Trespassers by Breena Bard

Published by Scholastic Graphix

Trespassers by Breena Bard

Summary:  Gabby and her family have always spent their summer vacation at the family’s lakeside cabin.  But this year is different.  At the beginning of the week, her father announces that he’s being transferred, but doesn’t know where yet.  And there’s a new family staying next door with two obnoxious kids the same age as Gabby and her younger brother.  The parents insist that the kids hang out together, and they find themselves breaking into a mysterious mansion that’s been abandoned for years.  The house fires up Gabby’s imagination, and she begins writing a mystery about it.  When new girl Paige finds out, they start collaborating, using clues they’ve found in the house.  Things get a little too real as they begin to find evidence of foul play, possibly involving their kind old neighbor.  By the time the week ends, bookworm Gabby has realized that there’s plenty of adventure to be found in real life, and when the family finds out where they’re moving, she’s ready for a new chapter to unfold.  256 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Scholastic Graphix hasn’t disappointed me yet, and this fun summer graphic novel is sure to find many, many fans among the Telgemeier-Holm-Jamieson crowd.  The mystery is fun, and family and friendship issues feel real, yet wrap up reassuringly.

Cons:  I’d love to see another story about Gabby and/or Paige, but as near as I can tell there are no plans for a series.

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Beast: Face to Face with the Florida Bigfoot by Watt Key

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Beast | Watt Key | Macmillan

Summary:  Adam and his parents are on their way home from Disney World, when they’re involved in a terrible car accident.  Adam wakes up in the hospital, where he learns that his parents are missing and presumed dead.  His last memory before the crash is of a huge creature in the road.  This memory haunts him day and night, and continues to plague him when he goes to live with his quirky Uncle John.  His Internet research makes him think he saw a sasquatch from the Florida swamps.  Unable to face getting back to regular life, Adam runs away to find a man who also claims to have seen Bigfoot.  Stanley has lost his wife and daughter to his Bigfoot obsession.  He gives Adam some advice, but acts crazy enough that Adam sneaks off to search on his own.  He ends up lost deep in the swamps…and what he finds there will change his life.  Includes an author’s note about his own close encounter with something mysterious in the swamps.  224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This book will sell itself from the cover and title alone.  It’s also a good survival story with plenty of suspense.  The author’s note will have kids buzzing about whether or not Bigfoot is real.

Cons:  The story dragged a little when Adam first headed into the swamp.  And for a relatively pampered suburban kid, he seemed to figure out how to survive on his own pretty quickly.

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A Girl Like Me by Angela Johnson, illustrated by Nina Crews

Published by Millbrook Press

A Girl Like Me: Johnson, Angela, Crews, Nina: 9781541557772 ...

A Girl Like Me: Johnson, Angela, Crews, Nina: 9781541557772 ...

Summary:  Angela Johnson’s poem and Nina Crews’ photographs follow three girls who share their dreams…which are not always enthusiastically received by others.  They’ve dreamed of flying, walking over tall buildings, and swimming deep in the ocean, but some people tell them to keep their feet on the ground and be like everyone else.  They persist, though, dressing up and leading a parade of girls through the streets and to the ocean, because “a girl like me should always be thinking way up high and making everything better than the dream”.  The last two pages include thumbnail photos of all the girls who appear in the book, sharing what they like and what their dreams are.  32 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  Nina Crews’s intriguing photo collage illustrations really bring this poem to life, making it a perfect companion to Seeing Into Tomorrow, the book of poems by Richard Wright that she illustrated with photos featuring boys.  The last two pages make a nice discussion starter to talk about hopes and dreams for the future.

Cons:  I didn’t quite get this book the first time I read it, and had to go back and read it more carefully, with special attention to the illustrations.

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Boxitects by Kim Smith

Published by Clarion Books

Boxitects: Smith, Kim: 9781328477200: Amazon.com: Books

Boxitects – Kim Smith

Summary:  Meg is a boxitect who loves to create all kinds of structures from cardboard boxes.  Her mother signs her up for Maker School so she can be with other kids who like to build and create.  At first, Meg is the only boxitect, and enjoys this distinction among the blanketeers, egg-cartoneers, and spaghetti-tects.  But one day, Simone shows up in class.  Simone is another boxitect, and pretty soon a rivalry develops between the two of them.  Things come to a head at the school’s Maker Match, when the two are put on a team.  Not wanting to work together, they divide their space in half and each compete to see whose structure can be bigger and better.  This results in disaster, and they have to work together to salvage anything from their original design.  They don’t get first place, but together they make something pretty cool…and each one also makes a new friend.  Includes four pages showing why cardboard is a good building material and giving directions to build a tunnel and castle from cardboard boxes.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be a perfect introduction to any kind of maker session for young kids, with a nice emphasis on teamwork and friendship.

Cons:  The ending was pretty predictable from the moment Simone showed up.

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Happy Paws (Layla and the Bots, book 1) by Vicky Fang, illustrated by Christine Nishiyama

Published by Scholastic

Amazon.com: Happy Paws: A Branches Book (Layla and the Bots ...

Summary:  Layla is a rock star and inventor who lives with three Bots that she built, Beep, Boop, and Bop.  They’re scheduled to perform in a big show at the Happy Days Amusement Park, but when they arrive to set up a few days beforehand, the owner tells them he’s closing the park and their show is canceled.  Turns out no one is coming to the park anymore, and he can’t afford to keep it running.  Layla and the Bots set out to investigate the reason, and discover a whole bunch of humans at the dog park.  They remember that there used to be a doggy daycare at the park–the dogs didn’t like it, but it got the humans there.  Layla has an idea: why not make the park fun for both humans AND dogs?  She and the Bots get to work, planning ideas for doggy rides, designing and building them, and testing them out.  When one idea is deemed unsafe, she has to go back to the drawing board and start again.  But there’s a happy ending for everyone–the park attracts big crowds again, and Layla and the Bots get to do their show.  Includes instructions for building your own robot and discussion questions.  80 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Like all the Scholastic Branches books, this has plenty of appeal for newly independent readers, with colorful graphics, cartoon bubbles, and limited text on each page.  The story delineates the problem-solving process, and Layla uses her brain and perseverance to get the park back on its feet.

Cons:  This didn’t quite match the humor, originality, and charm of other comparable Branches series like Owl Diaries or Kung Pow Chicken.  It felt like the story was created to show how to solve a problem, rather than creating a great story in which a character solves a problem.

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Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Released July 7)

Dress Coded: Carrie Firestone: 9781984816436: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  When Molly’s friend Olivia gets dress coded, costing the entire eighth grade the chance for a camping trip, Molly wants a chance to tell the world what really happened.  Having observed the incident, she feels qualified to set the record straight, and decides to start a podcast about her middle school’s dress code.  Before long, other girls start to come forward with stories of their experiences getting dress coded, and word of her podcast starts to spread.  As eighth grade graduation approaches, the dress coding stories pile up, and the administration stonewalls the kids, they decide it’s time for some more drastic action to bring attention to their cause.  320 pages; grades 6-8.

Pros:  The portrayal of middle school is spot on in this breezy but empowering story of kids determined to be heard.  The girls take the spotlight, but they have plenty of cool boys standing with them.  Lots of other middle school topics are touched upon, including vaping, bullying, and family issues.  This will be an easy sell to middle schoolers.

Cons:  Although I’ve seen this recommended for fifth grade, I think kids will appreciate it more (and parents may object less) if they’re experienced middle schoolers.

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Shuri: A Black Panther Novel by Nic Stone

Published by Scholastic

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel (Marvel) (1): Stone, Nic ...

Summary:  Princess Shuri, sister of T’Challa the Black Panther, is gifted in all things technological and wants to use her talents to help Wakanda.  She feels that her mother and brother don’t appreciate her and treat her like a child.  So when she discovers that the powerful heart-shaped herb is dying, then has a vision of an evil invading Wakanda, she feels compelled to act.  When her family doesn’t take her warnings seriously, Shuri takes matters into her own hands, escaping with her friend and protector K’Marah to travel to Kenya and London in search of assistance.  Their return to Wakanda coincides with the invasion, and Shuri is able to use some of her innovative technology to stop it and to show her family what she is capable of.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  My experience with another middle grade Black Panther novel makes me pretty confident that this will be an easy sell.  It’s an action-packed ride with a strong, smart girl protagonist, and characters that may be familiar to readers from the movie or comic books.

Cons:  The queen seemed unnecessarily obnoxious to her daughter, not appreciating Shuri’s considerable gifts, and focusing too much on her clothes and social skills.

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