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

Published by Schwartz & Wade

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

Published by Scholastic

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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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Mama Dug A Little Den by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Published by Beach Lane Books

See the source image

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Summary:  Each two-page spread has a rhyme beginning with the line “Mama dug a little den” (“Mama dug a little den/beneath a fallen tree./An earthy home as soft as moss,/a nursery for three” is the first one about red foxes).  A smaller paragraph gives additional information. The illustrations are in Steve Jenkins’ signature cut-paper collage style, and show the animal in its den and some of the surrounding habitat. A final page contains a note from the author about how she came to write the book, and some additional information about what to look for if you find a den to determine what kind of animal lives there.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  In this follow-up book to Mama Built A Little Nest, preschoolers will learn a bit about animal homes and how to discover them in their own backyards.  As president of the Steve Jenkins fan club (well, I would be, if there were such a thing), I appreciated the beautiful illustrations.

Cons:  The back matter was so small and unobtrusive, many readers may miss it.

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Who Eats Orange? by Dianne White, illustrated by Robin Page

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Animals, foods, colors, and habitats are introduced in this book that has a repeating question and answer format: “Who eats orange? Bunnies in their hutches do. Chickens in the henhouse too.  Who else eats orange? Goats. Pigs. Gorillas too? Gorillas? No! Gorillas don’t eat orange. They eat…green.” The large illustrations have plenty of color on a simple white background. Humans, the book concludes, eat a rainbow of colors.  The last two pages list various habitats with the animals from each listed and additional information about what and how that animal eats. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Catchy rhymes and eye-catching graphics make this an appealing introduction for a wide variety of topics.

Cons:  The habitats listed at the end include farms, Africa, ocean, forest, rainforest, and tundra; but Africa is a continent with many different habitats.

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The Secret Life of the Little Brown Bat by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky

Published by Boyds Mills Press

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Image result for secret life little brown bat

Summary:  This story starts shortly after Otis, a little brown bat, has left his mother and is living on his own.  Watching how Otis spends his days and nights, the reader will learn the physical characteristics of bats, their diet, where they live, how they hunt using echolocation, and their life cycle.  The illustrations mostly portray Otis at night in a variety of settings: roosting in an abandoned building, hibernating in a cave, flying through the sky, and hunting for insects in a meadow. At the end, Otis has found a mate and is settling down for a long winter’s sleep.  Includes two pages of additional information about little brown bats and a glossary. 32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to a bat’s life, told in a narrative form that will hold readers’ interest.  The pastel illustrations on the dark background provide striking portrayals of Otis (whose name comes from his species’ scientific name, Myotis lucifugus) and the other bats.

Cons:  Otis didn’t really seem to be leading a “secret life”.

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Spring After Spring: How Rachel Carson Inspired the Environmental Movement by Stephanie Roth Sisson

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Rachel Carson loved nature from the time she was a child.  She spent a lot of time outside, looking and listening to the wonders around her.  Although she grew up far from the ocean, she loved to read about it and imagined what it would be like.  She also enjoyed writing, and planned to study it in college. But after seeing tiny sea creatures through a microscope, she changed her major to biology.  After graduation, she combined her two interests, writing popular books about the ocean. Her most famous work, though, was Silent Spring, based on her research on the effects of pesticides on the environment.  Although not everyone agreed with her conclusions, enough people were concerned that real changes occurred as a result, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the first Earth Day.  Includes author’s note, notes, and bibliography. 40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A charming introduction to Rachel Carson’s life, emphasizing her lifelong love of nature, especially the ocean, and illustrated with cartoon-style illustrations.

Cons:  The notes gave a lot of interesting information about Carson’s life, but are written in a small, cramped font, and are likely to be overlooked by young readers.

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Saving Fiona: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Baby Hippo by Thane Maynard

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Fiona the hippo arrived two months prematurely, her caretakers at the Cincinnati Zoo sprang into action to save her.  At 29 pounds, she was about one-third the healthy weight for a newborn hippo, and was too weak to climb on her mom’s back or to nurse.  The staff watched over her day and night, creating a hippo formula based on her mother’s milk to feed her. When she was a few months old, she began gradually transitioning to her parents’ care.  Fiona became something of a social media sensation, and a Google News search reveals that as recently as two weeks ago, her growth spurt was making headlines. Includes four pages of back matter with additional information about hippos.  48 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  This is my favorite kind of animal nonfiction book…an engaging story, lots of adorable photos, and plenty of information that would make it a good research resource.  I was surprised to read that hippos are the most requested animals at the zoo, but after seeing the photos of Fiona, I can understand why.

Cons:  Some resources about hippos for additional research would have been a nice addition.

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Kiki Greenbriar?