Moto and Me: My Year As a Wildcat’s Foster Mom by Suzi Eszterhas

Published by Owlkids

Summary:  While trying to rescue her kittens from a fire, Moto’s mother was scared by a truck and dropped one of them in the road.  The tourists on the truck didn’t see the mother.  Thinking they were rescuing the tiny serval, they took it to a ranger station.  By the time they got there, the ranger knew Moto’s mother would never take her kitten back, so he was given to Suzi Eszterhas, who was working as a wildlife photographer.  She became his foster mom, taking care of him, but also making sure that he followed his instincts and learned how to live in the wild.  As Moto grew up, he spent increasingly long periods of time in the wild until one day he didn’t return.  Eszterhas feared the worst, but a week later, she spotted him, and he came over to her jeep to greet her.  He was seen again several times by rangers, and Suzi knew she had succeeded as a serval foster mom.  Includes a page of facts about servals.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  An engaging nonfiction narrative that kids could read for either pleasure or research.  Eszterhas is a wildlife photographer, so the many photos are cute and captivating.

Cons:  I’m not really sure how to pronounce “serval”.

Take Your Time: A Tale of Harriet, the Galapagos Tortoise by Eva Furrow and Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Laurel Molk

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Summary:  Harriet is a Galapagos tortoise who enjoys taking life at her own leisurely pace.  Other animals tell her she’s too slow, but she is untroubled.  One day she decides to travel to a nearby island to see a penguin parade.  Although the parade doesn’t happen until summer, she leaves in the winter and enjoys a nice slow swim.  When she gets there, she has fun meeting other animals and taking in the sights.  A couple of years pass by, and Harriet decides it’s time to return home.  At the end of another deliberate swim, she meets a pod of dolphins, one of whom offers to give her a ride on his back.  Harriet tries it out, but doesn’t like the speed.  When she gets back to her island, she reflects with satisfaction on all the animals she’s met, and how each one moves to its own rhythm. An author’s note tells the story of the real Harriet, who lived to the ripe old age of 175, becoming the world’s oldest animal in captivity. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun and leisurely look at the life of a Galapagos tortoise, including quite a few other animals who live in that ecosystem.  The prints colored with watercolors are unique and beautiful.  Readers will be fascinated to learn more details of Harriet’s long life, and there’s a good lesson about finding your own rhythm.

Cons: Like Harriet, the story meanders without much of a plot.

Awesome Minds: The Creators of the iPhone by Marne Ventura, art by Drew Feynman

Published by duopress

Summary:  We all take our smartphones for granted these days, but it wasn’t so long ago that portable phones were roughly the size and weight of a brick (at least it doesn’t seem that long ago to me).  It was the genius of Steve Jobs and industrial designer Jony Ive that created the first iPhone.  It was a long road to get there, though, beginning with the creation of the Apple company, and continuing with the many machines and software that came before the iPhone: personal computers in a variety of shapes and sizes, the iPod, iTunes, and more.  This book takes a brief look at the whole history, starting with the creators’ early lives, and concluding with Steve Jobs’ death and the iPhone today.  Includes a glossary, list of books and websites, and index. 56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fast-paced, colorful look at a topic that’s sure to be of interest to kids.  The design is appealing, with plenty of sidebars and graphics .

Cons:  So much material is covered in such a short book that it sometimes seems disjointed and choppy.

The Secret Life of the Red Fox by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky

Published by Boyds Mills Press

Summary:  A year in the life of Vixen, a female fox.  The reader follows her as she hunts in the snow, pouncing on a mouse in an acrobatic move, and escapes a couple of barking dogs.  She meets up with her mate, and eventually moves into a den.  When spring comes, there are four fox kits in the den.  The grow all summer, and on the last page, they are ready to go off on their own, just as autumn arrives.  There are two pages of additional information about the red fox, plus a brief glossary and bibliography.  32 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  The story of Vixen is packed with information about foxes.  Woven into the story are facts about how foxes find food, what they eat, how they take over other animals’ burrows for their dens, and how the parents take care of their babies.  The illustrations are beautiful and add additional information.  There is plenty here for a research report, or simply to satisfy a curious child.

Cons:  I seriously hope I never stumble across a hole in the snow like the one Vixen used as a storage place for her dead mice.

Hello Spring! by Shelley Rotner

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  Lots of colorful photographs provide an introduction to spring.  The focus is all on flora and fauna as a diverse group of kids discover flowers and other plants and hold baby farm animals.  Wild animals are also mentioned, particularly those who are waking up after a long winter’s sleep.  The text is brief, with some rhyming words and plenty of action verbs (“Frogs hop.  Earthworms creep.  Turtles crawl.”).  The final page announces the longest day of the year, which means the season changes again, to summer.  Includes a brief glossary.

Pros:  Young readers will enjoy familiar springtime sights and will learn to be on the lookout for signs of spring.  The photos are large, colorful, and appealing.

Cons:  It would have been nice to include signs of spring in the city, along with all the suburban/rural photos.

Penguin Day: A Family Story by Nic Bishop

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  When a baby rockhopper penguin is hungry, his mother goes in search of food while his father stays home to protect him.  The mother is part of a group of penguins that climbs cliffs and dives into the ocean, braving sea lion and orca predators, to hunt for fish and krill.  Meanwhile, when the baby penguin wanders off to explore, his father must protect him from a hungry skua (bird).  Finally, the family is reunited, and baby penguin gets his (apparently regurgitated) meal.  An author’s note gives more information on these Antarctic penguins.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Nic Bishop has another winning collection of nature photographs that will be popular with primary grades.  The story will draw them in, and the author’s note can be used to teach more about the penguins.

Cons:  The story was a bit more mundane than the photos.

Bicycles by Patricia Lakin

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  Aaron Dykstra is a craftsman who creates handmade bicycles and sells them through his company, Six Eleven Bicycle Company (named for the 611 train that was supposedly the best and most beautifully designed).  The first few pages of this book give a history of the bicycle and a brief biography of Dykstra and how he came to be a bicycle maker.  Then the reader is shown the twenty steps of his creation process, from getting the customer’s specifications to the final item rolling out of the shop.  There’s a photo of each step, with a short caption explaining the process.  The next two pages tell about Aaron’s program for middle school students, The Making Foundation, and invite readers to try creating by hand.  Finally, there is a four-page timeline of the bicycle, followed by a glossary and resources (books and websites).  32 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  A perfect complement to any makerspace program.  A second book in the series, Skateboards was published simultaneously.  The book’s design has the feel of a blueprint or how-to manual, and the photos and biographical information about Aaron make the creation process appealing.

Cons:  I looked at Aaron’s website, and he requires a $1500 deposit before starting on a bike.