  Guirec has a dry sense of humor and I could almost hear his French accent.  Monique is nothing if not an intrepid explorer; my favorite photo shows her in the snow wearing a coat made from two of Guirec’s gloves.  Guirec mentions his drone camera, and there are some pretty cool aerial views of the ship traveling through the ice.

Cons:  A little more of an introduction, maybe with a map at the beginning instead of the end, would have helped get readers oriented to what was going on.

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