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Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History: Walter Dean Myers and Floyd Cooper

Book: Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Illustrator: Floyd Cooper
Pages: 40
Age Range: 5-9

FrederickDouglassFrederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History is a picture book biography written by Walter Dean Myers and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In straightforward fashion, it traces the life of a man named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, born a slave in Maryland, who eventually (changing his name along the way) becomes a writer and leader of the abolitionist movement, as well as an advocate for women's rights. Myers gives particular focus to Frederick's quest to learn to read. His owner's wife starts to teach him, but her husband fears that learning to read will "make (Frederick) unfit to be a slave." He's right about that, in fact, and Frederick eventually escapes to Massachusetts. 

This is a very text-dense picture book that refers (though it doesn't dwell upon) to mature matters, including the fact hat Frederick was beaten for arguing with his master. I think it's more suitable for kids in elementary school than earlier. Reading it with kids will of course spark discussion about slavery, the causes of the Civil War, early women's rights, and the militant abolitionist John Brown. Like this:

"When he was nineteen, Frederick fell in love with a free black woman, Anna Murray. But he was a slave and could not be with her as he chose. The lure of freedom because almost unbearable, but to try to escape was a risky business. Slaveholders did not want to lose their precious "property." When slaves who tried to escape were caught, they were often punished severely.

Frederick new he had to take the chance!"

I do have one quibble about the book. The text skips over the fact that British sympathizers bought Douglass' freedom from his owner. This information is included in a timeline at the end of the book, as is the text of the document officially freeing him. But as I was reading the book I found it odd that this wasn't mentioned. I'm sure that Myers had a reason, but to me it was confusing. The timeline is helpful, though. 

I was quite pleased with Cooper's illustrations, rendered in erasers and oils on board. The old-fashioned sepia tones transport readers to the time of the story. We see Frederick as mostly serious throughout the book, but it's a picture of him as a boy enrapt as the mistress of the house reads to him that tugs at the viewers heart. 

Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History covers a lot of historical ground, educating young readers about Douglass himself, as well about America in the 1800s. Myers does a nice job, I think, of humanizing Frederick, while keeping the story focused on the facts. This, I think, is the right balance for a book for younger readers. His focus on the power of words also comes through without being didactic, and delivers a more powerful message about education because of that restraint. Frederick Douglass would be a strong addition to any library's biography collection. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 24, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 Goldfish Boy: Lisa Thompson

Book: The Goldfish Boy
Author: Lisa Thompson
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12 

GoldfishBoyThe Goldfish Boy is a very impressive debut novel by Lisa Thompson. Set on a small street in a suburb outside of London, The Goldfish Boy is about the mysterious disappearance of a toddler. The story is told by first person narrator Matthew, who is wrestling with his own demons. As Matthew strives to figure out what happened to little Teddy, he also shares clues with readers about the triggers for his own steadily worsening obsessive compulsive disorder. 

Matthew's voice is simply fascinating, unusual and distinctive, painful yet funny. So trapped by his fears of germs that he is virtually unable to leave his house, Matthew entertains himself by watching his neighbors out the window. He even takes little notes. This viewpoint and attention to detail position Matthew somewhat for putting together the clues about Teddy's disappearance, though he ends up needing some on-the-ground help from two neighbors. 

The two mysteries (Teddy's disappearance and the root of Matthew's compulsions) captured my interest. But it was really Matthew's voice that kept me reading The Goldfish Boy. You know you are in good hands when you find passages like this:

"I lived on a quiet, dead-end street in a town full of people who said how great it was that they didn't live in that big, smelly city of London--and who then spent most of their mornings desperately trying to get there." (Page 1)

and this:

"Mr. Charles could have been anything from sixty-five to ninety-five years old. He never seemed to get older. I figured he'd found an age he quite liked and just stopped right there." (Page 3) 

Here's one of many passages about Matthew's OCD:

"My bedroom was the best part of the house. It was safe. It was free from germs. Out there, things were dangerous. What people didn't seem to understand was that dirt meant germs and germs meant illness and illness meant death. It was was quite obvious when you thought about it. I needed things to be right, and in my room I had complete control. All I had to do was keep on top of it." (Page 12)

The Goldfish Boy is a book that has the potential to make young readers feel more compassion towards students who are struggling with inner demons. The other characters in the book, particularly two other twelve-year-olds living on Matthew's street, are complex and intriguing. We learn through flashbacks, for example, about Matthew's relationship with his childhood friend Jake, who is now a bit of a bully. Thompson traces Jakes's evolution from bullying victim to bully, and casts just the faintest hint of Matthew's culpability through lack of loyalty. Matthew's developing relationship with newer neighbor Melody, who has her own questionable habits, is both entertaining and thought-provoking.   

The Goldfish Boy is book that I think will intrigue both children and adults.  It has strong characters, a ripped-from-the-headlines mystery, and a protagonist with a unique and compelling voice. I was surprised to learn that it was Lisa Thompson's first novel. It is a most assured debut, and I look forward to Thompson's future work. Highly recommended. 

Publisher:  Scholastic Press (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog: Peter Meisel and Paul Meisel

Book: Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog
Author: Peter Meisel
Illustrator: Paul Meisel
Pages: 80
Age Range: 5-7 (Illustrated early reader, full-color)

StinkySpikeStinky Spike: The Pirate Dog kicks off a new series in Bloomsbury's Read & Bloom line of early readers with full color illustrations. Written by Peter Meisel and illustrated by Paul Meisel, the book introduces Spike, a dog who works at a shipyard chasing away birds, and who excels at chasing down bad smells. One day, in the course of his duties, Spike falls in the water and is swept out to sea, saved only by an old wooden bucket full of bits of rotten fish. After some adventures on the high seas, Spike is taken in by a crew of a rather inept pirates, who christen him Stinky Spike. But can Stinky Spike's strong nose help the pirate crew in their quest for treasure? 

Peter Meisel's text is kid friendly, full of strong, alliterative sentences, not too difficult for newer readers. Like this:

"Spike was in trouble. "Scram, flappers!" he howled as he bolted at the birds.

But there was a patch of slippery, slimy seaweed on the dock. Spike's paws slid out from under him. He skidded off the edge of the dock.

SPLASH! Spike landed in the ocean." (Page 18)

And here are the pirates talking:

"Crusty clam shells! This sea dog stinks worse than rotten anchovies." Zip gagged.

"Or spoiled sardine stew!" Zelda choken.

"Blimey, that's quite a stench. What be your name, mutt?" Fishbeard scowled.

Bonus points for the ship having a female first-mate. With an eye patch, no less. 

Pirates, a dog, and a host of bad smells. What is not to like for the kindergarten and first grade crowd? Stinky Spike: The Pirate Dog has three chapters, wide text spacing, and at least a half-page of illustration for every page spread. Paul Meisel's illustrations are full of entertaining details, like fish literally poking out of Captain Fishbeard's beard. He uses wavy lines to indicate the presence of bad smells, of which there are many. The pirates are ragged but not at all intimidating, and Spike himself is an intrepid, if pungent, figure. In short, this is a fine addition to the ranks of early readers. A second installment, Stinky Spike and the Royal Rescue, releases on the same day as the first (though I have not seen that one). I suspect that Stinky Spike will be a hit with the primary-grade crowd, and that other titles will be forthcoming. Recommended, especially for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BloomsburyKids)
Publication Date: March 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Pax and Blue: Lori Richmond

Book: Pax and Blue
Author: Lori Richmond
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

PaxAndBluePax and Blue by Lori Richmond is the story of a friendship between a small boy and a blue-tinged pigeon. Pax and Blue meet every day on a bus stop, where they greet one another with words and coos, respectively. Every day, Pax shares a bit of his toast with Blue, as a gesture of friendship. However, one day Pax's mother is late, and drags him away before he can share his customary crumbs with Blue. Not understanding, Blue follows Pax all the way onto a subway car, where his appearance causes a bit of a scene. Luckily, Pax knows what to do the, and both pigeon and friendship are saved.

Richmond's text is straightforward and just a touch sentimental. Like this:

"But this morning was different.
Pax knew little ones can get rushed along--
Especially when Mom can't be late.

But Blue didn't understand." 

The "little ones" in the above, as well as another reference to it being not "so easy being little" on the previous page, make me think that Pax and Blue is a better fit for preschoolers than for older kids. There's a pathos to statements like "Blue was lost, and didn't know the way out" that support this, too. 

For me, what makes the book are Richmond's illustrations. Pax and Blue are always shown in brighter whites and colors, while the background and most characters are in more muted shares of gray and purple. Pax, with his huge glasses and worried face, is charming, and Blue's quiet sadness when Pax passes him by is touching. A favorite page for young listeners is sure to be a spread in which we see just Blue's face, eyes enormous and white, and the text "Uh oh" (prior to Blue being noticed on the subway car). 

It's also nice to see the urban setting of the book, too, something still less common than suburbia in picture books. Pax and Blue are two friends sure to win the hearts of many preschoolers. Pax and Blue would make a nice book for a library storytime, or a comforting bedtime read-aloud. 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (@SimonKids)
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears: Jessica Olien

Book: Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears
Author: Jessica Olien
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

AdriftAdrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears by Jessica Olien is a tale of how opposites not so much attract, but rather come to appreciate one another gradually over time. Hazel is a book-loving polar bear who just wants to be left alone to read. Olien calls her shy, but I would classify her as introverted. Karl is an extrovert who loves to talk, and who wants to be noticed. He also smells like fish. They do not approve of one other. However, when an iceberg breaks off from the shore, taking only Karl and Hazel with it, the two opposites gradually learn to get along. 

This premise could have come across as didactic, but Olien keeps things light. I think that the book's 40 page length helps, giving her time to develop the two characters, and their rapprochement, slowly. She also uses the device that the iceberg is melting, forcing the two bears to physically become closer over time (and lending a small bit of worry that they might not make it to another shore at all). 

It could be that I just identified with Hazel, of course. Here is how she is introduced (wearing an orange scarf and reading Moby Dick):

"She doesn't talk very much.
She likes to sit and daydream in a 
quiet spot by the water." 

So of course I love her. But I also liked this exchange, as the two start to accept that they are stuck together:

"Of all the polar bears, Karl is stuck with
the one who doesn't like to talk.

Of all the polar bears, Hazel is stuck with
the one who talks too much."

Karl has a delightfully nervous expression, while Hazel stands with hands on hips.  The bottom line is that the two polar bears are well-defined characters, their described personalities reinforced by their actions, and by Olien's bold illustrations. I like them, and found myself rooting for them, even as I smiled over them building a wall of ice blocks to divide up their little floating island. The happy ending will make young readers smile.

Adrift: An Odd Couple of Polar Bears is an appealing book about friendship, survival, and learning that opposite personalities can complement one another. It could also be used by parents to introduce the concept of introverts vs. extroverts, those these exact terms are not used in the book. Recommended for library purchase, and an especially good fit for fans of books about polar bears. 

Publisher: Balzer + Bray (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


Things to Do: Elaine Magliaro & Catia Chien

Book: Things to Do
Author: Elaine Magliaro
Illustrator: Catia Chien
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

ThingsToDoThings to Do, written by Elaine Magliaro and illustrated by Catia Chen, is a book of short poems, each focused on something a child might encounter as she makes her way through the day. Topics begin with "Things to do if you are dawn" and move on through nature (acorns, spiders, the sun, the moon) and school (erasers and scissors) and on to nighttime. 

Elaine Magliaro's poems are joyful and read-aloud friendly. Some are quite brief, like this: 

"Things to do if you are BOOTS
Splish in puddle.
Splash on the walk.
Make the fallen
raindrops talk."

While others are longer, particularly those later in the book. While the poems technically speak to the item in question (e.g. the sky), they often offer advice useful to the reader, too. For example, "Things to do if you are a snail" concludes:

"The wonders of your world are small.
Don't hurry by.
Enjoy them all." 

Good advice for snails and kids, even as addressing the advice to the snail keeps the book from feeling didactic for kids. Nicely done! 

The poems are presented using varied fonts, with important words shown larger for emphasis (splish and splash above, for example). The word "stretch" is shown stretched out on another page, while the letters in "bumpy" bump up and down. This is definitely a book to look at while reading it, not just one to listen to. 

This visual display of the words is set against Catia Chen's luminous acrylic illustrations. The blurred edges of the pictures contrast with the crispness of the fonts, allowing words to stand out, even against full-page illustrations. The (somewhat androgynous) child seen on the cover makes an appearance in most, but not all, of the pages, interacting joyfully with her surroundings. The image surrounding the last poem, about the moon, brings Peter Pan's London to mind. 

If you are looking to introduce a young reader in your household to the beauty of poetry and the wonders of nature, Things to Do would be a great place to start. I could also see this as a classroom read-aloud for second or third graders, though I think it's a bit long for library storytime. Recommended, and a book that brightened my day.  

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


When An Elephant Falls in Love: Davide Cali & Alice Lotti

Book: When an Elephant Falls in Love
Author: Davide Cali
Illustrator: Alice Lotti
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

WhenAnElephantWhen an Elephant Falls in Love, by Davide Cali and Alice Lotti, is a rather charming little picture book about the foolish things that a person (well, an elephant) might do upon having a crush on someone. While some of these things are funnier when an elephant does them (such as hiding whenever he sees her), the actions themselves are universal. Like dressing with extra care or lying staring at the clouds for hours. Here's my favorite: 

"When an elephant falls in love,
he leaves flowers at her door.

But he runs away after ringing the bell."

We see the elephant shyly approaching the door with the flowers clasped in his trunk, and then the flowers lying at the foot of the front steps. Both text and illustrations are quite spare (the above is about the most text-dense page spread), with lots of white space, leaving room for the reader's own imagination. 

Although I personally love this book, I do have to point out that I'm not quite sure who the audience for it is. Your average first grade boy, while he might have a crush on a girl, is not taking extra baths or leaving flowers outside the girl's door. He is more likely to be punching his crush in the arm or chasing her on the playground. The actions taken by the elephant feel more like those of a middle schooler, if not an adult.

Then again, my daughter likes watching certain G-rated depictions of people falling in love in movies, so perhaps an audience for this book is five to seven-year-old girls. And if the "foolish" things that the elephant undertakes were to influence a generation of young boys to move from spitballs to flowers, this would certainly not be a bad thing. 

Recommended for those who would like to see a sweet portrayal of the goofiness that can accompany falling in love. 

Publisher: Chronicle Kids (@ChronicleKids
Publication Date: December 20, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


How To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees: Paul Tobin

Book: How to Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees
Author: Paul Tobin
Pages: 320
Age Range: 8-12

HowToOutsmartBeesHow To Outsmart A Billion Robot Bees is the second book in the Genius Factor series by Paul Tobin. It follows How to Capture An Invisible Cat, which I adored. In this book, as you might gather from the title, the enemies of genius inventor Nate send an army of robot bees after him. His friend/crush/partner in crime-fighting Delphine, together with his intelligent car, talking dog, and robotic pelican, all join the battle, while various other friends and parents remain oblivious to the entire situation. Except for the bees - everyone is aware of the bees. 

I continue to find narrator Delphine's voice highly entertaining, and Nate's quirky genius highly appealing.

Here are a couple of examples:

"There was an immediate panic, because as any soldier can tell you, guns are not very useful against bumblebees, not unless you are a very good shot. (Page 29, ARC)

"From my side, I've constantly puzzled why Nate does these things, but I've come to accept his oddities, because that's what friends do. After all, he never complains about my Cake vs. Pie meetings, or how I collect photographs of my meals whenever I eat macaroni and cheese at a restaurant (eighty-four of these photos, to date), and so we just ... accept each other the way we are." (Page 55, ARC)

"Seriously, the jets kicked in and they were powerful. The jet suit nabbed the car up into the air and then dropped it on the next car, making a noise that I'll just describe by saying that it sounded like one car dropping on top of another. Add in a few exclamations of surprise, and you've pretty much got it." (Page 59, ARC)

How to Outsmart a Billion Robot Bees is full of intriguing gadgets, dangerous situations, and engaging banter. The actual plot of this second book didn't grab me quite as much as that of the first book. However, I remain delighted by the humor and the characters, as well as the general focus on the things that can be accomplished by sheer brainpower. This is a series that I will happily recommend to any fans of fantasy, science, or middle grade/middle school male-female dynamics. Highly recommended for any reader, age eight and up, and a must purchase for libraries everywhere. 

Publisher:  Bloomsbury Kids USA (@KidsBloomsbury) 
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
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).


Bob, Not Bob!: Liz Garton Scanlon, Audrey Vernick & Matthew Cordell

Book: Bob, Not Bob!
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon & Audrey Vernick
Illustrator: Matthew Cordell
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-7

BobNotBobThe title of Bob, Not Bob! only begins to make sense if you notice the text above the title: "To be read as though you have the worst cold ever." And what word sounds an awful like "Bob" when you have a really stuffed up nose? Why, "mom", of course. Little Louie has a terrible cold. And although generally getting to be more independent, when he is sick, all he wants is his mom. All the time. But when he calls for her in his stuffed-up voice, what comes out instead of "Mom" is "Bob". This gets a bit confusing, because his dog is named "Bob". Silliness prevails, all set against the strong force of maternal love and a sick child's need for comfort. 

Bob, Not Bob!, written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is a perfect picture book for the winter cold season, with just the right mix of humor and universal suffering. Like this (illustrated with a series of separate vignettes):

"Today, Little Louie's nose was clogged.

His ears crackled

and his brain felt full. 
(He didn't know of what.)

But mostly, his nose.
It was disgusting.

Little Louie didn't want to color.

Or watch TV.

He didn't even want to shoot baskets with wadded-up tissues. 
All he wanted (besides maybe some hot chocolate) was his mother.

BOB! called Little Louie with his weird,
all-wrong, stuffed-up voice."

Definitely fun text to read-aloud, especially if one is willing, as directed, to read Louie's lines in a properly stuffed up voice. 

While the text suggests Louie's mother's endless patience, as does the cover image above, Matthew Cordell does occasionally slip in hints that Mom is suffering, too. My favorite page is one in which Louie is ranting loudly about his misery, clinging to his mom's legs, while she holds a laundry basket and puts her free hand over her face. 

Speaking of the illustrations, bonus points for Louie and his family being brown-skinned, in a book that it not "about" diversity, but instead about something completely universal: the common cold. The text and illustrations together convey Louie's utter misery, as well as the melodrama that can accompany any sick child. 

Bob, Not Bob! is a book that belongs in libraries everywhere, to be taken home during or after a bout with sickness. Bob, Not Bob! offers a humorous take on a winter cold, but also honors the love and patience of mothers. The fact that the mom ends up sick at the end of the book seems inevitable and appropriate. Recommended for stuffy-nosed listeners of all ages. 

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (@DisneyHyperion)
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).


A Greyhound, a Groundhog: Emily Jenkins & Chris Applehans

Book: A Greyhound, a Groundhog
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Chris Applehans
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3-6

GreyhoundGroundhogA Greyhound, a Groundhog isn't so much a story as an extended bit of wordplay centering around a greyhound and a groundhog. Emily Jenkins' spare text reads almost like a tongue-twister, as we follow grey dog and brown hound around through the pages of the book. There's a minimalist narrative about the greyhound and groundhog becoming friends, playing together and celebrating nature. Like this (over three page spreads):

"A greyhound, a groundhog,
a found little 
roundhog.

Around, round hound.
Around, groundhog!

Around, brown hog.
Around, grey dog."

You almost have to stop and check yourself, to make sure you are reading it right. The similar and repeating words, and rhyming words, make A Greyhound, a Groundhog a poem in picture book form. I think it would work best as a read-aloud for preschoolers, with a soothing rhythm that would comfort before naptime. 

Chris Applehans' watercolor and pencil illustrations use a restrained color palette with lots of purple-tinged gray and brown, and plenty of white space. The spare illustrations reinforce the minimalist text, while also capturing Jenkins' wordplay around the shape of the animals. For instance, the "roundhog" mentioned above is shown rather like a ball, uncertain in the face of the cheerful and very different-shaped greyhound. Later in the book, as the animals' play becomes more active, both text and animals leap around the page, with slightly blurred edges representing speed. Ultimately, Applehans is able to capture the joy the greyhound and groundhog take from their friendship. 

A Greyhound, a Groundhog is a certainly a quieter picture book. It is also a lovely celebration of friendship.

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).A 


Hello, Mr. Dodo!: Nicholas John Frith

Book: Hello, Mr. Dodo!
Author: Nicholas John Frith
Pages: 32
Age Range: 4-8

HelloMrDodoHello, Mr. Dodo! is a very cute picture book about a little girl named Martha who loves birds. One day, while looking for birds in the woods behind her house, Martha encounters a dodo. Of course dodos are supposed to be extinct, but this doesn't stop Martha from befriending the bird. She learns that he really can't fly, and that he loves donuts. She keeps the dodo a secret to protect him, but one day she slips up, and the dodo's life is threatened. Only some quick thinking by Martha saves the day. 

Nicholas John Frith offers a read-aloud-friendly text, with occasional italics for emphasis, and a clear trust in children to a) cope with mildly disturbing things and b) take responsibility on their own (as when Martha does her own research into the history of the dodo. Here's a snippet:

"It was a dodo -- and it was supposed to be extinct!

Once there had been thousands of them,
then they had all disappeared. People had
hunted them and eaten them for dinner.

No one had seen a dodo for hundreds of years.

"Poor things," thought Martha.
"Well, they're not going to eat my dodo."
And she decided to keep him a secret.

This is accompanied by an illustration of Martha in her room, surrounded by books, set against sample pages (in a muted gray, so that they don't take over) of texts describing dodos and showing their hunter-induced fate. Frith's illustrations (except for the sample pages) are colorful and vaguely cartoonish (e.g. Martha with oval, pure black eyes), and filled with details that highlight Martha's love of birds. Her bedroom slippers are birds, her binoculars are always around, her kite has large feathers attached to the tail, etc. My six-year-old particularly enjoyed a picture of Martha imagining the dodo covered with snow and looking like a misshapen snowman during the winter. 

Here's the true endorsement for Hello, Mr. Dodo! After I read it to my six-year-old, she immediately asked me to read it again. She used to do this as a small child, but now rarely wants an immediate re-read. Martha and Mr. Dodo found their way immediately into her heart. And into mine. Hello, Mr. Dodo! is going to be one of my favorite picture books of 2017, I believe. Highly recommended! This would make a great preschool or K-1 read-aloud.

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books  (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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 Impossible Clue: Sarah Rubin

Book: The Impossible Clue
Author: Sarah Rubin
Pages: 304
Age Range: 8-12

ImpossibleClueSarah Rubin's The Impossible Clue features a 12-year-old girl, Alice Jones, who is a math geek and mystery-solver. To date, Alice's mysteries have been small-time. But when a famous local scientist, the business partner of one of Alice's classmates, disappears, Alice finds herself dragged into investigating a grown-up crime. There are thugs in suits, limo rides and high-end research labs. The professor has disappeared from a locked room, and evidence points toward the possible development of an invisibility suit. Alice, together with one geeky classmate and another who is a charming troublemaker, tracks down clues.

The Impossible Clue isn't the most realistic story out there, but it is a lot of fun. Alice lives with her scoop-hungry reporter father, while her drama-obsessed twin sister normally lives with their mother. Della is spending the summer with Alice and their dad, however, adding some domestic conflict to the story. Alice's banter with cute guy Kevin lends a hint of what I would classify as pre-romance. I can imagine further mysteries for Alice and Kevin to solve, and their relationship growing somewhat. 

But really, I just love reading a book about a girl who loves math. Alice had planned to spend her summer vacation proving Goldbach's Conjecture. She notes:

"Mysteries are a lot like math, word problems especially. Some are simple, some are complicated, but it's the same process. There's something you want to know, and a lot of information swimming around. The hard part is coming up with the right equation, figuring out which bits of information are important and which bits are just there to confuse you. Then it's just a matter of solving for x." (Page 4) 

And here's a passage that I think illustrates Alice's personality (and Della's) quite effectively. Alice and Della are discussing what to do on a possible trip to Italy with their mom. Della wants to shop, while Alice wants to see the Archimedes museum:

"It was the story of my life. Everyone understood that Della loved being onstage and that she hated math. Because that was normal. But when I said I loved math and hated performing, people looked at me like I had a screw loose. And because the things I liked weren't normal, I didn't have any right to ask other people to do them with me." (Page 141-142)

Now, I would like to think this perspective is a bit of a stereotype in this day of STEM and GirlsWhoCode, but the bottom line is that it's nice to read about a girl who loves math, and also has relatively normal sibling rivalries and relationships with boys. AND she gets to solve a mystery involving a disappearing scientist and a possible invisibility suit. It doesn't get much cooler than that! I recommend The Impossible Clue for middle grade readers, especially those who love math and/or mystery. I hope that Alice returns for further adventures. 

Publisher: Chicken House (@Scholastic
Publication Date: January 3, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 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).