The Elephant by Jenni Desmond

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

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Summary:  When a child takes a book off the shelf and begins to read, he learns a lot about elephants.  Much of the book is nonfiction, giving facts and information about elephants, including the different species, their size, what they eat, their habitat, and why they are endangered.  The child appears in some of the illustrations, and there are connections to his world, like the picture that shows four cars piled on top of each other that are equal in weight to a male elephant.  Although elephants sleep a lot less than most other mammals, the same is not true for the reader, and the final page shows him asleep in his dark house, his head pillowed by the elephant book. 48 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  An appealing nonfiction book, with the whimsical illustrations adding some humor, but also informing (the car picture, the one above that shows the length of an elephant’s trunk with two children lying on it toe-to-toe).  Jenni Desmond has written similar books on polar bears and blue whales, which I am now looking to add to my libraries.

Cons:  There is no back matter–some additional resources would have been useful.

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Do Not Lick This Book*:*It’s Full of Germs by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for do not lick this book its full of germs

Image result for do not lick this book its full of germs

Summary:  Meet Min, the microbe, so small that she and 3,422,166 of her friends could fit on a tiny dot.  When Min is bored, she goes exploring, visiting a tooth, a shirt, and a belly button, where she meets and befriends other microbes.  Magnified photos show what each of those environments looks like to a microbe. Much of the book is addressed to the reader (“Touch your teeth to pick Min up.  Put your finger on your shirt to send Min and Rae on a new adventure) that make the book interactive (if you want to go there). The last page properly identifies the microbes (Min is an E. coli…yay!) and shows what they really look like.  40 pages; ages 4-10.

Pros:  A weirdly fun and fascinating book that introduces the youngest readers to the world of microbes…who are pretty cute in the illustrations.  The close-ups of everyday objects will fascinate kids.

Cons:  Does a book about microbes that live in your teeth and clothes really need a stated “con”?

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Apollo 8: The Mission That Changed Everything by Martin W. Sandler

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission, this book starts with a look at the history that led up to the first manned flight to the moon.  The first chapter explores the space race, John F. Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the early Soviet successes, and the tragic deaths of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a fire.  The rest of the book is about Apollo 8 and its crew, commander Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, who risked their lives to reach the moon. They succeeded in entering into orbit around the moon, becoming the first humans to view its dark side, then left lunar orbit and returned to Earth.  Their TV broadcast from space was watched by millions of people, and and helped generate excitement about the space program.  Bill Anders’ iconic photograph of the Earth rising is one of the most famous ever taken. The success of the Apollo 8 mission laid the groundwork for Apollo 11 six months later, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first to walk on the moon. Includes a bibliography and index.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Packed with exciting details and photos about the space program in general and Apollo 8 in particular, this large glossy book will appeal to aspiring astronauts in late elementary, middle, and high school.  The cover design is one of my favorites of the year.

Cons:  Every several pages, there were 2-3 pages on a related topic inserted into the text.  While these sidebar-type entries were interesting, they interrupted the main narrative in a way that was somewhat jarring.

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Countdown: 2979 Days to the Moon written by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Published by Peachtree Publishers

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Summary:  Starting with President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 commitment to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and ending with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s historic 1969 walk on the moon, this free-verse history covers the history of the Apollo space missions.  The heartbreak of Kennedy’s assassination and the fatal Apollo 1 fire set the stage for the enormous determination that was required to design and build the vehicles that could safely transport astronauts to the moon and back. Each Apollo mission is described, followed by two pages that show photos and give profiles of the astronauts on each one.  The large, pastel portraits realistically render the people, places, and technology that were all part of the Apollo program. Includes author’s and illustrator’s notes, additional information about Team Apollo and bringing Apollo 11 home (with photos), and a list of books and websites with additional information. 144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  A fascinating look at an exciting and important chapter in the history of space exploration.  The free verse format makes for a fairly quick and easy read, but there is still plenty of information packed into the text and back matter.  The beautiful oversized illustrations bring immediacy to the story.

Cons:  As a big fan of the movie Apollo 13, I was disappointed that the narrative ended with Apollo 11.

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Starstruck: The Cosmic Journey of Neil DeGrasse Tyson by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Growing up in the Bronx, young Neil DeGrasse Tyson only saw a few stars in the night sky.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he visited the Hayden Planetarium at age 9 and saw how many stars were really there.  From that time on, Neil was fascinated by astronomy. His parents supported him, buying him a telescope and books, and a sixth-grade teacher suggested he take an advanced class at the planetarium.  He went on to the Bronx High School of Science and Harvard, where he learned all he could about science, while also enjoying dancing and wrestling. Eventually, he wound up back at the Hayden Planetarium as a director, and has become a voice for science, appearing on TV and writing books and tweets to share his enthusiasm.  In life and in the universe, says Tyson, “It’s always best to keep looking up.” Includes an authors’ note and sources.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  The authors show how Tyson turned his passion into a rewarding career through hard work and determination.  The illustrations capture his energy, as well as the beautiful night sky.

Cons:  I often see books like this recommended for grades K-3 (all the reviews I looked at, as well as Amazon, had that range for their recommendations).  I find picture book biographies are appreciated by upper elementary and middle school students even more than the younger ones.

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Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  Sylvia Acevedo grew up in a Mexican-American family in New Mexico.  Her father was born in the U.S., graduated from college, and worked as a chemist, but expected his daughter to become a wife and mother.  From an early age, Sylvia had different ideas. Her younger sister’s tragic case of meningitis changed the family dynamics, and Sylvia was often left to advocate for herself.  She excelled at school and learned how to set and reach goals through Girl Scouts. Graduating at the top of her class, she gave up her dreams to attend Stanford University, staying at home to help take care of her younger siblings while she got her industrial engineering degree from New Mexico State University.  After graduation, she worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and got a master’s degree at Stanford. After serving many years on the board of Girl Scouts USA, she was appointed CEO of the organization in 2017. 320 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Ms. Acevedo clearly demonstrates how hard work, perseverance, and determination can lead to success beyond one’s wildest dreams.  As a veteran of Girl Scouts, including a 13-year stint as a leader, it was interesting to me to see how scouting has influenced Sylvia’s life.

Cons:  I never had the success selling GS cookies door to door that young Sylvia did.  

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Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World by James Gladstone, illustrated by Christy Lundy

Published by Owlkids

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Summary:  1968 was a year of war, unrest, and marches that demanded peace and justice.  At the end of the year, three astronauts, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, flew into space as the Apollo 8 mission.  They traveled further than any humans had gone before, going all the way to the Moon to figure out the best place for future missions to land.  On their fourth orbit around the Moon, they saw the Earth rising above the moon, and snapped a color photo of it from their window.  That photo became famous, showing the Earth as a peaceful planet with no national borders, home to all people.  Includes a brief note with additional information about Apollo 8 and the Earthrise photo.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect introduction to the space program for young kids with a nice message about a photo that inspired people to see Earth in a different way.

Cons:  It’s a pretty brief introduction with no resources for further research.  Also, I wound up with Bette Midler’s “From A Distance” stuck in my head for hours after reading this.

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