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.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.


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.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tson

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for trees verlie jing

Summary:  Fourteen different trees are profiled, each one getting a brief free-verse poem and a two-page illustration.  Some of the taller trees’ pages require turning the book 45 degrees, as the tree stretches from roots on the left-hand side to the treetop on the right.  The trees are personified, often being assigned a gender, and sometimes compared to a human (a sycamore is a “fashion queen” and the white pine, an “unruly uncle”).  Other trees include maple, aspen, oak, palm, pussy willow, apple, redbud, dogwood, spruce, willow, birch, and sequoia. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Just enough information is given in the brief poems and illustrations to help kids start to identify some of the trees in their neighborhoods.  The short, easy-to-understand verses and familiar subject matter would make this a good introduction to poetry.

Cons:  There were no additional resources to help readers learn more about trees.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, and A Bear by James Sage, illustrated by Lisk Feng

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  I’ve always had some vague notion that the teddy bear is named for Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, but thanks to this book, I now know the specifics.  When T.R. went on a bear-hunting trip to Mississippi, there was nary a bear to be found. His hosts finally found a small bear and tied it to a tree, but he refused to shoot it on the grounds that it would be unsportsmanlike.  Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman, suffering from a slow news day, turned the anecdote into a cartoon that went viral.  It caught the eye of Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michtom. When Rose stitched up a replica of the bear and put it in the store window, stuffed animal history was made.  The Michtoms were overwhelmed by the demand, and opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company to crank out Teddy bears of all sizes and shapes. Includes an author’s note with a few photos that sorts out the fact and fiction of his story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun telling of the (mostly) true story about the original Teddy bear.  

Cons:  Tying a bear to a tree to be shot.


I met this guy back in 1973, and we still hang out.  He “bears” an uncanny resemblance to the cover of this book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here. Sorry, the bear is not for sale.

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship by Michael Foreman

Published by Andersen Press

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Image result for stubby michael foreman

Summary:  During basic training during World War I, the soldier narrator tells how a stray dog started hanging around every time he sat down to eat.  The dog’s odd flat face and short legs earned him the name Stubby, and he became an unofficial mascot for the soldier’s division. Smuggled onto a train, then a boat, Stubby made it all the way to France, where he joined the soldier in the trenches, warning them of approaching enemy soldiers and impending gas attacks.  Severely wounded, Stubby spent time in an army hospital, but returned to the front six weeks later. Both Stubby and his soldier friend survived to the end of the war, and happily returned to a peaceful life back in the U.S. An afterword tells more about Stubby (who met Presidents Wilson, Harding, and Coolidge), and Corporal Robert Conroy, the soldier who adopted him.  32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Dogs and the military are always popular subjects in my schools, so this story of a cute dog who courageously served in World War I is sure to be popular.

Cons:  Stubby is always portrayed with slightly bugged-out eyes and a big grin, making him look a few cards short of a full deck.

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If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for nine months miranda paul

Summary:  On the right-hand pages of this book a family of a mother, father, and little girl prepare for a new baby.  The seasons change from winter to spring to summer to fall, as Mom’s belly slowly gets bigger. The left-hand pages show what’s going on with the new baby, starting from a fertilized egg and going all the way to the new baby in the hospital.  The big sister is part of the process, reading books about new babies, practicing giving a doll a bottle, watching the screen at the ultrasound, feeling the baby’s kicks, and finally, meeting her new little sister in the hospital. Includes more information on a baby’s development; the gestation periods of different animals; and some answers to what if questions that include information on twins, premature births, and miscarriages. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  What an amazing resource for families expecting a new baby!  The simple rhyming text would make a quick read to a preschooler, but he or she will want to spend lots of time on Jason Chin’s awesome illustrations, many of which show the actual size of the developing fetus.  There’s just enough information for young kids without getting into too much birds-and-bees stuff.

Cons:  The whole process looks so easy, and the little girl seems 100% thrilled to be getting a younger sibling, which may not be entirely realistic.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon by Baptiste and Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

Published by Millbrook Press

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Image result for i am farmer elizabeth zunon

Summary:  Growing up in Cameroon, Tantoh was sometimes laughed at for asking too many questions in school.  He loved nature, especially learning how to grow plants. His classmates gave him the nickname Farmer, meant to be an insult, but Tantoh embraced the title.  He purposely failed an exam that could have led to a well-paying office job so he could spend all his time outside growing crops. After studying agriculture in Cameroon and the U.S., Tantoh helped transform Cameroon by focusing on clean water and community gardens.  He founded the organization Save Your Future Association to build community, protect the environment, and promote education.  Includes an authors’ note with additional information about Farmer Tantoh, and photos and African proverbs on both the front and back endpapers.  32 pages; ages 7-11.

Pros:  As the authors write about Tantoh in their note: “His story is a reminder of many things–being true to your passion, using resources wisely, and never forgetting your roots.”  It’s an inspirational tale about one person making a big difference for many others.

Cons:  This is not likely to be a book most kids will pick up without some adult guidance.

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