Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  Aru Shah lives with her mother, director of the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.  Aru has a hard time fitting in at school, so when three somewhat nasty kids from her class show up at the museum on a vacation day, Aru can’t help showing off.  She lights a lamp her mother has warned her never to touch, and unleashes the Sleeper, an evil being who freezes time for everyone around Aru. To undo the spell, Aru is sent on a mission, where she learns that she is a reincarnation of one of the Pandava brothers from Indian mythology.  She meets up with Mini, a girl who is also one of the Pandava, and together they manage to defeat a large number of monsters and other mythological beings to fulfill their quest. It’s clearly not over at the end, though; two mysterious new kids are introduced, and it looks like Aru will be off on another adventure in April 2019.  Includes an extensive glossary of Indian mythology. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This is the first book in the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint of Disney-Hyperion (the next two, on Korean and Mayan mythology, are due out in September).  The format is similar to Riordan’s books, with a misfit protagonist who discovers her demigod status and has a string of adventures with mythological creatures.  It’s sure to be a hit with Riordan’s legion of fans.

Cons:  Having no background in Indian mythology, I struggled to keep track of the many different characters and their relationships with one another.

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All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  “No matter how you start your day./What you wear when you play./Or if you come from far away./All are welcome here.”  Rhyming text and busy illustrations assure a classroom full of children and their parents that all of them are welcome in the school.  The class is a veritable United Nations, with kids and adults of different races, nationalities, and religions.  The kids move through their day, reading, drawing, snacking, and playing outside.  After school, they go home to different homes and foods, but their community binds them together.  The final foldout page shows some sort of open house (maybe a science fair?) with all the parents and kids gathering for food and sharing of different school activities.  44 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Elementary teachers and librarians, if you’re looking for something new for the first day of school, this may be your book.  The rhymes are catchy and the illustrations are appealing–just about any kid is likely to find a picture of someone who looks like him/her.  There’s a lot to look at and discuss.

Cons:  Apparently this book comes with a poster under the jacket, but since I got it from the library, the poster was gone.

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Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  Geraldine does NOT want to move.  But her parents insist, the family moves, and Geraldine’s father takes her to her new school.  It soon becomes obvious that Geraldine is the only giraffe at her school, and for the first time in her life, she’s shy.  It’s hard to hide when you’re nine feet taller than your classmates, but she does her best.  One day at lunch, she goes to her usual tree hiding spot, but someone else has gotten there first–Cassie, a girl who has her own reasons for feeling alienated.  The two spend lunchtime together, and a friendship begins.  The next day, Geraldine pulls Cassie into the cafeteria, and the two give each other confidence to talk to some other kids.  Her problems aren’t completely over, but Geraldine feels a lot happier and more sure of herself at her new school.  40 pages; ages 3-8.

Pros:  A cute story about fitting in while remaining true to yourself.  Kids will love the watercolor illustrations and seeing how many contortions Geraldine manages with her long neck.

Cons:  It feels like a story that’s been told before–although maybe not with a giraffe.

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Unsinkable: From Russian Orphan to Paralympic Swimming World Champion by Jessica Long with Hannah Long

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Jessica Long started life in Siberia as Tatiana Kirillova; she was adopted by the Long family at the age of 13 months.  Born without fibular bones, Jessica underwent surgery shortly after arriving in the U.S. to remove both legs below the knee.  She learned to walk with prosthetics, and soon became active in a variety of sports. Swimming eventually won out over the others, and Jessica began competing as a Paralympian.  She has participated in Paralympic events in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio de Janeiro, winning 23 medals to make her the second-most decorated Paralympian of all times. She tells her story as a series of life-changing moments (“The moment I won my first gold”, “The moment I lost my confidence”, etc.), that cover the highs and lows of her life and athletic career.  Jessica has enjoyed working as a model, and the text is illustrated with many photos of her, her family, and her friends. Looking at her Facebook page, it seems as though she is making plans to compete in Tokyo in 2020. 112 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Jessica tells her story in a chatty, upbeat style that, along with the many photos, will appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers.  Even her struggles with anxiety, OCD, and bulimia are covered with a pretty positive spin.

Cons:  The format of life-changing moments, which were not in exact chronological order, made the story seem a little disjointed. Also, not a con, but a heads-up that Jessica and her family are devout Christians, which is sometimes mentioned in the story, particularly “The moment I found peace”.

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Life According to Og the Frog by Betty G. Birney

Published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons

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Summary:  Room 26 has a new pet: Og the Frog.  Og started his career as a classroom pet in Room 27, but George the bullfrog was something of a bully, so Og got moved next door.  He enjoys watching the kids (whom he calls “big tads”), thinks Mrs. Brisbane is a pretty great teacher, and is intrigued by his excitable hamster neighbor, but Og sometimes wishes he was back in the swamp.  He was “frognapped” by a fisherman, then given to the man’s grandson who is a student in room 27.  A herpetologist from a nearby nature center visits the classroom to tell the kids more about Og, and she informs them that Og can’t be released back into the wild (he may have picked up human germs that he would spread to other frogs).  The kids–and Og–have to decide if it’s best for him to stay in the classroom or if he should move to the nature center.  Of course, Og ends up staying in school, and readers can hope to hear more from the new frog in the future. 160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fans of the Humphrey series will be clamoring for a new book about a frog who is every bit as endearing as Room 26’s hamster is.  Og is a poet, and kids may be inspired to try to match some of his rhymes; they’ll also learn a bit about frogs and conservation.

Cons:  I was hoping Og and Humphrey would find a way to communicate, but all Og hears from Humphrey is a bunch of squeaking.

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Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips

Published by Allen and Unwin

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Summary:  Each of the ten folktales tells the story of an underdog, often a child or teen, who defeats some sort of a monster…witches, nixies, giants, and other monsters.  The introduction describes how folktales were passed down through telling, eventually being published in books which often had few or no illustrations.  The graphic novel format of this book allows readers to see all the action, characters, and settings that are often from different cultures.  The table of contents tells which country each story is from.  192 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  An excellent addition to folktale collections.  Kids will love the graphic novel format; the stories are quick reads (15-25 pages with lots of pictures) with beautiful artwork and plenty of action.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have more cultural diversity.  With the exception of “Momotaro” from Japan and “The King of the Polar Bears” from America, all the stories are European.

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Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant

Published by Beach Lane Books

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Summary:  Flora’s fourth grade year gets off to a rough start; her parents have recently separated, her dog died not too long ago, and the kids in her class seem a lot smarter and more confident than they did in third grade.  Flora is quiet and sensitive, and loves spending hours reading at Wing and a Chair Used Books, where her mother works three days a week.  As the year goes on, Flora makes a new friend, Yuri; gets a new cat, Serenity; and discovers her talent for writing.  When spring comes, her family changes once again, this time in an exciting new direction, and Flora is grateful for everything that has happened to her in the previous year.  160 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A quiet, introspective book about a quiet, introspective girl growing up in 1972 in the small town of Rosewood, Indiana.  The characters are memorable, especially Flora, Yuri, and Miss Meriwether, the book store owner.

Cons:  Readers seeking a lot of humor/action/adventure may be disappointed.

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