Mr. Monkey Bakes a Cake by Jeff Mack

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Image result for mr. monkey bakes a cake amazon

Image result for mr. monkey bakes a cake amazon

Summary:  When Mr. Monkey decides to bake a cake, bananas figure heavily into the production.  So much so, that Mr. Monkey is too stuffed to sample his cake when it comes out of the oven.  No problem…he decides to take it to the big cake contest. The trip is fraught with peril, as Mr. Monkey encounters traffic, a deranged biker, and multiple chases by a variety of animals.  He manages to arrive safely with his cake, only to discover that the contest is over. Don’t worry, Mr. Monkey has a way of making pretty much any situation turn out okay. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Filled with slapstick humor, this is sure to be a hit with the newly independent reading crowd.  A second book, Mr. Monkey Visits A School is also available.

Cons:  64 pages seemed a little long to me.

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Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Image result for stumpkin amazon

Image result for stumpkin amazon

Summary:  As pumpkins are chosen one by one to become jack-o-lanterns, Stumpkin realizes he’s not getting picked because he doesn’t have a stem.  With Halloween approaching, there are fewer pumpkins in the shop and more jack-o-lanterns in the windows of the apartment building across the street.  Finally, it’s Halloween evening, and even the gourd has found a home. Only Stumpkin is left. But wait! There are two black pages. Then a white triangle appears on one, and two white triangles on the next page.  The shopkeeper has transformed Stumpkin into a jack-o-lantern. With a black cat on one side and a bowl of candy on the other, he is ready for trick-or-treaters. 56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Preschoolers and early elementary kids will enjoy this Halloween tale.  The illustrations showing Stumpkin’s change from pumpkin to jack-o-lantern are ingenious.

Cons:  It felt a little bit like no one wanted Stumpkin because of a physical difference, maybe not the best message for young kids.

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Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for nothing stopped sophie mcclintock

Image result for nothing stopped sophie mcclintock

Summary:  Growing up during the French Revolution, Sophie Germain faced a number of obstacles to a career in mathematics.  Girls received little education, and Sophie’s parents tried discourage her late-night studies by taking away her candles and warm clothing.  She was undaunted, though, and they finally realized there was no way to stop her from studying math. When she grew up, she corresponded with other mathematicians under a pen name, but they tended to lose interest when they discovered she was a woman.  She kept studying any way she could, and when the Academy of Sciences offered a medal worth 3,000 francs to find a mathematical formula that would predict patterns of vibration, Sophie was determined to find a solution. It took her several years, but in 1816, she became the first woman to win a grand prize from the Royal Academy of Sciences.  Her work helped other mathematicians and engineers build modern skyscrapers, including the Eiffel Tower. Includes additional information about Sophie and the problem of vibration she solved. 40 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Perseverance is the theme of Sophie Germain’s story, and readers will enjoy learning of her eventual success in the face of daunting obstacles.  The illustrations do an amazing job of incorporating numbers and mathematical formulas into Sophie’s world.

Cons:  I really didn’t understand the vibration problem that Sophie was working on.

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The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage

Published by Shen’s Books

Image result for turtle ship rhee amazon

Image result for turtle ship rhee

Summary:  Sun-sin lived in a small village in Korea; there weren’t any other children close by, so his closest friend was a turtle named Gobugi.  When Sun-sin heard about a contest sponsored by the king to design a battleship, the boy looked to his turtle for inspiration. He convinced his parents to travel to the royal palace, where Sun-sin was ridiculed for trying to compete with the adults.  But when Gobugi protected himself against an attack by the palace cat, the king saw the value of the turtle’s shell, and, like Sun-sin, was able to envision transforming the idea into a ship’s design. Years later, Sun-sin became a navy admiral and defeated 130 ships with just thirteen of his Turtle Ships.  An afterword tells the history of the Turtle Ship and Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s contributions to its design. Includes an author’s note, an illustrator’s note, and a photo of a Turtle Ship in a museum. 32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  An interesting blend of Korean folklore and history, meticulously researched.  The collage illustrations are rich and detailed, and the lessons of persevering and staying true to your vision make this a good choice to share with kids.

Cons: It seemed like a pretty big leap for the king to come up with a ship design after watching the cat attack the turtle.

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for all are welcome here penfold amazon

Summary:  “No matter how you start your day./What you wear when you play./Or if you come from far away./All are welcome here.”  Rhyming text and busy illustrations assure a classroom full of children and their parents that all of them are welcome in the school.  The class is a veritable United Nations, with kids and adults of different races, nationalities, and religions.  The kids move through their day, reading, drawing, snacking, and playing outside.  After school, they go home to different homes and foods, but their community binds them together.  The final foldout page shows some sort of open house (maybe a science fair?) with all the parents and kids gathering for food and sharing of different school activities.  44 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Elementary teachers and librarians, if you’re looking for something new for the first day of school, this may be your book.  The rhymes are catchy and the illustrations are appealing–just about any kid is likely to find a picture of someone who looks like him/her.  There’s a lot to look at and discuss.

Cons:  Apparently this book comes with a poster under the jacket, but since I got it from the library, the poster was gone.

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Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Image result for geraldine elizabeth lilly amazon

Image result for geraldine elizabeth lilly

Summary:  Geraldine does NOT want to move.  But her parents insist, the family moves, and Geraldine’s father takes her to her new school.  It soon becomes obvious that Geraldine is the only giraffe at her school, and for the first time in her life, she’s shy.  It’s hard to hide when you’re nine feet taller than your classmates, but she does her best.  One day at lunch, she goes to her usual tree hiding spot, but someone else has gotten there first–Cassie, a girl who has her own reasons for feeling alienated.  The two spend lunchtime together, and a friendship begins.  The next day, Geraldine pulls Cassie into the cafeteria, and the two give each other confidence to talk to some other kids.  Her problems aren’t completely over, but Geraldine feels a lot happier and more sure of herself at her new school.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A cute story about fitting in while remaining true to yourself.  Kids will love the watercolor illustrations and seeing how many contortions Geraldine manages with her long neck.

Cons:  It feels like a story that’s been told before–although maybe not with a giraffe.

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The Dinosaur Expert (Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series) by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Image result for dinosaur expert mcnamara amazon

Image result for dinosaur expert karas

Summary:  Kimmy loves science, collecting rocks, leaves, shells, and even owl pellets.  But her favorite collection is her fossils. So she’s excited about her class’s field trip to the natural history museum and eager to share her dinosaur knowledge with the other kids.  But when Jake tells her, “Girls aren’t scientists”, and backs up his statement with photos of male fossil hunters, Kimmy is suddenly less interested in sharing. Mr. Tiffin notices, and leads Kimmy to an exhibit about Zulma Brandoni de Gasparini, a female paleontologist who discovered a dinosaur that was named for her (Gasparinisaura Cincosaltensis).  Even Jake is impressed, and Kimmy regains her confidence and enthusiasm for dinosaurs.  “When I grow up, I want to be just like her,” Kimmy says at the end of the trip. “I think,” replies Mr. Tiffin, “you already are.”  Includes profiles of seven women paleontologists, including one who discovered a fossil from a new species of pterosaur when she was only four years old.  40 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Another charming tale featuring Mr. Tiffin working his magic with another member of his class.  There’s plenty of dinosaur information woven into the story for fossil fans.

Cons:  I hope Jake gets his own story so we can learn why he’s so obnoxious.

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