It Took the World to Rescue All Thirteen – A Riveting Account

Lynn: Thai-American author Christina Soontornvat was visiting her family in Thailand not far from the Cave of the Sleeping Lady when the news broke about the trapped soccer team. She and most of us throughout the world watched with our hearts in our mouths as the 18-day rescue event dominated the news. Soontornvat, a mechanical engineer and science educator, realized after the rescue that she wanted to know more about this incredible effort and to share the story.

All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team (Candlewick, 2020) is a masterful account—gripping, suspenseful and inspiring, and almost impossible to put down. But Soontornvat does much more than simply relate the events. She brings a wealth of background and related information that makes this book an outstanding reading experience. Without ever slowing the narrative, readers learn about the country of Thailand, its culture, religions, food, and everyday life. We learn about the geology of the cave system, climate and weather, the physical barriers facing the rescuers, and the difficult art of cave or sump diving. And especially we learn about the hundreds of people whose heroic efforts resulted in the rescue of the boys, all of whom we come to care about. It is no small feat to maintain a real sense of suspense when readers already know the outcome but this book achieves that wonderfully.

The book itself is a terrific example of great book design and production too. It is a pleasure to read with clearly laid out text, carefully managed sidebars, and beautiful color photographs.

This really is a shining example of excellent nonfiction writing. Soontornvat’s prose is clear, understandable, and immediate. The science, as is all the information, is woven into the suspenseful story seamlessly. Readers will come away with a real understanding of all the many factors that made the task and the rescue so remarkable. Soontornvat’s appreciation and admiration for the rescuers, and the Wild Boars and their coach, is clear and readers will end the book feeling the same. There is extensive and excellent back matter, as well, including a section of what happened with the team and their travels after the rescue.

Cindy: Shortly after the Wild Boars were rescued I was booktalking Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert to my middle school students. That book always circulated well after booktalks, but these students no longer had knowledge of this 2010 event. They had heard of the Thai cave soccer team rescue and I was able to tell them that the same author, Marc Aronson, was hard at work on a quick publication about this amazing rescue. Rising Water: The Story of the Thai Cave Rescue (Atheneum, 2019) will pair nicely with Soontornvat’s excellent book. All three of these titles highlight the cooperation between locals and people from all over the world. They celebrate how we can overcome tragedy and work together to achieve insurmountable odds. And the booktalking and the connections all worked. Both of my copies of Trapped went out that day and I had a list of students who wanted Rising Water as soon as it published. All Thirteen will be just as popular. Success stories all around!

Love, Jacaranda: A Sweet Nod to Daddy-Long-Legs

Lynn: Bookends readers know well that I am an escapist reader. I love humor, happy endings and books that make me smile. Back in my working days as a school librarian, I realized that many of my young readers craved the same sort of diversions. “Can you help me find a fun book?” was such a common request that I kept a list ready to hand out. All that is to say that Alix Flinn’s latest book would fit perfectly on that list. Love, Jacaranda (Harper, 2020) has all the elements that I and so many teen readers love. There is a hard-working, lonely protagonist struggling against life’s challenges, an engaging set of secondary characters, an intriguing setting, a romantic tangle, and a sweet happy ending. What more could you want? Well, in my case there is more icing on the cake—it is an epistolary novel (a form I love) AND it is a charming re-telling of one of my all-time favorite childhood books, Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster published in 1912. And no, I am not that old that I remember the original! However, if you want an interesting look at book covers, take a look at how this one has changed over the years.

Jacaranda Abbott has lived in a series of foster homes since her mother was sent to prison for attempted murder. The talented sixteen-year-old dreams of a theatrical future but the reality seems dim until one day a video of her singing to a customer at her Publix market job goes viral. Out of the blue arrives an offer by an anonymous benefactor to pay her way at a prestigious art academy in northern Michigan. In a wonderful blur, she suddenly finds herself studying what she loves, living in a room of her own, and having real friends. Ashamed of her background though, Jackie (as she now calls herself) conceals her family history. Deeply grateful for her opportunity, Jacaranda writes to her unknown benefactor calling him Mr. Smith and pours out her experiences, dreams, and struggles in letters that are heartfelt, frank, and delightful.

Readers will root for Jacaranda, cheer her hard work and her sweet budding romance with a roommate’s wealthy cousin. Along the way, there are some thoughtful themes about class and opportunities, mother-daughter relationships, and forgiveness. It isn’t necessary to have read the classic Daddy-Long-Legs to love this story but those who have will find many delightful embedded references. And perhaps those who haven’t will seek out the original. Either way, lace up your dancing shoes, get ready to make of list of wonderful Broadway shows to visit or meet for the first time with Jacaranda. Readers are in for a treat!

 

Absolutely Everything About How We Got to the Moon

Lynn: This is a soaring triumph—stellar in every way!

John Rocco set out in How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Adventure (Crown, 2020) to explain how every part of the Apollo/Saturn machine worked and how it was built. He especially wanted to show young readers the science and problem solving that was involved along the way. And he wanted to introduce some of the thousands of unsung people who contributed to this monumental achievement. He does all that in this fascinating, detailed, and visually magnificent chronicle.

He begins with the origins of the Space Race in 1957 and a brief history of rocketry and then plunges into the nitty-gritty of designing, building, testing, and flying to the moon with all the steps, problems, and triumphs along the way. As someone who has read many histories of this period AND lived through it, the early history was bit slow but I understand the necessity for young readers. The book becomes deeply interesting quickly in Chapter 2 with the discussion of the process of designing a rocket.

While this is a solid historical account of the Apollo effort, the focus is on the science, technology, and engineering achievements. Rocco’s prose is clear and understandable as he carefully distilled oceans of information for young readers. He does an excellent job of providing a thorough explanation without overwhelming the text. The tone is just right: informative, concise, and filled with wonderful tidbits of related topics to heighten interest even for those only generally interested in the technical details. Space food, the disgusting but imperative issue of going to the bathroom in space, the history of the “human computers,” and, something I always wondered about, what are all those people in the command center doing at all those monitors.

A wonderful feature of the book is the many sections that show some of the scientific problems faced along the way and the solution. Often these also include a simple experiment that kids can do that demonstrates the science behind the solution.

A highlight for me is the many short biographical inserts that feature some of the people involved in the effort who contributed important ideas, developments, or work along the way. So many of these people were critical to the success of the mission but received very little public attention. Rocco includes people like Ann Montgomery, an engineer, and the only woman allowed on the launchpad, Charles Draper who developed the Guidance system, or Eleanor Foraker, the Seamstress Manager for the Apollo Spacesuits.

Rocco explains in an Author’s Note in the back matter that although there are a plethora of photographs, blueprints, and drawings available, he chose to create all the illustrations himself. He did that in order to make the concepts more accessible and understandable for readers without being overwhelmed by extraneous details. He also chose to use color as most of the original photographs and visual materials are black and white. The result is visually stunning as well as being deeply absorbing.

I read this in galley with only some of the planned back matter included. The Note on the Research was extremely interesting and even in galley form the visual impact of the book is outstanding. I am eager to see it in the finished copy. This is a must purchase for every library collection and a perfect choice as a gift book for every science-loving student.

Sometimes We Just Need to Laugh – Funny Picture Books

Lynn and Cindy: We don’t really have to say anything about just how tense and depressing things are right now! We have often sought relief and diversion in funny books and we think kids will welcome that escape too. Here are three new picture books that are just what the book doctor ordered! Share and enjoy!

Glory on Ice: A Vampire Hockey Story, by Maureen Fergus (Knopf, 2020)

You read that right. This hockey story features a vampire on blades! A bored, lonely Vlad heads to the local Community Center to find a new hobby. After rejecting dancing, scrapbooking, and water aerobics, he almost gives up but then overhears some young hockey players talking about pounding, crushing, and destroying the other teams Vlad knows he’s found his calling! After buying the “best hockey equipment that treasure plundered from ancient gravesites could buy,” and careful preparation and study of the sport, this vampire learns that ice skating isn’t easy! Mark Fearing’s hilarious illustrations of Vlad’s progress to master the ice and become a gracious loser as part of a team will have young sports fans chuckling along. (We raved here about The Great Thanksgiving Escape written and illustrated by Fearing a few years ago. It’s another fabulous funny book!)

The Staring Contest, by Nicolas Solis (Peter Pauper, 2020)

This hilarious book made us slap our foreheads and ask, “Why didn’t WE think of this?” Talk about the PERFECT funny kid book! The challenger, drawn only with big eyes and impressive eyebrows challenges readers to a staring contest. Each page turn is a new trick to get the reader to blink. The eyes roll up and down, side to side, and even cross. It asks “What is that behind you?” and suggests you might have to go to the bathroom. Kids will be giggling helplessly by this point as the tricks backfire. Everyone is a winner in this delightful picture book. Be prepared for multiple readings! Ready, set, GO!

The Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman. (Random, 2020)

Of course, just the idea of underwear is funny to kids and dragons in underwear is guaranteed to be sidesplitting. This story is far more than just oddly-clad lizards, as funny as that is. Rothman takes on a knightly tale that begins when young Cole writes a letter to his favorite knight, Sir Percival asking to become his assistant. Illustrator Pete Oswald’s comic vignettes of Cole’s training are packed with visual jokes that will keep the giggles going. When the Underwear Dragon attacks, defeating ALL the knights, only Cole is left to protect the kingdom. But never fear—all that training pays off and the dragon is “barely” defeated.  Don’t miss the wonderful before and after 2-page spreads!

 

Eighty-dollar Champion

Lynn: There is nothing I like better than an uplifting underdog story and this underhorse story was a pleasure to read–especially as it is a TRUE story! In this time of soaring egos, disdain for others, and scorn for real integrity, this is a lovely tale of the quiet, humble, and hard-working immigrant whose act of kindness rewarded him and his family–AND the horse he rescued. The Eighty-Dollar Champion: The True Story of a Horse, a Man, and an Unstoppable Dream (Random/Delacorte, 2020) is a story that will lift readers’ hearts.

Harry De Leyer and his wife Johanna came to the U.S. from Holland following WWII with almost nothing in their pockets. Harry’s hard work and ability brought him to a job as a riding teacher at an exclusive girls school on Long Island. Needing a gentle lesson horse, Harry set out one winter day to attend a horse sale but arrived too late, just as the “kill buyer” was loading the rejects. One of the horses, a big undernourished grey, caught Harry’s eye and on instinct, he paid all he had, $80.00 for the horse. It was 1956 and Harry had no idea the bargain he had just made.

Snowman, under Harry’s care, prospered and became just the lesson horse he needed–gentle, patient, and loving. The girls at the school loved him as did Harry and his whole family. But no one suspected the amazing ability Snowman’s gentle nature hid. That spring, reluctantly, Harry sold Snowman to a neighbor needing a gentle horse for his young son. Snowman had other ideas. Again and again, he jumped increasingly high and challenging fences to return home to Harry. Snowman knew where he belonged and it was with the De Leyers! It was then that Harry began to discover just how skilled a jumper Snowman was and to train and enter him in horse jumping shows around the state.

Snowman had been a plow horse and even in his coddled days with Harry, he never looked like the highly bred, highly strung horses at the top of the equestrian meets. In the beginning, most people laughed at Harry and Snowman as they began competition. Steady and unflappable, Snowman began to win every competition, cheerfully jumping easily over every obstacle before him. Eventually, he went on to win two Triple Crowns in a row–something that had never been done before.

Harry and Snowman became celebrities and throughout it all remained humble and little changed by fame. Snowman continued to be a lesson horse and Harry to resist all offers to buy him.

This is a very successful abridgment of Letts’ adult book and it was a perfect joy to read. You don’t have to be a horseman or to have had experience with the sport of jumping. Letts gives us a wonderful peek at that world, with just enough of the experience and tension of the various competitions to raise suspense and heighten the pace. But she also makes readers feel as if they know Harry and Snowman and they become vivid and heartfelt characters we deeply care for. And in this dark time, it is a welcome reminder that humility and hard work have rewards, that kindness makes a difference, and that the underestimated can achieve it all. I teared up several times, especially with the book’s conclusion.

“Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us.”

Back matter includes an interview with Harry De Leyer and a conversation with the author as well as extensive source notes. Give this to kids wanting an uplifting story, engaging nonfiction, or a very unusual horse story.

Stories That Need to Be Told – Picture Books Take Up the Challenge

Lynn and Cindy: One of the things we love about picture books is that authors and illustrators often take up the challenge of bringing a little known story to young readers. It is so important to keep our history and our stories alive! As reviewers, we also love that we get the benefit of these stories too. Here are two new picture books that do this important work—and do it wonderfully.

Lynn: Decades before Rosa Park refused to sit in the back of a bus, another brave determined woman demanded her rights on a streetcar in New York. Beth Anderson tells her inspiring story in Lizzie Demands a Seat: Elizabeth Jennings Fights for Streetcar Rights (Boyds Mills/Calkins Creek, 2020). It was 1854 in New York City and Elizabeth Jenkins, a teacher and organist from a wealthy family, was on her way to church. When the horse-drawn streetcar arrived it had empty seats and Lizzie and her friend hurried to board. But the conductor would not allow them on, telling them to wait for the car for “her people.” Lizzie had no intention of waiting. There was no law keeping anyone of color from riding the streetcars although there was a custom of not riding if a white passenger objected. When no one on board objected, Lizzie persisted and the conductor physically threw them from the car. Lizzie, whose family were leaders in their community and well connected, took the Third Avenue Streetcar company to court where, with her attorney Chester A. Arthur, she won her case, paving the way for people of color to fight for their rights to ride then and in the future.

The text is wonderful, lively, and compelling and I’m truly sorry it has taken me so long to learn about Elizabeth Jennings. The author notes that the “dialogue closely follows her account as it appeared in the newspapers of the time,” and this gives the story a very immediate and personal feel that will appeal to kids. The back matter is outstanding too with fascinating additional historical material on Elizabeth Jennings and her case in an Author’s Note, information on the research. a bibliography, a list of further readings, and a Note from the Illustrator.

And speaking of illustrators! I am a big admirer of E.B. Lewis’s illustrations and here they add wonderfully to the overall impact of the story. Lewis, who usually uses a muted palette, chose intense colors and the result is a wonderful sense of the drama of the event. In an artist’s note, Lewis says, “I wanted to go all out in the way of color—to stretch my own internal prism.” He even had to purchase colors he had never used before. I’m so glad he did as the result is beautiful and effective!

Once again a picture book has introduced me to a memorable and important historical person that I had never heard of before. I’m beginning to think that we should give up textbooks and flood our classrooms with shelves of outstanding nonfiction picture books!

Cindy: Another African American girl who took an important seat is featured in A Ride to Remember (Abrams, 2020) by Sharon Langley and Amy Nathan. Occasional peaceful protests at the Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in Baltimore, Maryland were held for a decade asking for the right for people of color to visit the park. Nothing changed. But after new segregation laws were passed in Baltimore in 1962, a big protest was planned at the park for Independence Day, July 4, 1963. Arrests were made but the protest continued a few days later. When pressure mounted as the publicity surrounding the protests spread, change finally occurred and the park officials corrected their policy. On August 28, 1963, the park was opened to everyone. Sharon Langley’s parents bought tickets and they were the first family of color to walk through the gates. Sharon was photographed riding a horse on the carousel, a photo that ended up in the newspapers the next day. The carousel is now turning its circles on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and Sharon Langley’s name is on a horse’s saddle and horseshoe.

Co-author Amy Nathan wrote a book for teens and adults Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement that also includes the other historic event of 8-28-63, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington. Award-winning illustrator Floyd Cooper’ artwork helps tell this important story in moving paintings.

Ticks in Her Nose – the Story of a Wildlife Photographer for Kids

Lynn: Books for really young readers on careers are not easy to do well but a wildlife photographer/author that I especially admire, Suzy Eszterhas, has given us just that in My Wild Life: Adventures of a Wildlife Photographer (Owl Kids, 2020).  This fascinating story comes with a real bonus as the pertinent information includes a bounty of wonderful photographs that clearly expand on the points being made in the text. Eszterhas confides that she wanted to be a wildlife photographer as a child and she spent many hours in her backyard photographing her cats and squirrels, practicing the skills she would need.

Taking readers through many of the fascinating and challenging aspects of her job, Eszterhas provides information about how she preps the shots, finds and allows animals to grow confident around her, some of the techniques she uses to get shots including lying for hours belly down to achieve eye-level pictures and even flying in small airplanes—which makes her throw up in between clicking the shutter. She doesn’t pull any punches about the conditions she often has to live and work in. Kids will love some of the details like having to pee in a bottle while in a camouflaged blind, living in a tent for months without a shower, or waking up with ticks in her nose. She stresses that patience and having to wait for hours is often the key to success. And it is clear that being a woman in this very male-dominated field takes courage and determination.

Each chapter is an accessible and appealing 2 pages, which is ideal for young readers and the clear text is as informative as it is interesting. Several chapters are about the local experts and the scientists she works with and explains about her dedication to giving back to organizations that help wildlife. A concluding chapter is titled “Ask Suzi” and it provides additional information to questions about the profession.

The terrific photographs will draw readers in starting with the cover which is a beguiling shot of a group of meerkats sheltering from the wind up against her back. This book is sure to be a winner with kids who love nature and animals or are budding photographers themselves. All of them will come away with a real grasp of the skills and hard work necessary for this fascinating career and a deeper appreciation for the outstanding work done by photographers like Eszterhas.

Cindy: Eszterhas is an inspiration. Not only is this book as well done as Lynn says, but Suzi is also donating a portion of her royalties to her nonprofit organization Girls Who Click, a group that “empowers teen girls to enter the male-dominated field of nature photography and use their work to further conservation efforts around the world.” The free nature photography workshops are available online due to the current COVID crisis, perfect for distance and virtual learners. I wish I could take one! If, like us, you can’t get enough of Eszterhas’ extraordinary wildlife photography visit her website for more images that will take your breath away.

Cast Your Vote for Picture Books about Elections

Lynn and Cindy: Unless your pandemic shutdown has included no access to electronic media, you will have noticed that the U.S is fast approaching an important election. Adults everywhere are talking about politics, candidates, and elections and for children, it can all seem mystifying. Happily, authors and publishers have stepped up and there are a lot of picture books currently being published on the subject. Here’s a round-up of a few that we think will help kids make sense of this important topic.

I Voted: Making a Choice Makes a Difference (Holiday House/Neal Porter, 2020) by Mark Shulman.

This book focuses on the idea of making a choice. It starts with the most basic of choices by asking what the reader likes best: ice cream or onions and apples or oranges? The concept slowly broadens by asking the reader to imagine a choice being made by more people such as choosing a class pet. In the simplest of terms that kids can easily understand, the book discusses facts about voting such as sometimes not getting what you want, ways to help people vote for what you want, and how a vote can be held. Broadening more, the topic shifts to grown-ups voting for leaders of their cities, towns, or states, why that is important and how to decide who to vote for. Kid-friendly and very accessible, this is a terrific vehicle for introducing the concept. Back matter includes Five Easy Steps for Voting and information on How Our Government Works. Serge Bloch’s cartoon illustrations make the book very appealing.

Natasha Wing’s The Night Before Election Day (Grosset & Dunlap, 2020) by Natasha Wing

This cheerful book is part of an extensive series told in the tradition of Clement Moore’s Night Before Christmas poem. Each book in the series tells the story of the night before a special event or festival. Here the event is Election Day and the children in the family are reminding their parents that school will be closed the next day so people can vote. Their classes have been decorating, everyone has been getting ready for months, and now the election is here. The basics of what is an election and the voting day process are covered here. Clearly stated yet retaining a child’s perspective, one of the chief joys of the book is the well-conveyed sense of excitement and importance of an election. This will be great to use in the classroom or at home in the fall as election time draws near. Extra nice to have a family of color at the center of the story. We love the idea of helping kids to understand how important AND exciting elections should be.

Vote for Our Future! (Schwartz & Wade, 2020) by Margaret McNamara

A diverse cast of children (and teaching staff) have the day off school in order for their elementary school to transform into a polling station. The children aren’t old enough to vote, but they figure out ways to perform other civic duties in this Get Out the Vote story. Their actions leading up to election day explain voting practices like registration, making a plan for election day, voting early or by mail, and the importance of voting. A gatefold shows a large crowd of people heading to the school to cast their votes in an effort to affect change. In addition to Micah Player’s colorful and lively illustrations throughout, the endpapers include images of political buttons encouraging voting. The end matter includes a list of Acts of Congress that improved life in the United States starting with the 1792 Postal Service Act signed into law by George Washington, and acts to protect national parks, Indian citizens, control air pollution, and protect civil rights, provide protection for Americans with disabilities, and access to affordable health care.

Grace Goes to Washington (Disney/Hyperion, 2019) by Kelly DiPucchio

The first book in this series, Grace for President (Little, Brown, 2008), explained the Electoral College as Grace tried to become the first female US president in her class’ mock election. This second book takes on the three branches of government as Grace’s student council struggles with deciding how to spend their fundraiser profits to best benefit their school. Everyone has a special interest (sports equipment, library books, or musical instruments). We all know how many adults in charge deal with these issues, but perhaps the kids can teach us something? Illustrated by the talented LeUyen Pham and including a field trip to Washington, D.C., an author’s note explaining the branches further, and a list of ideas for becoming an involved citizen, this book has a lot to offer an elementary classroom.

The Next President (Chronicle, 2020) by Kate Messner

And, while we wait to learn who our next president will be, take a stroll through presidential history with Kate Messner and Adam Rex. At any one time, we have approximately ten people alive who will become one of our next presidents, some who are still children and have no idea it will be them one day. Starting with George Washington, there were nine future presidents in the wing. In 1961 there were ten also, four of them just children (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, newly born Barack Obama, and teenager Donald Trump). The following page has stirred some controversy, but careful readers will understand that Kennedy and Obama, and on another wall in the illustration, Hillary Clinton, are representing this text:

“The truth is America’s earliest presidents weren’t all that different from one another. Most were wealthy, white, Protestant men who might have been surprised if they’d been around to see a Catholic or an African American man elected president…or a woman nominated by a major party for the highest office in the land.”

An empty frame labeled “46” awaits the “next” president either this November or another four years from now. Adam Rex’s illustrations are magnificent and complement the interesting details and timelines that Messner researched and threaded together about what each president was doing earlier in their life before becoming America’s Commander in Chief. It’s an inspiring collection for children who wonder what their futures might hold.

A Bounty of Board Books

Lynn and Cindy:

We are in awe of the creativity at work in creating books for young people. That creative spirit begins with books for our very youngest readers too. We’ve been sent some terrific board books lately that are an absolute delight to share with babies and toddlers. Sturdily constructed to withstand tough treatment, these wonderful books are cleverly designed, smartly age-appropriate, and highly entertaining. In short – a perfect recipe for enticing the earliest readers among us. Here is a round-up of a few that have arrived at our doorsteps lately.

A to Z Menagerie by Suzy Ultman (Chronicle, 2019)

Little fingers will delight in tracing the die-cut alphabet letter on each page and then pull a tab to replace the center of the letter with a colorful illustration of an item that begins with that letter. O reveals a round owl face inside the O and is identified with a full body picture and the word “owl” on the pull-out page reveal. Scattered around the featured letter are a variety of colorful line drawings featuring familiar and more original vocabulary items. O includes onion, overalls, octopus, opal, oboe, orca, and an ocelot in an oxford shirt.

AlphaBit: An ABC Quest in 8-bit by Juan Carlos Solon (Chronicle, 2019)

The next generation of gamers may get their start with this seek-and-find alphabet board book with a quest, illustrated in the pixilated 8-bit style of the 80s and 90s video games, or the more recent Minecraft. Each page features a capital letter and four or five items to find in the scene that moves the adventure along. Level up!

Animals in the Sky by Sara Gillingham (Phaidon, 2020)

Whether or not the board book set will be able to find the constellations in the night sky, they will enjoy looking at this introduction to six of the constellations that are identified as animal shapes. Each constellation is presented first as a riddle with the constellation outline. A gatefold opens to identify the animal that answers the riddle. The constellation is superimposed over a drawing of the animal. Another drawing identifies major stars or other shapes within the featured animal. Ten additional animal constellations are included on the final fold-out pages for the overachievers, along with the suggestion for adults to consult a star smartphone app if needed.

First 100 Words: English & Spanish by Susie Jaramillo (Encantos, 2020)

We are past our Nick Jr. television days, but parents of young children will undoubtedly be familiar with the Canticos bilingual sing-along programs. This book is the first in the Canticos Bilingual Firsts board book series to supplement the brand. Thematic double-page spreads introduce vocabulary such as Frog/Rana, Tree/Árbol, Butterfly/Mariposa on the Nature/Naturaleza pages. School, Transportation, Sports, Music, Beach and other themes continue the bilingual vocabulary building with the familiar Canticos characters appearing on the pages too. Colors, opposites, numbers, shapes, feelings, and letters round out the rest of the concepts in the new series.

Make Me a Monster by Mark Rogalski (Chronicle, 2020)

This board book is an immediate eye-catcher as it features a monster face and a circular opening lined with teeth as its cover. Flip the cover upwards and each simple page directs readers to fold out monster attributes like bulging eyes, horns, or a green twisty tale. By the book’s end, readers will have created their very own monster.

My Evil Big Brother Packed My Lunch by Laura Watson (Chronicle, 2020)

Here is a board book “packed” with jokes guaranteed to make young readers groan with delighted horror. Open the lunch box-shaped book to learn that the narrator’s brother has volunteered to pack lunches for the week. On each lower page, see what the boy has requested for lunch. Flip up the fold and discover what was ACTUALLY packed that day. A ham sandwich, carrots, and a cupcake turns out to be a frosting sandwich, a ham cupcake, and carrots with mustard! Funny notes from the brother and disgusting combinations will bring kids back to this fun book again and again.

Our World: A First Book of Geography by Sue Lowell’s  Gallion (Phaidon, 2020)

This uniquely shaped board book opens up to create a 3-D globe that will stand. Simply rhyming text on the left side of the spread is supplemented on the right by more detailed information about the biomes, climate, continents, and our planet. This might be the only globe this generation gets their hands on!

Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots: a Fun Information Literacy Primer for Children

Lynn: You’d have to live in a cave in the wilderness not to know that far too many Americans have a very sketchy concept of what a fact actually is or how to verify it. The need to understand this important issue is one of national importance these days as it is clear that millions of adults don’t grasp the difference and the impact on our culture is stark. Here, with a great way to start addressing the issue, is Michael Rex with a fabulous picture book, Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2020). With brightly colored cartoon-style robots, Rex’s appealing book takes on this topic with our youngest readers. The question is posed on the very first page.

“Do you know the difference between a fact and an opinion?

It can be a hard thing to understand. Even these robots get confused.

But maybe if we work together, we can figure it out.”

Taking it step by step, the robots define the two concepts and then provide simple examples to practice. The examples are engaging and child-centered with plenty of humor. The robots are goofy but Rex does a wonderful job of presenting the information in a clear, understandable, and appealing way. Kids are going to WANT to read this book all the way through thanks to the level of humor but more importantly, they are going to grasp and remember this idea. The story also includes the concept of needing to search for more information sometimes and also reminds readers that while we need to respect other people’s opinions, we can’t argue with facts.

If I could, I’d buy this book for every classroom and library in America!

Cindy: What a great way to introduce an important skill in information literacy. Elementary librarians, take note! What if you read this book aloud and then had your students write a declarative sentence and have them present it for the other students to respond with Fact or Opinion? This could work in a virtual class meeting as well. Students could make a 2-sided notecard with the FACT on one side and OPINION on the other and hold them up to their cameras. Lots of ways to use this in an elementary classroom as well.

This book for the very young audience brings to mind a book for older students that we reviewed over at Booklist Reader during the last presidential election cycle and it’s worth mentioning again as the facts, opinions, and faulty logic arguments ratchet up. Read our blog post about Bad Arguments: Learning the Lost Art of Making Sense (The Experiment, 2014) by Ali Almossawi if you missed it the first time around. It’s a good time to separate facts from opinions and to do it without faulty logic.