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Noah Webster & His Words: Jeri Chase Ferris + Vincent X. Kirsch

Book: Noah Webster & His Words
Author: Jeri Chase Ferris
Illustrator: Vincent X. Kirsch
Pages: 32
Age Range: 5-8

NoahWebsterNoah Webster & His Words, written by Jeri Chase Ferris and illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch, is a picture book biography of the man who compiled the first American dictionary. We learn that Noah was born in 1758, expected to be the next in a long line of Webster farmers. But Noah wanted to be a scholar, and the world is more literate today thanks to his efforts. 

The book follows Noah through the major events in his life, as he goes to college, becomes a schoolteacher, starts working on his first speller, marries, and so on. I hadn't realized the patriotic underpinnings of Webster's work prior to reading this book, and found reading about Noah's motivations quite uplifting. Here's the first hint:

"In October 1781, King George's soldiers SURRENDERED [verb: gave up] at Yorktown. The war was over at last! America was free and IN-DE-PEN-DENT [adj.: not controlled by others]. THat gave Noah an idea. He would write the schoolbooks for America, beginning with spelling. "I will write the second Declaration of Independence," Noah wrote to a friend. "An American spelling book!"

I quite like the way Jeri Chase Ferris incorporates dictionary-like definitions right into the text. This both reinforces the subject of the book and makes a fairly text-dense book more accessible to new readers. I also like the way she uses a slightly old-fashioned tone to her writing, to suit the time period. Not so much as to make the book inaccessible to modern kids, but just enough to give a flavor, though the use of words like "Alas". The text is rendered in an old-fashioned-looking font, also, furthering this impression. Even the author and illustrator bios at the end of the book follow these conventions, complete with definitions. This made me smile. 

Vincent X. Kirsch's illustrations show somewhat oddly proportioned people (see cover image above), but I think he does capture Noah's scholarly, well-intentioned character. I think that kids will appreciate seeing how Noah ages over time as the book progresses. The muted color scheme also support the historical, bookish feel of the book. The brightest thing on many pages is Noah's blue-backed speller". 

I only had one nit about the text. There's a sentence: "Over the next ten years Noah wrote six more schoolbooks for children and had several children of his own." The "several" seemed imprecise in a biography. I had to consult the end matter to see how many children Noah and his wife did have, to satisfy my own curiosity [8]. I'm guessing that the children arrived over more than those ten years, and this was too complex to explain, but it took me out of the story. This is, however, my only complaint about a solid, interesting, well-written book.  

A handy, illustrated timeline at the end of the book fills in details for those who are interested in extra facts, and should make Noah Webster & His Words a useful reference title for elementary school kids. A bibliography includes both primary and secondary sources [providing a good opportunity to introduce this concept to kids.]

Noah Webster & His Words is a picture book biography done right, from the choice of an important historical figure to the selection of anecdotes and facts to the choice of fonts. It belongs in primary school libraries and classrooms everywhere. As for me, I gained a new appreciation for Noah Webster, and for the importance of dictionaries in making America the distinct country it is today. Highly recommended!

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (@HMHKids)
Publication Date: October 23, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle: Gabrielle Kent

Book: The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle
Author: Gabrielle Kent
Pages: 366
Age Range: 8-12

HexbridgeCastleThe Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is a very fun new fantasy novel, the first of a series by Gabrielle Kent, previously released in the UK. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is about a boy named Alfie Bloom who lives a rather bleak life alone with his distracted inventor father. Alfie's life changes forever when he learns that he has inherited an ancient and mysterious castle, and is required to live there. Alfie finds Hexbridge Castle full of hidden passageways and strange contraptions. A mysterious lawyer doles out sparing hints regarding Alfie's selection as heir to the castle, including letters from Alfie's benefactor, the druid who built the castle 600 years earlier. While living in Hexbridge Castle, Alfie finds friends and enemies, wondrous delights and terrible dangers. 

The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle is kid-friendly perfection, full of trappings and experiences that are simply cool. There's a Dahl-esque quality to Kent's writing, albeit with more three-dimensional, modern characters. From page 22, when Alfie and his dad are driven in a carriage that seems to be flying, fanciful touches are everywhere. Like this:

"He led them to a gigantic door made up of lots of other doors of decreasing size, one inside the other, like Russian nesting dolls. The smallest only came halfway up Alfie's knee. "Just through there. Ms. Fortune will sign you in."

"Which door do we open?"

The coachman chuckled as he filled a nose bag for each horse. "Whichever one fits, Master Bloom, whichever one fits."" (Page 24)

Kent also captures the delights of an English farm and village, giving the book a slightly old-fashioned feel, even though it is set in modern times. Like this:

 "Alfie was glad he was so hungry; he could swear the table was groaning louder than his stomach under the weight of the food. His mouth watered as he saw three types of freshly baked pie, soda bread hot from the oven, buttery new potatoes, and a golden roast chicken surrounded by crisp lettuce and tomatoes fresh from the garden. Between the mountain of food and the twins' never-ending questions about the castle, dinner lasted a very long time." (Page 46)

There's a school that bears no small resemblance to the school that Dahl's Matilda attended, and there are occasional hints of Harry Potter in Alfie's persona of near-orphan who discovers a secret about his own birth. These things feel not incidental but more like homages (particularly to Dahl). There's even a scene involving flight that carries a hint of Peter Pan. 

I could keep quoting all day - I flagged another dozen passages, and all of them are wonderful. But I don't want to give away any of the twists and turns of Alfie's story. While I did see a few of the twists coming before Alfie did, my enjoyment of The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle was in no way diminished. I felt more like the author and I were together, quietly encouraging Alfie on. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle ends in a satisfactory manner, but it's clear that Alfie's story is not finished. Which is a happy thing, because I am very much looking forward to the next stage of Alfie's adventures. Highly recommended, one of my top reads of the year. 

[Update: I was pleased to see, on the very day that I published this review, that Ms. Yingling also recommends The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle.]

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Most Perfect Snowman: Chris Britt

Book: The Most Perfect Snowman
Author: Chris Britt
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

MostPerfectSnowmanThe Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt is about a lonely snowman named Drift who was "built fast and then forgotten", left without any clothing or even a carrot nose. Drift is mocked and ignored by the other (frankly, not very nice) snowmen. Things change for Drift when a compassionate trio of children happen by and spruce him up a bit. But when the choice arises whether to maintain his spiffy new accoutrements or help someone in need, Drift has the chance to really be perfect. 

OK, so the ending of this one is a little bit sappy. But Drift's reluctance to do the right thing is plausible, and the fact that he does it anyway makes this a good book for kids to read around the holidays. I also appreciated the author's finding a secondary use for a carrot nose, one that I think kids will appreciate. 

Britt's text is read-aloud-friendly, with a series of up and down emotions, and the use of apt vocabulary words. Like this:

"So he spent his days alone, swooshing
and sliding through the wintry woods,

often stopping in the shadows to watch
the others laugh and play."

The three children who help Drift are so excited that they declare him (loudly): "the PERFECT snowman!" The other snowmen watch "in astonishment." There's a fair bit of dialog in The Most Perfect Snowman, and I think that it could also work for first or second graders to read on their own. 

Britt's illustrations are filled with kid-friendly details, particularly the scenes in which the other snowman are partying away, dressed in their finery, and having snowball fights. There's a band with a sign: "Chilly and the Frozen Blobs". Drift raises his arms in the air with joy when a little boy gives him snuggly mittens. The smiles on the faces of Drift and the children as they play together are a delight to behold. 

The Most Perfect Snowman, though not technically a holiday book, is all about giving, from the gifts that the children give to Drift to the gifts that Drift passes along. With its snowman-filled pages and winter adventures, it would make an excellent addition to a winter-themed library read-aloud. I would expect young readers to laugh in the middle, and say "aww" at the end. I look forward to reading this one with my own daughter. Recommended!

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Magic Word: Mac Barnett and Elise Parsley

Book: The Magic Word
Author: Mac Barnett
Illustrator: Elise Parsley
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8


TheMagicWordWhen one sees a picture book entitled The Magic Word, one might understandably fear that it will be some moralizing tale about the importance of saying please. One might have this fear, that is, were the author someone other than Mac Barnett. But any aficionado of humorous picture books knows that Mac Barnett is sure to have more fun up his sleeves than that. And he does.

The Magic Word is about a boy named Paxton C. Heymeyer who, when prompted by his babysitter for "the magic word" says: "Can I have a cookie, ALAKAZOOMBA?" When a cookie immediately appears in his hand, young Paxton does what any right-minded child would do. He starts using ALAKAZOOMBA to request other things, like "a walrus that will chase the babysitter up to the North Pole" and a waterslide into the (new) pool in his living room. Paxton's exploits, and his house, get bigger and bigger. But after his friend Rosie shows a marked lack of appreciation for the whole ALAKAZOOMBA thing, Paxton begins to get a tad lonely. The resolution of The Magic Word is rather predictable overall, but with a refreshing, black-humorous twist at the very end.

The Magic Word is fairly text-dense, with a lot of dialog, and feels like more a book for early elementary school kids than for preschoolers. Here's a snippet:

""Pax," said Rosie, "you're a terrible host."

Well, Paxton wasn't going to stand there and be insulted in his very own house, let alone his very own castle with a helipad and pink-lemonade moat.

"WALRUS, ALAKAZOOMBA."

Paxton is not, perhaps, the nicest kid you'll read about in a picture book this week, but The Magic Word is chock-full of kid-friendly wish fulfillment. A lemonade moat. A swimming pool in the living room. A pet elephant. A roller coaster zipping around one's house. You get the idea. Elise Parsley's digitally generated illustrations bring all of these innovations, and more, to colorful life. She also clearly gets across Paxton's rather bratty personality, particularly in a close-up near the end of the book of what can only be described as an evil leer. 

The Magic Word is a book that kids will find fun from cover to cover. It should spark lots of interesting discussions, too, about what they would do if they discovered a magic word that could give them anything. I'm pretty sure that my daughter will be writing a "magic word" story of her own quite soon. Recommended!

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


I Am A Story: Dan Yaccarino

Book: I Am A Story
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

IAmAStory

I Am A Story, a new picture book by Dan Yaccarino, is the story of, well, the story. Yaccarino begins with the earliest stories, presumably told around campfires by early human tribes. He moves on through cave paintings, hieroglyphics, tapestries, and, eventually, books. Going further, he notes that although stories have been censored, banned, and even burned, the story itself will never die. 

The text in I Am A Story is minimal. Like this (over several pages):

"I was written on papyrus
and printed with ink and woodblocks,
then woven into tapestries
and copied into big books to illuminate minds."

The illustrations, with recognizable Dan Yaccarino-style people, reveal more of the details than are addressed in the text. For example, the "woven into tapestries" page spread shows a king strutting past a tapestry, his cloak held up by a small page. Several suits of armor line the hallway. In one, eyes are visibly following the young page. Wall sconces with flames provide lighting. A small orange bird is seen in each illustration, either alive or as part of a tapestry or other element. The recipients of stories (often children) are shown generally happy. 

This is a book for a parent or teacher to read with kids, I think, so that the context of these various methods of capturing stories can be explained a bit. I Am A Story reminded me a bit of the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot Center in Walt Disney World, which explores the history of communication. However, I Am A Story focuses more narrowly on the need of humans to share stories, and the various ways in which this has been accomplished over many years.   

I Am A Story is a celebration of the power of, and necessity of, story, one that few librarians will be able to resist. Recommended for library or home use by anyone who loves history and/or stories. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses, Book 1): Susan Maupin Schmid

Book: If the Magic Fits (100 Dresses, Book 1)
Author: Susan Maupin Schmid
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

IfTheMagicFitsIf the Magic Fits is the first book in the new 100 Dresses series by Susan Maupin Schmid. It's about a young orphan named Darling who is a lowly servant in a castle, the Under-presser (assistant to Lindy, the Head Presser, who irons the Princess's many garments). When a magical canary is moved to a closet holding 100 never worn dresses, a force is awakened in the castle, one that Darling can't resist trying on for size. Darling finds herself battling jealous servants while trying to understand the castle's magic, and also striving to keep the princess from making a terrible mistake. 

If the Magic Fits has a cover blurb from Jessica Day George, author of the Castle Glower series, and the two series have a similar feel (both with somewhat sentient castles full of interesting people and things). If the Magic Fits has a very different heroine, however, in plucky orphan Darling, who was raised by the kitchen staff when her mother died right after birth. Darling doesn't know who her father is, and one senses that a surprise may be revealed at some point. But for the most part, she works within the constraints of her on-the-edge existence (she fears being cast out of the castle and starving to death, if she errs too far). The butterfly-loving, difficult to woo Princess Mariposa is also an intriguing character, as are some of the other servants. Here's Princess Mariposa describing one of her suitors, for example:

"Princess Mariposa put her face in her hands and spoke through her fingers. "He has the face of a toad, the manners of a pig, and the mind of a flea."" (Page 15, ARC)

And here's Darling:

"... This was like some far-fetched adventure story.

I, Darling Dimple, was having an adventure. Or was it having me. I wasn't sure which. All I knew was that I hadn't finished my ironing, and I had no idea how long I'd been gone. A very annoyed Lindy would be waiting for me, Darling Dimple, ex-Presses... I had to get back as quickly as possible and save my job!" (Page 104, ARC)

and:

"... I swerved to the wardrobe, creeping along inch by inch. I froze as a floorboard creaked beneath me. Nothing happened. I continued  my epic trek across the carpet. Had any explorer ever been so intrepid or so brave?

Had any Princess's Girl ever looked so silly tiptoeing around in the dark to fetch a magic dress?" (Page 117, ARC)

Don't you love her mix of high drama and self-deprecating humor? The above passage sums up the feel of the book fairly well, I think. 

So we have a spoiled Princess who retains a sense of humor, a determined orphan, a gaggle of other servants both kind and no-so-kind, and a closet full of gorgeous magical dresses. There's also a questionable prince, a talking mouse, and a hint of dragons. The plot of If the Magic Fits is nicely paced for middle grade readers, with a satisfying mix of action and character development and scene-setting. I think that If the Magic Fits is a good start to a new series that is sure to please middle grade fantasy fans. Recommended for readers 8 and up. 

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit: Sue Ganz-Schmitt + Shane Prigmore

Book: Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit
Author: Sue Ganz-Schmitt
Illustrator: Shane Prigmore
Pages: 36
Age Range: 5-8

PlanetKindergarten100DaysPlanet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit is a sequel to Planet Kindergarten (reviewed here). Both books were written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and illustrated by Shane Prigmore, and feature a boy's imagined (?) reality that his kindergarten is actually a base camp on another planet (with fellow students as crewmates, teacher as commander, etc.). This second book addresses the trend that has arisen (recently?) for classes to celebrate "100 Days of School" by having kids bring in 100 of something. My daughter did this in pre-k and kindergarten. 

In Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit, the crewmates arrive burdened by things like "100 ounces of goo", "100 globules" and more conventions bricks (legos) and cookies. The boy shares some highlights from his learning during his first 100 days of school, and then the crewmates "report to the rug with galactic pride, because today is a new milestone." Then they take some time out for "anti-gravity exercises", making medals, and building rockets. Artifacts from traditional kindergartens can be glimpsed in the illustrations (blocks and popsicle sticks, a nurse's office, etc.), but the text remains true to the spaceship premise. 

Then the kids, I mean crewmates, present their 100 items. A near disaster occurs for our hero, but, with help from his colleagues, a crisis is averted, and the recruits survive to meet day 101. 

The moral of the story is a bit overt for my personal taste:

"I am weightless, because know that no matter what new challenge lies ahead for the bold voyagers of Planet Kindergarten, we can count on each other... day 101 and beyond."

However the intergalactic and alien trappings should provide sufficient distraction for kids, and keep Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit on the right side of entertaining. 

I do love Prigmore's digitally created bright, stylized illustrations, which perfectly match the tone and subject of the book. The alien kids have a wide range of shapes and colors (including pinks and greens), and they're all engaging. I particularly like a pink-faced girl with huge glasses and a long, skinny neck. 

The bottom line is that fans of Planet Kindergarten, of which there are many, will certain enjoy Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit. The two books together would make a great first day of school gift for four or five year olds, particularly any who are obsessed with outer space. I also haven't seen a lot of 100th day of school books. This would be a fun read-aloud in any classroom celebrating that. Planet Kindergarten: 100 Days in Orbit is quirky, fun, and kid-friendly. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Edward Gets Messy: Rita Meade + Olga Stern

Book: Edward Gets Messy
Author: Rita Meade
Illustrator: Olga Stern
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-7

EdwardGetsMessyEdward Gets Messy, written by Rita Meade and illustrated by Olga Stern, is about a little pig who is determined to stay clean. When his friends do things like jump in leaf piles, eat spaghetti, and play baseball in the mud, Edward passes. He stays safely, neatly, in the background. He eats steamed broccoli instead of the spaghetti. As all of these activities take place, the discerning reader will note Edward becoming more and more wistful. So it's a bit of a relief, when, through no fault of his own, Edward gets messy. And once Edward discovers that getting some paint spilled on himself is not the end of the world, well, joyful, messy play follows. 

The plotline of Edward Gets Messy is a bit simplistic. Kid hates getting messy, and has a dull life. Kid accidentally does get messy. Presto, kid learns that it's ok to get messy, and has a more fulfilling life. I might have preferred to see Edward freak out a little or have a period of adjustment or something. Though he is redeemed, to me, by being shown, in the final scene, cleaning himself off in a bubble bath. But the fact of the matter is that I liked this book very much anyway. 

Rita Mead's text is lively and enthusiastic, with strong vocabulary words.There are lots of short sentences and dramatic moments, making this a book that calls out to be read aloud. Here's the beginning (over a couple of pages):

"This is Edward.

Edward is a very particular pig.

He detests dirt.

He FEARS filth.

He likes things to be just so.

Edward never gets messy."

Olga Stern's colored pencil illustrations are simply a delight of color. It would be impossible to look at them (see the cover image above) and not feel cheerful. The scene in which paint spills all over Edward is both joyous and funny, even though Edward is initially "distraught" and "devastated". Here "devastated" is in a gigantic green font that matches the green paint. In other places there are sound effects shown in multiple, hand-drawn colors, each suitable to the occasion. New readers will be unable to resist the urge to read the callouts aloud themselves.

Edward is simply adorable, whether he is nervously standing back from the leaf pile or (later) diving right in. One's heart aches for him as he watches three other kids slurping up spaghetti (with spaghetti everywhere), even as he eats his broccoli with a fork. Other times, though, you can see that even though he's holding back, he's not unhappy. He's made a particular choice and is living with it. 

Because of the quick resolution of the plot, I think that Edward Gets Messy, despite some challenging vocabulary words, is more suited to preschoolers than to elementary school kids. It would be simply perfect for a child who, like Edward, shies away from participating in school. It would also make a very fun read-aloud to a pre-k classroom or storytime. Edward Gets Messy is a book that kind of sneaks up on the reader, and is hard to resist. Recommended, especially for younger listeners and classroom settings. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@SimonKids) 
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Cleonardo: The Little Inventor: Mary GrandPre

Book: Cleonardo: The Little Inventor
Author: Mary GrandPre
Pages: 48
Age Range: 5-9

CleonardoCleonardo: The Little Inventor is a lavishly illustrated celebration of both creativity and family. Little Cleonardo is the daughter of Geonardo and granddaughter of Leonardo. She is the youngest in a long line of inventors. But while Geonardo works hammering and welding metals, Cleonardo prefers to work with natural materials like vines and dragonfly wings. Her father, though caring, is a bit dismissive of her efforts, but with Grandpa Leo's support, Cleonardo sets out to make her own invention for a local invention contest. Eventually, Gleonardo and Cleonardo learn that both of their approaches have merit.

Grandpa Leo's name is, of course, a nod to Leonardo da Vinci, but there is no overt discussion of the famed artist and inventor. Rather, Cleonardo focuses primarily on the relationship between inventor father and inventor daughter, as well as their respective projects. My six-year-old was charmed by Cleonardo's efforts, as well as her persistence. We both enjoyed GrandPre's detailed, old-fashioned illustrations, most celebrating Cleonardo's love of the outdoors. 

The text in Cleonardo is dense for a picture book, but the story certainly held my daughter's interest. I would recommend it for elementary schoolers, but would expect it to be a bit challenging (in both words and pictures) for preschoolers. Here's a snippet of the text:

"So Cleo Wren decided to make something of her own for the festival. The forest was full of treasures, from golden goo bamboo and tacky termite twine to poofy cloud feathers and glitter-winged butterflies. 

With Grandpa Leo's help, she cleaned off a large fallen tree for her worktable. Her grandpa then gave her one of his favorite tools: a twisty, wooden-handled awl."

Lush text, a capable heroine, a mix of science and nature, and strong family relationships. Cleonardo covers a lot of ground, and would make a great addition to an elementary school library. One could pair it with some nonfiction about the real Leonardo, or with other books that celebrate female inventors (like Rosie Revere, Engineer). Safe to say that my science and invention-loving daughter will be reading this one again. Recommended for ages 5 and up. 

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic) 
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Pond: Jim LaMarche

Book: Pond
Author: Jim LaMarche
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-8

PondPond by Jim LaMarche is a gentle celebration of nature and friendship. A boy discovers water bubbling up from the ground in the woods, in an area that he has always called "the Pit." He gets the idea that the Pit was once a pond, and enlists his sister Katie and his best friend Pablo to help him nurse the pond back to health. They clean up trash, build a dam, and are rewarded by a gradually expanding body of water. Their dad, who recalls an earlier version of the pond, helps out, too.

Eventually the pond becomes a resource for animals and the community. A sub-plot involves a heart-shaped quartz that Pablo discovers, which becomes something of a talisman for the kids, and involves a hint of magical realism at the end.

LaMarche sprinkles in a few facts about nature, like the fact that barn swallows eat mosquitos, but keeps everything closely tied to the story. (e.g. The kids are excited about the barn swallows because they've been pestered by mosquitos.) When geese start coming to the pond the boy wants to feed them bread, but "Miss Know-it-all Katie" says not to, because of what she read in a book.   

Pond is fairly text dense. I actually felt like the text could have been pruned back a little, particularly LaMarche's occasional use of adverbs. Here's an example: 

"All right, let's get to work!" said Dad.

The day before, we had dragged the old wooden boat into the pond. It had started leaking immediately. At dinner we had told Dad about the boat.

"I can't believe it's still there," he had said quietly. "Let's see what we can do in the morning."

As Dad patched and puttied the holes and cracks, Pablo sanded out the slivers and I nailed down all the loose boards. Katie painted a dragonfly on the bow. "We'll call it the Dragonfly," she said.

The "quietly" might not have bothered me, but then Katie says something "quietly" later in the book, and I was faintly irritated. But that's all ok, because it's LaMarche's nature-toned acrylic, colored pencil and opaque ink illustrations that dominate every page. Everything is textured, from the kids' skin and hair to the grasses and rowboat. Sunset colors make many of the pages glow.

My favorite page spread is one in the middle of the book where there is no text, and we see Katie rowing the boat, Matt floating on an inflatable mattress, and Pablo standing in the water with a bucket. There are birds and other animals, lily pads, and just a strong feeling of summer. We don't even see the sky - the pond is the backdrop for the entire page. For me, these illustrations brought back childhood visits to ponds and the woods, both real and imagined through books. The ending of Pond is sure to leave readers with a warm glow. 

Pond is a gorgeous ode to the natural world, as well as a subtle love song to family and community. While a bit text dense for group storytime, itcertainly belongs in libraries and would make a nice addition to a nature-themed display. I look forward to reading it with my daughter. I think it will make her want to get outside with her friends. Recommended.  

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


The Kid in the Red Jacket: Barbara Park

Book: The Kid in the Red Jacket
Author: Barbara Park
Pages: 144
Age Range: 8-12

The Kid in the Red Jacket is a reissue of a 1988 early middle grade title by Barbara Park. The Kid in the Red Jacket is a quick read that does not feel dated, despite the absence of cell phones and computers. What keeps this book feeling fresh, I think, is Park's keen sense of what kids really think. The Kid in the Red Jacket is a book that brought childhood back into focus for me as an adult reader. It's about a boy named Howard Jeeter who has to move from Arizona to small-town Massachusetts at age 10. To say that Howard is unhappy about leaving his home, school, and friends would be a huge understatement. The Kid in the Red Jacket is the story of Howard's adjustment to his new life. It's both funny and true. 

Howard could be any 10-year-old boy. He wants to make his parents feel badly about ruining his life. He misses his friends. He kind of likes his baby brother, Gaylord, though he won't admit this to anyone. And he desperately wants to fit in at his new school. When the lonely six-year-old girl across that street interjects herself into his life, Howard worries that people will find out, and that friendship with her will cause him to become an outcast. But the irrepressible Molly, recovering from an unfortunate family situation, is hard to avoid. 

I could have highlighted dozens of passages. Funny, true, and occasionally profound. Here are a couple of examples:

"My mother just sighed. She probably would have yelled, but I had been making her yell so much lately, I think she was getting sort of sick of it. Normally, parents really enjoy yelling. But I guess it's like anything else--too much of a good thing, and it's not as fun anymore." (Page 2)

"A lot of mean stuff had been been done to me--by my parents, by the moving men, and by my father's stupid company. And even though sometimes you can control your anger, you can't control your sadness And that's what I mostly was, I guess--sad. Sad about leaving my friends and my school and my room and my soccer team and a million other things." (Page 13)

"She (his new teacher) seemed nice, but I knew that didn't mean much. Teachers are always nice when you first meet them. Their true personalities don't come out until something goes wrong in the classroom, like when a fight breaks out during a spelling bee." (Page 46)

The Kid in the Red Jacket belongs in elementary school libraries everywhere, and is a must-purchase by any parent who is moving an elementary-age child to a new school. This is a book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I may well read this one aloud to my almost-six-year old. I think that she, like me, will empathize with Howard. Recommended. 

Publisher: Yearling (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: August 12, 1988 (new reissue edition)
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Bionic: Suzanne Weyn

Book: Bionic
Author: Suzanne Weyn
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

BionicBionic is a fast-paced YA title with an intriguing premise. Mira is a high school junior who has a promising future ahead. She's a top lacrosse player, sings in a band, and is thinking about college. When a horrific car accident leaves Mira severely injured, her plans seem to be derailed. Then the opportunity to become a research subject for a government project involving bionic limbs run via a chip in the brain changes everything for Mira again. But will she change too much to feel human anymore? 

I found that Weyn's spare text kept this book bearable, even when I was reading about Mira's first person suffering. Mira is in and out of consciousness at first, and this gives the reader a break, too. Mira's entire accident and initial hospital stay takes place over only two chapters - the surgery and physical therapy are covered, but not in much detail, and with the tedious bits skipped over. Like this:

"I have a new respect for toddlers. This is work! Frustrating, exhausting work. It's demoralizing and humiliating not to be able to do the  most basic of activities. I can't stand, walk, or even control my new arm. By the end of the day, I'm once more in tears." (end of Chapter 2)

"I thought the day would never come, but today Carol pushes me to the front door in my wheelchair. Mom is right behind me, loaded down with all my suitcases.

When Carol stops inside the front door, I lean heavily on my crutch and pull myself to standing. The weeks of exercises I've done with Raelene have built up my back and abdominal muscles to the point where I can hold steady and not tumble forward." (start of Chapter 3)

The rest of the book is about Mira's recovery and increasing level of bionic capabilities. There's a bit about her frustration with the recovery and her changed situation (no more lacrosse team, etc.). There's some understandable depression on Mira's part, but also introspection. Like this:

"Sitting by the living room window, I notice the patterns in everyone's days. The same people come and go at the same times. Old Jim next door walks his dog, Rusty, every morning at eight, then again at five. A day-camp bus drops the same two small kids off at four every afternoon. The mail carrier drops the mail in our box at two every day. In just two days I've got their routines nailed. Even the birds and squirrels show up at more of less the same time. I've never realized before how much of life is lived from habit." (Chapter 6)

Shown slowly over the course of the book, we see how the chip in her brain affects Mira's emotions and self-perception. And how her changes affect the people around her (best friend, boyfriend, bandmates, family). I liked the fact that Mira had a single mother, dedicated but struggling, and a younger brother with autism. As a mother, I can't even imagine how Mira's mother managed, but as a reader with an eye out for diverse family situations, I appreciated this one. I particularly liked the fact that Mira's brother, though clearly different, was able to do things to help her as the book progressed. 

Bionic is a quick read with a premise and writing style that will keep readers turning the pages. It would make a good choice for reluctant teen readers, particularly those with a yen for speculative fiction. Recommended for libraries serving high schoolers. [There's nothing that I think would make it objectionable for middle schoolers, but it feels more like a high school book to me.] The theme of reinvention (and then further reinvention) should resonate with teens. 

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: October 25, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).