Category: Elementary School


dory fantasmagory

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Dory is the youngest in her family and her older siblings won’t play with her at all.  So she is left to play on her own and thanks to her great imagination, Dory has a lot of fun.  Dory has a best friend, Mary, a monster who sleeps under her bed and is always willing to play.  There are also other monsters all over their house.  When Dory continues to bother her brother and sister, they make up a story about Mrs. Gobble Gracker, a horrible woman who steals baby girls and is looking for Dory!  So when the doorbell rings, Dory knows it is Mrs. Gobble Gracker coming for her.  Hopefully the little man who says he’s her fairy godmother will be able to help defeat her.  In the end though it is Dory’s own creativity and bravery that will save her and maybe even get her siblings to play too.

Hanlon brilliantly captures the wild imagination of a little girl who doesn’t slow down for a minute, zinging from one idea to the next even as those around her groan.  Dory could have been a problematic character, but thanks to the book being told from her point of view, readers will get to see how strong a person she is long before she displays it to her family.

Hanlon’s art makes this a book that younger readers will happily pick up and read.  Her black and white illustrations are more than paragraph breaks, they show the story of Dory and all of the characters she dreams up over the course of the day.  On the page, we see what Dory sees, not what her family doesn’t see and it’s quite a world that she has created.

Fast moving, wild and full of laughs, this book is a dynamic introduction to a fresh new face that will appeal to fans of Junie B, Jones.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial.

pack of dorks

Pack of Dorks by Beth Vrabel

Lucy just knows that this is the biggest recess of her life, because at recess she will kiss Tom and cement herself as a popular fourth grader along with her best friend Becky.  But after the kiss happens, all she has is a ring that turns her finger green and a sinking feeling about what just happened.  Soon after the kiss, Lucy’s baby sister is born.  Her parents are shocked to have a baby with Downs Syndrome and are caught up in coping with the surprise.  That leaves Lucy alone to cope with the sudden turn of events at school where over the course of a few days she goes from being cool and popular to being one of the lamest kids in the class.  Becky calls Lucy at night to tell her all of the mean things that the other kids are saying about her, claiming that she is still Lucy’s friend but can’t be her friend at school anymore.  In the meantime, Lucy starts to make friends with some of the other kids in her class.  She does a project on wolves with Sam, a very quiet boy who is bullied by the same kids.  Out of that project and her growing group of outcast friends, Lucy decides that the only solution for them is to become their own pack.

Vrabel captures elementary school perfectly with its confusing social pressures that keep people conforming to the norm.  She manages to keep everything at just the right level, never becoming melodramatic about the situation.  At the same time, it is clear how devastating the bullying is to Lucy.  While she has a supportive family, they are distracted by the new baby and rightly so.  Her new little sister helps be a guide for Lucy forward, and is a very smart addition to the story, allowing Lucy her growth and also serving as an example of someone who will also need their own pack to support her.

Lucy is a character who becomes more likeable as the book progresses.  At first with her quests for popularity and kisses, Lucy is shallow but after she becomes shunned by the popular crowd she immediately reveals how smart and strong she actually is.  Vrabel’s brilliant combination of wolf packs and middle school bullies adds strength to the entire novel.

A smart book on bullies, differences and disabilities, this novel is one that will make a great read aloud for elementary classes.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

buried sunlight

Buried Sunlight: How Fossil Fuels Have Changed the Earth by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

Everything needs energy in order to grow and we also need energy to run machines.  This energy comes from the sun though it may be stored as fossil fuels underground.  The fossil fuels have stored that energy inside them and it is released when they are burned.  This book looks at how sunlight energy is stored in fossil fuels, explaining photosynthesis and the balance of oxygen on the planet.  It speaks to the way that oxygen was first released to the atmosphere and the millions of years that it took to create fossil fuels.  The book then informs readers about the impact of carbon dioxide on the planet and the resulting climate change.  In the end, the book lets readers know that the choice for the future of the planet is theirs.

Bang worked with Chisholm, an award-winning MIT professor on the information in the book.  Told from the point of view of the sun, the book takes a clear and scientific tone throughout, enhanced by the more personal point of view.  The information is compellingly presented and interesting.  The final pages of the book offer even more details about the fossil fuel process for those looking for more in-depth information.

Bang’s illustrations capture the information of graphs along with an artistic feel.  She manages to keep it scientific but also speak to the wonder of the process and the beauty of the captured sunlight energy. 

This fourth book in their Sunlight series continues the combination of science, beauty and natural wonder.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

phoebe and her unicorn

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

When Phoebe skipped a rock (four times!) across a pond, she accidentally hit a unicorn in the nose, distracting the unicorn from gazing at her amazing reflection.  The unicorn was bound to offer Phoebe a wish and though Phoebe tried to wish for more wishes and things like that, she wasn’t allowed to.  So Phoebe wished that the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, be her best friend.  The two become inseparable, much to Heavenly Nostrils’ dismay at first.  Soon they truly became the best of friends, dealing with bullies in unexpected ways, having slumber parties, and playing games together. 

This friendship between a girl and a unicorn is filled with great humor, including lots of biting sarcasm which helps offset the cuteness factor.  It is not the traditional unicorn and girl relationship either, both of them have unique personalities and sometimes they just don’t get along.  It’s those moments of reality that keeps the relationship honest and makes this a graphic novel to celebrate.

Simpson’s illustrations have strong ties to Calvin & Hobbes.  Readers will immediately find themselves right at home in the world she creates, one where unicorns are real but sheltered by a Shield of Boringness that keeps others from realizing how special the unicorn is.  These plot devices are brilliant and funny.

I brought this book home and my 17 year old immediately rejoiced since she reads the comic online.  So you will have fans in your library for this book already.  Get it on the shelves for kids and into the hands of adults who will also enjoy it immensely.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

princess in black

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Princess Magnolia was having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when then monster alarm sounded.  Dressed in along dress of pink with a tiara, no one would expect that Princess Magnolia is actually also the Princess in Black who battles monsters and protects her kingdom.  After all, princesses don’t wear black!  Waiting outside the castle is Frimplepants, the princess’ unicorn, but he is also Blacky, the trusty pony of the Princess in Black.  The two of them galloped off to face the monster who is threatening the herd of goats.  Now the princess has to save the goatherd, battle the monster, and keep her secret identity from the nosy Duchess Wigtower!

Bravo for a princess figure who neither scorns the tiaras and dresses and pink nor is limited by them for the way she lives her life!  This is one amazing young woman who transforms into a hero, but clearly lives her princess life with the same heroism and dedication as she has in her alter ego.  The writing is light and fresh with rather dim-witted huge monsters who just want a meal and remember vaguely that there is a reason they don’t eat the kingdom’s goats.  Happily too, the princess does the fighting, isn’t terrified at all, and routs the monsters from her kingdom.  Clever, strong and brave, she’s exactly the heroine that her kingdom needs.

Pham’s illustrations show a young princess who is not stick-thin or Barbie-like in any way.  Instead, she is strong in her body, built like a young girl actually is, and when she does battle it feels right and she doesn’t come off as weak at all.  The illustrations of the monsters add to the humor, though their size is daunting.

A real treat for young readers looking for a real girl doing real battle whether she is a princess or not.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

once upon an alphabet

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers

This unusual and equally marvelous alphabet book surprises and delights with its 26 short stories, one for each letter of the alphabet.  From the very beginning at “A” readers will know they have entered a rather quirky and surreal world.  A is for Astronaut, but Edmund is an astronaut whose afraid of heights.  Even climbing the ladder to the rocket is a bit much for him.  B comes right in afterwards with a tale of a burning bridge where Bob and Bernard cannot get along and so burn the bridge between their houses, but oops, one of them is on the wrong side when he does it.  The book continues, one letter after another and one story after another each with funny, intriguing characters and situations that are snapshots of the oddities of this amazing world. 

Jeffers has created some of my favorite picture books for children and this new alphabet book completely revolutionizes the sing-song of other alphabet books for children.  It’s not exclusively for preschoolers, since elementary-aged children will adore these strange little stories and the quick journeys they take you on.  Rather like potato chips, you can’t read just one but find yourself going on and on.  Jeffers also ties in previous stories to later ones.  You have to be watching, because he does it with subtlety, but it’s a lovely touch.  I admit to cheering aloud when the Lumberjack for the Letter L appeared again.

Jeffers’ art has a loose feel that works well here.  He also has a quirk to his art that matches the tone of the story very nicely.  The line drawings combine with touches of color and watercolor.  He also plays at times with the page itself, showing characters turning the page or popping out from behind. 

A delight of an alphabet book, Jeffers has revolutionized the genre with his impressive, surprising and funny work. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel.

lowriders in space

Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third

Three friends, Lupe, El Chavo and Elirio, work together in a garage where they fix cars.  They dream of one day having their own garage.  Lupe loves working on engines and the mechanics.  El Chavo washes them until they shine with his octopus arms.  Elirio uses his mosquito size and his long nose to detail the cars.  Their favorite kind of car are the low and slow lowriders.  So when a contest with a large prize comes along, they know they have to enter.  Now they just have to turn a junker into the best car in the universe, so they head into space to see what they can do.  This is one unique read that combines space, cars and great friendship.

Camper incorporates Spanish into her story, firmly placing this book into the Hispanic culture.  Her characters are clever done.  The female in the group is the one who loves engines and mechanical things, yet is incredible feminine too.  The book seems to be firmly housed on earth until one big moment launches it into outer space.  The incorporation of astronomy into the design and art of the car makes for a book that is wild and great fun to read.

The illustrations by Raul Gonzalez have a cool hipness to them that is honest and without any slickness at all.  Done in a limited palette of red, blue and black, the art has a vintage feel that is enhanced by the treatment of the pages with stains and aging. 

This graphic novel is cool, star filled, rich with science, and has friendship at its heart.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

born in the wild

Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge

Explore different baby mammals from around the world in this nonfiction picture book.  Learn about how different animals function when they are born, polar bear babies are tiny and are kept safe for months before going outside while giraffes are born ready to run right away.  Baby animals eat in different ways too.  Baby bears nurse, baby wolves learn to eat meat quickly, and other animals eat grass and drink their mother’s milk.  Other subjects like protection and shelter are examined as well as grooming, moving from place to place, and what their families look like.  This book is a celebration of the diversity of mammals on the earth and all of the ways in which they are loved and cared for as they grow. 

Judge offers just enough information on each animal to make the book readable.  She gives intriguing glimpses of each animal before moving on to the next.  It’s a fast paced book that merrily jumps from one animal to the next.  More in-depth information on each of the featured mammals can be found at the end of the book. 

Judge’s art is exceptional.  Her animals are filled with personality.  The baby mammals look straight out at the reader at times, their parents’ eyes are filled with love, and there is a tangible joy to each of the images.  The cuteness factor could have been unbearable, but instead it’s perfect, just the right amount of cute and wild mixed together.

A great choice for smaller children who love animals, this book is gorgeous as well as informative.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

dragon and the knight

The Dragon and the Knight by Robert Sabuda

This new pop up book by Sabuda, a master of the form, is very child friendly.  While I admired his remakes of the classics like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, those books spoke more to adults than to children.  This new book is perfect to share aloud with a child who will enjoy a romp through different fairy tales.  A knight starts chasing a dragon through different stories including Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood.  Each page opens to a different scene that pops open showing the characters of the story created out of the pages of their book.  Entirely clever, quick reading and worthy of revisiting again and again.

Sabuda’s art in creating pop up designs will astound young readers.  Two pages in particularly are stunning.  There is the entire gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel that pops into being in 3D complete with awnings, windows, door and chimney.  Another amazing page is Little Red Riding Hood where the trees pop into a woods that has different dimensions and lots of height.  Readers will also enjoy the little reveal at the end as the knight takes off HER helmet.

As always, pop up books aren’t really for very small children, but this is one of those that could be shared carefully with preschoolers who will love the detail and the incredible joy of the format.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

stratford zoo macbeth

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by Zack Giallongo

When the gates shut at night at The Stratford Zoo, the animals come out to play.  They steal the keys from one of the zoo keepers as they leave and all of the cages are unlocked.  Vendors walk the aisles selling treats like peanuts and earthworms to the growing crowd.  Then on stage, the theater begins with the lion as Macbeth.  After meeting with the witches, the question is whether Macbeth will eat the king.  Lady Macbeth proposes different preparations to make the king taste better, and Macbeth finally succumbs and eats the king.  But then, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, others must be eaten too.  This is a wild and wonderful combination of Shakespeare, hungers both human and animal, and plenty of humor.

Lendler takes great liberties with Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  He combines all of the moments that people remember in the play, from Lady Macbeth trying to wash out the spots of blood to the visits to the three witches and the way their predictions play out.  He also adds in lots of slapstick comedy, plenty of asides from the audience and actors, and also shortens the play substantially. 

Giallongo’s art is colorful and dramatic.  He plays up the drama of the ketchup stains, the growing stomach of the lion, and the ambitions of Lady Macbeth.  Comic moments are captured with plenty of humor visually.  This zoo is filled with fur, claws, fun and drama.

A perfect combination of Shakespeare and wild animal humor, this will please those who know Macbeth and people knew to the play alike.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,221 other followers