The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out edited by Yoshimi Kusaba, illustrated by Gaku Nakagawa

Published by Enchanted Lion Books

The World's Poorest President Speaks Out: Yoshimi, Kusaba, Gaku, Nakagawa,  Wong, Andrew: 9781592702893: Books

Summary:  It’s 2012, and world leaders have gathered in Brazil for the Rio+20 Summit to discuss climate change and the environmental crisis.  “One after another, they gave speeches, but no one says anything new.”  Then José Mujica, president of Uruguay, steps to the podium.  Described as “the world’s poorest president” for donating 90% of his salary to charity and choosing to live on his farm instead of in the presidential palace, Mujica questions the whole system of capitalism, asking the participants if they were really committed to living in harmony with nature, as they said, or driven by production and consumption.  “Shared human happiness is the greatest treasure of all,” he concludes.  “If we appreciate the beauty of nature and life itself and care for our world, we will be able to continue to live well as humans on this planet.”  40 pages; grades 3+

Pros:  Mujica’s speech is as timely today as it was eight years ago, and will resonate with older readers (middle school and up) at least as much as with the picture book crowd.

Cons:  The title makes Mujica sound like an object of pity when really he seems to have figured out a lot more about life and happiness than most other world leaders.

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The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Lian Cho

Published by Greenwillow Books

The Oboe Goes Boom Boom Boom: Venable, Colleen AF, Cho, Lian:  9780062494375: Books
Fall 2020 Children's Announcements: Publishers F-L

Summary: Band director Mr. V. says there is a perfect instrument for everyone, and proceeds to introduce them one by one.  He invites each player to give a demonstration, but every time Felicity bangs her bass drum, “Boom Boom Boom” and drowns out the other instrument.  Mr. V. continues, explaining the reed on a clarinet, the double reed on an oboe, the valves on a trumpet, and so forth, but gets increasingly agitated as Felicity doesn’t stop with the drum.  Finally, he introduces the one instrument that can drown out Felicity: the tuba.  Its “WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP” overpowers the “Boom Boom Boom” so that when it’s finally time to introduce the percussion section, the tables are turned on Felicity.  The final two pages introduce the real-life musicians who inspired the kids in the band, with a short biographical paragraph about each.  40 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  A fun introduction to band instruments with interesting facts about each one.  This would be perfect to read to those elementary kids trying to decide what they want to play.  Connecting each kid in the story to a real-life musician who plays (or played) their instrument is a nice added touch.

Cons:  If the oboe is considered a band instrument, it seems like the bassoon and French horn should have been included too.

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Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Our Little Kitchen - Kindle edition by Tamaki, Jillian. Children Kindle  eBooks @
Our Little Kitchen: Tamaki, Jillian: 9781419746550: Books

Summary:  A group of volunteers comes together to provide a community dinner, working with the food that they have on hand to make chili, bread, salad, and apple crumble.  The pace quickens as someone shouts “Fifteen minutes!”, and the early birds start to arrive.  Finally, it’s dinnertime, and the volunteers bring the food to the waiting crowd.  Everyone sits down to share a meal and some time together.  As the guests trickle out, one of the kids loudly announces the obvious: “OK, time to clean up!”  Includes an author’s note about her experiences volunteering in a similar small kitchen weekly to prepare a community meal, and endpapers that outline how to prepare vegetable soup and apple crumble.  48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  The bouncy rhyming text and colorful, comic-inspired illustrations by Caldecott honoree Tamaki have a ton of kid appeal and an inspiring message.  Pair it up with Harlem Grown for a community service-themed story hour.

Cons:  Some of the rhyming words (hot/start/bought) were a little loose.

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Grow: Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

Published by Candlewick

Grow: Secrets of Our DNA: Davies, Nicola, Sutton, Emily: 9781536212723: Books
Review: Grow - Secrets of Our DNA by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton | The  Fountain

Summary:  All living things grow: some quickly, some slowly, some a little, and some a lot.  Humans grow from a tiny dot to an adult, following a set of instructions coded into DNA, the genetic code.  Humans’ genetic code is similar to some animals, like chimpanzees, less similar to other animals like dogs, and even less similar to plants.  But all forms of life are connected, and all connect back to earlier forms of life “because all life has always been written in one language”.  Includes an afterword called “How did you grow?”.  40 pages; grades K-5.

Pros:  Nicola Davies does a masterful job of explaining DNA and genetics in a way that allows me to confidently recommend this book for kids as young as kindergarteners.  The gorgeous illustrations showing all kinds of animal and plant life make it even more accessible for readers of all ages.

Cons:  I was surprised there were no resources for further research included at the end.

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Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

Published by Jimmy Patterson Books (Little, Brown)

Becoming Muhammad Ali - Kindle edition by Patterson, James, Alexander,  Kwame, Anyabwile, Dawud. Children Kindle eBooks @

Summary:  Round One: Cassius Clay’s friend Lucky and the rest of Cassius’s friends and family are awaiting the results of the 1958 Golden Gloves championship.  16-year-old Cassius is in Chicago, 300 miles from his home in Louisville, KY.  The phone rings, and the story shifts to Cassius’s voice, told in verse.  Clay didn’t win that championship, but he relates how he got there: the friends and relatives who influenced him, the events that led him to boxing, the unflagging discipline and confidence that helped him in his training.  By the time we get to Round Nine, Cassius is ready to return to the Golden Gloves competition and become a champion.  Lucky introduces each round, then finishes with a Final Round, in which he tells what happened to Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, during the rest of his career.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Apparently, Kwame Alexander has been a Muhammad Ali fan since he read Ali’s autobiography as a kid, and he uses his considerable poetic talents to bring the boxer life.  I wasn’t sure I liked Lucky’s prose sections at first, but they did flesh out the story, setting up the action for the poetry parts. This is sure to be an enormously popular choice for kids.

Cons:  I’m curious about the collaboration James Patterson, who seems more like a brand than an actual author these days.  I would have preferred this to be the sole work of Kwame Alexander, whom I’m sure could have pulled it off without any help.

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The Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Canyon's Edge: Bowling, Dusti: 9780316494694: Books

Summary:  Nora and her dad are going for a hike on her birthday.  It’s the first time they’ve gone hiking since her mother was killed by a gunman exactly a year ago when the family was celebrating Nora’s birthday at a restaurant.  Her father was also injured, but the greater trauma to both of them was psychological.  Nora’s ready to return to school, but her dad’s afraid to let her out of his sight.  The two of them argue about it as they start their hike; seconds later, there’s a rumbling sound, and a flash flood sweeps into the canyon, washing her father away.  Nora’s left on her own to survive two nights in the desert, battling snakes, scorpions, heat, thirst, and her own demons.  Determined to find and rescue her dad, Nora draws on inner resources and discovers she is stronger than she’s believed for the past year.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Warning: once you pick up this novel in verse, it’s hard to put down. It’s equal parts survival tale and a story of healing from a horrific trauma, told in flashbacks as Nora grapples with nightmares and other reminders of her mother’s murder.  Although it may not sound so from this description, this is a book appropriate for upper elementary kids, who will undoubtedly find it as difficult to put down as I did.

Cons:  If you’re seeking a little light reading, you should probably look elsewhere.

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The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam

Published by Owlkids Books

The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story: Lam, Thao: 9781771473637: Books
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Thao Lam's The  Paper Boat

Summary:  Thao Lam and her family escaped from Vietnam in 1980 when she was two years old.  This wordless book shows her family’s journey, starting with a dinner in their Vietnam home where they’re planning their escape.  The author’s note explains how, as a child, her mother used to rescue ants from the sugar water left in the house to trap them.  When her mother was lost in the tall grass during her escape, a trail of ants led the family to the river and their escape boat.  The illustrations show a parallel journey of ants escaping in a paper boat as the family is traveling in a larger ship.  One of those ants crawls into a meal that turns out to be Thao Lam’s family dinner in their new apartment in Canada.  Includes an author’s note giving more information about her family’s experience and her mother’s story about the ants.  40 pages; grades 2-7.

Pros:  The cut paper illustrations do an amazing job of telling this refugee family’s story, cleverly bookending the tale with two family dinners, and weaving the story of the ants in seamlessly.  

Cons:  Reviews I read recommended this book for kids as young as 5, but I think the nature of the story and the way it’s told make it more of an upper elementary and middle school book. I wish the author’s note had been at the beginning to help me understand the story before I began.

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Imogene Comes Back! by David Small

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Imogene Comes Back! - Kindle edition by Small, David. Children Kindle  eBooks @
Imogene Comes Back!: Small, David: 9780593123744: Books

Summary:  After a 35-year hiatus, Imogene from Imogene’s Antlers is back.  This time, she wakes up each morning with something new: a giraffe’s neck, an elephant’s trunk, butterfly wings.  She’s a good sport about it, though, and puts each new appendage to good use.  With a long neck, she finds a lost football on top of a high desk and helps a kitten down from a tree.  Her elephant’s trunk helps to water the garden, and of course, it’s fun to soar through the air as a butterfly.  The stuffy adults aren’t sure what to do with her, and await her arrival each morning with trepidation.  When Imogene surprises them all one morning by appearing as herself, her mother breathes a huge sigh of relief…until antlers pop out on her own head!  40 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  As in the original, there is lots of goofy fun to be had with both the story and the illustrations.  

Cons:  It’s unlikely Levar Burton will be prevailed upon to do a Reading Rainbow episode of this Imogene book. Reading Rainbow: Imogene's Antlers [VHS]: LeVar Burton: Movies  & TV

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Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Girl on a Motorcycle - Kindle edition by Novesky, Amy, Morstad, Julie.  Children Kindle eBooks @
Girl on a Motorcycle: Novesky, Amy, Morstad, Julie: 9780593116296: Books

Summary:  In 1973, a girl in her Paris home dreams about going somewhere else.  One day she packs up her motorcycle (her packing list includes tools, a sleeping bag, cookware, and a pretty white dress), and heads to Canada (she flies; it’s not clear how the motorcycle gets there).  She travels on her motorcycle from Montreal to Alaska, then flies to Japan.  From there, it’s on to a number of Asian countries, then back into Europe: Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and finally, home to France.  She has become the first woman to travel around the world by motorcycle.  Includes additional information and photos about Anne-France Dautheville, the Frenchwoman on whom this story is based, and an author’s note.  48 pages; grades 2-6.

Pros:  A fun, true story that may inspire others to lead a more adventurous life.  The illustrations are full of interesting details and lists like “How to drink tea in India” and “How to make a fire”.  The information at the end will answer many of the questions about the real-life woman who made this journey.

Cons:  I was surprised there was no map anywhere showing Dautheville’s route.

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The Silver Arrow by Lev Grossman, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Silver Arrow - Kindle edition by Grossman, Lev. Children Kindle eBooks  @

Summary:  Kate’s life is basically satisfactory, but she sometimes feels like she’d like something more.  When her mysterious Uncle Herbert appears on the morning of her eleventh birthday with a full-size steam engine named The Silver Arrow, she begins to understand that what has been missing is adventure and a sense of purpose.  She and her younger brother Tom are sent on a journey around the world, picking up animals and transporting them to their natural habitats.  As they get to know the animals and learn about the trouble they’re in, Kate and Tom realize their job to protect their new friends will extend long beyond their train trip.  The journey proves difficult, and the two kids almost give up on it before it’s over, but in the end their persistence pays off.  They’re happy to get home safely, but Uncle Herbert assures them their adventures have just begun…potentially paving the way for a sequel.  272 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This illustrated story hits the sweet spot for third and fourth graders, who will love the two kids, their adventures, and all the animals–and the train, which can communicate and becomes an important character as well.  The environmental message is nicely embedded into the story and could lead to some interesting discussions. This would make a great read-aloud or book club selection.

Cons:  Tracy Nishimura Bishop’s illustrations add a lot to the story, but she’s not credited on either the cover or the back flap.

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