Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dirt by Denise Gosliner Orenstein - OPTIONAL

Dirt by Denise Gosliner Orenstein, 214 pages. Scholastic, 2017. $17.

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: PG; Violence: PG

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS – OPTIONAL

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Yonder’s mom has died four years earlier and her dad has withdrawn into his room and the bottle. She knows that even her screams would not bring back her mom and has decided to stop using her voice completely. Now, however, bullies are riding her mercilessly at school, and the teachers do not see the abuse, blaming her for the ensuing disruptions. When she encounters a shaggy, fat, one-eyed Shetland pony who’s wandered into her yard from the neighbor’s to eat the pumpkin off her porch, she's found a soulmate. By week’s end, they are fast friends. The pony seems to be the only one who can hear her inner voice and respond to her needs. When Yonder is removed from her home by Child Protection Services, she is more determined than ever to save her pony from an awful fate.

This is an intriguingly quirky but emotionally sad story. Inviting your best friend into your home, even though he is a fat pony, is quirky. Being removed from your home due to neglect and malnutrition is sad. Despite such heavy circumstances, there are moments of humor and interesting freshness. It is a gritty realistic fiction book without gritty language. The violence comes in the form of bullying, and mistreating animals. While most of the characters are not very fully developed, Yonder's adventure is crazy, showing extraordinary effort, ingenuity, and courage in the service of her animal friend. 

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Lulu Is Getting a Sister by Judith Viorst - ADVISABLE

Lulu Is Getting a Sister by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Kevin Cornell, 178 pages.  CHAPTER BOOK. Atheneum (Simon and Schuster), 2018.  $17. 

Language: G (0  swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Lulu is NOT too old for tantrums, as she clearly demonstrates when she hears that in a few short months, she will be getting a baby sister. She has been the only child for a long time now, and likes it that way, thank you very much. Her parents have anticipated that Lulu might not be totally thrilled with the news, and so are ready to bribe her to attend Camp Sisterhood for two weeks where she has been signed up to practice being a big sister with a “temporary” younger sibling assigned to her. When her first temporary sister ends up being a set of identical twins who beat her at Scrabble and swimming, she is assigned another temporary sibling, a little boy who is completely opposite and demanding in his own way. Along the way, she actually learns some important lessons.

This is the fourth book featuring Lulu, a character who is stubborn, spoiled, and conceited, and yet endearingly resourceful and pragmatic as well. This is a stand-alone story with short chapters, a larger font size, expressive spot art, and a narrator that makes wry comments throughout. The prospect of getting a younger sibling is shared by many young readers, and Lulu’s antics at Camp Sisterhood will tickle many funny bones. 

P K Foster, teacher-librarian

Goldie Blox Rules the School by Stacy McAnulty - ADVISABLE

Goldie Blox Rules the School by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Lissy Marlin, 124 pages. CHAPTER BOOK. Random House, 2017.  $13. 

Language: G (0  swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Goldie’s small school, owned and operated by her mother, has been closed by the mayor due to safety concerns after Goldie accidentally sent the top floor into orbit. After spending just a few days at a new school known as HiBo, Goldie has disastrous encounters with three students and decides she must figure out a way to reopen her mom’s school as soon as possible. By enlisting help from her BFFND Li (best friend from next door) and these same three students (they are the ones most interested in having her leave), Goldie devises a plan that will work only if they pool their expertise. But it doesn’t work out like she, nor her helpers, expect. 

Different ethnic groups are represented by the friends, as well as different STEM skills, such as inventing and computer programming. While this is definitely a chapter book with a straight-forward storyline and uncomplicated characters, it contains lots of outrageous fun as well as moments of honest interactions, and a plot that will keep new readers moving along. Don’t let the fact that this series is based on a line of successful STEM toys scare you away from recommending it widely to your younger or more reluctant readers. 

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Goldie Blox and the Three Dares by Stacy McAnulty - ADVISABLE

Goldie Blox and the Three Dares by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by, 120 pages. CHAPTER BOOK. Random House, 2017. $13.

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG.

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Goldie is always up for a challenge or dare. Next to her favorite thing, which is inventing stuff, this is what she loves the most. One day, after consuming a hot chili pepper, speed-eating an ice cream sundae, and sending her BFFND (best friend from next door) Li soaring on a rocket-powered skateboard of her own design, she is back at her BloxShop (workshop) with her friends, the Gearheads. Rummaging through boxes for some needed materials, she comes upon a locked journal that belonged to her late gran. It lists close to a hundred dares that her grandmother mostly completed. When Goldie learns that her gran wanted to finish the last three before her seventy-seventh birthday, and that this birthday is only three days off, she resolves to finish them in her gran’s place.

This is the second book in the Goldie Blox series. Five have been published since 2017. Similar to the first book in the series, this one features outrageous inventions, a close group of interracial friends, and silly humor. It sure makes inventing, problem-solving, and extreme risk-taking look like loads of fun. Don’t let the fact that the series is based on a successful toy line prevent you from feeling good about giving these to your students. The writing is solid for its intended audience without being completely unbearable for the adult reader as well. 

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle - ADVISABLE

Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford. PICTURE BOOK/NON-FICTION. Eerdmans, 2017. $17. 9780802854599

BUYING ADVISORY: EL (K-3) – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

Tuttle presents 28 short poems about plants, insects, and other animals that inhabit many North American cities and suburbs, but are often ignored by their human neighbors. You will find poetic descriptions of various rodents (mouse, bats, raccoons, skunk, squirrel, rabbit), insects (inchworm, ants, harvestman, ladybugs, moth caterpillar, cricket), birds (sparrow, pigeons, red-winged blackbird, mallard ducks, Canadian geese, horned owl), and plants (dandelions, moss, mushrooms, wild flowers, sunflowers, elm tree). And let us not forget the ubiquitous (at least in my neighborhood) feral cats, earthworms, and snails. Each poem describes one aspect, characteristic, or behavior of the featured plant or animal, while back material offers an additional fun fact for each.

Accompanied by digital collages that cover each page, and often the entire spread, these poems work great for introducing young elementary school students to the poetry genre and to start them thinking about the wildlife they can find all around. I think the title is a little misleading since some of the wildlife are more likely to be found in a suburban setting rather than an urban one, but the illustrations are very inviting and I can forgive this small misdirection. This is a solid purchase for your poetry section. 

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Pikiq by Yayo - ADVISABLE

Pikiq by Yayo.  PICTURE BOOK.  Tradewind, 2017 (English translation; 2015 French edition).  $17. 9781926890050

BUYING ADVISORY: EL (K-3) – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

In the far north, Pikiq, a rosy cheeked, hooded child, is pulling his red sled across a wide expanse of snow with his friends Kri, a crow, and Bou, a snowy owl, when he comes across a half buried old box. Inside he discovers pencils, papers, and paints along with a book filled with pictures of trees and animals he’d never seen before. He spends all day drawing them, on paper and then on the snow. The next day he sets out to find these trees and animals, and experiences many other fanciful wonders along the way, such as playing hide-and-seek with upside-down trees, fishing for the moon, or playing around an inukshuk with animals from faraway countries.

This is a simple story with unique illustrations that celebrate imagination, art, and exploration by combining the Arctic landscape with tropical colors and creatures. The author was born in Columbia and resides in Montreal. The message that we can explore our world no matter where we find ourselves is an important one for all children. 

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Leo: Dog of the Sea, 1519-1521 by Alison Hart - ADVISABLE

Leo: Dog of the Sea, 1519-1521 by Alison Hart, 165 pages. Peachtree, 2017. $13. 

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: PG.

BUYING ADVISORY: EL, MS - ADVISABLE  

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

About to begin his fourth sea voyage, Leo is scrappy, wary of humans, a fine ratter, and partial toward a scrawny stowaway he finds hiding in his nest. Thus begins a year-and-a-half voyage under the command of Captain Magellan from the perspective of a canine. Magellan is determined to find a new route to the Spice Islands, and must push through several hardships on the way, including storms, depleted supplies, mutinous sailors, fearsome superstitions, sickness, uncertain routes, lost ships and men, hostile natives and battles, ultimately losing his life. Leo shares the horror and wonder of it all, including finding friendship along the way.

This historic journey is brought to life through Leo’s narration. It moves along quickly, providing vivid details without getting bogged down. The last 20 pages contain non-fiction information about various aspects of Magellan’s historic journey and the facts behind the fiction, as well as a glossary, ship diagram, bibliography, and further reading suggestions. This is a very solid historical fiction read, and would be a great addition for most collections. There are three other Dog Chronicles titles which cover the historical periods of coal mining during the first part of the twentieth century, the Alaskan Gold Rush during the same time period, and World War I.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

I Love a Book by Joe Rhatigan - ADVISABLE

I Love a Book by Joe Rhatigan, illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov. PICTURE BOOK/NONFICTION. Moon Dance (Quarto), 2017. $17. 9781633222267

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

This is a rhyming love poem dedicated to books, narrated by the boy on the cover. He is absolutely enthralled with the mystery, magic, and curious facts you can find in books. So many on the shelves, just waiting for us reach out and take them in our hands, open up the covers, and let their ideas fly!

Kids will enjoy pouring over the pictures: they are loads of fun, with each spread depicting a different scene made possible when a book has fired up our imagination, has used its “magical net” to “capture stories” that we’ll “never forget”, as the boy says. They can take us from pirate ships to space ships, from a cow in a tree to sharks in the classroom, from trains to dogs to pyramids. This is an advisable purchase for your poetry section.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Grace & Katie by Susanne Merritt - OPTIONAL

Grace & Katie by Susanne Merritt, illustrated by Liz Anelli. PICTURE BOOK. EK Books (Exisle), 2017. $18. 9781925335545

BUYING ADVISORY: EL (K-3) – OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Grace and Katie are twins who share the love of drawing. But while Grace favors straight lines, squares and angles, Katie favors patterns, squiggles and swirls. One day, Grace decides to draw a map of their house. When Katie wants to help, Grace bluntly refuses, so Katie draws a map of her own. As they stand back to admire their own work, they both realize that something is missing, but it takes the other’s critical eye to spot what. Ultimately they realize that the best pictures are the ones drawn together.

Living in an apartment with a balcony that has an urban view and neighbors of various skin tones, Grace and Katie are fortunate enough to own markers and pens of all sizes and colors, rulers and protractors, large sheets and rolls of paper (plain and graph), and spacious flat surfaces on which to work. Their father is in the background in a few scenes working at his own drawing desk. The map and legend that Grace draws could be used to introduce a mapping lesson. This Australian import is visually delightful, the illustrator doing a good job capturing the two different styles of the girls, but it is less exciting narratively. I would recommend this as an optional purchase, to support your art curriculum or to illustrate different artistic styles.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

South by Daniel Duncan - ADVISABLE

South by Daniel Duncan. PICTURE BOOK. Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2017. $18. 9781419722998

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: LOW

A big-bellied, bearded fisherman hears a sudden noise and discovers an injured bird on his boat. He splints the bird’s wing, and then waits. There is nothing more to do. Even though he comes to love how the bird sings along with his banjo and tastes the fish each day, the weather turns cold and he knows his boat is no home for the bird. So he heads south.  

While most pages have few words, and some have none, they all have detailed illustrations full of hints about how this man’s solitary existence on a small boat contrasts to a huge ocean teaming with life. His gentleness with the wounded bird, and his willingness to go out of his way to take him somewhere safe, testify of his kind heart, but many things are left unanswered, and the ending is ambiguous. The story of friendship is clear, but the mood is more soberly pensive than joyfully relieved. Where is he heading now? Where is home? How long has he been away? Why has he stayed away? Questions such as these would start interesting conversations that could incorporate clues from the illustrations and the students’ imaginations.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel by Charise Mericle Harper - ADVISABLE

Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel by Charise Mericle Harper, 120 pages. CHAPTER BOOK. Houghton Mufflin Harcourt, 2017. $16.

Language: G; Mature Content: G; Violence: G

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – ADVISABLE 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: HIGH

June is the only one who can hear Sammy talk (her best friend who also happens to be her family's pet dog). Today they have their first ever mission – to find a new friend. When she receives a package from her grandmother containing a spinning wheel, and starts following the instructions for the first of six weeks of wondering activities, June finds new confidence. She reaches out to the new girl, Mae, who has moved in next door, and is determined to not let a classmate, April, intimidate her, even though April seems to want to keep Mae all to herself.

This making-a-new-friend story is narrated in June’s believable voice and has some unique details, like a dog only she can hear and understand. From her eye-rolling teenaged sister to her interactions in the classroom, this is a solid addition for your younger chapter-book readers. And since June only made it through the first week of suggestions on the Wonder Wheel, the door is open for future adventures with April, Mae, and June.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian

Escape from Funland by Bill Doyle - OPTIONAL

Escape from Funland by Bill Doyle (The Prize Winners of Peidmont Place, book 2), 200 pages. Random House, 2017. $16.

Language: G; Mature Content: G; Violence: PG.

BUYING ADVISORY: EL – OPTIONAL 

AUDIENCE APPEAL: AVERAGE

Cal has set up a mini fun house in his home’s leaky basement as part of his plan to convince his parents that their family should enter the Funland Fun House Makeover Contest. The Talaskas’ beloved family home is in serious need of repairs, but they don’t have the means to fix it, and are even considering selling it. Cal’s plan doesn’t go as planned, but gets the job done. His parents decide that the family should go for it. Working together, Cal, his younger sister and brother, and their parents first scrape together the required signatures, even when unexpected competition shows up. Then they spend a week at the Funland Amusement Park searching for a hidden treasure.

There are some funny scenes in this book that made me laugh out loud, but it’s a bit uneven. The plot moves along quickly, except when it doesn’t, and the multiracial Talaska kids are endearing, if a bit too precocious. Buy it if you have the first book in the series, have a strong demand for puzzle-solving stories, or want to add to a large humor collection.

P. K. Foster, teacher-librarian