Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Summary:  A little girl takes her favorite stuffed fox to school for show-and-tell in this wordless picture book.  After school, she goes to the playground, her fox sticking out of her backpack.  As she’s swinging, a real fox comes along, takes her stuffed one, and heads off into the forest.  She runs after the fox; her friend sees her go and follows her  The two combine forces, and eventually discover a woodland world populated by many different animals.  After a long, convoluted search, they find the fox, who really just wants a stuffed fox to love.  The girl and the fox make a trade, and there is a happy ending for everyone.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A seemingly simple tale opens up a whole new world in this beautifully detailed wordless book.  Kids will find the animals’ community enchanting, and will discover something new with each repeated reading.

Cons:  Plan on spending a long time with this book.

Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines by Jeanne Walker Harve, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Published by Henry Holt

Summary:  Maya Lin grew up surrounded by nature, books, and parents “who never told her what to be or how to think”, having left China to escape that kind of doctrine.  Maya loved to create, inspired by her artist father and poet mother.  In college, she decided to study architecture, combining her love of art, science, and math.  When she was a senior, she entered a contest to design a memorial for the Vietnam War.  Her entry was selected from 1,421 others.  When the judges found out how young she was, they were shocked, and many felt that another design should be chosen.  Maya persisted, however, and her dream of a beautiful black wall with the names of those who died in the Vietnam War became a reality. It was the first of many art-architecture installations that Maya continues to create today.  Includes an author’s note with additional information about Maya Lin and the memorial.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A quiet, beautiful work about a talented artist who persisted in bringing her creation to fruition.  The digital watercolors by first-time illustrator Phumiruk perfectly capture tone of the book and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Cons:  This only touches on details of Lin’s life, and is not a complete biography.

Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

Published by Readers to Eaters

Summary:  Roy Choi’s family moved from South Korea to Los Angeles when he was two.  He grew up exploring the streets of L.A. and coming home to his mom’s delicious Korean cuisine.  After graduating from culinary school, Roy became a chef in a fancy restaurant.  When he lost his job, he decided to partner up with a friend and open a taco truck with a Korean twist.  The Kogi Korean taco trucks were a hit, and Roy built on this success by starting the Locol restaurant in the Watts neighborhood of L.A.  He continues to expand his culinary offerings, bringing his cooking to as many different types of places and people as he can.  Includes notes from both authors and the illustrator, as well as a bibliography and list of resources.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The third collaboration between Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Readers to Eaters, this mouth-watering, fast-paced biography is designed to inspire kids to cook and eat new foods.  The graffiti-influenced illustrations are the perfect complement for this ode to the city streets.

Cons:  You’ll be craving a Korean taco before you’re halfway through this book.

Wordplay by Ivan Brunetti

Published by TOON Books

Summary:  What’s a compound word?  When a class of kids gets assigned the task of making a list of compound words for homework (hey, there’s one), imaginations start going wild.  Annemarie (whose name is a compound word!) pictures a couple of houses doing construction work when she hears the word “homework”.  “Mailman” conjures up a picture of a letter delivering the mail, and “football” is accompanied by an image of a boy tossing a foot.  The fun continues when Annemarie goes home and asks her parents for more suggestions.  Finally, it’s bedtime (!), but the next morning she’s still going strong, and can barely tear herself away from the list to turn it in to her teacher.  Then, it’s time for one more compound word…goodbye!  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  An appealing cartoon introduction to compound words that will have kids creating lists of their own.  The compound words are half red and half black to make them easy to identify.

Cons:  I was hoping there were more language arts books by TOON, but this seems to be the only one.

Martina and Chrissie: The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Brett Helquist

Published by Candlewick Press

Summary:  During the 1970’s and 1980’s, women’s tennis was dominated by Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.  Although they were staunch competitors and from countries that were engaged in a cold war (the U.S. and Soviet Union-controlled Czechoslovakia), the two were friends off the court and remain so to this day.  In the early years, Chrissie won the most; then Martina got more serious, and was ultimately victorious more times over the course of their careers.  But the important takeaway from their rivalry isn’t winning or losing, but how each one pushed and encouraged the other to be a better player and a better person.  Includes a three-page annotated timeline, a paragraph about both women’s lives after tennis, and a page of sources.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The fast-paced, chatty writing will engage readers who may have never heard of these two tennis superstars from a generation ago.  Lessons on hard work and good sportsmanship can effortlessly be extracted from their story.  And don’t worry, Series of Unfortunate Events illustrator Helquist has rendered both players more Violet Baudelaire than Count Olaf.

Cons:  “The Greatest Rivalry in the History of Sports” is arguably a bit of an overstatement.

Up, Up, Up, Skyscraper! by Anastasia Suen, illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke

Published by Charlesbridge

Summary:  What’s going on behind that fence?  A group of kids gets to put on hard hats and take a look at every step of the construction of a skyscraper. Each two-page spread has four lines of rhyming text, supplemented with a few sentences explaining the process.  The illustrations have labels to identify machines used, as well as different parts of the structure.  A small inset picture gives a macro view of what the building looks like at each step.  The last page unfolds upward to show the finished skyscraper.  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A fun and accessible introduction to building a skyscraper.  Construction enthusiasts will love studying the pictures, while those less familiar with the process will learn a lot.

Cons:  The fold-out page seemed a little ill-fitting and was already starting to rip a bit when I unfolded it.

7 Ate 9: The Untold Story by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Published by Disney-Hyperion

Summary:  Why is 6 afraid of 7?  Because 7 ate 9.  In this takeoff on that old joke, a Private I (who really is an I) is confronted by a frightened 6 claiming that 7 is coming to get him.  The detective is off, questioning numbers and letters about the whereabouts of 7, with punny humor on every page.  B the waitress serves I a slice of pi (which, of course, costs $3.14).  A sighting of 6 tips off the private I, and back he goes to reveal the true identity of the 6 waiting back in his office (hint: that 6 gets turned upside down).  The whole thing is enough to get I to forsake number cases forever and stick with letters…they may be wordy, but they’re A-OK in his book!  32 pages; ages 3-6.

Pros:  A fun and unusual introduction to numbers that kids will enjoy hearing over and over again.

Cons:  1 and 3 seem to be MIA.