Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved An Ecosystem / by Patricia Newman. 10.1.2018

Millbrook Press ISBN 9781512426311

YA Grades 4 to 9 Rating: 4

Thoughtfully organized with enticing photos of fluffy-faced otters, Sea Otter Heroes presents an interesting story of the relationship between sea grasses and sea otters in a California bay inlet. Utilizing the work of marine biologist Brent Hughes, students come to understand the role of sea otters in maintaining ecosystems. Studying the nutrient-polluted estuary fed by fertilizers and pesticides used in nearby farming, Hughes discovered that sea otters, the top predators in the food chain, help keep the sea grass algae-free through their feeding habits, which allows the fish population to grow and expand and, in the long term, preserves a natural barrier to storms.

Source notes, glossary, bibliography, suggested resources, and index add to the quality of this title. Sidebars called “Otterisms” both demonstrate and brighten the text. Clear, full-color photographs and illustrations offering scientific diagrams make it easy to see how Hughes’ theory was confirmed. The layout, done much like a picture book, may deter older readers. But since the story is presented as a mystery, clues unfold as the researcher discovers them. Why are the sea grasses in Elkhorn Slough flourishing when the waterway is one of the most polluted waterways in the country? This will help keep readers stay engaged. The final chapter on conservation includes relevant experiments and ways in which young people can help the environment on a daily basis.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Lucky Broken Girl / by Ruth Behar. 9.28.2018

Puffin Books ISBN 9780399546457

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: *5

A car injury binds 10-year-old Ruthie in a body cast and confines her to bed. Anger against those who caused the accident sits in heart like a stone, and having to depend upon her mother for EVERYTHING, because she cannot move, frustrates her and her mother. Fear becomes a new companion when Ruthie’s prolonged immobility indicates that she many never walk again.

Based on her own real-life experience as a child, Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl portrays a young girl’s struggle with a physical injury, assimilation in a new country, mastering a foreign language, and opening her heart to forgiveness and friendship.

The many months in bed make Ruthie complacent, and a new fear takes hold of her that is more paralyzing than the injury itself: the thought of getting out of bed, learning how to walk again, and participating in this new world in which she now lives. She is helped by a host of characters that pass through her room, each one giving her a gift through which she learns life lessons.

Her home school teacher introduces her to the world of books and reading that free her mind. An artist neighbor helps her find joy in painting through which Ruthie learns about perspective and its power to change how one sees the world. A nurse encourages her to stop entertaining fear in order to prevent it from settling inside her like an unwelcome guest. And from a school friend, she learns that little dreams are easy to lose, so she must dream big.

Lucky Broken Girl is a warm and delightful book providing insight and inspiration into the world of tragedy, loneliness, newness, and fear. But Ruthie learns to put away her anger against the driver who broke her and discovers how lucky she really is. Forgiveness becomes her first step toward healing, from the inside out.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora / by Pablo Cartaya. 9.25.2018

Penguin ISBN 9781101997253

YA Grades 5-8 Rating: 5

Pablo Cartaya writes a delightful book about a seventh-grade boy, his grandmother, and his Cuban-American family in Miami. Sprinkled with Spanish words, the reader is able to understand the words in the context of the story, and is introduced to the Cuban-American culture.

In The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, 13-year-old Arturo Zamora loves playing basketball and working as a junior dishwasher in his grandmother’s restaurant. He also wants to win the heart of Carmen, a girl he likes and his mother’s goddaughter. Arturo wants to make his abuela proud, especially when his grandmother gets sick. Her family rallies around her to keep the restaurant running and to fight Wilfrido Pipo, the greedy developer who wants to take over the neighborhood where her restaurant is located. Wilfrido makes a lot of promises to the community but are his designs just empty words? As his abuela get sicker, Arturo discovers family stories and the poetry of José Marti, Cuban writer. At his abuela’s funeral, the entire community turns out to honor her. Will the Zamora family and their neighbors win the fight against Pipo?

Cartaya writes a touching narrative where characters naturally use Spanish but the reader doesn’t need all the words translated in order to follow the story. Family bonds and community ties are central to this story. In fact, at a protest, one of the signs read: “Community is Family, Family is Community.” Cartaya includes family recipes and an author’s note.

Recommended for school and public libraries, especially fans of Rita Williams-Garcia. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora was a 2018 Pura Belpre Honor book, and an E. B. White Read-Aloud Middle Reader Award finalist, among other honors.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

All Around Us / by Xelena Gonzalez; illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia. 9.24.2018

Cinco Puntos Press ISBN 9781941026762

PRI Grades 2-5 Rating: 5

Grandpa’s daily chores and routines seem mundane and dreary, yet through them his granddaughter learns about the wonders of nature that encompass everything about them, including her.

When she sees a rainbow arc in the sky, Grandpa explains that the other half of the circle, the part we cannot see, is hidden in the earth. Patting the garden soil where Grandpa planted seeds, he reminds his grandchild that the seeds, though now unseen, will become the visible fruits and vegetables that will feed them. Throughout the day, Grandpa introduces her to many other unseen secrets and she begins to see and to understand her own place in the circle of life.

All Around Us by Xelena Gonzalez is a reflective celebration of life–a warm and tender story of the relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter and the lessons he teaches her about our connection to the earth and the world around us. The illustrations by Adriana M. Garcia support the theme of circles all around with deep rich earth tones and with bright greens and vibrant yellows that swirl around each page. Intermingling with the text, they enfold the reader into the story to help them feel the warmth of the earth and the love between adult and child.

All Around Us is a 2018 Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor Book, an ALSC Notable Children’s Book, and a 2018 American Indian Youth Literature Award: Picture Book Honor recipient.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found / by Martin W. Sandler. 9.21.2018

Candlewick Press ISBN 9780763680336

INT Grades 5-6 Rating: 5

Written for a young adult reader, this true story of the captaincy, wreck, and discovery of the only pirate ship ever found, The Whydah, makes for an enticing story. A 2018 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults finalist, this title is by Martin W. Sandler, a prolific author of books for adults and children, who weaves history and archaeology to offer insights on pirate captain Black Sam Bellamy, his flagship Whyday, and the culture of early 18th-century piracy. Adding to this story, Sandler includes the recovery of the wreck and interpretation of the artifacts.

The factual information presented highlights the golden age of piracy, from the 1650s to the 1730s, when pirates ruled the waves. The Whydah sank in 1717 but was not found until 1984 by marine archaeologists with the artifacts being priceless, both in their value and in the picture they offer of life in this much-mythologized pirate era. The narrative includes detailed maps and period illustrations that enable youth to be involved in the search for the only shipwreck authenticated to be an actual ship used by pirates.

Closing pages offer details about coin artifacts and what they teach us. Five pages of source notes and a bibliography give testimony to the careful research and scholarship achieved. An index is also included. The care with which this story is conveyed makes it easy to understand why The Whydah was chosen as A Junior Library Guild Selection.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess / by Shari Green. 9.18.2018

Pajama Press ISBN 9781772780338

INT Grades 4-7 Rating: 5

Macy admits it: change is not her specialty. Yet soon she’ll have another dad and twin step-sisters, move into a new home, and attend a different school. Why, she complains, can’t things remain the same?

Macy refuses to pack; that way they won’t be able to move. So she thinks. But her mother plans otherwise. Macy has to box her things plus help Iris, the extravagant neighbor next door, to get ready for a move of her own–Iris who insists that she was named after the goddess, not the flower, and who always wears something orange. To top it off, Macy is hearing-impaired and Iris doesn’t know how to sign. Macy stresses over how they will understand each other.

While Macy grumbles and secretly plots to derail the approaching wedding, and Iris prepares herself to transition into an assisted living facility, an unexpected friendship blossoms between them. Communicating via notes, finger writing and Iris’ magic cookies, together they share their love of books, lessons learned, and marvel at the power of words.

Macy starts to consider that maybe change might lead to a wonderful new beginning.

Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a delightful, humorous, and tender story about a young girl’s challenge to cope with and accept change. Told in first-person verse, Shari Green allows Macy’s voice to come through via her internal dialogue and emotions. Green also uniquely uses bold lettering to indicate when conversations take place in sign language. A Schneider Family Book Award recipient, Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess is a great read with inspiring lessons for all ages.

Veronica Jorge, CLJ

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song / by Kathryn Erskine; illustrated by Charly Palmer. 7.17.2018

Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780734303013

INT Grades 4-8 Rating: 4

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine is a picture book introduction to the South African singer who used her voice to fight apartheid.

Growing up near Johannesburg in the 1930s, Miriam loves to sing despite the oppression of harsh restrictions on black people in South Africa. Inspired by the work of Nelson Mandela, she is determined to use her voice to tell the world about the injustice of apartheid. Where this leads her and what she accomplishes are revealed in the story.

This striking book is powerfully written in the present, which creates a tone of tension and suspense befitting the subject matter. With generous use of vocabulary from numerous African languages, the book transports young readers to a time and place of great inequality–but also a time of bravery, activism, and hope.

Bold illustrations by Charly Palmer feature broad shapes and dark colors that highlight the dramatic storyline. Brighter colors in the final scenes celebrate freedom and the homecoming of “Mama Africa.”

Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope With Her Song is suggested for middle grade readers owing to the sensitive content and difficult vocabulary. In a detailed author’s note, Kathryn Erskine shares reflections and photos from her own childhood years in South Africa. Other materials include a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, and a glossary of 23 foreign words used in the book.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos / by Monica Brown; illustrated by John Parra. 7.11.2018

NorthSouth Books ISBN 9780735842694

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos by Monica Brown is a picture book introduction to the renowned Mexican artist and the influences on her live and work.

Growing up in a bright blue house in Coyoacán, Mexico, Frida loves colors, animals, and observing nature with her photographer father. Early in life, her lively imagination and unusual group of pets (including a fawn, parrot, monkeys, turkeys, and an eagle) combine with her enjoyment of painting to help her endure two medical crises.

Author Monica Brown tells Frida’s story with warmth and admiration. Young readers will be surprised to learn about Frida’s animal friends, amused by the description of her mischievousness, and compelled to know more about this gifted 20th century artist. John Parra provides vibrant acrylic scenes in a folk-art style that capture Frida and her beloved “animalitos.” These delightful illustrations take readers on a visual journey through Frida’s challenging life.

A 2018 Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor book and ALA Notable Children’s Book, Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos is an enjoyable and inspirational biographical portrait. A thorough author’s note and photograph provide more details and insight for older readers.

Nina Ditmar, CLJ

Good Night Tales: A Family Treasury of Read-Aloud Stories / by C.S. Fritz. 7.3.2018

NavPress ISBN 9781631465567

PRI Grades 2-3 Rating: 4

This book collects children’s stories written and illustrated by C.S. Fritz, each story inspired by Scripture passages or Bible stories. Some chapters adapt Bible stories (such as Noah’s ark or the Good Samaritan) into stories involving talking animals and fairytale creatures, while others take biblical ideas (such as a lesson Jesus said in one of his parables) and create a story that illustrates that principle. Some stories are told entirely through pictures, while others use words with accompanying illustrations. Each chapter starts with a Scripture reference to the passage or story that inspired it, and there are discussion prompts at the back of the book for families who want to discuss these stories with their children.

C.S. Fritz did an excellent job writing and illustrating this book. Each story contains moments of humor, poetic language or images, and biblical ideas explained in profound ways. Like The Chronicles of Narnia, these stories excel at communicating biblical truths in entertaining ways that will help readers understand them better. The lavish illustrations, which have both silly elements (such as animals wearing glasses) and dramatic ones (such as carefully placed shadows or wafts of smoke), amplify the text’s qualities and make the stories even more powerful. Overall, this book will definitely delight young readers and continue to entertain them even when they become adults.

G. Connor Salter, CLJ

A Different Pond / by Bao Phi; illustrated by Thi Bui. 7.2.2018

Capstone ISBN 9781623708030

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Poet Bao Phi offers his son, while fishing on a small pond in Minneapolis, a story of how he and his father before him fished for food in their homeland of Vietnam. This 2018 Caldecott Honor Book brings together issues of diversity, culture, and immigration without using platitudes. The personal story offers many positive messages about family values that highlight the relationship between father and son and between cultures, old and new.

Illustrator Thi Bui’s art offers a striking exhibit of Phi’s prose through illustrations with depth and a quiet, moving emotion. Using a dominant blue background with insets, Bui presents a powerful picture and experience of an immigrant family making its way in a new home while honoring its bonds to the past. The use of varying blues and then illustrations that offer a close-up view as well as an overall view of a scene enables children to linger in the family relationships so integral to the story. Both author and illustrator provide a closing note after the story.

Leroy Hommerding, CLJ