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Children's Books

History-makers

Four historical books for middle graders

Monument Maker by Linda Booth Sweeney: This extended picture book profiles American sculptor Daniel Chester French and tells the story of the Lincoln Memorial’s construction. From the time he was a small boy, French loved observing and drawing the natural world and later showed an uncanny ability to carve and sculpt. When he was 20 in 1870, the city of Concord, Mass., commissioned him to create the Minute Man statue. His career ultimately would culminate with the beloved statue of a seated Lincoln. Black-and-white ink drawings illustrate the story, and extensive endnotes fill in additional details. (Ages 7-12) 

My Name Is Tani … and I Believe in Miracles by Tanitoluwa Adewumi with Craig Borlase: After the Adewumi family flees its Nigerian home to escape Boko Haram, the family members move to New York City to start a new life. They are grateful to find lodging at a homeless shelter and to begin jobs and school. Tani joins a chess club and pours all of his time into mastering the game. The chess coaches mentor him, melding strategy sessions with character cultivation, and a year later Tani will defy the odds to win the 2019 New York State Chess Championship. An inspiring story showcasing the way acts of kindness can have a miraculous effect. (Ages 9-12)

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park: In the heartland of 1880s America, Hanna struggles to find acceptance as a half-Chinese girl. After her mother dies, Hanna and her father move to a new town where they plan to open a dress goods shop. Hanna, a talented seamstress who dreams of becoming a professional dressmaker, faces discrimination and rejection in a town suspicious of anyone who is different. As Hanna stoically perseveres, she discovers she doesn’t need other people’s approval to live a good life. A charming book that sheds light on the struggles minority groups faced in early American history. (Ages 10-12)

Who Got Game? Baseball: Amazing but True Stories! by Derrick Barnes: In this recent release geared for baseball aficionados, Barnes uncovers lesser-known trivia tidbits and highlights the unheralded players in America’s favorite pastime. Four sections feature 42 interesting facts related to Pivotal Players, Sensational Stories, Radical Records, and Colossal Comebacks. Readers will learn about the man who invented the box score and the first woman who played on a major league team with male athletes, as well as what game was the longest, which trading card is the most expensive, and how the spitball met its demise. Colorful illustrations pair with humorous writing to make it a fun read. (Ages 8-12)

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Children's Books

Animal kingdom escapades

Four recent picture books

Three Little Kittens by Barbara McClintock: McClintock updates a well-worn nursery rhyme, adding personality and humor. Three little kittens find mess and trouble as they lose, find, soil, and wash their mittens to appease their finger-pointing mother—and of course to eat some blueberry pie. Speech bubbles and interjections—as when the kittens all shout in unison, “Watch out pie, here we come!”—are interspersed with lines following the original tale’s formal language, adding humor and unique flavor. McClintock’s scenes pop with a blend of pencil, watercolor, and gouache. Children will delight in this sprightly rendition of a classic tale. (Ages 3-5)

Barkus: Dog Dreams by Patricia MacLachlan: Protagonist Nicky narrates five short, episodic chapters about Barkus—a large, well-mannered brown dog—and tag-along kitten, Baby. Barkus charms and entertains with his uncanny talents. In the final chapter, Barkus and the kitten help ease Nicky’s fears when they seem unfazed by a severe thunderstorm. Nicky wonders aloud why the pets are unafraid. A neighbor who is sheltering at Nicky’s home replies, “They know we will take care of them.” This is the second book in a series from Newbery Medalist MacLachlan, and its cheery illustrations and short sentences will delight early readers or read-aloud audiences. (Ages 6-9)

Unstoppable by Adam Rex: The story curiously begins with five wordless, double-page spreads, with only a shriek from a cat as it leaps at a crab that pinches back. A bird cries “AHH” when the cat pounces upon it, too. The text begins with the crab and bird wishing to trade places, causing an epiphany: They could join forces to become a “crabird.” A silly story ensues as they attract other animals, and the combinations become more outlandish and harder to pronounce, including “birdraburtlebear!” Then the animals spot a bulldozer and discover their forest is doomed to become a shopping mall, and their wild collaboration soon involves a woman president and Congress. (Ages 5-8)

When You Look Up by Guillermo Decurgez, aka Decur: Lorenzo moves to a country home with his mother and discovers a notebook in a secret compartment of an old desk in his room. The notebook unlocks stories with mysterious scenes and animal characters that Lorenzo soon realizes have real-world corollaries. Argentine writer and illustrator Decurgez employs a variety of artistic techniques to transport Lorenzo, and middle-grade readers, in and out of the imaginative world of the notebook. At 184 pages, this extended picture book is a visual feast, but also quietly thoughtful. (Ages 7-12)

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Children's Books

For inquisitive young minds

Nonfiction picture books

Under Threat by Martin Jenkins: Under Threat tells the story of 30 endangered animal species, ranging from the Asian elephant to the Korean club-tail dragonfly. This oversized book is beautiful, from its embossed cover to its full-page, screen-print illustrations of each animal, designed to look like old postage stamps. The facing page describes in a calm, nonhysterical tone each animal’s behavior, the pressures that contribute to its endangered status, and the helpful actions people are taking to preserve it. A box insert provides extra facts, including the animal’s class and family, endangered status, current population, and range map. (Ages 9-12)

A World of Discovery by James Brown and Richard Platt: This large-format book devotes two pages to each of 30 different discoveries or inventions. A screen-printed infographic makes up one page of each two-page spread. The facing page presents more information in prose form. Topics include paper, time, high-rise buildings, the internal combustion engine, refrigeration, etc. The pages about paper, for example, include the story of paper’s invention in China, its spread to the Arab world and Europe, and its importance. The infographic shows the papermaking process. Ideal for older elementary children interested in how things work. (Ages 7-10)

Fish Everywhere by Britta Teckentrup: Beautifully illustrated with a gold-embossed cover, this book for early elementary readers contains an enormous amount of information about fish. The interactive text has an informal style: “These are all fish … aren’t they? You’re right! Some of these are NOT fish and we put them here to make sure you’re awake.” Every two-page spread shows many fish and a different topic: freshwater fish, feeding, schooling, fish parents, etc. (Caution: One spread deals with fish evolution.) “Can you find it?” activities add game elements to the book. The detailed fish illustrations should interest budding young naturalists. (Ages 6-9)

Bones in the White House by Candice Ransom: Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by stories of gigantic creatures that lived in the wilderness. Explorers had dug up huge bones, and Jefferson was eager to know more. This book tells the story of early American paleontology and Jefferson’s desire to possess a complete skeleton of the animal Americans called the mammoth. It also tells how the word mammoth came to mean anything huge, and how mammoth-crazy Americans sent Jefferson a “mammoth cheese” and journalists wrote about “mammoth radishes.” (Ages 3-7)

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