My Kite is Stuck! And Other Stories / by Salina Yoon. 10.10.2018

Bloomsbury Children’s Publishers ISBN 9781619638877

PRI K-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Playful and colorful, My Kite is Stuck and Other Stories by Salina Yoon is a Duck, Duck Porcupine! picture book starring three friends–a chatty Big Duck, a quietly resourceful Little Duck, and a kind Porcupine. Designed for ages 5-7, this is a charming read for little listeners not yet reading and early readers starting on the reading path. There are three different adventures including “My Kite is Stuck”; the other stories are “A New Friend” and “Best Lemonade Stand.”

Working together, problem solving, welcoming others, and a good amount of silliness are all part of these cute stories. The author tells short engaging stories with beautiful visuals spoken through bubble quotes by the characters. The reader will find important educational elements sprinkled throughout as well as some colors and numbers too.

Everything about this book is a value from the literary presentation and colorful, well-done illustrations to the delightful messages and stories of friendship. Early readers might find some words to learn, but there is plenty of repetition to help them catch on to any bigger words such as “porcupine” and “lemonade.”

My Kite is Stuck and Other Stories is a delightful book perfectly designed to read aloud, with lovable characters and fun messages. This would also make a great book for older siblings to read to younger siblings.

Charity R. Bartley Howard, CLJ

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut / by Derrick Barnes. 10.9.2018

Bolden ISBN 9781572842243

PRI K-Grade 3 Rating: 5

Derrick Barnes presents a picture book tribute to the importance of a new haircut in the life of a teenage African-American youth.

In Crown, a young boy goes to the barber shop for a haircut and experiences how self-confidence, swagger, and more comes from a fresh haircut. According to the author, the text is “actually a poem I was inspired to write after seeing an illustration from one of my illustrator buddies (shout out to Dan Tate) of his teen son after a trip to the barber.”

Barnes writes that boys go in as lumps of clay and exit with their new haircuts, which make them look sharper, get better grades, be more attractive to the girls, and so on. A “fresh cut” has the power to make the boys fly! Barnes’ delightful read-aloud celebrates the self-esteem, confidence, and swagger boys experience after their fresh cut. It has the power to change how they see themselves and the world around them. Nationally-recognized illustrator Gordon James used colorful oil on board paintings to convey the joy-filled event of the boys, inviting the reader along for the experience.

Recommended for school and public libraries. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut was a 2018 Newbery Honor Book, 2018 Caldecott Honor Book, 2018 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, 2018 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, 2018 Ezra Jack Keats New Author Award winner, as well as the recipient of starred reviews in a number of journals.

Carol R. Gehringer, worthy2read.wordpress.com

La Princesa and the Pea / by Susan Middleton Elya; illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. 10.2.2018

G. P. Putnam’s Sons ISBN 9780399251566

PRI PS-Grade 2 Rating: 5

Susan Middleton Elya pens a delightful retelling of the classic fairy tale (The Princess and the Pea). Beautifully illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal, this bilingual picture book won the 2018 Pura Belpré Medal for Illustration.

In La Princesa and the Pea, the lonely prince finds the princess he thinks is perfect for him when she visits his castle. His mother, the queen, has a different opinion, as she often does. She has a secret test to see if the girl is indeed a royal princess and worthy of her son–and fit to be queen one day! The queen places a very small pea under 20 mattresses before the princess goes to bed. The prince has his own plan to make sure his future bride passes the test. But does the princess have a good night’s sleep or does she pass the ultimate test?

Author Susan Middleton Elya and illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal team up to present a charming retelling of a classic story with a Latina twist. The vibrant illustrations–done with acrylics, colored pencils, and graphite–mirror Peruvian artwork and are so enchanting that they won the Pura Belpré Medal. The lively artwork is inspired by indigenous Peruvians, and beautifully executed in the facial expressions of the queen, the prince, her cat, and even the print of the mattresses!

The book incorporates Spanish words in its rhymes and rhythm, and includes a glossary for the reader. Not only are the illustrations breathtaking, but the lyrical rhyming couplets in Spanish and English add to the pleasure of reading and re-reading the book over and over again.

Recommended for school and public libraries.

Carol R. Gehringer, CLJ

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