Clackety Track: Poems About Trains by Skila Brown, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

Published by Candlewick

Image result for clackety track poems amazon

Image result for clackety track poems amazon

Summary:  Thirteen poems take the reader from “Morning in the Yard” to “Sleeper Train”.  The poems take different forms, including a few concrete ones like “Tracks” in the shape of railroad tracks, and “Shoulder Ballast Cleaner” with the words interwoven in the illustration.  Each poem gets its own two-page spread, complete with a vivid, colorful illustration. Includes a dozen facts about trains, shown on railroad cars on the final two pages. 32 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  The simple poems and bright, colorful illustrations make this an excellent introduction to poetry for primary grades; the subject is sure to be popular as well.

Cons:  I liked how Skila Brown included shark facts on every page of her book of shark poems, Slickety Quick, and wish she had done that with facts about the different trains here.

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Sweety by Andrea Zuill

Published by Schwartz & Wade

Image result for sweety andrea zuill amazon

Image result for sweety andrea zuill amazon

Summary:  Sweety is a young naked mole rat described by her grandmother as “a square peg”.  Sporting thick glasses and orthodontic headgear, she has a passion for collecting and identifying mushrooms and presenting her school reports using interpretive dance.  She can see she doesn’t fit in, but doesn’t know how to change. Fortunately, there’s Aunt Ruth, also a square peg, who assures Sweety that it’s okay to be herself.  They page through some photo albums together, where Sweety sees her mom and aunt as children and as mohawk-sporting teens, giving a few clues as to where Sweety may get her outside-the-box personality.  In the end, she decides to go her own way, and is rewarded by meeting another mole rat who seems to share some of her interests. 32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  The “be yourself” message is delivered in a humorous fashion; all the naked mole rates may look a little unusual to the human readers, pointing out the ridiculousness of what makes one more “popular” than another.  The illustrations provide a light touch that saves the story from getting too bogged down in its message.

Cons:  The expression “square peg” is never explained.

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Going Down Home With Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter

Published by Peachtree Publishing Company

Image result for going down home with daddy daniel minter

Summary:  Lil Alan is excited to be leaving before dawn for a family reunion down south.  The whole clan is gathering at his father’s mother’s house. Aunts, uncles, and cousins join in a weekend celebration of their family.  There’s lots of playing with cousins and eating delicious food, but there are also serious talks about their history–how their ancestors came from Africa in chains, but they fought for freedom until “a farmer and a teacher” bought the land where Granny now lives and grows cotton.  Lil Alan worries all weekend about having a contribution to the traditional Sunday evening ceremony, but when the time comes he has thought of something to say that perfectly captures his family’s history. 32 pages: ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be an excellent mentor text for teaching narrative writing.  The muted watercolor illustrations deserve some Caldecott consideration.

Cons:  I wasn’t quite clear about who bought the land…was it Granny and her husband, or someone in the generation before her?

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¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl the Third

Published by Versify

Image result for vamos let's go to the market

Image result for vamos let's go to the market

Summary:  Little Lobo and his dog Bernabé have a big day in store as they load up the wagon to make deliveries to various people at the Mercado.  There are all kinds of interesting characters, both human and animal, to be seen as they travel. Finally, they arrive and start delivering their goods.  Little Lobo has many friends at the Mercado, and between their gifts and his own purchases, his wagon is almost as full at the end of his delivery run as it was at the beginning.  His last stop is at the local Lucha Libre place, where he not only meets his favorite wrestler, El Toro, but gets to give him a ride home in his wagon. The day ends with Lobo and Bernabé getting into bed, ready for sleep after a busy day.  Includes a glossary of all the Spanish words used in the text. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Richard Scarry meets Diego Rivera in this dizzying, magnificent tour of Lobo’s Mexican (I think–it’s not specified) town.  There are so many fascinating characters performing all sorts of interesting jobs in illustrations that could keep readers absorbed for hours.  Many Spanish words and phrases woven into the story combined with the glossary at the end makes this a good introduction to the language.

Cons:  The illustrations were almost too busy, and occasionally overwhelmed the more modest text.

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Tomorrow Most Likely by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Lane Smith

Published by Chronicle Books

Image result for tomorrow most likely amazon

Image result for tomorrow most likely amazon

Summary:  “Tomorrow most likely/there will be a sky/And chances are it will be blue/Tomorrow most likely/there will be a squirrel/And chances are his name is Stu.” So begins this unique bedtime story that focuses, not on the night and going to sleep, but of all the wonders that are waiting in the day to come.  What will you see, hear, and touch? Some of it is real, like seeing a plane or holding a stone; some is more fanciful like riding a whale. “Tomorrow most likely/will be a great day/because you are in it/And Stu is okay.” 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The quirky rhyming text will get kids contemplating the wonders the next day holds; the illustrations are the best part of this book, filled with color and imagination.

Cons:  Some of the characters, like Stu the squirrel and Cousin Todd, seem to be introduced solely to make a rhyme.

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Carl and the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

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Image result for carl and the meaning of life freedman

Summary:  Carl is a busy earthworm, going about his wormy activities of eating, digesting, and pooping, when a field mouse asks him, “Why do you do that?”  The question stops Carl cold, and he goes off in search of an answer. He asks different animals, but no one can help him. In the meantime, the soil is getting hard and barren.  When the other animals start to leave in search of new homes, Carl realizes he has a job to do. He gets back to work, and soon the soil is fluffy once again, and the land has become habitable for animals to return.  Includes a brief author’s note about the important job of each animal, and ends with a question for the reader, “How do you help the earth?”  48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Carl is a cute, loveable protagonist–and it’s not often I say that about an annelid–who has important messages for young readers about taking care of the earth and being the best you can at what you do.

Cons:  A list of books and websites for further reading would have been a nice addition.

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Motor Mouse by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

Published by Beach Lane Books

Image result for motor mouse rylant amazon

Image result for motor mouse rylant amazon

Summary:  The Mr. Putter and Tabby team has created a new early chapter book about Motor Mouse, an adventurous mouse who drives a delivery car for a living.  In the first story, he and his friend Telly are disappointed when the cake store where they usually celebrate Fridays is closed. A hedgehog guides them to a pie store, and they broaden their culinary horizons.  Next, Motor Mouse hires a taxi to take him down Memory Lane, where he reminisces about old friends and makes a new one. Finally, Motor Mouse and his brother Valentino go to the movies together and have to figure out the best way to share their popcorn.  When they do, they celebrate by going out for ice cream. 64 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  These cozy, mildly humorous stories are perfect for beginning readers who have already made friends with some of Rylant’s other creations like the aforementioned Mr. Putter and Tabby, Poppleton, and Henry and Mudge.  Plus, they’ll get to read about a lot of good food.

Cons:  While this seems to be targeting the easy reader audience, it’s in the larger picture book format, which will make it a bit tricky to shelve in many libraries.

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