For Black Girls Like Me by Mariama J. Lockington

 Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Summary:  Makeda (Keda for short) is struggling with many different issues after her family moves from Maryland to New Mexico.  She’s left behind Lena, her best friend and the only other black girl she knows who was adopted by white parents. Her parents’ relationship is strained; her father is often away performing with his symphony, and her mother’s behavior is increasingly erratic.  When her mom gets mad at the school over a racist incident involving Keda, she pulls her and her older sister out to homeschool, making both girls feel more isolated than ever. Things finally come to a head when a spontaneous trip to Boulder results in a crisis that forces the whole family to make some significant changes.  The ending is hopeful for all four of the family members, although without any guaranteed happily-ever-after. 336 pages; grades 5-7.

Pros:  Keda’s perspective on race is a unique one in the world of children’s literature, and she deals with all kinds of issues, from skin and hair care to subtle and more blatant racism from her friends and family members.  A good mirror and window for readers to learn more about families that include interracial adoptions.

Cons:  I wanted to love this book more than I did.  The mom was a stereotype of a clueless white liberal, and her mental illness overwhelmed the racial issues as the story went on.  Also, some language and the free verse and unique punctuation styles make this book difficult to recommend for elementary–yet Keda is only 11, so her story may not appeal to older middle school readers.

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My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey

Published by Candlewick Press

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Summary:  The narrator describes her beloved grandmother, and how they spent their days together as she grew up in Iran.  Grandma never minded her granddaughter following her around and doing the things she did, even when the little girl climbed on top of her during her morning prayers.  The two often visited their friends next door–the two girls played together while the women drank coffee and talked. The grandmothers would pray for each other, one in a church and one in a mosque.  The narrator concludes, “In this big universe full of many moons, I have traveled and seen many wonders, but I’ve never loved anything or anyone the way I loved my grandma. She was kind, generous, and full of love.  I still want to be just like her.” 32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  This would be a great mentor text for learning about narrative fiction or writing about a character.  The illustrations are beautiful, and interesting facts about Iran and Islam are woven throughout the story.

Cons:  It would have been nice to see some other family members interacting with Grandma and the little girl.

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This Book of Mine by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small

Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

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Summary:  A diverse cast of characters uses books to spark their imaginations, comfort themselves, lose themselves, and to find a friend.  A baby even uses the corner of a book for teething. Only nine sentences long, the text works well with the mostly purple illustrations, with the different books providing spots of other colors.  32 pages; ages 3-7.

Pros:  Short, sweet, and simple, this would be a great way to generate classroom discussion about the wonders of books and reading.

Cons:  It seemed a bit too short. 

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The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, illustrated by Mike Deas

Published by Tilbury House Publishers

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Summary:  When Miss Mellon’s class goes out to recess, many of the kids find friends to play with, but a few are left out.  As the story unfolds, we learn the various reasons: a broken leg, a stutter, old clothes with holes, being small…all are reasons why kids feel like they don’t fit in.  A post-recess conversation results in the class banding together to build a buddy bench. The other kids know when they see someone sitting on the bench, that child is looking for someone to play with.  Includes information and additional resources about buddy benches. 36 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A perfect start to discussions about how to include others.  Even if kids don’t have the know-how or resources to build a buddy bench, they can work together to find solutions to make sure everyone gets included at recess.

Cons:  The rhyming text felt a little forced.

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Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli, illustrated by Federico Fabiani

Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux

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Summary:  Tallulah is like no tooth fairy you’ve ever seen.  She’s the CEO of her own company, Teeth Titans Incorporated, as well as the founder of the National Association for the Appreciation and Care of Primary Teeth (NAACP-T).  But Tallulah’s not all about work. She believes in finding a balance between the three P’s: passion, purpose, and what pays. She does yoga, chats with her therapist, and visits museums.  She recruits and trains other tooth fairies, and when night falls, off they go to collect teeth from kids around the world. One night, Tallulah encounters something unusual: a boy who’s lost his tooth and left her a note instead.  After a quick consultation with her Board of Directors, she leaves a note in return, gifting him with a tooth compartment lanyard from her company to help him keep track of his teeth in the future. The final page shows the boy with a gap-toothed grin and Tallulah watching him from the bushes outside his house.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Kids will love unconventional fairy Tallulah, and may be inspired to come up with some of their own ideas about the tooth fairy.  Tallulah is smart, savvy, and nobody’s fool…a great role model for girls and boys.

Cons:  Some of the humor will be appreciated by adults, but may go over the kids’ heads.

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Bringing Down A President: The Watergate Scandal by Dr. Andrea Balis and Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Tim Foley

Published by Roaring Brook Press

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Summary:  From the break-in at the Watergate hotel on May 25, 1972 to Richard Nixon’s resignation as U.S. President on August 9, 1974, this book covers what went on in the White House in a unique fashion.  The story is narrated by a “fly on the wall”, whose story is interspersed with quotes from many different key players in the events. There are black and white illustrations, some with cartoon bubbles that quote the people shown.  The epilogue tells what happened to those who went to jail (answer: all served ridiculously short terms and made obscene amounts of money off of their experiences when they got out), and those who put them in prison by persisting in their investigation.  Includes almost 200 sources and a three-page bibliography with a tiny font. 240 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  Even though I’ve watched All the President’s Men about ten times, this added a lot to my understanding of Watergate and the depths of the corruption going on in Richard Nixon’s presidency.  Once I got through the first few chapters and figured out who was who (there are a lot of characters, and they’re almost all white men in suits), I couldn’t put it down.  Anyone from tween to adult will add to their knowledge of history pretty painlessly by reading this book.

Cons:  1. . The illustrations are fun, but photos would have been a nice addition. Those who went to jail are pictured at the end, but there’s not a single photo of Nixon. 3. As one might expect from a book featuring Tricky Dick, there is plenty of salty language, either quoted directly or through #?!&* indicators.

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Storm Blown by Nick Courage

Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  As Hurricane Valerie, the “storm of the century”,  approaches the Gulf Coast, two families struggle to survive.  Emily lives in New Orleans with her brother Elliott who is recovering from cancer surgery. Her father is out on the Gulf working on an oil rig, and her mom is completely stressed out trying to deal with everything going on at home.  When Emily feels pushed away, she retreats to an island in a nearby park and hides in a tree, unaware that evacuation orders have been issued ahead of the storm. Alejo lives in Puerto Rico with his uncle, and the two of them get separated during the evacuation there.  Eventually the kids’ lives intersect, and there’s a nail-biting, race-against-time rescue as the storm moves in, even bigger and more powerful than expected. 352 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of the I Survived series will enjoy the slow build-up of the first half as the storm is still approaching, and the edge-of-your-seat suspense of the second half as the group stranded in New Orleans struggles to get away.

Cons:  The females in the story seemed too passive, depending on the males to rescue them.  Emily makes a series of bad decisions, leaving it to her sick brother to risk his life to save her.  Their mom seems just about paralyzed by anxiety, and it’s up to the dad to sweep in from his oil rig job at the last minute and begin the rescue effort.

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