Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, illustrated by Steven Salerno

thoPublished by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary: In the 1970’s, when Harvey Milk was advocating for gay rights, he decided the movement needed a symbol that promoted hope and equality.  He asked artist Gilbert Blake for help. Blake designed a rainbow flag, and volunteers helped create it in time for a march on June 25, 1978.  Five months later, Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were assassinated. His dream lived on, though, and continued to grow. The rainbow flag spread across the country, and eventually around the world.  On June 26, 2015, the White House was lit up like the colors of the rainbow flag, celebrating the legalization of gay marriage across the U.S. Harvey Milk’s dream of equality and love had truly been realized.  Includes biographical notes on Harvey Milk and Gilbert Blake, timelines for Milk and the rainbow flag, and a list of resources. 48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A good introduction to the gay rights movement, as well as the history of the flag that came to symbolize that movement.

Cons:  The biographical information on Harvey Milk was somewhat sketchy.  

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Julian Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  On his way home from swim lessons with his abuela, Julian sees some women dressed as mermaids.  He is enchanted and imagines himself growing fins and swimming underwater.  When they get home, abuela takes a bath, and Julian sets about transforming himself into a mermaid.  He creates a flowered headdress, applies some makeup, and makes himself a tail from a lace curtain.  When abuela emerges from the bath, she gives Julian a good looking over, and he thinks, “Uh-oh”.  But she simply gives him a couple necklaces, takes his hand, and leads him to the beach, where the two of them join in a joyful mermaid parade.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A celebration of self-expression, as wise abuela not only allows her grandson to dream of being a mermaid, but takes him to a place where he can display his beautiful costume and join others who are similarly dressed.  Even the real-life illustrations have a somewhat dreamy nature to them.  A first-time illustrator who may get some Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  I read somewhere that the parade in this story is based on the Coney Island mermaid parade.  It would have been fun to read a little about that and/or see some photos.

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A Frog’s Life by Irene Kelly, illustrated by Margherita Borin

Published by Holiday House

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Summary:  A thorough look at frogs and toads (according to this book, a toad is a kind of frog; personally, I can never remember the distinctions) that includes anatomy, habitat, reproduction, and prey and predators.  Each page includes labeled watercolor illustrations of a great variety of frogs. The last couple pages discuss the different reasons why frogs are endangered, and the back matter includes ways kids can help them, as well as an index.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Whether a reader is interested in research or simply learning more about frogs, this book would make an excellent starting place.  The information is engagingly presented, and the large colorful illustrations will appeal to amphibian aficionados.

Cons:  A list of additional resources would have been a nice addition to the back matter.

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Night Out by Daniel Miyares

Published by Schwartz and Wade

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Summary:  A boy eats and sleeps alone in some kind of all-boy institution (a boarding school? An orphanage?).  One night he finds an invitation propped up against the bowl housing his pet turtle.  He sneaks out and rides his bike to the shore, where a large turtle ferries him across the water to a cave.  There’s a party going on, and the other animals welcome him with open arms (and wings).  After a night of tea and dancing, he returns to his room.  His turtle can be seen returning to his bowl just as the boy is climbing through the window. The last page shows the boy sharing the story with his new (human) friends. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This almost wordless book (38 words) is a celebration of the power of stories to connect with others.  The dedication says it all: “Dedicated to the dreamers. May you always feel invited.”  Daniel Miyares’ evocative illustrations perfectly capture the child’s loneliness and the power of his imagination to create a happy world for himself.

Cons:  Knowing that Daniel Miyares has created beautiful wordless picture books, I felt like the words in this one were unnecessary.

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Big Bunny by Rowboat Watkins

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  A bedtime story about a bunny is told as a conversation between two narrators.  It’s a big bunny…a ginormously scary bunny?…no, just big, and he lives on…a ginormous FLOATING CARROT?…no, just a round planet.  And so on, with one narrator looking for a horror story while the other tries to rein her in.  The narratives are told with two fonts to help the reader differentiate.  The final pages reveal the parent and child who are doing the storytelling and when you find out what they are, their terror of bunnies all makes sense.  40 pages; ages 4-7.

Pros:  Kids will find this silly story with its goofy illustrations absolutely hilarious.

Cons:  That cute little bunny nibbling grass in my backyard seems suddenly ominous.

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The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  Friends Fox and Chick share three stories for early readers.  In the first, Chick asks to use Fox’s bathroom, then proceeds to have a party with her friends there.  Next, Chick can’t understand why Fox prefers vegetables to small animals, but when she realizes she herself is a small animal, is happy to share his vegetable soup.  Finally, Chick asks Fox to paint her portrait, but can’t sit still look enough for him to do it.  56 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Early readers will love the cartoon dialogue and friendship reminiscent of Elephant and Piggie or Frog and Toad.  With any luck, this will be the beginning of a new series.

Cons:  A friendship between a fox and a chick makes me a bit nervous.

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A Stone for Sascha by Aaron Becker

Published by Candlewick Press

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Summary:  On the opening page, a family is burying their beloved dog, then leaving for summer vacation.  The girl in the family reaches into the ocean as she watches another girl play with her dog on the beach.  The action suddenly shifts to prehistoric times when a meteor hits the earth.  It lands as a golden slab of rock, which is then used in all kinds of structures and works of art throughout history.  In its final incarnation, it’s carved into a dragon which eventually ends up smashed into pieces at the bottom of the sea.  One of the pieces washes ashore, and the girl from the beginning of the story finds it.  She takes it home and lays it on her dog’s grave, bringing the story full circle.  48 pages; grades K-5.

Pros: Books from Lane Smith, Aaron Becker, and the Fan Brothers all in the same month…what an amazing world we live in.  Like Becker’s Journey trilogy, this wordless book requires multiple “readings” to begin to absorb all that is happening in the illustrations.  Imaginative kids will be fascinated with the idea of traveling back in time through geology and will look at rocks in a whole new way.

Cons:  Younger readers (and possibly older ones too) will likely need some help to understand what is going on.