National Parks of the U.S.A. by Kate Siber, illustrated by Chris Turnham

Published by Wide Eyed Editions

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Summary:  This oversized guide to the national parks of the U.S. is divided into seven sections: Alaska, Tropics (Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa), West, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, Central, and East.  Each section starts with a map showing all the parks from that area, then gives more in-depth information (a two-page spread) on a few selected ones. These spreads include the location, date founded, size, and information about various plants and animals that can be found in the park.  Two pages at the end have an A-Z of wildlife: 26 plants and animals with a challenge to find which parks they are from. Also includes information on how to help protect the national parks and an extensive index. 112 pages; grades 1-7.

Pros:  It will take a pretty committed homebody to resist the urge to go exploring after perusing these pages.  The retro illustrations, oversized pages, and fascinating information make every park beckon to road trippers.

Cons:  For such a big book, some of the type is pretty tiny.

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Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

Published by Chronicle Books

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Summary:  In this follow-up to Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Shapes, the author-illustrator team explores various aspects of Islam by looking at different shapes.  Each page contains a rhyming couplet introducing a shape and a word from Islam (“Circle is a daff, a drum large and round./We fill the air with its festive sound”).  The illustrations portray Muslims from a variety of countries and cultures. Includes a glossary that gives more information about each term from the text and an author’s note describing the importance of shapes and geometry in Islamic art.  32 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  An excellent introduction to the Muslim faith, with interesting illustrations that include a wide variety of beautiful geometric patterns.

Cons:  The information is pretty brief; I was curious about many of the terms, but the glossary only provides a sentence or two about each one.

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The Promise written by Pnina Bat Zvi and Margie Wolfe, illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal

Published by Second Story Press

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Summary:  Rachel and Toby have been in Auschwitz since the night their parents were taken away by the Nazis.  Before he left, their father gave Toby three gold coins.  Their mother told them to stay together no matter what.  Toby promised to take care of Rachel and not to spend the coins unless she absolutely had to.  When Rachel falls ill in the concentration camp, Toby realizes the situation is desperate enough to warrant using the coins.  She successfully rescues her sister from the sick ward, defying the Nazi guards and earning herself a beating.  The girls are allowed to stay together, though, and survive their imprisonment until the end of the war.  32 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A beautiful and moving story about courage, loyalty, and hope during the most difficult circumstances.  The authors are cousins, the daughters of Rachel and Toby.

Cons:  Most reviewers recommend this book for grade 2 and up, but I would be hesitant to share it with kids under the age of 10.  The illustrations are kind of creepy, and the death of several characters at the hands of the Nazis is implied.

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The Sockeye Mother by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett David Huson), illustrated by Natasha Donovan

Published by Highwater Press

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Summary:  The life of a sockeye salmon is described from the time she hatches from an egg until she returns to the same spawning ground two years later to lay her eggs before dying.  The sockeyes’ connection to the Gitxsan, indigenous people of British Columbia, is alluded to, as well as the reverence these people have for the fish that help sustain them.  The balance of nature is also described in a section called “A Replenishing Death”, when the salmon’s body becomes fertilizer for the flora in and around the water. 32 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  The author grew up in the Gitxsan Nation and imparts both scientific and cultural information in this brief story of a sockeye salmon.  The close-up illustrations vividly bring to life the different stages of the fish’s life, as well as the people and animals around her.

Cons:  This may not be a book many kids will pick up on their own, but with some guidance, they will find it an interesting resource.

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La Frontera/The Border: El Viaje Con Papa/My Journey With Papa by Deborah Mills and Alfredo Alva, illustrated by Claudia Navarro

Published by Barefoot Books

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Summary:  Alfredo tells the story of his life in Mexico, how his father was no longer able to support the family, and his parents’ decided to send him and papa north to the United States.  A coyote led the two of them to the Rio Grande, gave them an inner tube to float across, then disappeared with their money.  After a grueling week of traveling on foot, they found a shack to sleep in, and a friend of Alfredo’s grandfather picked them up and drove them to Texas.  They settled in to the Embassy, a collection of broken-down vehicles parked behind a factory.  When Alfredo started school, his father gave him a $100 bill to buy a bus ticket back home if he was picked up by immigration officials and sent back to Mexico.  After a difficult transition, Alfredo enjoyed school.  President Reagan granted amnesty to immigrants, and Alfredo and his father were able to start the path to citizenship.  Best of all, four years later, the rest of the family was able to come to the United States.  Includes photos of Alfredo and his family, and extensive information on Alfredo’s story, borders and culture, and immigration.  In English and Spanish.  48 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  A grittily realistic story of a family seeking a way out of desperate poverty in the United States.  Although it takes place more than 30 years ago, the story is more relevant than ever to readers today.  Putting a face on “illegal immigrants” will help students have greater empathy for others in a similar situation, and those who have experienced a journey like Alfredo’s will feel a connection to him and his father.

Cons:   Too bad certain government officials in Washington, D.C. aren’t reading this.

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Every Month Is a New Year by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Susan L. Roth

Published by Lee & Low Books

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Summary:  Designed like a calendar, opening at the bottom instead of the right side, this book explores how a new year is celebrated in cultures around the world.  Eighteen poems celebrate the new year, beginning with “Midnight Ball Drop” on December 31 in New York City, and wrapping up with “Las Doce Uvas de la Suerte” in Spain the following December 31.  In between, there are visits to Scotland, Russia, China, Iran, Thailand, Jordan, Chile, New Zealand, India, and Ecuador, and celebrations that take place in every month of the year. Includes several pages with additional information about each holiday; a glossary and pronunciation guide; and author’s sources.  48 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A wealth of information about a wide variety of cultures, all in a clever package–a book designed like a calendar.  The collage illustrations add texture and plenty of color to the poems.

Cons:  I would have preferred the information about each holiday to be on the page with the poem rather than all in the back.  The poems made me curious to learn more, and it was a little unwieldy to have to keep flipping back and forth.

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Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code: A Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

Published by Albert Whitman and Co.

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Summary:  When 8-year-old Betoli left his home and family in 1929 to go to Fort Defiance School, his hair was cut, his name was changed to Chester, and he was made to speak English.  If he spoke Navajo, his mouth was washed out with soap. He lived a double life through his school years, speaking Navajo and practicing his religion at home, and speaking English and practicing Catholicism at school.  In April 1942, Marine recruiters came to the school looking for Navajo speakers to help them create a code the Japanese couldn’t break. Chester was one of 29 men who created the code, then went to the Pacific to serve as a Navajo Code Talker.  He fought in the war until January 1945, when he came home, sick and traumatized by his military experience. Returning to his Navajo ways helped him to heal, and he went on to become an artist, living to the age of 93. Includes an author’s note, timeline, and the alphabet in the Navajo code.  32 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fascinating biography of Chester Nez, that includes a history of the Navajo Code Talkers and touches on Indian schools and the trauma they inflicted on the students.

Cons:  I would have liked to have seen a photo of Chester and/or other Code Talkers, so I give you this:

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