Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly with Winifred Conkling, illustrated by Laura Freeman

Published by HarperCollins

Summary:  In case you haven’t read the original book, the young readers’ edition, and/or seen the movie, this picture book tells the story of four women who worked for NASA between 1943 and 2007.  Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were all good at math.  Very good.  This refrain is repeated throughout the story, as each one is shown overcoming the barriers in place for them at school and later on at NASA.  But they succeeded, and their work helped launch the space program and eventually send men to the moon.  As they looked to their careers after that dream had been fulfilled, “Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine knew one thing: with hard work, perseverance, and a love of math, anything was possible.”  Includes a timeline, additional biographical information about each woman, a glossary, and an author’s note.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  Many kids will recognize these women from the movies.  All are inspiring, and emphasize the importance of hard work and the exciting adventures to be found in STEM careers.  Laura Freeman illustrated Fancy Party Gowns, one of my favorite biographies of last year, and does an excellent job here portraying the four women, NASA, and outer space.

Cons:  The story of Christine Darden (who wasn’t portrayed in the movie) didn’t seem as well integrated to the rest of the book as the other three.

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Awards Day!

The ALA awards have been announced, and Kids Book A Day predicted…drum roll, please…zero.  Here’s the list.  Okay, I’m a little disappointed I didn’t pick either one, but come on, Newbery committee!  The three honor books are a picture book and two YA books.  Believe me, I’m the last one to begrudge Jason Reynolds a Newbery honor, but Long Way Down features a 15-year-old protagonist contemplating whether or not to murder the guy who killed his brother.  And the protagonist of Renee Watson’s Piecing Me Together is a high school junior.  The Printz award was created for books like these!  Tell me what you think in the comments!

The Truth As Told By Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

Summary:  Mason Buttle feels dogged by bad luck: not only is he the biggest, sweatiest kid in the 7th grade, but his mother died in a car accident a few years back, and more recently, his best friend Benny died when he fell out of their tree fort one night in the Buttle apple orchard.  The orchard is falling into ruins, since Mason’s grandmother and uncle haven’t been able to work since his mom died.  And the local police lieutenant keeps coming around to ask Mason uncomfortable questions about where he was the night Benny died.  On the brighter side, there’s Calvin, the new kid in the neighborhood who becomes a friend and ally as the two try to dodge the local bullies after school.  They discover a root cellar under Mason’s house, and fix it up as their secret hideaway.  There’s also Moonie, the dog who belongs to one of the bullies, but who seems more attached to Mason. When Calvin goes missing, Mason finds himself under a cloud of suspicion; but not only does he find Calvin, he unwittingly uncovers the culprit responsible for Benny’s death.  That discovery begins a chain of events that leads to happier circumstances for Mason and those he loves. 336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Mason is a one-of-a-kind character, and his voice rings true as he finds his way through a difficult season of his 7th grade year.  Not only does he manage to survive the hardships at school and at home, but he does so in a way that makes life better for those around him.

Cons:  The book gets off to a slow start; the detailed parts about Calvin and Mason fixing up the root cellar dragged a bit.  The reader will have to persevere to get to the second half where the action really picks up.

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Love by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Loren Long

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary:  What is love?  For many, it begins with two happy parents gazing at you while you sleep.  Life can get more complicated later on, as friendships and other relationships end, and scary things happen that you may not always understand.  But love is reassuring in those times.  After awhile, you begin to recognize love even in imperfection, like burned toast made just for you and the lines on your grandfather’s face.  And when the time comes for you to go off on your own, the love of the people around you will go with you.  40 pages; ages 4 and up.

Pros:  Newbery author Matt de la Pena explores the complexities of love, beautifully illuminated by Loren Long’s illustrations of a diverse group of people from many walks of life.  This would make a good graduation gift.

Cons:  While this has the look of a picture book for young children, much of it will be appreciated more by older readers.

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My Pillow Keeps Moving! by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  A cat and dog sit shivering outside a store with a sign reading “Pillows on Sale Today!!!”.  The dog scoots in just ahead of a customer and curls himself into a pillow shape.  When the man gets home with his new “pillow”, he finds that it keeps moving while he sleeps.  He tries to return it, but the clerk asks, “Is your pillow soft? Is it fluffy?” to which the man can only reply, “Yes”.  Next, he goes shopping for a footstool, and the routine is repeated.  (“My footstool is noisy!”)  It happens again when he tries to buy a jacket.  Finally, he tells the dog, “As a jacket, you stink, but maybe you’re more of a Jackie than a jacket,” and the dog has a new home.  As the two head out to shop for a new hat, Jackie winks at the cat, and the next to last page shows Jackie and the man walking home with the cat perched on his head.  On the final page, the three are sitting happily by the fire.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Told entirely with cartoon dialog, kids will find the visual humor hilarious.

Cons:  That cat looks like a heavy hat.

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Made for Each Other: Why Dogs and Puppies Are Perfect Partners by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, photographs by William Munoz

Published by Crown Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Man’s best friend gets a closer look in the three sections of this book.  The first discusses the history of dogs, and how they evolved from wolves to partner with humans.  Part two, “The Science of Love” looks at how dogs’ brains work and what their body language and barks can communicate to humans.  The final section shows how contemporary humans and dogs share lives. The topics change quickly, with each two-page spread featuring a new heading and lots of adorable and sometimes funny photos.  Includes a long list of additional resources and source notes.  64 pages; grades 1-4.

Pros:  This book will be irresistible to dog lovers, not only because of the incredibly cute photographs, but also the interesting and relevant information (who doesn’t want to know what their dog is thinking?).  A perfect STEM title for all readers.

Cons:  Sorry, I just can’t think of anything negative in the presence of all those cute puppies.

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Stella Diaz Has Something to Say! By Angela Dominguez

Published by Roaring Brook Press

Summary:  Stella Diaz has something to say, but she often has trouble saying it.  She’s shy, and sometimes she stumbles over English words.  Her family moved from Mexico to Chicago when she was a baby, making her feel somewhat disconnected from the extended family that sometimes visits.  Her father has moved to Colorado and only occasionally gets in touch, but her mom and older brother Nick more than make up for his absence.  As Stella moves through third grade, she experiences successes that helps her confidence to slowly build.  She makes new friends, speaks up for herself to the mean girl, and participates in a spelling bee in front of the whole class.  By the end of the story, she’s even made friends with a boy, and he and her other friends have helped her to put together an amazing presentation about her favorite topic, undersea animals.  The end of the year sees Stella excited about spending the summer with family and friends and more than ready to move on to fourth grade.  208 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  Fans of Junie B. and Clementine, especially more introverted ones, will enjoy Stella’s story and will cheer her on as she finds the courage to try new experiences.  Readers who are bilingual or new to the United States will connect with Stella’s struggles to fit in.

Cons:  Nick occasionally seems too good to be true for a 14-year-old older brother.

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