Celebrating Pluto in Out-of-This World Picture Books

Lynn: Who doesn’t love an underdog or in this case an underplanet? Lots of us have been rooting for Pluto ever since it got reclassified as an ice dwarf a while ago. Adam Rex tops my planetary chart though with his hilarious AND informative new picture book on Pluto, Pluto Gets the Call (S&S/Beach Lane, 2019). Cindy and I were lucky enough to get to see illustrator Laurie Keller’s artwork for the book at a preview luncheon at ALA and we fell in love with the book way back then. The finished copy is now out and the wait has been worth it!

Pluto is all set to take us on a tour of the solar system when he gets a call. Yes, THE call from scientists on Earth with the distressing news that our googly-eyed tour guide has been demoted. Sadly but gamely, Pluto goes on with the tour, introducing us to the “real” planets and providing solid information on each one along the way. Skipping Earth because he “doesn’t want to talk about humans right now,” Pluto finally makes it to the Sun who cheers him up and reminds him that scientists are still arguing about him. Solar System facts are incorporated throughout the story in a way that kids will delight in and remember. A two-page spread as back matter also provides a wealth of additional information from the number of moons each planet has, the distance from the sun and what the planets were named after and more. Adam Rex’s bubble-speech dialog is snappy and packed with great one-liners kids will love. Laurie Keller’s terrific comic-style illustrations are colorful and funny and a perfect extension of Rex’s text.

This is a must-have addition to collections everywhere needing updated information on Pluto and the Solar System! This one is truly out-of-this-world.

 

Cindy: Pair Rex and Keller’s book with The Girl Who Named Pluto: The story of Venetia Burney (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) for a little history about Pluto. Author Alice B. McGinty tells the story of Venetia, a young British girl, who was fascinated when she learned in 1930 that a new planet had been discovered. The granddaughter of the Oxford head librarian and great-niece of a science master who named the two moons that orbit Mars, she came by her curiosity and love of science quite naturally. The book opens with a classroom walking/measuring demonstration of the distance between planets that many elementary teachers still use today. When Venetia learned about the new planet from her grandfather, she thought of how “frozen, dark, and lifeless” Pluto must be and she was reminded of the Roman myth underworld, ruled by Neptune’s brother, Pluto. Her grandfather likes the name and writes a letter to put it forward as a suggestion. Elizabeth Haidle’s illustrations provide the right atmosphere and an author’s note provides more history about Venetia, including a great connection to a recent student-built instrument aboard the New Horizons robotic spacecraft that has several connections to the young girl who named the Pluto.

Too Good to Miss: Middle Grade Roundup

Cindy and Lynn: You’ve heard the saying, “So many books, so little time.” Well, we have a stack of books that we HAVE read this year but just haven’t gotten around to blogging. The year is wrapping up soon and we are eager to move on to 2020 titles, but first, some middle grade and middle school favorites.

The Absence of Sparrows, by Kurt Kirchmeier (Little, Brown, 2019)

Perhaps the oddest book you will read all year—part family story, part magical realism. Ben’s observations of birds quickly veer into watching the people in his town turn to glass statues as a strange cloud passes through. The phenomenon is happening worldwide, but there is a voice on the radio urging group action to turn things around. Debut novelist, Kirchmeier is an author to watch as closely as you might observe the sparrows.

All the Greys on Greene Street, by Laura Tucker (Viking, 2019)

A debut book that hits the mark in all categories. There is lyrical descriptive writing here that takes readers into a first-hand experience of being an artist and seeing the world through a young artist’s eyes. 1981 Soho is the setting for this story of 12-year-old Olympia who’s art restorer father has suddenly left. Ollie’s sculptor mother has gone to bed and can’t or won’t get up. Ollie tries to hide the situation from her friends, figure out the mystery of where and why her father has gone. And what about those mysterious threatening phone calls coming to the apartment? A poignant story dealing with issues of depression, family, friendship, and the importance of art and creativity.    

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2019)

Patricia McCormick wrote the powerful book Sold, set on the streets of Calcutta. Padma Venkatraman has written the book about homeless children on the streets of India that I have wanted to share with my younger students who aren’t ready for McCormick’s. Adults are often not kind to children and family is often something you find, not what you are born into. This novel full of sadness and hope should be in all elementary and middle school library collections.

The Door at the End of the World, by Caroline Carlson (Harper, 2019)

Deputy Gatekeeper Lucy Ebersley enjoys her work, helping process the many travelers who go through the gate to the next worlds even though she has never once gone through the gate herself. But when the Gatekeeper disappears, a mysterious boy falls through the gate and the door refuses to open, Lucy has to put down her rubber stamp and begin a wild adventure that will change everything. This delightful fantasy is filled with clever humor, fantastic world-building, and a cheerfully chaotic plotting that reminds me strongly of the great Diana Wynne Jones.

Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle (Norton, 2019)

The only nonfiction on this list, Free Lunch is a memoir of Ogle’s middle school struggles as a poor and hungry young man living a tough life made harder by the humiliation heaped on him at school. We were grateful to see this on the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction shortlist as the experiences and Ogle’s moving storytelling span many age groups.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker (Holt, 2019)

A group of young fox kits demands their mother tell them a story “so scary our eyes will fall out of our heads.” Her story offerings disappoint, deemed “kits’ stuff,” so they sneak out to Bog Cavern to hear the old storyteller share some truly scary stories. On this premise, a series of frightful tales are spun, featuring two young foxes who face many perils. One of the dangers is capture by the creepiest rendering of Beatrix Potter you are ever likely to see!

 

Owling: Whoooo Needs This Book? You Do!

Cindy: “You might not realize it, but you need to see an owl.” That’s the opening line of Owling (Storey, 2019) and you not only need to see an owl, but you need to see this book. Starting with a glow-in-the-dark cover, this large square book holds a wealth of fascinating details and gorgeous photographs of the 19 owls species that breed and nest in the United States and Canada. Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? How do an owl’s uneven ears help him pinpoint prey? These and other questions are answered in engaging text. Most welcome is the author Mark Wilson’s challenge to common owl “facts” not documented by research studies and his admission when his long study of owls leaves him without sure answers. Research never ends and we rarely have all the answers. 2-4 page spreads feature a specific owl species with a selection of photos, range maps, feather detail, size, behavior, voice, nesting behavior, menu, or other interesting features. The section on Poop and Pellets is sure to be a hit with the target audience, particularly if they’ve ever dissected an owl pellet to learn about an owl’s diet. The section on how to spot an owl has helpful tips that may produce success for young (and old) birders. Lynn heard about this book and then I received a review copy and have been reluctant to hand it over, but we can’t wait any longer to hoot about its publication. Owling is a perfect identification guide for a young birder, but it is so much more, and it has a place in elementary and middle school libraries and elementary science classrooms. Whooooo needs this book? You do!

Lynn: I really appreciate how this outstanding book is organized, the wonderfully researched information presented, and how much is packed into the book. But I need to mention the sheer audience appeal of the production. Talk about a kid magnet! Put this gorgeous book on display and watch it instantly fly off the shelf. Mark Wilson’s photographs almost steal the show. Every single page has a gallery of jaw-dropping pictures that beg to be studied. The images range from small collections illustrating a particular point to full-page photographs that are works of art. The painted illustrations by Jada Fitch are amazing, too.

I learned so much! The small sections showing what each of the various owls eats, “On the Menu,” was interesting and surprising. As a life-long birder, I really valued the identification information, especially tips on what each variety might be mistaken for and how to avoid that. Also as a birder, I loved the section of how to FIND owls in nature with its additional caution of how to also respect and treat them if you do find them or their roosts. Finally, also in the concluding sections, there is information on some of the current and on-going research projects on owls. The back matter includes a glossary and an extensive list of where to find Owls in Captivity by state so that readers can follow Wilson’s advice and become familiar with the appearance of the various owls.

Finally, I am on a mission to find my slides that were taken in the back yard of our first Holland house that sat in an old deeply forested woods. We had nesting Great Horned Owls there and summer after summer, a pair of adults parked their fledged but still dependent owlets on our deck during the day, I’m guessing while they went to hunt. The owlets were almost as big as the adults and absolutely delightful to watch. The squirrels seemed to know how clumsy the owl babies were and teased them by running just out of their reach on the railing underneath them.

Here is my picture of an Eastern Screech Owl but since I am no Mark Wilson, I urge you to find this book and see some REALLY terrific pictures!

Dogs with Jobs – New Beginning Reader Series

Lynn and Cindy: Want to lure young readers into practicing their skills? You can’t go wrong with a new series, Doggie Defenders, from National Geographic! Just out in August are four wonderful nonfiction books about dogs with jobs. Well designed to assist newly independent readers, these totally engaging books feature big simple text, the signature stellar National Geographic photographs that assist comprehension and are guaranteed to be high interest. Grab these four right away and make sure you watch for more to come.

Stella the Search Dog, by Lisa Gerry.

Stella, a bloodhound with a big doggy grin, works with her partner, Trooper Diaz for the Virginia State Police. In this volume of Doggy Defenders, readers learn about Stella and her skillful nose, and her training. When a hiker gets lost in the mountains, Stella goes to work, even riding in a helicopter to where she picks up the trail.

Willow the Therapy Dog, by Lisa Gerry

Meet Willow, a rescued greyhound, who is a specially trained therapy dog. Willow and her owner spend their days visiting patients in the hospital, veterans homes, schools, and libraries. Sweet pictures of Willow curled up trustingly on beds with sick patients will melt hearts. But don’t miss the picture of Willow, decked out in her plaid pajamas, ready for bed at the end of a day.

Tiger the Police Dog, by Lisa Gerry

Tiger is a Belgian Malinois who works in Washington, D.C. with a female police officer partner. Tiger even has his own badge! Check out the “Meet the Team” Q&A and the Safety Tips in the back of each book, too!

Dolley the Fire Dog, by Lisa Gerry

Labrador Retrievers are a favorite breed of many, but this one, Dolley, partners with a fire department captain. Dolley’s job is to sniff out the cause of a fire. She “can smell a drop of fire-starting liquid that is smaller than a coin.” She and the captain train with a special version of hide and seek…and there are kibble rewards! Dolley also teaches children how to stop, drop, and roll!

Visit the National Geographic Kids website to find slide shows and short book trailers for each book like the ones here.

New Picture Books about Birds Take Flight

Cindy and Lynn: We love the fun coincidences that enliven our days as reviewers! Ever since Lynn infected Cindy with her birding obsession this spring, everywhere we turn we find gorgeous new picture books about birds! Here is a round-up of this flock of wonderful books taking flight. All of them will make lovely additions sitting next to your Stokes and Sibley guidebooks to help encourage the next generation of birders.

Birds of Every Color, by Sneed B. Collard III (Bucking Horse, 2019)

An excellent explanation of the science behind bird coloration and the current theories on the whys behind all that beauty. Full page stunning color photographs on every page make this a real stand-out. Perfect for young readers, the writing is clear and simple yet includes scientific terms in an approachable way. Renown science author Collard and his teenage son took the breath-taking photographs and the outstanding book design and enticing cover make this simply irresistible.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends, by Heidi E.Y. Stemple (Seagrass, 2019)

Stemple introduces the little known ornithologist Frank Chapman and his development of the Christmas Day Bird Count. She also talks about that count, how it works, why it is so important and how kids can be involved.

Conversational in tone but with a wonderfully conveyed enthusiasm for birds and bird conservation, this book is perfect to use with kids in a classroom or storytime to introduce birding and spark interest in understanding and supporting conservation. Practical ideas and examples of how kids can be involved in the count are especially important as Stemple assures kids they can participate at their own bird feeders for a specific (and short) amount of time that is very practical. Cover Robin’s collage illustrations are as gorgeous as they are inviting. Back matter includes additional information about Chapman, how kids can be involved in Count Day and in helping to save birds.


Birds of a Feather: Bowerbirds and Me
, by Susan B. Roth (Holiday House/Neil Porter, 2019)

Roth focusses on a single species, the Bowerbird from Australia and New Guinea. She and the bird have a lot in common as they are both collage artists. The Bowerbird builds structures from a variety of materials and decorates it with bits of color and other found items to attract a mate. Roth uses a variety of colorful materials to build her attractive art to tell a story. The double-page spreads showing their similar work habits, materials, and resulting efforts are genius and make for an interesting way for children to understand both human and bird artists.

Hummingbird, by Nicola Davies (Candlewick, 2019)

Davies also takes on a single species while explaining bird migration. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are visiting my nectar feeders and flowers while they get ready for their long flight back to Mexico, Central America and the southern part of Florida to spend their winters. Even adults are amazed by the endurance of these tiny birds so children are sure to be enchanted with this book. It’s the story of a young girl who learns about the migration from her Granny and from her own observations after flying on an airplane to New York City where she sees her favorite bird during the summer. Hummingbird migration and breeding facts are included to supplement the story, beautifully illustrated by Jane Ray.

Adorable New Pet Guides from National Geographic

Lynn: Some of the most popular nonfiction books in our middle school libraries over the years have been pet books and especially books about the different breeds of dogs and cats. So it is always exciting to see new ones come out. National Geographic is publishing two in September that are going to make youth librarians and their pet-crazy patrons very happy!

First up is Cat Breed Guide: A Complete Reference to Your Purr-fect Best Friend  (National Geographic, Sept. 2019). The book begins with a chapter titled, “What Is a Cat?” that discusses the history of domesticity, family tree, anatomy, and terms for coat and configuration and an explanation of breeds. Next, is the main focus of the book: two page spreads defining and depicting the many breeds of cats. Each explanation provides information about the individual breed and their characteristics. And, of course, each example features outstanding full color, full-page photographs of each breed as well as other smaller photos and an insert called “Cat Stats.”

Anyone who likes cats or who just loves terrific animal photographs is going to be mesmerized. The information and vocabulary are geared to a young audience but use appropriate terms and still respect the knowledge of the reader.

Our family has had many cats and dogs over the years and the cats have all been strays or shelter cats but this book makes me want to add some of these gorgeous breeds to the family! A final chapter provides excellent information on owning a cat, how to care for them, and what to consider before you add one of these furry personalities to your life!

Cindy: The, ahem, “companion” book, Dog Breed Guide: A Complete Reference to Your Best Friend Fur-Ever by T. J. Resler and Gary Weitzman, D.V.M. features a similar format. The breeds are arranged in categories like Primitive Dogs, Herding, Scent Hounds, Designer Dogs, and others. Inserted between those categories are double-page spreads about varied topics such as “On The Job,” which features police and military K-9s, Detection Dogs, Search-and-Rescue Dogs, and Therapy and Service Dogs. There’s a great flowchart for how to select the right dog for you, including the suggestion to not select a dog at all if it doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Other backmatter similar to the cat guide is helpful, but truly, you need this book in your library or pet-loving home just for its great dog photographs and browsing fun. In fact, libraries should probably buy multiple copies of both of these titles…they’ll be that popular. Promise.

 

Hello, I’m Here!: A Sandhill Crane Family

Cindy: Author Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder have teamed up again to create another gorgeous and informative nature book, this time about a Sandhill Crane family. Hello, I’m Here! (2019) is told in Frost’s rhyming verse from the view of the chick, starting with his imminent hatching:

It’s getting crowded
inside this egg.
I can’t flap a wing
or stretch out a leg.

The young chick has much to learn before it becomes a colt but mama and papa and a sibling are there to help in the journey. Habitat, food, and dangers like the threat of snapping turtles are presented in the verse and Lieder’s intimate photography.  The journey of the crane chick mirrors the growth and learning of a young child with all of its new adventures and challenges making this a great choice to read aloud in large groups, or within the comforting nest of a caregiver’s lap. Sandhill Cranes are frequent fliers over the bayou behind my house. Listening to their prehistoric sounding call as the mist rises from the water in the early hours is a favorite treat, while a friend down the way usually has a nesting pair in her yard each spring. Frost and Lieder provide an even closer look for those of us who aren’t so lucky to see them in the wild.

Lynn: Frost’s first-person text uses simple vocabulary that is immediate and engaging and yet manages to pack in all sorts of interesting information about cranes including what they eat and what poses a danger to the chicks. A full page of additional information is provided in the back matter as well.

Rick Lieder’s remarkable photographs give young children an on-the-nest look at this enchanting family. Close-up views of the chicks fill the pages, making this one a joy to use with a group or as a lap book. Few children, or adults for that matter, have ever seen a nesting crane family and Lieder’s skill and patience provide this gift to everyone. Be prepared for demands for multiple readings!

On a personal note, Cindy and I belong to the Michigan Bird Watching group on Facebook where other gifted photographers have been posting pictures of a Sandhill Crane family at the Kensington Metro Park that includes an adopted Canada Goose gosling that is being lovingly raised along with their own chick. Here is what some are calling the “Abbey Road” photo of the family, by photographer, Jocelyn Anderson. She has more looks at this incredible family on her website. Thank you, Jocelyn, for allowing us to share your photo with our readers. Heart melting!

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Anderson Photography, all rights reserved.