The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School by Kristin Mahoney

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Augusta, a.k.a. Gus, hasn’t had much time for her younger sister Lou since middle school started.  She feels bad about it, so creates this collection for her describing 47 people she’s met since starting sixth grade.  There’s the usual middle school cast of characters: the old friend who’s grown distant, the surprising new friend, the boy who may be more than a friend, and the pack of mean girls.  Gus’s parents have recently divorced, and negotiating between their two homes sometimes adds to her stress. As she goes through the first few months of the school year, she slowly finds a new group of friends who have her back and learns to feel more confident about speaking up for herself.  304 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  Gus’s voice is pitch-perfect, and took me back to my own early middle school days, which is quite a ways back.  Fans of Dork Diaries and other tween realistic fiction will enjoy meeting Gus and the other 47 characters.

Cons:  The mean girls picked on Gus for wearing glasses, which seemed unrealistic, since it seems to me about half the kids in middle school are bespectacled these days.

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One Dark Bird by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon

Published by Beach Lane Books

Image result for one dark bird liz garton scanlon

Image result for one dark bird liz garton scanlon

Summary:  On the title page, we learn that if starlings are threatened, they will sometimes form what’s called a murmurration: a huge flock that can fly in a coordinated mass, almost like a dance.  The book goes on to count starlings from 1 to 10; when they are startled by a bird of prey, hundreds come together to move in a flock through the sky. When danger passes, they go their separate ways, and the countdown goes from 10 to 1.  The last one falls asleep in a tree as a full moon is rising. 40 pages; ages 2 -7.

Pros:  Readers will learn a little bit about starlings and counting as they enjoy the gorgeous illustrations.  The single starlings are a medley of jewel-toned colors, and the murmurration against the evening sky is quite spectacular.

Cons:  I would have liked a little more information or additional resources about starlings.

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Ultrabot’s First Playdate by Josh Schneider

Published by Clarion Books

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Image result for ultrabot's first playdate schneider

Summary:  Ultrabot lives with its professor in a top secret lab…which happens to be right next door to the home of a girl named Becky.   When the professor tells Ultrabot that she’s arranged for the robot to have a playdate with Becky, Ultrabot is worried, imagining Becky as a giant hairy monster.  But when Becky shows up the next day, the two enjoy playing with a ball and drawing. At lunchtime, they discover that they both like having the crusts cut off of their sandwiches…even if Ultrabot’s sandwich happens to be made of diesel fuel and requires a welder to trim off the crusts.  The two friends can hardly wait for their next playdate, and the last picture shows Becky opening her front door to see Ultrabot’s giant eye peering inside. 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will love Ultrabot and get a laugh out of his giant toys that correspond to their own stuff.  The message that it’s okay to feel anxious about a new situation and that it usually works out just fine is delivered with lots of humor and sympathy.  

Cons:  Ultrabot is roughly the size of Becky’s house, so it’s not clear how that second playdate will work out.

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The Haunting of Henry Davis by Kathryn Siebel 

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  When Henry Davis walks into Barbara Ann’s fifth grade class on the first day of school, she feels like she already knows him.  Before long, they’re good friends, and Henry confides to Barbara Ann that he’s been visited by a ghostly boy named Edgar who seems to live in his new house.  The two begin investigating, soon joined by two other kids in their class, Renee and Zack, and discover that Edgar died during the flu epidemic of 1918. Henry’s 102-year-old neighbor offers a few more clues, and eventually the other kids have a ghostly encounter or two with Edgar.  When Henry gets dangerously ill and ends up in the hospital, Barbara Ann fears history will repeat itself, and discovers how important Henry’s friendship has become to her. 240 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  A ghost story is always an easy sell; this one is also a nice friendship subplot about kids who have had trouble connecting in the past finding each other.  Edgar is a pretty benevolent ghost, but there are a few creepy moments that many scary story fans will enjoy.

Cons:  Maybe the current state of the world has made me immune to fictional horrors, but once again I found this story a lot less scary than reviewers had led me to believe it would be.

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The Evil Princess vs. the Brave Knight by Jennifer L. Holm vs. Matthew Holm

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Image result for evil princess vs brave knight

Image result for evil princess vs brave knight

Summary:  The evil princess and brave knight share a castle, but they don’t always enjoy having to live together.  When the princess trips the knight, the magic mirror sees and orders them both to their rooms.  Finally, they’re released if they agree to play nicely. But playing nicely is boring, and before long they’re off on a quest together that results in a flooded bathroom.  They band together when the magic mirror catches up with them, blaming the cat for the mess. Nevertheless, they have to clean it up, and the last page shows the brave knight running with a stack of towels, while the evil princess has her foot out to trip him once again.  This is billed as book 1, so there may be more to come. 40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Jennifer and Matt Holms already have legions of fans from their Babymouse and Sunny graphic novels.  Anyone with a sibling will recognize the love-hate relationship between these two.  The cartoon illustrations are appealing, and even very young kids will connect with what it’s like to have a brother or sister.  

Cons:  No great lessons are learned by either party.

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Butterflies on the First Day of School by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Dream Chen

Published by Sterling Children’s Books

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Image result for butterflies on the first day of school annie silvestro

Summary:  Rosie can’t wait to start school, but when the big day arrives, she finds she can’t eat any breakfast.  Her mother tells her she’ll be fine, that she just has butterflies in her stomach. Riding the bus that morning, she makes a new friend, and a butterfly flies out of her mouth.  As the day goes on, the butterflies reappear in her stomach, then are released as she has fun in school and meets new people. When she introduces herself to a shy girl at recess, she gets to see a butterfly come out of her new friend’s mouth.  By the end of the day, she’s able to give her mom a glowing report about school. 32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  This time of year, you can’t have enough first-day-of-school books.  This is a lovely and reassuring story for the youngest kids going off to preschool or kindergarten.  

Cons:  You’ll need to explain the meaning of the expression “butterflies in your stomach” or kids might get a little freaked out at the prospect of a butterfly coming out of their mouth.

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Homes in the Wild: Where Baby Animals and Their Parents Live by Lita Judge

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Image result for homes in the wild judge

Summary:  26 animal babies and their families are profiled, grouped together by the type of home they have–underground, hidden in the trees, a nest, etc.  Large, realistic watercolors introduce each section, followed by smaller pictures with a paragraph of text about the two or three animals who inhabit that particular type of home.  The book concludes with the statement that animals are safe and sheltered in their homes, just like human children. Includes further information about each animal with a thumbnail sketch, a brief glossary, and a list of books and websites that give more information.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  Kids will love these adorable baby animal pictures, and there’s plenty of interesting information for them to browse.  The lists of additional resources will allow for further research.

Cons:  All 26 animals are mammals; it would have been interesting to throw in a few fish, reptiles, and birds for comparison.

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