Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by Francie Latour, pictures by Ken Daley

Published by Groundwood Books

Image result for auntie luce's talking amazon

Image result for auntie luce's talking amazon

Summary:  A little girl tells about traveling to Haiti, her mother’s birthplace, to visit her artist Auntie Luce.  Auntie Luce shows her niece around Haiti, driving through the city before heading to her home and studio in the country.  In the studio are paintings of some of the heroes from Haiti’s past like Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Catherine Flon, and Francois-Dominique Louverture, as well as portraits of the girl’s ancestors.  When it’s her turn to sit for a portrait, she finds it’s hard to sit still for so long; Auntie Luce distracts her with stories about Haiti and its history. At the end of her visit, her aunt gives the girl her portrait telling her, “These colors, this people, this place belong to you.  And you belong to them, always.” Includes an author’s note giving a brief history of Haitian independence and a glossary. 36 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An ode to Haiti, celebrating its history of independence and its beauty, particularly with the vibrantly colored illustrations.

Cons:  I wish there was more information about the history of Haiti in the author’s note.

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I Lost My Tooth! by Mo Willems (Unlimited Squirrels)

Published by Hyperion Books for Children

Image result for i lost my tooth mo willems amazon

Image result for i lost my tooth mo willems

Summary:  When Zoom Squirrel loses her tooth, her squirrel friends are horrified, particularly when they find out it was a baby tooth!  They’re sure it must be alone, sad, and hungry, and they scatter in all directions to try to find it.  When they’re gone, Zoom Squirrel realizes it’s under her pillow, and goes off to retrieve it.  The other squirrels return to find her gone, too!  Finally, everyone is reunited, and the baby tooth is put into a carriage where it is oohed and aahed over.  Zoom Squirrel has the final word as she concludes with the lesson from the story: “Squirrels do not know much about teeth!”  The final third of the book includes jokes and facts about teeth.  85 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Squirrels may not know much about teeth, but Mo Willems knows plenty about how to tickle kids’ funny bones, and his legion of fans is sure to welcome this new series (at least I assume it will be a series), with a size, shape, and illustrations that are similar to the Elephant and Piggie books.

Cons:  There’s a large cast of squirrel characters, all of whom look kind of similar to me.  Also, the back matter seemed unnecessary, although I suppose jokes, riddles, and fun facts will always find an audience with the preschool crowd.  And I feel foolish offering any criticism, as I know that anything even remotely resembling Piggie and Gerald with Mo Willems’ name on it will be a runaway best seller.

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Eliza: The Story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Esme Shapiro.  

Published by Schwartz & Wade

Image result for eliza mcnamara amazon

Image result for eliza mcnamara amazon

Summary:  Writing a letter to her soon-to-be-born grandchild, Eliza Hamilton tells the story of her life, starting as an adventurous girl who liked to run and play on her family’s farm in upstate New York.  She writes of her regret that her family owned slaves, and how they eventually freed them. Then she moves on to meeting and falling in love with Alexander Hamilton, and how she helped introduce him to some of her family’s socially prominent acquaintances.  After his death, she worked for many years to preserve his legacy, raise money for the Washington Monument and to continue and expand upon the charitable work the two of them had started. Her proudest achievement seems to have been founding New York’s first orphanage in 1806, an institution that continues to this day.  Back matter includes extensive notes and additional resources, as well as an afterword by Phillipa Soo, the original Eliza from Hamilton: An American Musical. 48 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to a lesser-known founding mother, with her accomplishments presented in their own right, not only in connection with her famous husband.  The folk art style illustrations add a lot to the text; older fans of the musical will enjoy this book as well as the youngsters.

Cons:  I’ve seen this book recommended for kids as young as 4 years old.  In my opinion, it wouldn’t be appreciated much by anyone without some background knowledge of early American history.

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Rock What Ya Got by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Kerascoet

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Image result for rock what ya got berger

Image result for rock what ya got kerascoet

Summary:  An artist creates a girl named Viva, then, dissatisfied, begins to erase her.  Viva grabs the pencil.  “Excuse me, lady, artist, ma’am/but I like me the way I am./Before you change one line or dot,/can I try…to rock what I got?”  Unconvinced, the artist tries tweaking parts of Viva: first her hair, then her body, then the background.  Each time, Viva reappears in her original form, with her reminder to “Rock what ya got!”  Finally, the artist remembers a book with that title that she wrote when she was about Viva’s age.  She hugs Viva, happy with her exactly as she is, and makes a promise to herself not to forget this line again.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A catchy line with a good message of self-acceptance and great illustrations showing the artist’s different attempts at altering Viva.

Cons:  I was hoping there would be an afterword…did Samantha Berger really create such a book for herself as a kid?

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We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Image result for we don't eat our classmates higgins

Summary:  Poor Penelope!  It’s tough enough for a young T. Rex going to school for the first time, but when she discovers her classmates are all children, she can’t resist eating them…because children are delicious!  The teacher makes her spit them all back out, but that first impression lasts, and Penelope finds herself without any friends. Her parents explain to her that she can’t eat her classmates, reminding her that “children are the same as us on the inside.  Just tastier.” Penelope tries, but she still has an occasional slip-up until she attempts to make friends with Walter, the classroom goldfish. When she sticks her finger in the water, Walter takes a bite, and Penelope does not like being someone’s snack at all!  Just looking at Walter reminds her to practice self-control, and before long Penelope has turned things around at school and is making friends. 48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A funny story about a T. Rex that also conveys good messages about treating others how you want to be treated and practicing self-control.

Cons:  I thought Penelope could have been a bit cuter; her head is kind of a cross between a beach ball and a football helmet.

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Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Published by Candlewick

Image result for interrupting chicken and the elephant amazon

Image result for interrupting chicken and the elephant

Summary:  The little red chicken and her father are back with their bedtime story routine.  This time, Little Chicken has been told by her teacher that every story has an element of surprise….only she heard this as an elephant of surprise.  So in each story her father reads to her, she is on the lookout for that elephant.  Just like in Interrupting Chicken, the father reads a classic fairy tale, and his daughter interrupts, inserting herself and the elephant.  The illustrations for the stories are a bit more dignified, with paler colors and classic-looking characters; the elephant and Little Chicken herself appear in the stories in the style of the rest of the book.  Dad is still awake at the end of this story; on the last page, Little Chicken asks him for help with her math homework.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of the first Caldecott-honored Interrupting Chicken will no doubt enjoy some chuckles as they revisit Little Chicken and her patient, loving father.

Cons:  The premise of the interrupting chicken felt a little tired to me in this one.

A copy of this book was provided to me by Candlewick.

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Tigers and Tea With Toppy by Barbara Kerley and Rhoda Knight Kalt, illustrated by Matte Stephens

Published by Scholastic

Image result for tigers and tea with toppy amazon

Image result for tigers and tea with toppy

Summary:  Rhoda loves spending weekends in New York City with her Grandpa Toppy and Grandma Nonnie.  On Saturday, Toppy, whose real name is Charles R. Knight, takes his granddaughter to the American Museum of Natural History where he shows her the paintings he created of animals and prehistoric scenes.  Even though he is legally blind, he is able to draw and paint the dinosaurs from their fossilized skeletons. The next day they visit the Central Park Zoo where Toppy shows Rhoda the animals he studied so closely to learn how to draw them accurately.  Rhoda, Toppy, and Nonnie finish off the weekend with a celebratory tea at the Plaza Hotel. Includes author and artist notes with more information about Knight and the creation of the book; source notes; some of Knight’s animal drawings; and photos of Toppy and Rhoda.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun way to introduce the life of Charles Knight.  One interesting tidbit: illustrator Matte Stephens is legally blind, like Knight was, and uses some of the same techniques to create his art.

Cons: I would have enjoyed seeing more of the prehistoric paintings.

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