Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrations by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  Ninita is a pygmy marmoset, the smallest kind of monkey in the world, who was born deaf and abandoned by her parents after a few weeks.  Rescued by humans, she found a new home at the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Florida, where she thrived. Eventually, she was introduced to a male pygmy marmoset, Mr. Big, and the two now live together at the Foundation.  Includes additional information about pygmy marmosets and the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation, along with a couple of photos of Ninita. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This cute animal story with its messages of love and friendship will undoubtedly appeal to a wide variety of young readers.  

Cons:  There’s quite a bit of anthropomorphism, e.g., “Ninita wished she had a marmoset friend to share her adventures.”

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Popcorn Country: The Story of America’s Favorite Snack by Cris Peterson, Photographs by David R. Lundquist

Published by Boyds Mills Press

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Summary:  Who can resist a bowl of buttery, salty popcorn?  It’s one of the top snacks in the U.S., this book tells us, with an annual consumption of four and a half billion gallons.  If you’ve ever wondered how the popcorn gets to your movie theater, you’ll find some answers here, beginning in the Corn Belt, where over ninety million acres of corn are grown each year.  You’ll learn about the different types of corn, how popcorn is processed, and what causes the hard kernels to explode into the light, fluffy snack. There’s a brief history of popcorn at the end, along with a list of books and websites for further research.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The straightforward writing with kid-friendly explanations (“plants that stretch so tall that they could tickle the chin of a young giraffe”) and lots of photos showing a diverse group of kids make this a great nonfiction choice for preschool and early elementary ages.

Cons:  I guess it’s unknowable, but I’ve always wondered how the first consumers of popcorn figured out that those hard kernels could pop.  This book doesn’t offer any speculation on that.

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The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle

Published by Schwartz + Wade

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Summary:  Growing up in Oxford, Venetia Burney loved learning.  Her grandfather, the former head librarian at Oxford University, encouraged her curiosity.  When Grandfather shared a news item with 11-year-old Venetia about the discovery of a new planet beyond Neptune, she thought of how frozen, dark, and lifeless it must be.  It reminded her of the underworld in Greek mythology, and so she suggested naming it Pluto. Her grandfather sent a letter with her suggestion in it to a friend at the Royal Astronomical Society; he liked it, and eventually the name was voted on by astronomers.  Fast forward more than 70 years later: on the day before her 89th birthday, Venetia, still active and curious, gets an invitation to the Observatory Science Centre, where she finally gets a chance to see the planet she named. Includes an author’s note with additional information about Venetia and Pluto–including the change in its designation from plant to dwarf planet–and a bibliography. 40 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  A fun story for kids learning about space; they will be inspired to hear how a planet was named by a kid, albeit one with a wealthy, connected grandfather.

Cons:  I think we all still feel a little sad about the fate of former planet Pluto.

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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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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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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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