Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet by April Pulley Sayre

Published by Greenwillow Books Cityscape: Where Science and Art Meet (9780062893314 ...

Summary:  “Rectangle. Right angle. Window. Wall. A windy canyon where shadows fall.”  The simple rhyming text is accompanied by several photos on each page showing urban landscapes.  Building, vehicles, and other structures focus on shapes, angles, functions, and art.  The last couple pages discuss how to find science, technology, engineering, math, and art in the city.  A list of 40 questions encourages readers to observe what they see in the city with an inquiring mind.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  April Pulley Sayre works her usual magic with her combination of interesting photographs and brief rhyming text.  She moves in a different direction with this book, away from her usual nature topics, and into the city and human-built structures.  There’s a lot to absorb in both the book and the questions at the end, and kids will come away from this book observing their surroundings in a whole new way.

Cons:  Some of the topics seemed somewhat abstract.  On the other hand, this could make the book an interesting read for older kids as well.

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Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires by Emma Bland Smith, illustrated by Carrie Salazar

Published by West Margin Press

Odin, Dog Hero of the Fires - Kindle edition by Smith, Emma Bland ...

Summary:  Based on a true story, this tale is narrated by Odin, a Great Pyrenees dog charged with looking after the goats on a small California ranch.  When wildfires threaten the ranch, owner Roland and his daughter escape in their truck.  Odin’s sister goes with them, but Odin refuses to leave the goats.  He watches the house and barn burn, desperately seeking a safe refuge.  He finally notices some boulders, and leads the goats there, where they are eventually joined by a few fawns.  When Roland returns a few days later, he is stunned to see Odin and the goats, alive and well except for some burned whiskers and scorched paws.  Includes an author’s note about the actual event in October, 2017, with several photos of the dogs, goats, humans, and house before and after the fire.  36 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  A story narrated by a dog featuring a based-on-a-true-story survival of a wildfire?  That’s almost too easy to book talk!  Readers of all ages will fall in love with Odin, and admire his devotion to duty in the face of danger.  They will enjoy poring over the author’s note and photos to learn more about the real people and animals.

Cons:  You might want to throw in some advice to kids about following directions in a fire, as not doing so doesn’t usually result in Odin’s happy outcome.

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Hike by Pete Oswald

Published by Candlewick

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Books

Hike: Oswald, Pete, Oswald, Pete: 9781536201574: Books

Summary:  A boy and his father wake at dawn to go for a hike.  From the drawings scattered about the boy’s bedroom and the way he seems to know just what to do to get ready, it seems like they’ve done this before.  They drive out of the city and into the wilderness, where they enjoy a day of hiking, climbing, and exploring.  They take pictures and look at things with a magnifying glass.  They hunt for animal tracks, find a waterfall, and scale a rocky summit, where they watch bald eagles soar overhead.  At the end of the day, they’re home again, celebrating with milk and cookies and looking at photo albums, having made another memory to share.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will want to get out in nature when they see all there is to explore in a single day.  This book celebrates both hiking and a warm father-son relationship, and would make a perfect pairing with Jennifer Mann’s The Camping Trip.  I’ll definitely be putting this in my “Caldecott contender” collection at the end of the year.

Cons:  I would call this a wordless book, but if I do, kids are sure to tell me, “There’s a word!” as soon as I turn a page.  Do not ask me how I know this.  So, fine, I would say there are between 8 and 12 words in this book, depending on how you count them. 

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Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

Published by Candlewick (released September 8)

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Jabari Tries: Cornwall, Gaia, Cornwall, Gaia: 9781536207163 ...

Summary:  Jabari, his little sister Nika, and his dad are back for a follow-up book to Jabari Jumps.  This time, Jabari is excited to be building a flying machine.  “It’ll be easy,” he says.  “I don’t need any help.”  His first attempt flies, but crashes, and Jabari works to redesign it.  He thinks about other Black engineers and scientists who have had to solve problems like this one.  When another attempt fails, his dad suggests that he take Nika on as a partner.  Another crash brings frustration, and Dad helps Jabari take a break, then try again.  Nika turns out to have the key to success, and when Jabari implements it into his design, success!  The two engineers are ready for their next project: a rocket to Jupiter.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  I was happy to see the return of Jabari and his family from one of my favorite slice-of-life picture books.  This one celebrates both engineering and grit, helping readers see what it takes to persevere.  

Cons:  This story felt a bit more didactic than the first one.

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Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker, illustrated by April Harrison

Published by Schwartz and Wade

Nana Akua Goes to School by Tricia Elam Walker: 9780525581130 ...

Summary:  When Zura’s teacher talks about the class’s upcoming Grandparents’ Day, the other kids are all abuzz about bringing their grandparents to school.  But Zura is quiet.  When she gets home, readers get to meet Nana Akua, Zura’s “favorite person in the whole universe”.  So why is Zura nervous about Nana Akua visiting her school?  When Nana Akua was a baby in Ghana, her parents tattooed marks on her face to show her tribal family and to represent beauty and confidence.  Zura has overheard Nana being called “scary” and seen people act nervous around her.  When Zura confides her concerns, her grandmother suggests they take Zura’s quilt to school.  Nana made the quilt, using the Adinkra symbols of her people in Ghana.  On Grandparents’ Day, Nana Akua sensibly addresses the issue of her facial markings right away, then offers to let the kids choose which Adinkra symbols they would like painted on their faces.  This proves to be such a hit that the other grandparents line up for face painting as well, and Zura and Nana Akua conclude the day with a big hug.  Includes a glossary, sources, and Adrinka symbols and their meanings on both sets of endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This warm and tender story celebrates differences and also acknowledges that sometimes those differences can be a little scary if you don’t understand them.  You get the feeling that Nana Akua has lived a full life and has the gift at putting anyone at ease.  The colorful illustrations, with lots of interesting prints and details, reminded me of Patricia Polacco.  

Cons:  My usual beef about interesting endpapers that get covered up by taped-down dust jackets on library books.

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Lift by Minh Lé, illustrated by Dan Santat

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Lift - Kindle edition by Lê, Minh, Santat, Dan, Santat, Dan ...

LIFT by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

Summary:  Iris loves to push the button on the elevator to her parents’ apartment.  So she feels betrayed when her toddler brother takes over her job, and reacts angrily by pushing all the buttons at once…which breaks the elevator.  While she and her family wait as someone from maintenance fixes it, Iris spies a broken button being tossed into the trash.  She retrieves it, tapes it to the inside of her bedroom closet, and begins to have magical adventures in her own private elevator.  Later, an evening with a babysitter gives Iris an opportunity to bond with her brother, and when she wakes up the next morning, she decides to include him in her next adventure.  The book ends with them in an unfamiliar landscape based on the book they read the night before.  56 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Here’s a Caldecott contender for sure, by the team that brought you Drawn Together.  There’s just enough text (in Iris’s voice) to keep the story going, making this a book that pre-readers can enjoy from the amazing illustrations alone.  A sure-fire winner for a wide range of readers (probably well beyond my 4-8 recommendation).

Cons:  I was confused as to why Iris’s brother’s stuffed tiger was also named Iris.

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This Way, Charlie by Caron Levis, illustrated by Charles Santoso

Published by Harry N. Abrams

This Way, Charlie - Kindle edition by Levis, Caron, Santoso ...

This Way Charlie Caron Levis and Charles Santoso | Lemuria Books

Summary:  Jack the goat keeps to himself, passing his days at Open Bud Ranch watching the other animals from a safe distance.  When Charlie the horse arrives, he ends up tripping right over Jack, which doesn’t make the goat too happy.  But he learns that Charlie is blind in one eye.  Charlie’s a friendly sort, but he has trouble getting around.  After watching him for a while, Jack gets up the courage to lead him to his favorite field to graze.  Jack never goes in the barn with Charlie and the other animals, having apparently suffered some kind of trauma in a barn before arriving at Open Bud.  Eventually, Charlie loses his vision completely and becomes more dependent on Jack.  Charlie tries to convince Jack that they should play with the other animals, but Jack refuses.  Then one day, Jack and Charlie get themselves into a dangerous situation, and it’s up to Jack to find a way out.  Can he overcome his fears to ask the other animals for help?   Includes an author’s note about the real-life inspiration for this story.  40 pages; ages 4-8. 

Pros:  From the team that brought you  Ida, Always comes another based-on-a-true-story tale of animal friendship with super cute illustrations.  Pretty irresistible.

Cons:  I would have liked to have learned more about the true story…maybe with some photos?

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Summer Song by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek

Published by Greenwillow Books

Summer Song: Henkes, Kevin, Dronzek, Laura: 9780062866134: Amazon ...

Summary:  Rounding out the year (with Winter Is Here,  When Spring Comes, and In the Middle of Fall), husband and wife team Henkes and Dronzek have created an ode to the sights, sounds, and feel of summer.  Hot, slow, lazy, filled with the music of fans, sprinklers, and air conditioners, surrounded by greens, blues, fireflies, and beaches, summer is a time to savor.  And just like the other books, this one leads naturally to the next season: “But when the days become shorter and the nights come earlier, the song changes.  Summer gets bored and wants to try something new, something different.  The song is turning turning turning…it’s turning into Fall.”  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kevin Henkes is sort of like the Tom Hanks of children’s books: you can pretty much count on a quality product with each creation.  His four seasons quartet that includes this book provides an excellent introduction to each season, filled with sights and sounds that readers will relate to.  The lush illustrations offer a diverse cast of characters enjoying the season.

Cons:  With the exception of the illustration showing air conditioning, there’s not any portrayal of summers that city kids might experience.

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One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Published by Scholastic

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey by Henry Cole

Summary:  Before getting to the title page, this wordless book takes the reader on a brief journey from a forest being logged to a paper mill to a hardware store where a boy and his father buy a flashlight that’s put in a paper bag.  As the main story begins, Dad makes his son lunch and packs it in that paper bag, now decorated with a single red heart.  As the boy grows up, he learns to fix cars and play guitars, still accompanied by the bag that holds tools, music, or snacks.  The bag goes off to college with him and plays a role in the young man meeting his future wife (who adds a second heart).  The two have their own son (heart #3), whose loving grandfather helps the boy add a fourth heart.  The bag’s final job is as a container for a sapling, which the family plants, completing the cycle back to the forest.  Includes an author’s note telling how the first Earth Day inspired him to use the same paper lunch bag for three years of high school (then gave it to a friend who used it for another year!).  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Henry Cole has produced another masterful wordless book that is easy to understand yet deeply celebrates family and the environment.  Young readers will find themselves thinking more about where their “disposable” paper goods come from after enjoying this story.

Cons:  This might not live up to kids’ expectations of “an amazing journey”.

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All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing After the Oklahoma City Bombing by Chris Barton, illustrated by Nicole Xu

Published by Carolrhoda Books

All of a Sudden and Forever: Help and Healing after the Oklahoma ...

Q&A with Chris Barton – BookPeople

Summary:  “Sometimes bad things happen, and you have to tell everyone.  Sometimes terrible things happen and everybody knows.  One April morning in 1995, one of those terrible things happened in Oklahoma City.”  How do you tell the story of the Oklahoma City bombing to a picture book audience?  Answer: in a straightforward manner, with an emphasis on different losses and emotions different people experienced (“Some lost friends, neighbors….Some who survived had bodies broken in ways large and small….Some who rushed into help saw horrible things they would never forget”).  But also with an emphasis on healing, helping (and getting help), and moving on.  At the center of this part of the story is the Survivor Tree, an elm that survived the bombing and flourished in the years afterward, providing seedlings that have been planted far and wide.  Those seedlings have grown into trees and produced seedlings of their own, making the spread of trees an apt metaphor for the spread of help and comfort that has come from the survivors of this tragedy.  Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes; a list of people interviewed for the book, along with their connections to the bombing; and a list of recommended resources.  40 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The Oklahoma City bombing doesn’t seem that long ago…until I look at my 25-year-old daughter who was born seven weeks afterward.  This book does an admirable job of introducing kids to the event, which they may never have heard of.  The illustrations are appropriately subdued; the faceless people in the pictures and the emphasis on grief and healing also make this a story to be read in conjunction with other difficult situations.

Cons:  Readers looking for a lot of information on the actual bombing will need to pursue some of the resources at the end.

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