We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  Poor Penelope!  It’s tough enough for a young T. Rex going to school for the first time, but when she discovers her classmates are all children, she can’t resist eating them…because children are delicious!  The teacher makes her spit them all back out, but that first impression lasts, and Penelope finds herself without any friends. Her parents explain to her that she can’t eat her classmates, reminding her that “children are the same as us on the inside.  Just tastier.” Penelope tries, but she still has an occasional slip-up until she attempts to make friends with Walter, the classroom goldfish. When she sticks her finger in the water, Walter takes a bite, and Penelope does not like being someone’s snack at all!  Just looking at Walter reminds her to practice self-control, and before long Penelope has turned things around at school and is making friends. 48 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  A funny story about a T. Rex that also conveys good messages about treating others how you want to be treated and practicing self-control.

Cons:  I thought Penelope could have been a bit cuter; her head is kind of a cross between a beach ball and a football helmet.

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Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein

Published by Candlewick

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Summary:  The little red chicken and her father are back with their bedtime story routine.  This time, Little Chicken has been told by her teacher that every story has an element of surprise….only she heard this as an elephant of surprise.  So in each story her father reads to her, she is on the lookout for that elephant.  Just like in Interrupting Chicken, the father reads a classic fairy tale, and his daughter interrupts, inserting herself and the elephant.  The illustrations for the stories are a bit more dignified, with paler colors and classic-looking characters; the elephant and Little Chicken herself appear in the stories in the style of the rest of the book.  Dad is still awake at the end of this story; on the last page, Little Chicken asks him for help with her math homework.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Fans of the first Caldecott-honored Interrupting Chicken will no doubt enjoy some chuckles as they revisit Little Chicken and her patient, loving father.

Cons:  The premise of the interrupting chicken felt a little tired to me in this one.

A copy of this book was provided to me by Candlewick.

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Tigers and Tea With Toppy by Barbara Kerley and Rhoda Knight Kalt, illustrated by Matte Stephens

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Rhoda loves spending weekends in New York City with her Grandpa Toppy and Grandma Nonnie.  On Saturday, Toppy, whose real name is Charles R. Knight, takes his granddaughter to the American Museum of Natural History where he shows her the paintings he created of animals and prehistoric scenes.  Even though he is legally blind, he is able to draw and paint the dinosaurs from their fossilized skeletons. The next day they visit the Central Park Zoo where Toppy shows Rhoda the animals he studied so closely to learn how to draw them accurately.  Rhoda, Toppy, and Nonnie finish off the weekend with a celebratory tea at the Plaza Hotel. Includes author and artist notes with more information about Knight and the creation of the book; source notes; some of Knight’s animal drawings; and photos of Toppy and Rhoda.  48 pages; grades K-3.

Pros:  A fun way to introduce the life of Charles Knight.  One interesting tidbit: illustrator Matte Stephens is legally blind, like Knight was, and uses some of the same techniques to create his art.

Cons: I would have enjoyed seeing more of the prehistoric paintings.

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Stealing the Sword (Time Jumpers) by Wendy Mass, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Chase and Ava are at a flea market with their parents when they discover a mysterious suitcase.  The woman who sells it to them acts kind of odd, and when they buy it, a man chases after them to try to get it back for himself.  Inside are several artifacts, including what they think is a dragon doorknob. It leads them back through time to Camelot, where they meet up with Merlin and discover that Arthur is in danger.  Turns out the dragon is no ordinary doorknob, but actually the hilt of Excalibur. The two children prove instrumental in reuniting the sword and its hilt just in time to save the king. The man from the flea market shows up again, still after his suitcase, but the kids manage to elude him and return to the present.  The other artifacts in the suitcase, as well as the pictures on the back cover, assure readers that there will be at least three more books in this series. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  There’s plenty of action in this latest entry from the Scholastic Branches imprint.  Fans of The Magic Tree House may find this a fun series to try for a change of pace; it’s right around the same reading level.  The Branches books always find a ready audience in my libraries.

Cons:  As much as I love Wendy Mass and want to praise everything she does, this is a little too close to The Magic Tree House.  A bookish brother and his slightly younger adventurous sister travel back in time.  Seems like Scholastic could have tried a bit harder for originality.

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Lyric McKerrigan, Secret Librarian by Jacob Sager Weinstein, illustrated by Vera Brosgol

Published by Clarion Books

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Summary:  When Dr. Glockenspiel escapes from his cell and demands one billion, trillion dollars, even the top secret agents prove ineffective.  Glockenspiel threatens to unleash giant moths to eat the world’s books if his demands aren’t met, so it’s up to Lyric McKerrigan, secret librarian, to parachute in to the rescue.  Posing as a custodian, a plumber, and a prison warden, McKerrigan surreptitiously matches the right books up with the people around Glockenspiel. Not only does she bring them to her side, but when the giant moths are released, she tames them with a story.  They turn their attention from books to the doctor’s woolly sweater, and he ends up shivering in his underwear before heading back to jail, a large red “Returned” stamped on his forehead. 48 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Sometimes books with a pro-book, librarian hero(ine) message can sound a little desperate, but this one is pretty funny.  Lyric has some good disguises, and the message that there’s a book for everyone is delivered with a light touch.  Kids will enjoy the cartoon-style illustrations.

Cons:  Lyric is a bit stereotypical, with her glasses, hair in two buns, and shown reading with her cat and a cup of tea on the last page.

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Hammering for Freedom: The William Lewis Story by Rita Lorraine Hubbard, illustrated by John Holyfield

Published by Lee and Low

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Summary:  William “Bill” Lewis was born on a Tennessee plantation in 1810, where he and his family had to work long days in the fields of Colonel Lewis’s plantation.  At a young age, he was moved to the blacksmith’s shop where he became good enough at repairing and building tools that he was able to make a little money.  By the age of 27, he had saved enough to rent himself out and start his own business in Chattanooga.  By that time he had also married and had a son.  Slowly he saved enough money to buy his own freedom, his son’s, and his wife’s, which meant the rest of their children were born free.  He paid cash for a large house for them all to live in.  Twenty six years after arriving in Chattanooga, he finally succeeded in freeing his mother, aunt, and all of his siblings.  Includes an author’s note with more information about Lewis and source notes.  32 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring story of an ordinary man who lived a life of hard work, thrift, and community service to improve the lives of himself and his family.

Cons:  I was disappointed to learn in the author’s note that, after all that hard work, Lewis lost a good deal of his net worth post-Civil War.

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The Third Mushroom by Jennifer Holm

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Picking up a short time after the ending of The Fourteenth Goldfish, Ellie continues the tale of her grandfather, Melvin, a scientist (with two Ph.D.’s!) who turned himself back into a teenager in the first book.  He returns from the bus trip he took at the end of book 1 and moves back in with Ellie, her mom, and her new stepdad. Ellie’s best friend Raj is the only kid at school who knows the truth about Melvin, who passes himself off as Ellie’s cousin.  Ellie and Melvin decide to enter the science fair when Melvin discovers an axolotl with extra legs entwined in a jellyfish specimen in his lab. Axolotls can regenerate body parts, and the two of them make a discovery that could have implications for human growth.  There’s plenty of information about science and scientists, but also interesting and emotional details about Ellie’s everyday life, like her attempt at a date with Raj, life with her new stepfather, and the poignant death of her beloved cat. Melvin’s experiments on himself make it doubtful that there will be another book in this series unless there is a different angle than the septuagenarian teenager one.  Includes an author’s note, additional information about the scientists mentioned in the story, and resources for further research on them. 240 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Ellie’s voice gives the story a light touch, even as it deals with pretty heavy subjects like life, death, and love.

Cons:  The science experiment, which seemed like it had some pretty interesting implications, just sort of fizzled out at the end of the book.

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