Readers have many choices of modern fantasy and science fiction books. Here we review just a few of the recently published books that take readers into the future and worlds of fantasies and the unanswerable question, what if.
Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep. Robin Newman. Ill. Chris Ewald. 2016. Creston.
Hildie Bitterpickles is a sleep-deprived young witch. Her giant neighbor’s beanstalk elevator keeps her awake with its loud clunking, and an old woman has moved in next door with a gazillion noisy children who play loudly all night. When a wolf blows the roof off a nearby brick house in the middle of the night, Hildie decides it is time to move and seeks help from Monty the Rat, a local realtor, who sends her off to houses with their own issues: blind mice that tinker all night and black sheep that want to sleep with her. She returns home with her own creative solutions for her sleeping problems (such as inviting the blind mice to fix the noisy elevator) until, at last, when she turns out the lights, she hears “Nothing!” Discerning young readers are sure to scour the humorous illustrations for clues to familiar tales and nursery rhymes. —NB
Ollie’s Odyssey. William Joyce. 2016. Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
In the world of toys, the highest honor is to be a favorite of a human child. Ollie, a homemade plush stuffed toy, has been 6-year-old Billy’s “fave” since Billy’s birth. When Ollie is toy-napped by the Creeps, who work for the evil Zozo (the Clown King of the Dark Carnival), the odyssey begins: Billy to find Ollie, and Ollie to escape from Zozo to return home. Through a wild series of “A-ventures,” Billy and Ollie are finally reunited at the Dark Carnival, where they confront Zozo, who retaliates by destroying the crumbling carnival and bringing it down on them. Through a magical turn of events, Zozo loses the hate in his heart for faves and sacrifices himself to save them. his is an excellent read-aloud with eerie,epia-toned illustrations that will have readers clutching their own faves while they shiver with anticipation of what will happen next. —NB
Girl in the Tower. Lisa Schroeder. Ill. Nicoletta Ceccoli. 2016. Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt.
Queen Bogdana, an ugly witch who has bewitched a kingdom to become ruler, has everything she wants except beauty. According to her ancient spell book, she needs a feather from a living hummingbird and a strand of black hair from the head of an 11-year-old girl with lavender eyes to cast a spell that will make her beautiful. To acquire these items, Queen Bogdana has imported hummingbirds for her garden and kept Violet and her mother locked in a tower since the lavender-eyed girl’s birth 10 years ago. As Violet’s 11th birthday approaches, the queen plans to make her a princess. Bogdana frees Violet’s mother, but bars her from the castle and contact with her daughter. Violet, who is as clever as she is beautiful, outwits Queen Bogdana, breaks all the queen’s spells, and is reunited with her family in a perfect happily-ever-after fairy tale ending. —CA
Grayling’s Song. Karen Cushman. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The cottage where Grayling lives with her mother, Hannah, who is a healer and wise woman, has burned. Hannah is rooted to the ground and turning into a tree, and her grimoire, a book of magic spells, has disappeared. The same thing has happened to others with magical powers. With only t magical songs learned from her mother and a basket of herbs and potions, shy Grayling sets out to find the grimoire, hoping it will reveal how to undo the malevolent magic. Along the way, Grayling is joined by a mouse, who, as a result of eating the contents of her basket, can talk and shapeshift. Grayling’s songs gather around her Auld Nancy, a weather witch, and Pansy, her pouty great-niece, as well as a self-centered enchantress and a wizard who tells the future with cheeses. Grayling is determined to thwart the evil force at work and is surprised to find she’s become a leader as the group survives numerous misadventures. Master storyteller Cushman gives readers a lively-paced tale of magic and adventure with an engaging heroine and a host of intriguing secondary characters. —CA
Greenling. Levi Pinfold. 2016. Templar/Candlewick.
When Farmer Barleycorn finds a strange baby Greenling growing near his farm, he takes it home only to have bizarre things happen overnight: Melons grow out of the kitchen floor, red peppers sprout from the cupboards, and apple trees bloom in the living room. When a train on a nearby track is brought to a stop by wild vines and the branches of mango and plum trees, there’s nothing that can be done except for the passengers to eat their way out. In the fall, the youngster suddenly disappears, leaving a bounty of fruits and vegetables for winter behind and fallow fields—and the wonder of what the next year might bring. Told in a rhyming, folktale style, this picture book, with its ecological fable and haunting illustrations, is sure to stir discussion among readers young and old. —NB
Princess Between Worlds (A Tale of the Wide-Awake Princess #5). E. D. Baker. 2016. Bloomsbury.
Princess Annie of Treecrest and Prince Liam, future King of Dorinocco, are ready to begin their honeymoon, a Grand Tour, when a wood witch gives them a special wedding gift: a collection of postcards from the Magic Marketplace that will literally send them to different places in the world. Touching one of the cards by accident, they are transported to the frozen outpost of Delaroo Pass, where they are forced to leave in a hurry as trolls attack. Aided by the magic cards, the couple travels from kingdom to kingdom in search of a way home and discovers their arrivals are always preceded by lies and warnings about them from an evil wizard. After facing near-fatal encounters with hostile beings, including yetis, dragons, and monsters, they are more determined than ever to return home. Readers will be eager to find out if there will really be a happily-ever-after for Princess Annie and Prince Liam. —NB
Black River Falls. Jeff Hirsch. 2016. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
On October 16, the town of Black River is devastated by a mysterious virus that causes the loss of memory. Months later, the town is now a heavily guarded Quarantine Zone. Seventeen-year-old Cardinal Cassidy has avoided being infected by wearing a mask and gloves and living in the mountains above the town with limited contact with “infected.” With no memories, infected individuals begin to make new lives. Cardinal, however, cannot escape memories of his family and what happened to them when the virus struck. Perhaps allowing himself to become infected would be a blessing. When Cardinal learns he is immune to the virus, he is faced with some difficult choices, choices that will affect not only his future but that of Black River. Told as a letter written by Cardinal to his brother, a form that provides flashbacks about family relationships, this is a complex and thought-provoking story of survival and identity. —CA
The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. Janet Fox. 2016. Viking/Penguin Random House.
When 12-year-old Kat Bateson and her two younger siblings are sent to Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy in Scotland to escape the London Blitz, Great-Aunt Margaret gives Kat a precious family heirloom, a chatelaine she says is magical. Kat is soon aware that all is not right at Rookskill Castle. The castle is full of bewildering passages and secret rooms, ghostlike children are seen on the grounds, and the students, locked in their rooms at night, hear frightening noises. Strangest of all is the behavior of Lady Eleanor, the headmistress, who also has a chatelaine, one with unusual charms that disappear one by one as students disappear. In this complex thriller/historical fantasy involving ancient magic and mystery, readers become aware of what is actually happening at Rookskill Castle before Kat does through the author’s use of flashbacks to earlier times as far back as 200 years. —CA
Flawed. Cecelia Ahern. 2016. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.
In a futuristic society where perfection is valued above all else, Celestine North is a model daughter, sister, student, and citizen until she makes a spontaneous decision that changes everything: She helps a “flawed” person in a society where it is against the code of conduct to aid the flawed in any way. Her boyfriend’s father, Bosco Crevan, is head committee judge for the Guild, which oversees the inquisition and punishment of those accused of moral or ethical mistakes. When Celestine goes before his committee, she is sentenced to five brands, the most ever administered to a guilty recipient (and she also receives an illegal sixth brand during the marking process). Released back to her family, she has to live with the punishments that accompany her brands. A rebellious faction wants Celestine to become their spokesperson, but she is not willing to become their hero. The upcoming sequel, Perfect, follows Celestine as she seeks the truth about the sacrifices she is asked to make. —NB
Truthwitch (Witchlands #1). Susan Dennard. 2016. Tor Teen/Tom Doherty.
Witchlands is in the 19th year of The Truce, but war is afoot and deadly politics abound. All that Safiyand Iseult, threadsisters (individuals who are closer than family), want is to live freely. Safi, a Truthwitch, can tell when someone lies, and her powerful magic makes her a pawn for her enemies if captured. Iseult, a Threadwitch, uses logic to balance Safi’s fiery personality and sees the invisible relationships of those around her. When they are involved in a holdup that goes wrong, they find the revenge-bound Bloodwitch Aeduan hot on their trail. Shortly after, Safi escapes from an unexpected betrothal with the aid of reluctant Prince Merik, a Windwitch, and the young women are separated from each other. This novel, the first of four books in a new fantasy series that provides non-stop action with an unforgettable cast of characters as these two ferocious females fight emperors, mercenaries, and witches to find each other and work together to prevent the eruption of war. —NB
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
Ah, summer—those gloriously long days with plenty of time to take part in fun activities, such as diving into a good book! Check out these recently published titles that take readers on road trips, to summer camp, into nature, and on vacation.
Calling All Cars. Sue Fliess. Ill. Sarah Beise. 2016. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.
Cars, cars, cars! All kinds of cars driven by a full cast of animal characters make this simple rhyming text a fun choice for young readers who love to talk about cars. Where are the cars headed? Everywhere—to the beach, to town, to the mountains, and to campsites, just to name a few places. This rhythmic book is a great choice to take on a summer road trip to stave off pleas of “Are we there yet?” Brightly colored cartoon-style illustrations created digitally complement the text in this engaging concept book.
Finding Wild. Megan Wagner Lloyd. Ill. Abigail Halpin. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Nothing goes together better than summertime and exploring. In this poetic and thought-provoking picture book, a young boy and girl set off to explore the wild spaces around them. A feast for the senses, this story describes what wild looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes like, and it reminds readers that wild can hide in the most unusual of places, and finding wild is possible for everyone no matter where they live. Detailed watercolor-and-colored pencil illustrations add a muted beauty to the text.
Lady Liberty’s Holiday. Jen Arena. Ill. Matt Hunt. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
The Statue of Liberty is tired of standing in her same spot on Ellis Island day after boring day, and besides that her neck hurts from always holding her arm up over her head. Moe the Pigeon urges Lady Liberty to take a vacation, so one night she puts down her torch and tablet and sneaks away to see the rest of America. Readers follow Lady Liberty on a map as she travels from the Jersey Shore to the Great Midwest and all the way out to California to see the Golden Gate Bridge. But back in New York, people miss her and desperately hope she’ll return in time for the Fourth of July celebration. The brightly colored illustrations are a combination of digital and traditional pencil-and-paint artwork. Back matter includes background information on the Statue of Liberty, a page of trivia related to the statue, and a bibliography.
Penny & Jelly Slumber Under the Stars. Maria Gianferrari. Ill. Thyra Heder. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Penny is excited to go to Sleepover Under the Stars Night at the local community center, but she doesn’t want to leave her dog, Jelly, behind. Penny tries to construct a pretend Jelly out of paper, yarn, fleece, pipe cleaners, cotton balls, marshmallows, and more but can’t quite duplicate the real Jelly, no matter how hard she tries. So Penny comes up with the perfect solution: Have her own under the stars sleepover—furry friends invited! Colorful, expressive illustrations in watercolor, pencil, and ink perfectly detail Penny’s plans.
Surf’s Up. Kwame Alexander. Ill. Daniel Miyares. 2016. NorthSouth.
Two cool frogs who call each other Bro and Dude love to surf. On their way to the beach, Bro has his nose in a book, which Dude thinks, at first, is boring. However, he soon gets caught up in Bro’s plot tidbits. Brightly colored cartoon-style, digitally created illustrations and plenty of all-caps typography add to the feeling of excitement of a day of both surfing and reading in this story. Adults will enjoy the Moby-Dick references as Bro gives Dude a scene-by-scene account of what is happening in the “TOTALLY AWESOME” book he is reading.
The Family Fletcher Takes Rock Island. Dana Alison Levy. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
The Fletcher family is back for a second adventure as they head to Rock Island for their annual monthlong beach vacation. Dad and Papa and their four adopted sons, Sam, Jax, Eli, and Frog, love to return to their beloved island home every summer and do all of their favorite things, like kayaking out to see the seals and exploring inside the old lighthouse. But this summer, the lighthouse is closed for reasons they can’t quite figure out, and new neighbors have taken over some of their favorite beach spots. This summer-themed book will inspire conversations about adapting to change, creating new traditions, and celebrating the power of family—no matter what your family looks like.
Ocean Animals: Who’s Who in the Deep Blue. Johnna Rizzo. 2016. National Geographic Kids.
Heading to the beach this summer? Take along this fantastic nonfiction manual that explores life in and near the ocean in spectacular detail. Featuring topics such as Oceans of the World, Coral Reefs, Sharks & Rays, Marine Birds, and Ocean Habitats, this book will keep readers (including the landlocked who wish they were at the beach) occupied for hours as they pore over the full-color photographs and descriptive text. Text features include a table of contents, detailed diagrams, photo captions, a glossary, and index. In National Geographic style, this book also includes a section on conservation and what kids (and adults) can do to protect the oceans of the world.
Summer of Lost and Found. Rebecca Behrens. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Nell Dare’s perfect summer plans are ruined when her botanist mother announces that she and Nell are going to spend the summer in North Carolina on Roanoke Island for a research trip. And to make matters worse, Nell’s father disappeared to London on an unannounced trip, and no one will tell her why he left or if he is coming back. Upon arriving at their destination, Nell makes a few friends who fill her in on the historical mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The modern-day story is set beside journal entries told in the voice of one of the colonists. Back matter includes an author’s note, which helps readers discern fact from fiction; a brief history of Roanoke, including information about the treatment of Native Americans by the colonists; and a bibliography. A blend of historical and realistic fiction with a mystery and a bit of paranormal action thrown in (ghosts, anyone?), this summer adventure will keep readers turning the pages to find out what happens.
The Mother-Daughter Book Camp. Heather Vogel Frederick. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Fans of the Mother-Daughter Book Club series are in for a treat as Emma, Jess, Cassidy, Megan, and Becca head off to work as camp counselors at Camp Lovejoy in New Hampshire for their final summer before college. When new campers become homesick, it seems only natural that the girls decide to start a book club with their young charges. The alternating first-person chapters are introduced with epigraphs from Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy, the book the camp book club reads. In this seventh and final book in the popular series, readers who’ve grown up with these five friends will enjoy catching up with their favorite characters’ lives and also bid a fond farewell to the Mother-Daughter Book Club girls as they head off to college.
Summerlost. Ally Condie. 2016. Dutton/Penguin.
Cedar, her younger brother Miles, and her mom are working through the grieving process after her father and younger brother, Ben, were killed in a car accident. This is the first summer without her dad and Ben. They are spending the summer in Iron Creek, the place where her mother grew up. Summerlost is the name of the Shakespearean festival that runs on the local college campus all summer and is where Cedar makes a new friend, Leo, who talks her into working at the festival. Leo and Cedar design a plan to run unauthorized walking tours about the life of actress Lisette Chamberlain, Iron Creek’s most famous resident, who started her acting career with the festival and whose death has been shrouded in mystery. A wonderful summertime read with themes of loss, friendship, finding oneself, letting go, and growing up.
Boys of Summer. Jessica Brody. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
High school seniors Ian, Mike, and Grayson have spent every summer together on the island of Winlock Harborsince they were young. But this summer nothing is quite the same. Mike and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Harper have broken up; Grayson is nursing a painful arm injury, which may jeopardize his prospects for playing football at Vanderbilt, and is angry at his mom for walking out on their family; and Ian is not dealing well with the tragic death of his father, a soldier. The three friends find themselves drifting further and further apart until dealing with a series of conflicts and problems forces them to pull together or risk ruining their friendship forever.
Summer of Supernovas. Darcy Woods. 2016. Crown/Random House.
It’s summer, and 17-year-old Wilamena Carlisle is looking for love. In fact, according to her astrological chart (which she has followed to the letter ever since her mother’s death), she has exactly 22 days to find the perfect match. So she and her best friend, Irina, make it their mission to find someone who will align with her astrological sign. Before you know it, Wil finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with two brothers, Seth and Grant, one who is a match made in Zodiac heaven and one who definitely is not. Will Wil follow her heart or her chart? Finding out makes this a super summer read.
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.
It’s no secret that nonfiction ignites the natural curiosity of readers. An exploration of nonfiction in the classroom offers opportunities to build upon readers’ interests, explore new vocabulary, and deepen background knowledge. Here are some recently published selections of informational trade books and picture book biographies to support content area instruction.
Dorothea’s Eyes. Barb Rosenstock. Ill. Gérard DuBois. 2016. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
“Dorothea sees with her eyes and her heart.” Told in a lyrical style, this inspiring biography for young readers offers insights about the photographer Dorothea Lange, including her natural proclivity toward observation. Rosenstock presents information about Lange’s formative years (polio, displaced father, poverty), her keen awareness of the world around her, and her passion for becoming a photographer even when it wasn't considered ladylike. Lange’s photographs during the Great Depression brought awareness to pressing issues of hunger, homelessness, and poverty. DuBois’s acrylic and digital illustrations reflect the emotional and historical significance of the time. Single descriptive words in gray—“Different. Lonely. Watchful. Curious.”—and sentences in red—“Dorothea’s eyes help us see with our hearts.”— echo Lange's poignant journey. The back matter includes reproductions of six of Lange’s well-known photographs, an author’s note, a bibliography and sources for quotations, and a timeline. Readers will enjoy this beautiful tribute to a gifted photographer and artist. Partner the book with Migrant Mother: How a Photograph Defined the Great Depression (Nardo, 2011). —MN
Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine. Heather Lang. Ill. Raúl Colón. Calkins Creek/Highlights.
In this spirited picture book biography, readers learn about Ruth Law’s daring solo flight from Chicago to New York City in 1916. Law did not let social or gender norms limit her determination to break the record for the longest nonstop flight at the time. Lang’s rich descriptions provide insight into Ruth Law’s ingenuity, knowledge, sense of adventure, and perseverance. When Law decided to make her trip, she wanted to buy a larger airplane but was told that it was too powerful for a woman. Fearless, she made adjustments to her biplane, added extra fuel tanks, and strapped a compass and a map box to her legs to reach her goal despite adverse environmental factors and running low on gas. Law’s own words, featured in a different font, are interspersed across the book. Colón’s color pencil-and-lithograph crayon illustrations done in his distinctive artistic style complement the text with gorgeous hues while accentuating the shifting movement of the flight. Back matter includes further facts about Law, captioned photographs, source notes for quotations, and a bibliography. —MN
Freedom in Congo Square. Carole Boston Weatherford. Ill. R. Gregory Christie. 2016. Little Bee/Bonnier.
Freedom in Congo Square is an informational picture book that is a good read-aloud. Using rhyming text, Weatherford describes the tradition of slaves coming together on Sundays in Congo Square in New Orleans, Louisiana, in the early 1800s. The focus of the book is on the joy slaves found at these gatherings. “They rejoiced as if they had no cares; / half day, half free in Congo Square.” However, although it highlights and celebrates this little-known phenomenon, the book does not sugarcoat slavery: “The dreaded lash, too much to bear. / Four more days to Congo Square.” The colorful, evocative collage-style paintings set an upbeat tone and extend the content, for instance, by featuring African drums, tambourines, and other instruments. A foreword from a historian and Congo Square expert, a glossary, and an author’s note provide further information. —LC
Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land. John Coy. Ill. Wing Young Huie. 2016. Carolrhoda/Lerner.
In scrapbook style, full-color and black-and-white photographs fill the pages of this book. The front endpapers feature snapshots of individuals, and many of the images throughout the book show families at school or work or in the community. Simple words are set against a white background telling the story of what it’s like to be an immigrant. One page addresses how families “shifted between languages, between cultures, between places” and shows children playing traditional instruments or wearing traditional clothing. Their Great Gift celebrates immigrants from around the world, offering talking points for young children and their caregivers. The author and photographer both tell their own immigration stories in the end matter, and the book closes with a nod to patriotism with endpapers showing fireworks. —LC
Cecil’s Pride: The True Story of a Lion King. Craig Hatkoff, Juliana Hatkoff, & Isabella Hatkoff. Ill. Brent Stapelkamp. 2016. Scholastic.
This well-written selection describes the poignant life of Cecil, a lion who once roamed the vast landscape in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Readers follow the story of a pride of lions, including its leader, Cecil. The authors include information about the challenges Cecil faced in defending his territory, the loss of his brother, details about his lioness and cubs, and how he formed an unusual alliance with his former rival, a lion named Jericho. The authors also provide information about Cecil’s cubs and the future of his pride after his death. Captioned color photographs appear on every page to illustrate Cecil at different moments of his life. The back matter includes facts about lions, information about Hwange National Park, and the global impact of hunting and wildlife preservation. —MN
The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial. 2016. Susan E. Goodman. Ill. E.B. Lewis. Bloomsbury.
The story of Sarah Roberts pre-dates many of the stories of school desegregation and civil rights activism currently available in children’s books. For instance, it starts in 1847, and Sarah is only 4 years old when she enrolls in the Otis School in Boston. The trial involved both a white and an African American lawyer fighting for integration, and the climax of the story is a “giant step backward” as they lose the case. The First Step could easily be mistaken for historical fiction because of the narrative style, but the book was thoroughly researched and the author is forthright in describing her decisions as a writer in a detailed author’s note with sections titled “Gathering Facts From Places We Trust” and “Trying to Get at the Truth.” Lewis’s watercolor illustrations are somber in color and highly expressive. Most spreads feature double-page illustrations, but there are a few pages with scattered images. There are also carefully placed single-page illustrations, including one with a portrait of Robert Morris, Sarah’s lawyer, and another with Sarah in front of the Supreme Court judges. Back matter includes a timeline on integration, notes on what happened to key figures in Roberts v. City of Boston, sources and resources, and an author’s note. —LC
The Extraordinary Suzy Wright: A Colonial Woman on the Frontier. Teri Kanefield. 2016. Abrams.
The format of this book is particularly appealing because of the picture book shape and size as well as the ample border space. In 10 chapters, readers learn of Susanna “Suzy” Wright’s journey to America from England at the age of 16, her life in Pennsylvania as a Quaker, and her accomplishments as a poet and activist. Design features such as pull quotes and sidebars are used throughout. Instead of beinga distraction, they offer some of the greatest insight into who Suzy Wright was. Readers will be enthralled by the photographs, maps, and archival material interspersed in just the right places. Thoroughly researched with an afterword, author’s notes, bibliography, and index, The Extraordinary Suzy Wright pays homage to this pioneering woman leader. —LC
This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration. Linda Barrett Osborne. 2016. Abrams.
With exceptional care and attention to detail, Linda Barrett Osborne’s latest nonfiction work provides a comprehensive history of American immigration from the 19th century to the present. This outstanding work, organized into six chapters with color-coded edges, showcases Osborne’s accessible writing style as she juxtaposes history with personal anecdotes and quotations. Readers gain insight into how immigrants throughout history have faced numerous challenges, including hostility and isolation. She provides background information about political and social circumstances often associated with the topic of immigration and highlights the numerous benefits and contributions of immigrant populations over time. Insertion of high-quality archival photographs, illustrations, and captions offer further insights. The back matter includes a comprehensive bibliography, source notes, and a timeline. —MN
Last of the Giants: The Rise and Fall of Earth’s Most Dominant Species. Jeff Campbell. Ill. Adam Grano. 2016. Zest.
Told in an accessible conversational tone, Jeff Campbell chronicles the extinction of 13 giant species, including the moa, auroch, and passenger pigeon, which once dominated the landscape. Readers gain insight into the complexity of ecosystems and evolution through the loss of these species. Campbell poses thought-provoking questions: What’s happening to cause extinction? Why are so many species failing right now, and what role do humans play in the crisis? What is the danger, to us and nature, when species fail? What can we do to save species before they go extinct? Campbell’s well-researched account draws from geology, zoology, biology, and history. Black-and-white illustrations, maps, fact pages, and quotations enhance this important work. The back matter includes a special section entitled “Call to Action” with a plethora of resources and strategies to make a difference. This impressive work, with an extensive list of citations, offers readers much to contemplate. —MN
Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune.Pamela S. Turner. Ill. Gareth Hinds. 2016. Charlesbridge.
The story of the legendary samurai Minamoto Yoshitsune is told here in a narrative style and with an irreverent tone. The book is a unique blend of history, biography, adventure, and war chronicle. Readers are not spared the gory details. The first decapitation occurs on page 5: “Only his head returned to Kyoto. The bloody trophy was tied to a sandalwood tree beside the Kyoto prison gates.” This head belonged to Yoshitsune’s father. Yoshitsune’s story begins and ends with violence, but in between readers get to know him as a valiant warrior, conflicted leader, and political figure. The author makes the context of Japanese history and geography accessible to readers by providing a pronunciation guide, glossary, and maps. The text of story ends on page 155, but back matter continues through page 236 with detailed chapter notes that would impress any historian. Author’s notes offer explanations for aspects of the story that may be confusing or questionable (for instance, a note on names and a note on dates used in the text). Back matter also includes two timelines: Yoshitsune and the Wider World and Major Periods of Japanese History, a glossary of Japanese Words, an extensive bibliography, and an index. Gareth Hinds’s illustrations function as a design feature with arrows dividing chapter sections and black-and-white sketches foreshadowing the action in each chapter. —LC
Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania where she teaches courses in children’s/adolescent literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of reading at Penn State Harrisburg where she teaches literacy courses.
Society’s definition of family has expanded to include many more types of relationship structures, with a much broader sense of connectedness to others. Here we highlight recently published books that feature characters who navigate relationships to forge a stronger understanding about their lives. The selections allow readers to examine and discuss families and family relationships from a range of perspectives, both in and out of the classroom.
I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work. Doyin Richards. 2016. Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan.
In a celebration of fatherhood, blogger Doyin Richards captures the universal hopes and dreams fathers have for their children. Told through a series of “I wonder” statements followed by a response, the book explores a range of experiences shared by fathers and their children, such as playing outdoors or reading a story. Every page showcases photographs of fathers and their children that capture the spirit and joy of fatherhood. This photographic tribute honors a diverse array of fathers and acknowledges the cherished moments of spending time with loved ones. In the classroom, students can compose stories from their viewpoints to extend their appreciation to someone special. —MN
A Morning With Grandpa. Sylvia Liu. Ill. Christina Forshay. 2016. Lee & Low.
In this delightful picture book, Mei Mei and her grandfather, Gong Gong, spend the morning learning something new from one another. As Mei Mei’s grandfather exhibits the graceful art of tai chi movements, she explores them with her individual style. When Gong Gong demonstrates the Pick Up the Needle from the Sea Bottom posture, he moves like “seaweed brushing the ocean floor.” As Mei Mei attempts the move, she hops and bops until she bumps into her grandfather. Then Mei Mei models how to do various yoga poses as Gong Gong tries each move. Although he finds some poses awkward, the challenge of trying a new activity while spending time with his granddaughter brings him joy. Told with vivid language as well as lively illustrations, this intergenerational picture book celebrates the treasured moments of spending time with a grandparent. The book closes with illustrated descriptions of the tai chi postures and yoga poses along with additional resources. —MN
One Big Family. Marc Harshman. Ill. Sara Palacios. 2016. Eerdmans.
The sepia-toned endpapers featuring family snapshots set a celebratory tone for this picture book about spending time with extended family. Each page features a few lines and ends with one word, in bold color and all caps, from a family member. The book starts with “Grandma and Grandpa say / COME”. When the family arrives “Mom says / KISS”, and while playing outside “Cousin Tommy says / RUN”. This repetitive phrasing makes for an appealing read-aloud. The book focuses on the simple ways families come together to enjoy each other’s company, such as playing board games, fishing, and swimming. Young children will be able to compare their family reunions or vacations with the one described in the book. The playful illustrations feature lots of reds, yellows, and oranges, and the story culminates with a family photo shoot showing generations of the family wearing similar colors. —LC
My Life in Pictures (Bea Garcia #1). Deborah Zemke. 2016. Dial /Penguin.
In this first chapter book of a new series, author and illustrator Deborah Zemke introduces readers to a likable and creative protagonist, Bea Garcia. As Bea’s imagination soars, she draws and doodles anywhere, including on her family’s television set. They encourage her to keep her doodles, drawings, and other creative musings in a special book, aptly titled My Life in Pictures.
Throughout this humorous book, readers view excerpts of Bea’s doodles as she chronicles observations, feelings about her relationships with friends, and how she handles the conflict with her rambunctious new classmate and neighbor, Bert. Zemke’s clever format, engaging storyline, and celebration of art as a form of self-expression will surely delight readers. —MN
Weekends With Max and His Dad. Linda Urban. Ill. Katie Kath. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Weekends With Max and Dad is a heartwarming chapter book about Max and his newly divorced dad as they spend time together. The format of the book, organized over the course of three weekends with mini chapters, is as creative as its characters. Max and his dad navigate their new surroundings, meet their neighbors, and in the process discover more about themselves. One weekend Max surprises his father by hosting an open mic night in their apartment. A few neighbors share their talents in an open, risk-free space, where “nobody has to worry about mistakes.” Mrs. Tibbet recites a poem, Mr. Polaski performs a tune on his accordion, and his niece Estelle plays her kazoo. Finally, Max’s dad strums a blues song on his ukulele while Mrs. Tibbet’s dog, Barkis, howls with delight. Kath’s pen-and-ink illustrations, interspersed throughout, add interest. Urban masterfully captures the gentle and loving emotions between father and son while learning to understand and accept their new living arrangement. —MN
The Most Important Thing: Stories About Sons, Fathers, and Grandfathers. Avi. 2016. Candlewick.
Avi’s latest short story collection introduces the intricate, dynamic, and complicated relationships of sons, fathers, and grandfathers. Readers will find seven distinctive stories, each packed with varying and multifaceted levels of emotional intensity, humor, and personal discovery that invite further conversation. In the opening story, “Dream Catcher,” Paul travels to meet his grandfather, a Vietnam War veteran, for the first time. The complicated relationship between his father and grandfather results in unanswered questions. During Paul’s visit, he listens to stories about the past, uncovers information about his family history, and develops an unexpected bond with his grandfather. The final story, “Tighty-Whities or Boxers?” introduces readers to Ryan, who lives with his widowed mom. When his mom’s boyfriend proposes marriage, Ryan decides he doesn’t want a stepdad—he wants a father. If his mom’s boyfriend wants the job of being his father “he’d need to apply for the position.” Ryan creates a job advertisement, drafts interview questions, collects letters of reference, including one from a child/teen, and then arranges for a face-to-face meeting. —MN
Sara Lost and Found. Virginia Castleman. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
Sara and Anna are sisters. Sara is 10 years old and her sister is 12, but Sara takes care of Anna, who wets the bed and bites while in foster homes. Sara steals paper for them to eat in case they become hungry. Sara also holds on to the letter their mother wrote to them when she left, and she decides whether they should run away. Their father is battling addiction, and this leaves the girls caught between families. In the past they were separated and placed in different foster homes, but they have also spent time together living with the Silvermans. The elderly Silvermans can take care of the girls only temporarily, but staying with them makes the girls yearn for a safe and stable home. After meeting an adopted boy from Chile, Sara begins to wonder if it would be better to be adopted. Although their father reminds them “You’re Olsons. Never forget that,” the letter from their mother reveals her wishes: “And so I run, hoping to give you a chance at a new and better life.” Sara’s story provides an honest and heartfelt glimpse into the foster care system as she finds ways to help her sister, understand her parents, and trust again. —LC Ages 15+
Unbecoming. Jenny Downham. 2016. David Fickling/Scholastic.
Originally published in the United Kingdom, this young adult novel is full of family secrets. Seventeen-year-old Katie, her mother, Caroline, and her grandmother, Mary, have been living with secrets. Katie’s dad has left, so the family is just Katie, her mom, and her brother, Chris, who has special needs. Katie did not know her grandmother at all, but now Mary, stricken with Alzheimer’s, has come to live with them, and her past is revealed in flashback chapters. Family history is further revealed as Katie witnesses her mother’s resistance to taking care of Mary. Throughout the story, Katie learns more of her mother and grandmother’s past struggles. All the while, she is struggling to figure out her own identity after kissing her female best friend. The stories of these three women are woven together in a way that keeps the readers guessing. Teen readers will even pick up a bit of British slang. —LC Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor at Millersville University of Pennsylvania where she teaches courses in children’s/adolescent literature. Mary Napoli is an associate professor of reading at Penn State Harrisburg where she teaches literacy courses.
It’s almost time for the school year to end and summer reading to begin. Encourage students to head to their local library and sign up for a summer reading program. Here are just a few of the new fiction and nonfiction books recommended to jump-start students’ summer reading.
Chuck and Woodchuck. Cece Bell. 2016. Candlewick.
When first-grader Chuck brings his pet Woodchuck for show-and-tell, everyone is delighted and agrees Woodchuck should come to school every day. Woodchuck is especially kind to Caroline, and helps shy Chuck and Caroline become friends by the end of the school year. Young children will connect with this story, illustrated with humorous ink and digitally colored cartoon art, about making friends, which can take some time and require intervention by a friendly third party (such as Woodchuck).
I Won a What? Audrey Vernick. Ill. Robert Neubecker. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Imagine going to a carnival and winning not a goldfish but a whale! That’s exactly what happens in this story when a young child throws his ping-pong ball into a fish bowl and comes away with Nuncio, a whale. Will the boy’s parents allow him to keep Nuncio? How can they accommodate such an enormous pet? Computer-generated cartoon art in vivid colors makes this humorous book a great spring-into-summer read.
Long Road to Freedom (Ranger in Time#3). Kate Messner. Ill. Kelley McMorris. 2016. Scholastic.
This third book in Messner’s popular series takes time-traveling Ranger, a search-and-rescue golden retriever, to a plantation in Maryland in the mid-1800s, where he helps two slave children make a daring escape and assists them on their journey North. Messner tackles an important topic with just the right amount of danger and suspense for the intended audience. Her detailed research adds a layer of authenticity to the story, and young readers who want to learn more about this time period will be interested in her research notes, suggestions for further reading, and sources. A full-page black-and-white drawing in each chapter adds interest. This book is a good pick for history buffs, dog lovers, and fans of time travel.
Oh No, Astro! Matt Roeser. Ill. Brad Woodard. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Astro the Asteroid is just trying to keep to himself out in space. When a wayward satellite knocks him off course, Astro finds himself hurtling through space and heading toward Earth at breakneck speed. Vivid computer-designed illustrations in red, blue, yellow, black, and white create a cohesive feel to this picture book. Additional space facts at the end of the story are a perfect entry into some follow-up nonfiction space stories for young readers.
Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic. Mara Rockliff. Ill. Iacopo Bruno. Candlewick.
This picture book biography tells the story of Adelaide Herrmann (1853–1932), the first (and one of the only ever) known woman magician. From a young age, Addie wasn’t one who accepted the idea girls couldn’t do certain things, and she explored many new and adventurous opportunities before marrying magician Alexander Herrmann. Bruno’s pencil and digitally colored illustrations dramatically (and literally) set the stage for this entertaining biography. When her husband dies unexpectedly, Addie decides that the show must go on, and she performs as the magician. Rockliff keeps the text short but includes back matter that explains more about Addie’s significance in history and provides an invitation to visit her author’s website to check out one of Addie’s famous tricks.
Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals (The World of Weird Animals). Jess Keating. Ill. David DeGrand. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
Think pink is just for princesses? Think again! This fascinating nonfiction picture book introduces readers to 17 unique pink animals from around the world, including aquatic animals like the blobfish and pygmy seahorses and terrestrial animals like pink land iguanas and pinktoe tarantulas. Each two-page spread features a full-page photograph of the animal, a short introductory paragraph, and a sidebar identifying common name, species name, size, diet, habitat, and predators/threats. Further, a fun fact is included for each animal along with a cartoon. Back matter contains a world map indicating where to find each animal, a glossary, and a short list of additional resources for readers who want to learn more about these perfectly pink animals. The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window. Jeff Gottesfeld. Ill. Peter McCarty. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
This picture book is told from the perspective of the horse chestnut tree outside of Anne Frank's attic window during World War II before Anne and her family were discovered and taken to a concentration camp. When the horse chestnut tree died, saplings grown from its seedpods were sent to a variety of locations including New York City, at the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. McCarty’s intricate brown ink drawings add a sense of somberness to this tale. This is a worthy companion text for middle-grade readers who may have learned about Anne Frank in school. An extended author’s note provides more context for the reader and gives information about how saplings from this tree have been sent all over the world.
The Wild Robot. Peter Brown. 2016. Little, Brown.
When Roz the Robot is activated for the first time, she finds herself on a remote island with only wild animals inhabiting the area. Although rejected by the animals at first for being a “monster,” Roz quickly wins them over with her robot skills and charm, and soon they are treating her more like a friend and less like an outsider. Brown’s first venture into writing chapter books for middle-grade readers is a delightful tale of friendship, acceptance, and making tough decisions. His cartoon-style illustrations in black and white are interspersed throughout the text. In “A Note About the Story,” Brown tells how he came to write this “robot nature story.” A great pick for readers who dream of adventure—and robots.
Lily and Dunkin. Donna Gephart. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
Timothy McGrother knows in his heart that he is a girl and that his name should be Lily. He longs to wear dresses and do “girl things” with his big sister, Sarah. Norbert (“Dunkin”) Dorfman, who suffers from bipolar disorder, has just moved to Lily’s Florida neighborhood after a painful family event. He’d like to be friends with Lily, but he also longs to fit in with the basketball team. Told in alternating chapters from Lily’s and Dunkin’s points of view, this story of friendship and finding your true self is a wonderful middle-grade novel that doesn't shy away from tough topics.
Super Gear: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up. Jennifer Swanson. 2016. Charlesbridge.
What exactly is nanotechnology, and how does it relate to sports? In this nonfiction book, Swanson takes an in-depth look at how nanotechnology scientists and engineers are changing the face of athletics in the 21st century by designing better running shoes, tennis rackets, swimsuits, and other sports-related equipment. This reader-friendly introduction to nanotechnology breaks down the science and describes the processes of nanomanufacturing in a clear and understandable way. Packed with photographs, diagrams, and text boxes, this book will appeal to athletes and sports enthusiasts—and the curious. Back matter has an author’s note, glossary, resources (books and websites), source notes, a lengthy bibliography, and an index.
Doping in Sports: Winning at Any Cost. Stephanie Sammartino McPherson. 2016. Twenty-First Century.
Teens are bombarded with messages to “just say no” to drugs, yet every year another professional athlete is outed for saying yes. This nonfiction account tackles the important topic of doping or using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in athletes at all levels—from high school to the pros. McPherson offers a historical perspective on the development and use of PEDs interspersed with many vignettes of athletes from a variety of different sports. Back matter includes a timeline, detailed source notes, a glossary, an index, and additional resources to complement the information in the text.
The Great American Whatever. Tim Federle. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
Sixteen-year-old screenwriter-wannabe Quinn Roberts is dealing with some tough issues: His sister was killed in a car accident; his single-parent mom is having a hard time coping with life, not to mention the bills that are piling up; and he’s trying to figure out how to tell his mom and best friend that he’s gay. This coming-of-age story, told with Federle’s humorous and sometimes sarcastic voice, explores themes of living through loss, friendship, and first romance and should appeal especially to teen readers who are trying to find their way in life.
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools.