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THE MATCHBOX DIARY, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, for grades 1-4.
A young child visits her great-grandfather, who is surrounded by beautiful objects and invites her to choose one. He tells her that based on what she chooses he will know something about her. She chooses a cigar box filled with little boxes and he explains that the boxes are his diary. Each box brings the story further along as he tells how his family came to America, worked hard as migrant workers and how he is then able to go to school to learn to read and write, learn a profession and prosper. A book with beautiful, painting-like illustrations.
EMMA AND THE BLUE GENIE, by Cornelia Funke, for grades 2-5.
One night, seeking relief from four younger brothers, Emma and her dog, Tristan, slip out of the house to sit under the stars sparkling over the ocean. A bottle bobs toward her and in it Emma finds a faded, weak genie who, rather than granting wishes, needs rescuing. Emma, Tristan, and the Blue Genie take off on a magic carpet ride of adventure. Colorfully illustrated, the story might be a legend found in the stars.
THE RED PENCIL, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, for grades 4 and up.
Amira is a twelve-year-old girl who tells a story of an African village rich with traditions that make sense of the world. One day war comes, forcing all to flee. What was an infinite world of possibility becomes one bound with fear and sorrow, until a red pencil restores Amira’s ability to hope and believe in “what else is possible.” Pinckney has created an authentic voice and world in this beautiful prose poem. Read it aloud.
LEGEND OF THE ANIMAL HEALER: THE LAST LEOPARD, by Lauren St. John, for grades 4-7.
Martine’s story begins in Book #1: The White Giraffe, and continues in Book #2: Dolphin Song. Inspired by the true story of a large leopard now in a game preserve in Zimbabwe, this third book provides excitement and adventure while enlightening the reader on the challenges of modern day Zimbabwe. Martine must use her gifts for connecting with and healing animals to find and save the giant leopard, Khan. Martine and Ben encounter ruthless hunters and treasure seekers, mysterious leopard images, and mystical advice from shamans (people known to have access to good and evil spirits) as they follow the trail to find the illusive Khan.
WALTZING WITH BRACEY: A LONG REACH HOME, by Brenda Gilchrist, for grades 9 and up.
As a middle-aged New Yorker, Brenda Gilchrist inherits the family summer cottage on Deer Isle, Maine. Because she never felt at home in any place, a return to Maine with her Corgi puppy, Bracey, offers her opportunities to discover a strong anchor in her life. As she works to reclaim the cottage, she works to reclaim herself, and observing Bracey’s lack of self-doubt serves as a model for her personal rebuilding. With Bracey as the perfect companion, Brenda finds her true home on the coast of Maine.
THE GREAT TROUBLE: A MYSTERY OF LONDON, THE BLUE DEATH, AND A BOY CALLED EEL, by Deborah Hopkinson, for grades 5 and up.
Eel, a twelve-year-old homeless orphan, lives on his own in 1854, London. He must fend for himself, running errands for a brewery, picking through Thames river mud looking for metal objects he can sell, and feeding and cleaning lab animals for Dr. John Snow, a research doctor. Suddenly people in the neighborhood begin falling ill and dying from cholera, a terrible disease also known as the Blue Death. In this era of Ebola and the uncertainty in containing and curing it, this is an exciting story of friendship, loyalty and science based on an actual event in history.
ALL THAT’S MISSING, by Susan Sullivan, for grades 3-7.
Arlo lives with and loves his mother’s father, Poppo who has taken care of him ever since his parents died in a car accident. Poppo tells him about his father’s family who lives in Edgewater, more than 300 miles away, and how they have had nothing to do with each other. Poppy’s mind is growing unreliable and he suffers a stroke and is hospitalized. Arlo is placed in a dismal youth shelter overnight. Fearing that Poppo is dying, Arlo runs away seeking his grandmother. As Arlo tries to reunite his family, he is required to have strength and patience. This is a sensitive story of simple people of goodwill finding their way together.
SHELTER PET SQUAD, #1: JELLY BEAN, by Cynthia Lord, for grades 1-3.
Volunteering at the local animal shelter, Suzannah one day sees a girl who must give up her guinea pig. She vows to find Jelly Bean a home. She and her friends learn what makes a good pet owner and how to find the right one. Instructions for activities and making pet toys are easy and fun to follow. It is a story of the joy and responsibility of caring for animals meant to be companions.
CODE NAME VERITY, by Elizabeth Wein, for grades 8 and up.
This well-plotted book of historical fiction is set in World War II, and features very strong, interesting, and complex female characters. Two teen girls from different socio-economic classes and countries in the United Kingdom become best friends during the war, and use their skills and daring to engage in espionage in service of their country. The tale is told largely through the manuscript written by one of the young woman who is held captive by the Gestapo in German-occupied France. The girls face torture and moral dilemmas as the story twists, turns, and unfolds and nothing is what it seems. The book is realistic, and contains swearing, veiled descriptions of torture, mild sexual situations, and deaths.
CHARLEY, by Donna Marie Seim, illustrated by Susan Spellman, for grades 4-8.
This is a timeless, simply-told, and great read about America in the early 1900’s, taking place in the city of Boston and in a rural farming community in Maine. Based on true events, 12-year old Charley, his two brothers and little sister are faced with the death of their mother and abandonment by their father. Hunger for family and a sense of belonging is the primary theme, as the author describes with heartbreaking accuracy the children’s realization that an orphanage is the best choice for them. Charley’s natural ability to sing, inherited from his Irish parents, helps him through his troubles. Interesting family discussions will result if adults in the family have read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.
THE VICIOUS CASE OF THE VIRAL VACCINE, by Pendred Noyce & Roberta Baxter, for grades 4-8.
Two middle school children, Mae and Clinton, are given an assignment to find out the truth about a controversial new vaccine: is it safe, or will it cause more problems than it solves? The kids go back in time to ancient India, Paris in the 1800s, Australia in the 1950s and several other places to witness the scientific discoveries that led to the cure for many diseases. Issues of scientific integrity are also addressed. The creative use of mystery, science fiction and illustrations that look like Japanese anime characters, makes this book appealing to even reluctant readers. This is part of a series of books designed to make science fun.
SWAN’S ISLAND CHRONICLES: BORROWED, EXAGGERATED AND HALF-FORGOTTEN TALES OF ISLAND LIFE, by Kate Webber, for grades 6 and up.
This book contains the answer to the question: “Does it take an odd person to want to live in the middle of the ocean?” Finding out involves 31 chapters full of interesting characters, animals, weather, ghosts, history, mystery and a lot of “I didn’t know that!” moments. This is nonfiction (mostly!) and written in a very snappy and readable manner. Swan’s Island Chronicles will be a revelation to those “from away” and pride-inspiring to anyone who lives on an island.
FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO, by Molly Idle, for pre-k to 1.
This delightful picture book has no words. The illustrations are full of grace and movement and the contrast between the elegant, willowy flamingo and the wonderfully round Flora are just right. After a tentative beginning, Flora and the Flamingo work out how to dance beautifully together. The illustrations and characters soar and the book ends in an exuberant splash!
INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN, by Thanhha Lai, for grades 4-8.
A moving depiction in verse of a year in the life of a young Vietnamese girl, Ha, whose father has been missing for nine years during the Vietnam War. Her family flees Vietnam and eventually arrives in Alabama. Ha’s struggles with being a refugee in a strange country, dealing with the cruelty of her classmates, and trying to adjust to her new life are beautifully and heartbreakingly told.
THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER, by Kevin Henkes, for grades 1-3.
This is a delightful story of how Billy navigates through the second grade. Divided into four parts (Teacher, Father, Sister, Mother), it is written with a large vocabulary and much humor. Billy is afraid a bump on his head from a fall during his summer vacation will keep him from being smart enough for second grade, but manages his worries beautifully and learns much along the way.
A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead, for grades k-2.
This is a gentle book about friendship. Amos McGee visits his friends at the zoo every day: the elephant, the tortoise, the penguin, the rhinoceros and the owl. When Amos becomes sick his friends visit him at his house. They cheer him up and stay for a sleepover. The illustrations are delightful and the cast of characters are lovely.
EMILY’S BLUE PERIOD, by Cathleen Daly, illustrated by Lisa Brown, for grades pre-k to 2.
Emily, a budding artist, discovers Picasso and learns of his art and life, while she and her younger brother have differing reactions to their parent’s divorce. As her brother acts out in frustration, Emily delves deeper into her own art. Emily’s parents are both loving and involved in their kid’s lives as they all try and navigate into new territory.
THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS, by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, for grades pre-k to 2.
This book is both beautiful and warmly written in a way that engages readers of all ages. The multi media collage style of the illustration has hidden gems and something for everyone, if you look closely. It also allows for deeper storytelling as there are side comments, thoughts and various perspectives as the story unfolds. Bryant and Sweet create a story of Roget as a real kid who was probably quirky, introspective and a loner in many ways but turned his passion and talent into projects that had incredible world impact. The added lists, notes, and history timeline as well as the beautifully crafted end pages of actual Thesaurus (which comes from the Greek meaning; treasure house) entries. We learn a lot about Roget that perhaps we didn’t even know we wanted to know, in an entertaining, informative and creative presentation.
FREDERICK, by Leo Lionni, for grades pre-k to 2.
Frederick the field mouse doesn’t collect food during the summer like the other field mice. Instead, Frederick collects colors, words and images and stores them in his memory. During the long winter months, Frederick relieves the cabin fever of his fellow field mice by standing on a rock and sharing with them what he collected over the summer: the yellowness of the sun, warm breezes, and many other wonders from the warmer months.
SOMETHING STINKS! by Gail Hedrick, for grades 4-7.
When the local river starts pushing dead fish up on shore, Emily decides to find out why. Through investigation and experimentation, Emily and her friends try to discover what’s causing such a stink. This book is filled with engaging writing, believable characters and realistic plot. The characters exhibit a real drive to “stick to it,” and have perseverance and determination. The story shows how young people can be advocates and take on projects, and is also a nice depiction about friendship and growing up.
CITIZEN SCIENTISTS: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD, by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz, for grades 3-7.
This info-packed book makes science fun, accessible and relevant. It engages a young audience and blends good photography with instructions, information, and questions to consider. Facts and how-to’s are balanced with real stories of youth citizen scientists that are helping to make a difference.
CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE, by Kelly Bingham, illustrations by Paul O. Zelinsky, for grades pre-k to 3.
This playful picture book tries to teach readers about shapes, but is challenged by a mischievous moose who keeps showing up (because he loves shapes so much) and making a mess of the page. With the help of a zebra, the moose may have upset the normal order of the process, but wraps it up beautifully by picking up the pieces and showing readers the shape of a star.
OSCAR THE HERRING GULL, by Nancy M. Donovan, illustrated by Susan Spellman, for grades k-2.
Follow Oscar’s life from his birth in a nest on the beach, to learning how to fly, to choosing a mate and looking for his own nest so he can start a family. This book features different types of gulls and how to tell them apart, and discusses how humans leaving trash on the beach affects gulls and their babies.
WEDNESDAY, by Anne Bertier, for grades pre-k to 2.
Reminiscent of Norton Juster’s 1967 classic “The Dot and the Line,” two wonderful shape characters, Little Round and Big Square, play games by changing themselves into different shapes. When Little Round has a hard time keeping up with Big Square, they form a team and learn to make fun, new shapes together. This is a tale of friendship, innovation, and collaboration.