Me and the Sky: Captain Beverley Bass, Pioneering Pilot by Beverley Bass with Cynthia Williams, pictures by Joanie Stone

Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Image result for me and the sky beverly bass amazon

Image result for me and the sky beverly bass amazon

Summary:  From the time she was a kid, Beverley Bass was fascinated by flying.  She enjoyed throwing herself off the top of the washing machine and watching planes take off and land at the local airport.  She took her first flying lesson at 19, and decided aviation was going to be her career. She took jobs men didn’t want, like flying cargo and private business planes; by the time she was 24, she had been hired by American Airlines as a flight engineer.  From there, she worked her way up to co-pilot, and at 34 she was made the first woman captain of an American Airlines plane. She eventually became the first to captain an all-female flight crew at American Airlines and the first woman to teach other pilots. She finishes her memoir with this message: “No dream is too big.  Dream big and soar high!” Includes additional information about Beverley, her experiences on 9/11 (which became the basis for a musical called Come from Away), and her role in founding the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.  40 pages; grades 1-5.

Pros:  An inspiring picture book about a little-known woman who broke many barriers for women in aviation.  The illustrations have a retro 1950’s look that is fun and appealing.

Cons:  Not really a con, but I’d like to know more of the 9/11 tale if there are any aspiring writers out there who would like to take on that picture book project.

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The Magic Mirror (Once Upon A Fairy Tale book 1) by Anna Staniszewski, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  There’s a heat wave hitting the kingdom, and when Kara and Zed intercept a message meant for the Ice Princess, they learn why: her magic mirror has been broken, and she can’t make winter happen without it.  The two kids go on a mission to help her, but when they get to the palace, they discover there’s more broken that just a mirror. Princess Aspen and her sister, Princess Sola, the Sun Princess, have had a falling-out, and it’s thrown the seasons out of whack.  It’s up to Kara and Zed to help them patch things up and get the climate back on track. Fortunately, like all good fairy tales, this one ends happily, although it looks like another adventure (The Stolen Slipper, due out in early December) awaits Kara and Zed.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  The Scholastic Branches imprint has produced about two dozen different series, and they’re all popular with the early chapter book crowd (mostly grades 2-3 in my schools).  I have no doubt that this one will keep pace with the others, as the story was engaging almost from the start.

Cons:  The discovery of an unbroken piece of glass on the bottom of the princess’s shoe seemed a bit unlikely, even for a fairy tale.

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Astro-Nuts Mission One: The Plant Planet by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steven Weinberg

Published by Chronicle Books

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Image result for astro-nuts steven weinberg

Summary:  Planet Earth narrates this graphic adventure about four super-powered animals sent by NNASA (Not the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to find a new planet that will support human life.  Blasting out of Thomas Jefferson’s nostril on Mount Rushmore, the four discover the Plant Planet, which at first seems like an ideal environment. AstroWolf, SmartHawk, LaserShark, and StinkBug each use their special talents to analyze the atmosphere and life on the planet.  Although their initial reports to NNASA are promising, the planet ultimately ends up being hostile to animal life, and the four heroes barely escape. If the last few pages are any indications, it looks like the team will be sent to explore The Water Planet in mission #2.  Includes notes about the collage art used for the illustrations. 220 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Kids will love this wacky graphic novel with plenty of action, adventure, and bathroom humor, and will also learn a little about climate change and other science along the way.  

Cons:  The ultimate fate of the Plant Planet seemed a bit harsh.

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The Bravest Man in the World: A Story Inspired by Wallace Hartley and the Titanic by Patricia Polacco

Published by Simon and Schuster

Image result for patricia polacco bravest man in the world

Image result for bravest man in the world polacco

Summary:  When young Jonathan complains about practicing piano, calling it a “sissy” pastime, his grandfather tells him a story of a musician he describes as “the bravest man in the world”.  It turns out that, as a child, his grandfather inadvertently became a stowaway on the Titanic.  There, he had a string of incredible luck, getting mentored by violinist Mr. Hartley and cook Mrs. Weeks.  After a few lessons from Mr. Hartley, the boy got a chance to play for John Jacob Astor, who invited him to study at the Institute of Musical Art.  He’d live with Mrs. Weeks in New York. Alas, everyone’s jubilation was short-lived; that night the ship sank, and the boy barely escaped, with the haunting notes of “Nearer My God to Thee” played by the ship’s orchestra, including Mr. Hartley, serving as the soundtrack to the disaster.  Includes an author’s note about Wallace Hartley and his violin, which survived the sinking. 56 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Titanic history  buffs will appreciate this tale of life on board the luxury ship, as well as an account of the sinking.  As usual, Patricia Polacco tells a story designed to tug at the heartstrings.

Cons:  I confess I’m not a huge Polacco fan, generally find her books verbose and mawkishly sentimental.  Check and check on this one. Also, it seemed pretty unrealistic that the boy’s fortunes could turn around so dramatically in the few days the Titanic was at sea.

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The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  Eleanor gets annoyed when her Grandpa Joe insists on drilling her and her two younger brothers on survivalist techniques to prepare them for impending doom.  But when she runs across a website with a Harvard scientist claiming an asteroid is heading for Earth, she begins to have doomsday predictions of her own. Enlisting the help of her friend Mack, she forms the Nature Club, using the innocuous-sounding name as a cover to hide her real intentions of preparing her classmates for the end of the world as they know it.  Getting ready to survive Armageddon distracts Eleanor from the fact that visually-impaired Mack is seriously considering going to a school for the blind, and before long she finds herself enjoying meetings of her new club. But as the doomsday clock keeps ticking, fewer people believe her predictions, and Eleanor finds herself taking desperate measures to ensure her loved ones are ready.  Includes an author’s note; information about asteroids; and tips for how to build a survival kit. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  What better group to prepare for a dramatic end to the world than a bunch of middle schoolers?  Stacy McAnulty creates a funny, endearing group of misfits who all have their own reasons for wanting the distraction of the world ending to keep them from their everyday worries.  The fast-paced plot and interesting discussion potential would make this a good book club choice.

Cons:  I didn’t warm up to Eleanor as much as I did to Lucy in McAnulty’s The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, and I grew increasingly frustrated with her refusal to believe the mounting evidence that the scientist was a quack.

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At the Mountain’s Base by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Weshoyot Alvitre

Published by Kokila

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Image result for at the mountains base traci sorell

Summary:  “At the mountain’s base grows a hickory tree.  Beneath this sits a cabin. In that cabin lies a cozy kitchen, where a stove’s fire warms.”  Around that stove, a family gathers and sings. They’re thinking of another woman in their family who is a pilot, away at war, but praying for peace.  Includes an author’s note about American Indian and Alaska Native women who have served in wars. One pilot in particular is profiled, Ola Mildred Rexroat, who was the only Native woman among 1074 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) in World War II.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A brief, but beautiful poem celebrating Native women pilots and the families who support them.  Traci Sorell’s first book We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga was a Sibert honor book last year.

Cons:  Although the poem is lovely, I didn’t really understand it until after I read the author’s note.

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Unicorns 101 by Cale Atkinson

Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Image result for unicorns 101

Image result for unicorns 101

Summary:  Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about unicorns is presented in the style of a nonfiction science book.  Their scientific name is Betterthan horsicus, they weigh 40,000 gummy bears, and they poop cupcakes–which is why you’ll never see a unicorn at a bake sale.  In fact, it’s pretty rare to see one anywhere, because unicorns are masters of disguise. Readers get a few challenges to see if they can spot the unicorn in different illustrations.  They’ll also learn some unicorn history, different types of unicorns, and what the horn is made of (50% magic, 45% mystery, and 5% sugar). The reward comes on the last page, with the Unicornius Scientificus Diploma, showing complete knowledge of unicorn science.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Any unicorn fan will love getting a chance to learn more about this magical creature.  The illustrations are colorful and eye-poppingly busy. There’s plenty of humor in both the text and pictures.  This could be a great writing prompt for kids to create their own “scientific” descriptions of other mythological animals.

Cons:  Although this could be a good way to introduce nonfiction text features, it could be confusing to kids trying to sort out the differences between fiction and nonfiction.

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