I Got It! by David Wiesner

Published by Clarion Books

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Image result for i got it baseball david wiesner

Summary:  In this almost-wordless picture book, a boy convinces a slightly bigger kid to let him play baseball.  He’s sent to the outfield, and soon a ball is heading his way.  “I got it!” he calls, and immediately, a series of outcomes starts playing out in his mind.  The first is pretty straightforward: he trips over a root, falls on his face, and his teammates cringe in disbelief.  As the ball moves closer and closer to his glove, his imaginings get wilder: he pictures himself colliding with a tree; shrinking so that an enormous ball looms over him; flying with birds over the heads of his oversized teammates.  And then–”I got it!”–he catches the ball.  The other kids cheer wildly, and the boy walks off the field with them, confidently tossing the ball into the air.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Another (almost) wordless wonder from Caldecott medalist David Wiesner.  Readers will need to look closely to understand what is going on, but they will be rewarded with a happy and satisfying ending.  As always, the illustrations are gorgeous and wildly imaginative.

Cons:  I didn’t get it; I had to read reviews to figure out what was going on.  Once I understood the concept that the boy was imagining different outcomes, it all fell into place for me, but I’m guessing many kids will need some help understanding this.

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The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Published by Dial Books

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Image result for rabbit listened doerrfeld amazon

Summary:  Taylor (never identified as male or female) is proud of building a beautiful block tower, until a flock of birds flies through it and knocks it down.  Different animals come along to comfort Taylor; the chicken wants to talk about it, the bear gets angry, the elephant wants to remember exactly how the blocks were arranged, the hyena laughs, the ostrich hides its head, the kangaroo wants to clean up the mess, and the snake suggests knocking down someone else’s creation.  Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things.  Then the rabbit comes along and sits next to Taylor.  The rabbit just listens as Taylor talks, shouts, remembers, laughs, hides, throws things away, and plans to ruin things for someone else.  Finally, the rabbit listens as Taylor plans to build another amazing structure. 40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A perfect vehicle for talking with children about how to be with someone who has experienced a loss.  Although it’s a weighty subject, the presentation is kept light with the cute and sometimes funny animals.

Cons:  There should be more rabbits in the world.

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Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  A man arrives at a lighthouse to take his new job as its keeper.  A cutaway illustration shows him busy, tending the light, painting the walls, and cooking food.  Despite his activity, he’s lonely, and often writes messages that he puts in bottles and tosses into the sea.  After awhile, a tender arrives, bringing supplies and the man’s wife.  They are happy together in the lighthouse, and eventually they’re joined by a third person, their new daughter.  Several years later, electricity comes to the lighthouse, and the family moves away.  A fold-out final page shows a little house on the coast, lights from its windows shining to meet the light coming from their old lighthouse home.  Includes additional information about lighthouses and the people who kept them going.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A lovely blend of fact and fiction, Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall makes life in a lighthouse seem indescribably cozy, while presenting each scene creatively (I especially admired the lighthouse cutaway, the shipwreck, and the circular images of the wife in labor).  Hello, my new favorite picture book of 2018!

Cons:  I suspect real life in a lighthouse was not this idyllic.  This sentence in the author’s note about foghorns particularly caught my attention: “Some lighthouse keepers learned to sleep through the din of the horn; others nearly went mad when the fog lasted for days.”

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Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor: The Woman Who Loved Reptiles by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Felicita Sala

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Image result for joan procter dragon doctor

Summary:  From the time she was a young girl, Joan Procter loved reptiles.  Instead of a doll, she carried around her favorite lizard, and she got a pet crocodile for her 16th birthday.  She started hanging out with the curator of reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum when she was still in high school. He was impressed enough to hire Joan as his assistant, and she eventually took over his job when he retired.  From there, she went to work at the London Zoo, designing a new reptile house. The most amazing part of her new creation was the exhibit featuring Komodo dragons, a fabled but little-known animal from Indonesia.  People assumed they were ferocious, but Joan soon learned they were quite gentle, and one of them, Sumbawa, became something of a pet to her. He often accompanied her around the zoo, at children’s tea parties she held there, and even at a scientific presentation at the Zoological Society in London.  An author’s note gives more biographical information, including the sad fact that Joan was sickly much of her life and died at the age of 34. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Kids will warm up right away to Joan and her love of animals; they’ll also be inspired by her groundbreaking work as a woman scientist.  The illustrations are beautiful, especially the ones of the reptiles.  And who doesn’t love a Komodo dragon?

Cons:  Hopefully no reader will be inspired to bring a baby crocodile to math class, like Joan did.

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Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for curiosity mars rover motum

Summary:  In a first-person narration, the Mars rover Curiosity tells her story, beginning before she was built, when scientists at NASA started designing probes to learn more about Mars.  Curiosity (she was named by a sixth grader from Kansas) was to be larger and more advanced than any of the previous probes.  Labeled illustrations show the processes of designing and building her in Los Angeles, then flying her to Florida, where she was launched on November 26, 2011.  After 253 days of space travel and a somewhat precarious landing, Curiosity began the work of exploring Mars that she continues today.  Includes additional information about Mars rovers, a timeline, and a glossary.  56 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The personification of the rover makes it accessible for elementary school kids; the text, illustrations, and labeled diagrams provide a lot of information.

Cons:  Two design issues: the book is so large it feels a bit unwieldy, and some of the black-on-blue or blue-on-black type/background combinations are difficult to read.

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In the Past by David Elliott, illustrated by Matthew Trueman

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Twenty poems are illustrated with oversized paintings of a variety of prehistoric creatures from the trilobite (“So many of you./So long ago./So much above you./Little below.”) to Tyrannosaurus Rex.  (You thought/(if you could think)/you’d live forever./The great T. rex/would never die!/But even kings/are vanquished/when stars fall/from the sky.”).  Early mammals like the smilodon (a.k.a. Saber-tooth tiger) and mammoth are included.  Each illustration is labeled with the geological period when that animal lived.  Back matter includes a note from the author and information about the animals that inspired the poems. 48 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  Dinosaur fans will love the giant (and appropriately ferocious) illustrations as well as the brief, funny poems.

Cons:  Additional scientific information on each page would have made some of the poems more understandable.

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Dream Big: A True Story of Courage and Determination by Dave McGillivray, with Nancy Feehrer, illustrated by Ron Himler

Published by Nomad Press

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Image result for dream big feehrer

Summary:  As a child, Dave McGillivray aspired to be an athlete, but he was too small for most sports.  On his 12th birthday, he decided to try a new sport, running, and ended up running 12 miles.  Encouraged by his grandfather, he ran 13 miles on his 13th birthday, and continued that pattern for four more years.  At age 17, he announced he was ready for the Boston Marathon, but his lack of training caught up with him, and he collapsed at mile 18.  His grandfather encouraged him again, advising him that big dreams require hard work, and Dave promised him he’d cross the finish line the following year.  Sadly, his grandfather died before that marathon, and Dave almost gave up before the end of the race.  Taking a break at mile 21, he realized he was resting next to his grandfather’s cemetery.  This inspired him to finish the race, and he has continued to run it every year since.  Now he runs it two ways, as the director of the race and as the final runner, traversing the course at night after everyone else has finished.  Includes a challenge to run 26 miles, read 26 books, and do 26 acts of kindness in 26 weeks.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Just in time for marathon day, this inspiring story encourages kids to work hard and challenge themselves in a variety of ways.

Cons:  Reading 26 books seems a LOT easier than running 26 miles.

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