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Nutcracker Mice

Written by Kristin Kladstrup
Illustrated by Brett Helquist

It may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas stories, but this charming addition to Nutcracker lore is well worth a look. It may be time to start learning about the ballet in preparation.

This version revolves around two young females – a girl named Irina whose parents work at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg and a dancing mouse named Esmeralda – at the time of the first performance of the Nutcracker Suite.  Irina and Esmeralda become unlikely allies when the theater tries to rid the theater of the mouse population. Irina loves mice and Esmeralda loves the doll clothes/ballet costumes Irina sews. The mouse ballet company uses a space behind the walls as a theater of their own and use the music provided by the theater’s orchestra. They change the story to Clara and the Mouse King so the mice can win and to add some romance.

The illustrations are fun, creative, and detailed, adding much to the story.

The reader can learn a lot about the music and story behind the Nutcracker, a lot about ballet, and a little about Russia as well.

The mouse characters seem almost real, so the fantasy is nearly forgotten. This would be a great read-along chapter-by-chapter for a younger child or a fun story for older children to tackle.

  • Nutcracker MiceTitle: Nutcracker Mice
  • Author: Kristin Kladstrup
  • Illustrator: Brett Helquist
  • Published: Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Fantasy, Ballet, Classical Music
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8519-5
  • Extras: Nutcracker Suite Scenario, Clara and the Mouse King Scenario

Lucky Enough

Written by Fred Bowen

In this installment of the Fred Bowen Sports Story Series, the reader gets a feel for how superstitions and lucky charms play a role in the wide world of baseball.

Trey Thompson is a good, but not great, player who wants to up his game and play for a traveling team. He manages to dazzle enough in the tryouts to make the team. But he relies heavily on ritual – a lucky charm in his pocket, a favorite bat, touching the four corners of home plate with his bat before he bats, and not stepping on the baseline – and pays little attention to actually improving his game. It’s not until he loses the charm that he starts to realize that hard work might also yield some results.

Much of the story revolves around Trey’s connection to his grandmother. Even that relationship changes when Trey realizes she worked hard for what she achieved. In this way, the reader learns in a fun way that talent needs to be developed. The best achievements are those we work hard for. Bowen delivers a life lesson without preaching and while telling a good story.

  • Lucky EnoughTitle: Lucky Enough
  • Author: Fred Bowen
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, 2018
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Hardcover, 144 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Sports, Family
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-957-5
  • Extras: The Real Story: Baseball Superstitions and references

Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales

Written by Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Disney, Hollywood, and others sometimes miss the fact that beneath the silliness and hype is often a very good story. This wonderful new book tells those stories again and attempts to get back to something of the original flavor.

Seven tales, most of them familiar to the reader, at least in some form, take place in a world of the author’s imagination. Included are Snow White, The Frog Prince, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and three tales of lesser renown. Each tale has in common a frozen forest where many things happen. The first lesser known tale is about three wishes granted to a starving woodcutter and his family. Of course he uses the wishes foolishly, but it comes out all right in the end. The second tale is about a generous girl who ends up with a reward of pearls and a stingy girl who gets only toads. The last lesser known tale is about a man who loves a foolish girl. Before he can marry her, he must convince himself that there are even more foolish people in the world.

Delightful watercolor and ink illustrations introduce each tale and set the stage for how the tales unfold.

This would be an interesting resource for classrooms, where teachers could use the tales as read alouds or to help students hone their own storytelling skills. Or in a home to use for together time and bedtime.

  • Brave Red Smart FrogTitle: Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales
  • Author: Emily Jenkins
  • Illustrator: Rohan Daniel Eason
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska                                                     
  • Format: Hardcover, 104 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Fiction, Folk tales
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6558-6

Books! Books! Books! Exploring the Amazing Collection of the British Library

Written by Mick Manning & Brita Granström

This is more a celebration of the all things written than anything else. In highlighting so many of the British Library’s most prized possessions, the author also highlights the fact that so much of the world’s knowledge is currently passed along on paper. Preservation of that paper preserves our connection with that knowledge.

The oldest book in the collection is the St. Cuthbert Gospel, a book found in the coffin of the seventh century saint. Another old book is from the thirteenth century – the Lindisfarne Gospel, a book hand-lettered and painted by a monk. In addition to old and rare books, the collection includes an amazing variety of written material. From Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks to original music to newspapers. From atlases to cookbooks to medical books. From Jane Austen to Arthur Conan Doyle to Charles Darwin.  

The authors make every bit of the collection sound exciting. Hopefully, the excitement will carry over to other books for the reader to explore. Exploring the stories behind the works in the library is a good beginning.

  • Books Books BooksTitle: Books! Books! Books! Exploring the Amazing Collection of the British Library
  • Author: Mick Manning & Brita Granström
  • Published: Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 48 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Books
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-9757-0
  • Extras: More about the Works and the Authors, Glossary

Dangerous Jane

Written by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Alice Ratterree

In this time of great social upheaval, it’s more important than ever to ask “What can I do?” Not everyone can do all the things Jane Addams did, but everyone can take inspiration from her example and do as much as possible.

In this heartfelt and significant biography, Slade shows the life of the social warrior. Jane was born into relative wealth, but that did not mean she had an easy life. Her mother died when Jane was two. Jane suffered from spinal tuberculosis, which left her spine deformed. She felt isolated, which added to her ability to empathize with all the immigrants in Chicago. She traveled the world but never forgot her commitment to the underprivileged. She raised money and bought a building near the immigrant populations of Chicago. She renovated Hull House and welcomed families, taught them English, and provided education. Hull House continued to grow to many buildings. Sad and appalled at the start of World War I, she helped form the Women’s Peach Party from the International Congress of Women. Her peace-driven activities earned her the label “dangerous” from the people who wanted to win the war. But she never stopped. She knew that people with differences needed to learn to listen to each other. In 1931, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first female American to receive this honor.

Gorgeous watercolor illustrations give the feel of Jane’s world and her activities over the years.

It’s imperative kids be given the opportunity to follow Jane’s example.

  • Dangerous JaneTitle: Dangerous Jane
  • Author: Suzanne Slade
  • Illustrator: Alice Ratterree
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: PreK to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, History, Social Justice
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-913-1
  • Extras: More About Dangerous Jane, Timeline

Charlie Bumpers vs. His Big Blabby Mouth

Written by Bill Harley
Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

Charlie is doing his best to get through fourth grade without any major embarrassments, but that’s easier said than done. Everyone is looking forward to career week and wondering if the parents doing presentations will bring them things – like the parent who’s a baker bringing in cookies. Charlie never asked his parents to present because they have boring jobs. When someone suggests Charlie’s dad is a math genius, the tale of Charlie’s dad quickly turns into super-math prowess. By the time everyone knows his dad might come, he has a private jet and will give new calculators to everyone in the school. Charlie is unable to quash the rumors, and he still hasn’t asked his dad. Meanwhile, he’s managed to become the class messenger (aka, Master Messenger), but he can’t resist running in the hallways. Naturally, that creates another disaster (aka, a disastrophe). Then his dad loses his job. How can any of this turn out okay?

Lively black and white ink drawings accompany many pages and help the reader know the characters.

This and the other books in this series are great for kids to learn that they are not alone in their feelings as they navigate all the coming of age issues. Everything that seems important at the time will likely seem silly in the end.

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  • Charlie BumpersTitle: Charlie Bumpers vs. His Big Blabby Mouth
  • Author: Bill Harley
  • Illustrator: Adam Gustavson
  • Published: Peachtree Publishers, September 1, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 184 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Fiction, Chapter book
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-940-7

Long- Armed Ludy and the First Women’s Olympics

Written by Jean L.S. Patrick
Illustrated by Adam Gustovson

            Hey, Olympics, here I come! These might have been the thoughts of a tall, skinny, long-armed college girl in 1922. But only after her school and classmates raised enough money for her to travel to the First Women’s Olympics in Paris, France.

           Lucile Godbold was taller than a girl was supposed to be with long arms and a skinny body. This story starts out wondering how she got so tall. Exactly as a young child would wonder. Did her brothers pull on her arms and legs to stretch her out?

            Exquisite humor is sprinkled throughout this stunningly accurate biography. Even the numbers on all the contestants’ shirts are accurate! Teachers, librarians and parents reading aloud will chuckle and grin while explaining nuances to the younger set.

            The vivacious voice and authentic articulation brings the story to life, as well as the realistic gauche illustrations. Teachers and parents can use the illustrations to compare past with current uniforms, sports, transportation, and women’s inclusion in sports.

            If you can only afford one new nonfiction picture book this year, make sure it is this one.

  • Long-Armed LudyTitle:  Long- Armed Ludy
  • Author:  Jean L.S. Patrick
  • Illustrator:  Adam Gustovson
  • Publisher:  Charlesbridge, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-15809560
  • Genre: Nonfiction picture book
  • Grade level: 1 to 4
  • Extras: Back matter on the First Women’s Olympics as well as on Lucile Godbold.

Old Turtle: Questions of the Heart

Written by Douglas Wood
Illustrated by Greg Ruth

Twenty-five years after the first, and well- loved, Old Turtle, book comes this stunningly beautiful fable enriched by glorious watercolors. Words are few but dynamic as a group like a multi-generational family seeks answers to age old questions by first finding, Old Turtle.

Lyrical, rhythmic language draws the reader along the journey and into the expressive illustrations. Text is present without ever interrupting the fluid action of the drawings. Both words and pictures will be visited over and over answering the call to, “read it again, read it again.”

The entire book is a celebration of life and all it offers. Life’s meaning, its struggles and joys, its purpose and conclusion are each dealt with simply and directly.  Parents and teachers will appreciate using this book to answer hard questions and librarians will have trouble keeping it on the shelves, better order two.

However, the amazing conclusion contains both the challenge and hope of the future in an attainable goal. The most important question of all is the question asked of each dawn. “Who are you, and how will you live this day?”

Even the grown-ups will want to read it again and again.

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  • Old TurtleTitle:  Old Turtle: Questions of the Heart
  • Author:  Douglas Wood
  • Illustrator:  Greg Ruth
  • Publisher:  Scholastic Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 56 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-439-32111-2
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 3

Izzy Kline Has Butterflies

Written by Beth Ain

Follow a self-determined fourth grader as she deals with all the trials and tribulations of an entire school year – a year in which she learns a lot, but not always in class.

Much of the story centers around the production of the play Free to Be .. You and Me. The class and Izzy spend a lot of time talking about the play, thinking about the play, and rehearsing for the play. Izzy claims not to really have any friends, so she helps form a friendless group, which she quickly on the outs with. One of those girls – Lilly with two l’s – ends up with the starring role in the play. Meanwhile, Izzy does form a relationship with another girl, Quinn, not realizing at first that this IS her friend.

Though Izzy is a bit of a drama queen, she does have a lot of real issues to deal with, including an absent father and a friend battling cancer. She also learns a lot about teachers being human beings (her teacher gets married plus she loves a super substitute), about divorced dad moving on with their lives, about dealing with an older sibling, and about how FOUR ANNOYING BOYS might not be so annoying as individuals.

Ain captures the voice perfectly. The verse style works well for a talkative fourth grader and should draw in even reluctant readers. Recommended for both girls and boys.

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  • Izzy KlineTitle: Izzy Kline Has Butterflies
  • Author: Beth Ain
  • Published: Random House Children’s Books, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Novel in verse
  • ISBN: 978-0-399-55080-5

Leo, Dog of the Sea (1519-1521) Dog Chronicles Series

Written by Alison Hart
Illustrated by Michael G. Montgomery

Sailing the high seas with Magellan at the helm sounds exciting and eventful. And it is, but also hard, scary and very challenging. Leo, the ratter dog, tells this exciting tale while trying to stay alive and aboard himself. The captain’s mate doesn’t like Leo or the stowaway boy so they forge a friendship to look out for each other on board ship as well as on tropical islands.

Storms, threatened mutiny, and severe illness plagues the trip but Magellan is determined to find a passageway between the two great oceans of the world. History is truthfully represented in this well researched story made accessible to grade two readers and those all the way into middle school. Grade five readers will enjoy it just as much while tying it to their study of the changing geography of the world.

All the characters are well developed and the setting described enough for the young reader to see it all and wish the book had more chapters. The illustrations are clear in their black and white format adding to the realism of wet, dreary, scary events. But even so, there is also some humor sprinkled in.

This addition to the Dog Chronicles Series will delight readers and allow teachers and librarians to explain viewpoints don’t only belong to people. Parents can use the book to entice children who might not otherwise be interested in a historical book, but could be drawn in by a compelling dog story.         

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  • Leao, Dog of the SeaTitle:  Leo, Dog of the Sea (1519-1521)   Dog Chronicles Series
  • Author:  Alison Hart
  • Illustrator:  Michael G. Montgomery
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 175 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-964-3
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Grade level: 2 to 5
  • Extras: Bibliography, Further Reading, Diagram of the ship of the day, Map of the Journey, author’s note and an in-depth chapter on the history behind the story.
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