Category: Elementary School

The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli

The Quest for Z by Greg Pizzoli

The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli (9780670016532, Amazon)

The author of Tricky Vic returns with another rip-roaring nonfiction picture book. It is the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who searched for an ancient city hidden in the Amazon rainforest. Fawcett had dreamed his entire life of being an explorer and as an adult took many treks into South America to map the region. They faced many dangers, such as huge snakes and natives with weapons. Many of the men he traveled with perished on the adventures but Fawcett survived. Others thought that the Amazon city was a myth while Fawcett insisted that it existed. If he found it, it would make him one of the most famous explorers of all time and one of the wealthiest too. This book tells his tale as he searched for the lost city.

Pizzoli has a knack for selecting real life stories that most people, adults and children, will not have heard of. This one is a fascinating story of belief and bravery, about a man who left family and country behind in his quest to discover the unknown. Pizzoli tells the story with lots of action and a sense of adventure in his prose. There are moments where Pizzoli allows the action to slow, the wonder of the moment to grow, and the dangers to almost overwhelm. It’s written with skill and knowledge, building to a conclusion that suits the life of Fawcett to a Z.

The book design and illustrations add so much to this nonfiction read. Done in a simple and clever style, just like Pizzoli’s picture books, the images add necessary humor to the book. The design of the book also allows additional information to be added on sidebars. Pizzoli uses his illustrations to also create moments of tension and drama, pausing the action for effect.

Smart, stylish and successful, this nonfiction picture book will take readers on quite an adventure. Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Stealing Our Way Home by Cecilia Galante

Stealing Our Way Home by Cecilia Galante

Stealing Our Way Home by Cecilia Galante (9781338042962, Amazon)

When Pippa and Jack’s mother died six months ago, everything changed. Their father who had been holding everything together during the last months of her illness, suddenly disappeared into his work. Pippa hasn’t spoken since her mother died. Jack has taken on the responsibility that his father has dropped. Meanwhile, their electricity is being cut off and the children discover that their father has lost his car sales business. Their lives become more complicated as Jack is drawn into his father’s desperation for money and a dangerous scheme. Pippa suspects what is happening and is also struggling at school with her silence. It’s going to take fresh strength as a family for them to come out of this dark time.

Galante has created a multilayered novel that is complex and yet not overly long. She wisely layers in other characters who struggled with loss in their lives too, showing the various ways that people can react to grief. This allows readers to see the response of the father in the book as strange and confusing, much as it seems to Pippa and Jack. The book celebrates the power of family even as it is about one that is entirely falling apart. It is also about the love that makes people do stupid things to keep a family together just as those same decisions tear it further.

Galante tells the story from the points of view of both Pippa and Jack in alternating chapters. This is also a clever choice, showing the internal struggles of both children and allowing readers to see the pain that both of them are experiencing and yet displaying it outwardly in different ways. Throughout the book, the setting is vital and important, the lake itself becoming a reflection of emotions and a way to connect to life.

Beautifully written and intelligently crafted, this novel is a remarkable look at grief and families. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay

Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay

Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Tony Ross (9781481491020, Amazon)

Binny’s family has been concerned with money since her father died. They live in a house that is far too small for all of them, her sister has sold all of her possessions to pay for flute lessons, and her mother works extra shifts all of the time. So when Binny sees a large amount of money left behind in an ATM, she grabs it and takes it. Does that make her a thief or just lucky? Binny soon discovers though that she can’t spend the money without others asking lots of questions. So she hides it, then hides it again and again until she can’t remember where she hid it! Meanwhile, Binny’s neighbor seems to be putting curses on all of them, like Clem’s flute breaking and James losing his best friend over buried treasure. As Binny realizes she has to be honest about the money, she has to find it first and figure out just who may have taken it.

This is the third Binny book and it’s just as charming and fantastic as the first two. McKay has a gorgeous way of writing, showing her characters and families complete with messy homes, money problems, and everyday woes. She always gives her characters lots of heart and big imaginations so that even normal days turn into adventures and bad decisions turn into mysteries.

As always, McKay’s families are ones that you want to spend even more time with. Readers will want to climb behind the couch with James, explore Clem’s bare but lovely room, share the birthday cake, and explore the beaches. The love in this family overflows the pages, even when they are distracted with their own problems. In fact, a hallmark of McKay’s books are that the children do the figuring out and realizations, not the adults. It’s a refreshing look at the power of children when they are given plenty of freedom.

Another winner from McKay! If you haven’t met Binny yet, make sure to start with the first since they are all such a treat. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 

My Daddy Rules the World by Hope Anita Smith

My Daddy Rules the World by Hope Anita Smith

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads by Hope Anita Smith (9780805091892, Amazon)

Coretta Scott King Award winner Smith returns with a new collection of poetry and illustrations that focuses on fathers. The book shows fathers who make breakfast and chat contrasted with others whose work keeps them far away but still in contact. There are fathers who cut hair, others who dance, others who wrestle or play catch. They teach their children to ride bikes or play instruments or read. Each poem is told in the voice of the child of that father and shows how very different dads can be but that they all love their children completely.

Smith writes poetry that is thoughtful and honed. She makes sure that it is appropriate for the young audience, inviting young readers to explore poetry and see themselves in it. The poems are misleadingly simple, not showing the skill that it takes to write at this level and with such apparent ease.

Smith’s illustrations are diverse and inclusive. With her torn paper illustrations, she makes sure to show families of various races and multiracial families. There is a warmth to the illustrations and a folk-art element that underlines the richness of being a father and in a family.

A strong collection of poems for young people, ideal to share with fathers. Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner\

The Big Bad Fox by Benjamin Renner (9781626723313, Amazon)

Fox is always trying to sneak into the henhouse at the farm and steal a chicken. He’s so hungry, and so very tired of the turnips that the pig provides him after every defeat. No one on the farm is scared of him, particularly the chickens themselves. Fox turns to Wolf to get some tips on being more frightening and getting chickens. Wolf comes up with a plan to steal some eggs from the chickens and hatch their own meals. But Fox gets a lot more than he bargained for when three little chicks hatch from the eggs and suddenly think that Fox is their mother!

This graphic novel is exceptional. Renner uses perfect comedic timing throughout the book. He melds slapstick comedy with real heart throughout the book and gives readers a villainous but incompetent Fox that they can root for. Readers will adore the rabid little chicks who consider themselves foxes rather than chickens. It’s the Wolf that continues to be a shadowy dark force and one that will eventually have to be dealt with.

Renner’s illustrations are done in watercolor and don’t use traditional comic book framing or speech bubbles. Instead he keeps them very simple, using lines to show who is speaking and open spaces to convey a sense of framing each image. The illustrations are energetic and funny as well with the expressions on even the tiny chick’s faces easily understood.

A great pick for children’s graphic novels, this one is very special. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers by Susan Wood

The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen (9781585369942, Amazon)

When people start to move into McCall, Idaho in the 1940’s, they encroach on the beavers who were already living there. Soon the new human homes and roads are flooded as the beavers build their dams. In this sort of struggle, it is always the humans who win. But a unique conservation effort is undertaken by the Idaho Fish and Game Department to move the beavers to a safer and more sheltered habitat. The problem is how to get the beavers into the pristine wilderness where there are no airports and no roads. Perhaps the solution can come from World War II parachutes and one brave beaver named Geronimo.

Wood takes care with the amount of prose she has on each page, offering just the right amount of detail and action for young readers. Her prose is also playful, as she describes both the beauty of Idaho and the damage that the beavers can do. The tone serves the book well with the whimsical use of parachutes and boxes that can open when they hit the ground. The story is a fascinating one and the book makes sure to explain that this sort of solution would not be done today where it is expected that humans and nature find a way to co-exist.

The illustrations are a mix of workshop images and desks where plans are made and then the Idaho landscape and horizons. The images settle the book deeply into the wilderness and the setting in which the book takes place. There is a sense of isolation and beauty in the images where the beavers land in their new habitat.

Fascinating and fun, this nonfiction picture book tells the story of a unique solution to a wildlife issue. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Sleeping Bear Press.

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper

The Good for Nothing Button by Charise Mericle Harper (9781484726464, Amazon)

Part of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series, this early reader is a philosophical joy. Yellow Bird has a button that does absolutely nothing, or does it? He shows it to Red Bird and Blue Bird. When Blue Bird tries the button, it surprises him. And that’s not nothing! It doesn’t surprise Red Bird, which makes Blue Bird sad, also not nothing. Then Yellow Bird gets angry at their responses, which is also not nothing. Soon the button can make them do lots of things, even get funny and silly. Perhaps the button does everything?

Harper has created a wonderful mix of humor and philosophy in this early reader. Done with just the right jaunty humor and wild zaniness, the book moves at a fast pace towards its philosophical conclusion. The ties to Elephant and Piggie are clear and this feels like a natural extension of their humor and attitude, making it exactly the right kind of book for this series.

The illustrations are bright and simple. Done with similar speech bubbles to Elephant and Piggie, they convey the emotions of the birds clearly, something that is very important in this book in particular.

A zingy riot of an early reader, this one is a winner. Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.