What Makes a Monster? By Jess Keating, illustrated by David DeGrand

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Summary:  From the team that brought you Pink Is for Blobfish comes this collection of animals that can seem “monstrous”.  Each two-page spread features a photo of the animal, a brief description of the animal and what makes dangerous or deadly, a sidebar with facts like diet and habitat, and another interesting fact or two.  Many of the animals have monster-sounding names like the assassin bug, the horror frog, and the tyrant leech king.  And some of them are downright creepy, like the cordyceps fungus that takes over insects’ brains, causing them to self-destruct.  The final page is the seemingly obligatory inclusion of humans with a catalog of how we are wreaking havoc on the planet.  Includes a page connecting animals to famous monsters (e.g., Dracula and the vampire bat), a page explaining how what we see as scary is really an animal’s way of protecting itself, and a glossary.  48 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The gross-out factor combined with striking graphics and appealing page layouts makes this a surefire nonfiction hit.

Cons:  An introductory page would have been nice to give an overview of the book before diving into the first animal.

Charlotte the Scientist is Squished by Camille Andros, illustrated by Brianne Farley

Published by Clarion Books

Summary:  Charlotte the rabbit loves to use science to solve her problems.  Her biggest problem is that she is squished by her large family.  So she tries the steps of the scientific method, first asking a question, then forming a hypothesis, and finally running a series of experiments.  The first few fail, but she thinks she has found success when she builds a rocket and sends herself to the moon.  In space, she has all the space she could want, and when she makes her observations and draws her conclusions, she decides that her hypothesis was correct.  Being less squished has made her a better scientist!  But then a new problem arises: Charlotte is lonely.  So it’s back to the scientific method, and ultimately, back to earth, where she finally arrives at a solution that makes everyone happy.  The last two pages review the scientific method in greater detail.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The engaging story and cute rabbits make an appealing introduction to the scientific method.  Kids can even email Charlotte to tell her of their scientific successes.

Cons:  The word “hypothesis” is frequently used in the story, but isn’t defined until the last two pages.

The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid by Jeanette Winter

Published by Beach Lane Books

Summary:  Growing up in Iraq, Zaha Hadid loved to see patterns in nature and in her surroundings, and dreamed of turning those patterns into buildings.  She moved to London to study architecture, then, with a few friends, opened her own firm called Studio 9.  Her designs were so unusual that she had trouble convincing others that they could be built.  But she knew that the world is not a rectangle, and had the confidence to persevere.  Her determination paid off, and her unique buildings are now in cities around the world.  Zaha died in 2016, but Studio 9 lives on, continuing to make her dreams reality.  Back matter includes two pages of thumbnail sketches of the buildings mentioned in the text, identifying where they are located, a bit more biographical information, and a page of sources.  56 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  This would be useful as a biography or an art book, maybe inspiring kids to design their own buildings from nature.  I really love Jeannette Winter’s style of art (she also illustrated The Secret Project), and am hoping that the Caldecott committee takes a look at both of her books this year.

Cons:  There were no photos of the buildings.

Shell Beak Tusk: Shared Traits and the Wonders of Adaptation by Bridget Heos

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Porcupines and echidnas both have spiky spines.  Turtles and snails both have shells.  Yet these animals aren’t related to each other, and, in the case of the porcupine and echidna, don’t live on the same continents.  Animals often evolve with shared traits, even if they’re not closely related.  Each two-page spread shows a photograph of both of the animals with a paragraph about that animal and the trait the two share.  The first and last page give additional information about adaptation and evolution.  Includes a pretty extensive bibliography and an index.  32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The large, colorful photos provide a draw to pick up this book.  The idea of shared traits is an interesting concept that could be extended by having kids think of and research other animals who have shared traits.

Cons:  The writing and format are pretty straightforward, and may not have as much appeal as some flashier books about animals.

Two Truths and A Lie: It’s Alive! by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber

Published by Walden Pond Press

Summary:  “Two truths and a lie” used to be a dinnertime staple in our family, as I tried to ensnare my hapless young children into believing a convincing-sounding falsehood about my day.  The co-authors of the first entry in this series use their powers for good, telling three brief tales from the natural world, only two of which are true. For instance, in the first section, there are stories about a plant whose roots sometimes resemble a person, a forest whose trees all sprout from the same root system, and the secret lives of plants (how they learn and communicate).  Turn to the back to learn that the first one is false, although it’s based on pictures that can be found on the Internet.  Other chapters delve more into plants, then move on to animals and humans.  These authors are serious about doing good research, as they include a research guide and a 17-page bibliography.  Also includes an index.  176 pages; grades 3-7.

Two pros and a con:  This is a great resource to use to encourage critical thinking, particularly about what can be found on the Internet.  Both the writing style and illustrations are easygoing and engaging.  The story about the headless chicken that lived for years is just gross, although (spoiler alert) true.

Moonwalk: The Story of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing by David Jenkins, illustrated by Adrian Buckley

Published by Circa Press

Summary:  48 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first two men to walk on the moon.  This book looks at what happened each day of that Apollo 11 mission.  It begins with a bit of context to clarify the importance of the mission, then starts in on July 15, 1969 as people are arriving to camp out and witness takeoff the next morning.  Each two-page spread covers one aspect of the journey, with a paragraph of information and a large digitally enhanced photo.  The excitement builds as the various parts of the trip unfold, climaxing with Neil Armstrong’s one small step onto the moon on July 20.  The final page shows the New York City ticker tape parade a few weeks later, celebrating the triumphant return of Armstrong, Aldrin, and Michael Collins.  The final two pages include a collection of interesting facts.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  An excellent combination of exciting storytelling and clear explanations of the more technical parts of the space voyage.  The illustrations provide a you-are-there feeling.

Cons:  Some back matter like a bibliography or resource list would have been a nice addition.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Sharks can seem scary, but a world without sharks is even scarier.  Because they’re at the top of the food chain, they keep the populations of their prey in balance.  By feeding on weaker animals, they allow the stronger ones to reproduce and survive.  Williams makes the case that removing sharks from the ecosystem could ultimately destroy the oceans and all the animals that depend on it for life–including humans.  The final two pages include additional information on why sharks are in trouble and what kids can do to help save them.  Also includes a glossary and bibliography; labeled drawings of a variety of shark species are included on the endpapers.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A simple yet scientific explanation of the interconnectedness of all species.  The focus on sharks will make this a popular choice for kids.

Cons:  The destruction of all life on earth is kind of a downer.