Packs: Strength in Numbers by Hannah Salyer

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  The first four two-page spreads each contain a single word: “Packs, herds, huddles, and pods.”  Each shows a group of animals: wolves, buffalo, penguins, and whales. The text continues, “Together, we are better.”  Then there are lengthier descriptions of how different animals work together. Ants collect and store leaves as a group: “Together, we harvest!”  Wildebeest migrate together for protection: “Together, we travel!” The last two pages show a big group of humans, enjoying the streets, parks, and restaurants of a city: “All together…we are better!”  Includes an author’s note about protecting animals of all species; a picture illustrating and identifying all the animals in the book; and a list of books for further reading. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will enjoy learning how animals work together and applying those lessons to their own groups, but the illustrations are what really make this book outstanding.  The first eight pages are especially spectacular. This is Hannah Salyer’s first picture book…hoping we will see many more.

Cons:  The theme of this book seemed a bit disjointed: it was about pack animals, but also seemed to be about humans working together, and then there was the author’s note about helping endangered animals.  All good things, but a single focus might have worked better.

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Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots by Michael Rex

Published by Nancy Paulsen Books

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Image result for facts vs opinions vs robots

Summary:  A jolly group of robots helps readers understand the difference between fact and opinion.  The robot is green: fact. Green is a good color for a robot: opinion. The robot’s name is Bubba: we need more information.  Kids will also learn how to respect others’ opinions and not try to convince someone else that their opinion is wrong. Is it an awesome book?  Well, that’s an opinion question. But you can read it again if you want, and that’s a fact. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A timely topic for children of all ages, introduced in a way that is fun and easy to understand.  I can’t think of any other kids’ books on this topic, and it’s an important one. As an aside, Michael Rex and I grew up on the same street in Chatham, NJ (fact), and I am always delighted when I see one of his books (opinion).

Cons:  I’m pretty sure Mr. and Mrs. Rex know where I live, so I’m going to refrain from any negative feedback about their son’s book.

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Vote for Our Future! by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by Micah Player and Equality’s Call: The Story of Voting Rights In America by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Magdalena Mora

Published by Schwartz & Wade 

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Image result for vote for our future mcnamara


Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for equality's call story

Summaries:  Every two years, Stanton Elementary School closes down on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Turns out it’s a polling place on Election Day, and the kids in Vote for Our Future! want to be a part of it.  They visit friends, family, and neighbors to encourage them to vote, meeting each one of their lame excuses with a solution to get them registered and to the polls.  A gatefold page shows long lines on Election Day, and excitement builds as votes are counted and recounted. Kids are back at school the next day, “and the future begins to change”.  Includes a list of Acts of Congress that have made the future better for Americans. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

The rhyming text of Equality’s Call tells the story of how voting rights have changed over the last 200 years.  At first, “white men with property went to the polls, but the rest of the people were left off the rolls”.  Over time, things slowly changed, allowing women, people of color, and the non-wealthy to vote. Every few pages, a double-page spread shows a growing parade of voters with the refrain, “We heard ever louder/Equality’s call/A right isn’t a right/Till it’s granted to all.”  The last few pages remind readers that we owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought for voters’ rights and that “democracy’s dream must be constantly tended”. Includes two pages of voting-related amendments and legislation with a description of each one and two pages with thumbnail profiles of voting rights activists.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A double dose of democracy with two excellent picture books that show the importance of voting and put it in historical context.  

Cons:  Not voting on Election Day!  If you’re in a Super Tuesday state and know someone who isn’t voting today, I encourage you to call or visit that person and read one of these books to them in an aggrieved, disappointed voice.  Say it kids:

Image result for vote for our future mcnamara

If you would like to buy Vote for Our Future on Amazon, click here.

If you would like to buy Equality’s Call on Amazon, click here.

A Kid of Their Own by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by Jessica Lanan

Published by Charlesbridge

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Image result for kid of their own lanan megan dowd lambert

Summary:  Clyde the rooster, first seen in A Crow of His Own, gets his beak out of joint when a baby goat named Rowdy arrives at the farm.  Clyde loves to wake everyone up with his “Cock-a-doodle-do”, but he’s constantly being hushed so Rowdy can get his sleep.  Clyde starts to feel jealous, particularly when motherly Roberta the goose starts paying more attention to Rowdy than to Clyde.  But when he overhears some of the other animals talking about his behavior, Clyde is moved to make amends. He digs out an old pair of earmuffs that have never quite fit him and gives them to the kid.  The next morning, Clyde is able to issue his usual rousing wake-up call, and Rowdy can sleep peacefully, his ears warmly protected. Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed Farmers Jay and Kevin getting ready for a big event in their own lives, and on the last page they have adopted their own kid…and not the goat variety.  32 pages; ages 4-8

Pros:  This cute story about adjusting to a new member of the family or two would be a perfect gift for a new big sibling.

Cons:  Those must be some powerful earmuffs.

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Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka

Published by Candlewick

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Image result for dandelion's dream tanaka

Summary:  A dandelion dreams of becoming a dandy lion and going on many adventures:  riding on a train, sailing on a ship, visiting the city. Finally, he rides in a small biplane, where he gets an aerial view of all the city lights.  As he watches, the blurry lights transform into puffy dandelions, and he is back in the field. He’s gone from yellow to white, and on the last pages, seeds blow from him into the dark sky, forming the shape of a pouncing lion.  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  The illustrations in this wordless picture book have a surreal, dreamy quality, perfect for the story.  The story is straightforward and easy to understand, but could easily prompt more discussion, writing, or art.

Cons:  I was disappointed that Dandelion didn’t fly off the ship on his bird friend’s back.

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The Only Woman in the Photo by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye

Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Although Frances Perkins was shy growing up, her passion for justice helped her overcome her fears.  As a young woman, she moved from Massachusetts to New York City where she became a social worker. Witnessing the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire turned her into an activist, and she was hired by former president Theodore Roosevelt to improve workplace safety.  She caught the eye of New York governor Al Smith, and moved to work at the state level, eventually working for Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Roosevelt became President, he appointed Frances Secretary of Labor, the first female member of a U.S. presidential cabinet.  She was instrumental in many New Deal reforms, including Social Security and the federal minimum wage. Roosevelt wouldn’t let her resign, so Perkins remained in her position until FDR’s death in 1945. Disliking publicity and refusing to write her memoirs, Frances Perkins wasn’t always well-known, but her work continues to benefit us to this day.  Includes additional information and a list of sources. 48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  This lengthy picture book biography of Frances Perkins highlights her work ethic and concern for people in need that led her to work for numerous reforms that have improved lives for almost a century.  Alexandra Bye’s illustrations enhance the text and nicely weave some of Frances’s quotes into the pictures.

Cons:  There aren’t a lot of dates of places in the text or author’s note, and very little is told of Frances’s personal life.  A timeline, kid-friendly list of resources, and some photos would have made this a more useful research book.

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The Imaginaries: Little Scraps of Larger Stories by Emily Winfield Martin

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Image result for imaginaries emily winfield martin amazon

Summary:  The artist calls these “illustrations for stories that do not exist”.  Each painting is accompanied by a sentence or two scribbled on the back of an envelope or other scrap of paper.  A monkey holding a key: “Ask the monkey what he knows.” A girl sitting by a stream surrounded by animals: “The paradise was different depending on who found it.”  A mermaid sitting on a rock: “She never told anyone what she saw at the edge of the world.” The author finishes with a brief note telling how these works chronicle the process of becoming herself and inviting the reader to join her on her journey.  80 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An amazing tool to unlock the imagination.  This reminded me of The Mysteries of Harrison Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.  Just paging through fires up the imagination; or one could choose one illustration and use it to inspire writing or other art.

Cons:  This book definitely defies categorization.  It seems like a picture book, but the usual picture book crowd would definitely find it puzzling.

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