Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and A Journey to the New World by David Macaulay

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for crossing on time macaulay

Summary:  In September of 1957, David Macaulay left with his mother, sister, and brother to travel to America, where his father had been offered a new job.  Their mode of transportation was the SS United States, the fastest, most advanced steamship ever built.  Macaulay starts the story with himself at age 10 getting ready to go to America, then goes back to the 18th century and traces the history of steam power and the steamship.  The text is illustrated with his trademark detailed, technical drawings illuminating each page, including a six-panel foldout cutaway of the United States with 100 labeled parts.  The last chapter tells about his family’s journey and their move to New Jersey.  Includes an afterword, a timeline, and a list of selected reading. 128 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  If you’re interested in engineering, you will never go wrong with David Macaulay.  The personal connection to his family made the story interesting to non-techies like myself.  The illustrations range from amazing to truly mind-boggling, like the one of the ship described above.

Cons:  It will take a pretty dedicated shipping enthusiast to get through all the details in the text.

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Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me by Susan L. Roth

Published by Neal Porter Books

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Image result for birds of a feather susan roth

Summary:  What does collage artist and illustrator Susan Roth have in common with the bowerbirds of Australia?  For starters, they are both collectors who like to use their collections in unusual ways. They both work in small spaces.  No two compositions are the same. And they both hope their finished works are greater than the sum of their parts. The comparisons are, not surprisingly, illustrated with collage art.  The last few pages give more facts about bowerbirds and how they work; how Susan works; and expanded information on how they are the same. Includes a photo of a bowerbird and a bibliography.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The illustrations in this book are gorgeous and unique, and the unusual comparison could be used as an inspiration for kids to find ways they are similar to other animals.

Cons:  It’s a little anthropomorphic to speculate what bowerbirds hope about their finished works.

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Mummies Exposed! (Creepy and True #1) by Kerrie Logan Hollihan

Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Whether discovered in tombs, bogs, or ice, mummies give a unique glimpse into the past through the well-preserved bodies of ancient humans.  Some were intentionally mummified, like Egyptian kings, while others were mummified by the right combination of elements that prevented their flesh from decaying.  Each of the ten chapters tells the fascinating story of a different mummy–its discovery and the stories it tells. Sometimes it takes years to piece together theories of how a person or group of people met their end and wound up in a place where they were found centuries later.  There are plenty of gruesome photos, as well as a glossary, index, and extensive bibliography. 212 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  The conversational tone, fascinating subject matter, and plethora of photos will make this a popular choice for middle schoolers.

Cons:  Although this is billed on Amazon as book #1 in the series Creepy and True, I couldn’t find any upcoming books in the series.

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Beastly Puzzles: A Brain-Boggling Animal Guessing Game by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Kids Can Press

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Summary:  “What animal can you make with dinosaur feet, several feather dusters, a lion-killing kick, black toenails, three billiard balls, the speed of a greyhound, and a hose?  Here’s a hint: This animal uses its wings to make sharp turns, quick stops, and zigzagging moves. But don’t look for it in the skies!” If you guessed an ostrich, good for you.  If you didn’t have a clue, you could unfold the gatefold page of this book to get the answer, plus an explanation of how all the parts help the animal. There are 13 animals in all.  The last page tells more about how early explorers described new animals that they found using parts of animals that were familiar to them (think duck-billed platypus). Includes a glossary.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  This unique, beautifully illustrated book would be a fun read-aloud to get kids guessing all the animals.  Listeners will definitely want a closer look afterward to learn about the different features of each creature.

Cons:  These were tough…I only could figure out a couple without peeking.

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Sandy Feet! Whose Feet?: Footprints at the Shore by Susan Wood, illustrated by Steliyana Doneva

Published by Sleeping Bear Press

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Summary:  As two children play on the beach, they see the tracks left in the sand by a variety of animals, beginning with their dog.  There are also prints left by a sandpiper, crab, seagull, pelican, crab, and sea turtle. At the end of the day, their own tired feet take them back home again.  The last two pages of the story show all the prints in the sand, and the two pages after that give additional information about the animals. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Read this before going to the beach to make kids more aware of the animals around them.  The illustrations do a nice job of portraying the various creatures, as well as their tracks to help kids identify them.

Cons:  It would have been helpful to show pictures of tracks next to the thumbnail photos of the different animals on the last two pages.

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Trees by Verlie Hutchens, illustrated by Jing Jing Tson

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Image result for trees verlie jing

Summary:  Fourteen different trees are profiled, each one getting a brief free-verse poem and a two-page illustration.  Some of the taller trees’ pages require turning the book 45 degrees, as the tree stretches from roots on the left-hand side to the treetop on the right.  The trees are personified, often being assigned a gender, and sometimes compared to a human (a sycamore is a “fashion queen” and the white pine, an “unruly uncle”).  Other trees include maple, aspen, oak, palm, pussy willow, apple, redbud, dogwood, spruce, willow, birch, and sequoia. 40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Just enough information is given in the brief poems and illustrations to help kids start to identify some of the trees in their neighborhoods.  The short, easy-to-understand verses and familiar subject matter would make this a good introduction to poetry.

Cons:  There were no additional resources to help readers learn more about trees.

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Sweet Dreamers by Isabelle Simler

Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

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Image result for sweet dreamers simler

Summary:  Twenty eight poems tell how different animals sleep: “Toes clinging to the ceiling/kite-fingers folded like a blanket/the bat dreams upside down/As the day shines, she slips into darkness.”  Each spread has a picture of the animal from a short distance on the page with the poem, and a close-up of the animal on the facing page. There are a few wordless spreads of nighttime landscapes interspersed among the poems.  The last poem is for the reader (or listener): “She clambers onto the whale/straddles the seahorse/clings to the elephant/swoops with the swallow./All night long, cuddling her koala/The child dreams beneath the moon.” 80 pages; ages 4-9.

Pros:  Nothing was lost in the translation of this book from the original French to English.  The poems are brief but expressive, and convey at least a fact or two about each animal.  The big and beautiful illustrations are digitally created, which is hard to believe. They look like scratchboard, with bright bits of color on dark backgrounds, perfect for the subject matter.

Cons:  Some additional information on the animals at the end would have added to the educational value.

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