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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.

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot

Written by Matthew Clark Smith
Illustrated by Matt Tavares

So many people make significant contributions to society, enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame, and then are forgotten. Sophie Blanchard is one such person.

Born in eighteenth century, when women were discouraged from doing much besides keeping a house and raising children, Sophie was fascinated by the advances being made in hot air and hydrogen ballooning. She was so fascinated that she pursued a friendship with Jean-Pierre Blanchard, one of the first men to cross the English Channel by balloon. They met an air show and quickly became more than friends. Sophie rode in her new husband’s balloon a couple of times before deciding to ascend on her own, becoming the very first female pilot in 1805. Jean-Pierre died in 1808, but Sophie continued to conduct air shows and even set off fireworks from the heights.

Smith makes this story as exciting as it can be for kids. In the process, he imparts many historical facts and inspires kids to pursue their own dreams.

Tavares gives kids the feeling of being there – from Sophie’s seaside childhood to her appearance at Napoleon’s court. From dark clouds when Sophie mourns to bright sunshine when she becomes a pilot.

Recommended for aspiring pilots and all independent kids.

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  • Lighter than AirTitle: Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot
  • Author: Matthew Clark Smith
  • Illustrator: Matt Tavares
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Picture book, Nonfiction, History, Aviation
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7732-9
  • Extras: Author’s Note with added history, Illustrator’s Note, Selected Bibliography

Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Written by Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Brian Floca

            Saved by a crocodile? Yes, in this lively tale of an overworked, bored princess it is possible to be saved by a crocodile.

            Cora is bored with her lessons and very lonely. All she wants is a dog. She writes a letter to her fairy godmother, tears it up and throws it out the window. But the pieces sprout wings and fly away. The next morning, a box is at the end of Cora’s bed. Her crocodile has arrived.

            The crocodile dresses up like the princess, in her pink frilly dress, to take her place. Cora gets a day off. It is a touching story full of great illustrations and huge laughs. Librarians and teachers can use it for read aloud time or parents for bedtime reading with their children.

            Nanny and the king both come around to the thoughts that a dog would be much better than this crocodile who likes to bite people. Of course, he prefers cream puffs and only bites people who are not nice to Cora.

            While the crocodile was causing all sorts of trouble back at the castle, Cora learned to be brave by climbing trees, building a fort and stepping in a cow pie. By the time her parents finally asked her what was wrong, she had the courage to speak up and tell them what she needed to be happy.

            While this is not a beginning chapter book, it is an early chapter book. It has short chapters and will be greatly enjoyed by second and third grader readers who can navigate it on their own.

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  • Princess CoraTitle:  Princess Cora and the Crocodile
  • Author:  Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Illustrator:  Brian Floca
  • Publisher:  Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 80 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-4822-0
  • Genre: Fantasy Fiction
  • Grade level: K to 3

Boys Dancing: From School Gym to Theater Stage

Written by George Ancona

 Boys dancing? You bet! This title will invite more diversity to the theater stage and give boys permission to carry around a book about dance.

Constant movement comes naturally to the four boys introduced at the beginning of the book while they are out at recess. From the playground to the gym, this large collection of full-color photographs follows children from several schools as they learn dance moves from a traveling dance teacher. Later in the school year, and in the book, the children are brought together to prepare for a dance recital.

Each dance is tied to a favorite book. It is a fun look at what can be done in a school or community to introduce students to dance, music and well-loved books.   

Teachers, librarians and parents can use this book to introduce boys to the idea of dancing and bring such an activity to their own schools. As a read aloud, teachers could ask students what stories they would like to see added to such a presentation. Art teachers as well as classroom teachers can use the discussions about costumes to plan a character’s day dress up and play some music to get the class members all dancing.

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  • Title:  Boys Dancing: From School Gym to Theater Stage
  • Author:  George Ancona
  • Illustrator:  Photographs by George Ancona
  • Publisher:  Candlewick, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 48 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-8202-6
  • Genre: Picture Book
  • Grade level: K to 3

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets

Written by Kwame Alexander, et al.
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Poems are as individual as the people who write them, but great poets do tend to develop a recognizable style. To help the reader learn about some of the world’s best poets, Alexander, along with Chris Codlerley and Marjorie Wentworth, write a series of poems celebrating those styles. Each poem tells a portion of the poet’s own story.

They begin with “How to Write a Poem: celebrating Naomi Shihab Nye”


Grab a pencil

some paper


and end with “Majestic: celebrating Maya Angelou.”

Shine on, honey!

Know you

are phenomenal.

In between are “Snapshots: celebrating Nikki Giovanni”

poetry is … barbecue … cotton candy … purple skin beets from Daddy’s garden …

and “(Loving) The World and Everything in It: celebrating Mary Oliver.”

I love to stand beside

the old oak trees

beneath a symphony

of birdsong and listen

to every perfect note


Incredibly beautiful collages illustrate the feel of each poem perfectly.  From the basketball scene for Walter Dean Myers to the forest for Pablo Neruda.

This is a must have for any classroom studying poetry. Kids will want to read the original poets and try their hands at adapting the styles to their own writing.
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  • Out of WonderTitle: Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets       
  • Author: Kwame Alexander, et al.
  • Illustrator: Ekua Holmes
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 56 pages
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Genre: Poetry
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8094-7
  • Extras: About the Poets Being Celebrated — Short biographical information on each poet highlighted and era during which each lived or lives

Flowers for Sarajevo

Written by John McCutcheon
Illustrated by Kristy Caldwell

Children the world over, every single day are experiencing the destruction of their cities and lives by war. How can that be explained to the other children without causing unnecessary nightmares? Is there any possibility of teaching a positive response? Something capable of making a statement as well as offering survival?

Flowers for Sarajevo is close to a perfect beginning.  This beautiful, softly illustrated picture book relates a story based on the real bombing of one of the last bakeries in Sarajevo on May 27, 1992.  The mortar hit at ten o’clock in the morning killing twenty-two people just standing in line to buy bread. But a most amazing thing happened the next morning at ten. A door across the block opened, a man wearing a tuxedo carried a chair and a cello over to the crater. He sat, played a moving concerto, folded his chair, and walked away. Then did the same for each of the next twenty-one days.

Added to the true story is one of a flower seller and his son, allowing the story to be told from the viewpoint of a child. The child’s response is to pray for each of the broken families. He also leaves his unsold flowers at day’s end at the door of the broken bakery and the orchestra door. The story leaves many unanswered questions, does his father return? Does the bakery rebuild? But true to life, the questions remain unanswered. What the children will see is how the people support one another, how they all respond to questions without answers.

Inserted inside the back cover is a CD with an original folk song by the author about the event, as well as a beautiful rendition of the concerto played by the cello. Teachers, librarians and parents will appreciate the depth of the author’s notes concerning the actual event, the biography side bar about the cellist, Vedran Smailovic, and the description of the, ”Region of War” complete with maps and suggestions for further reading.

Even though this book is listed as a pre-school through grade three read, it is a book capable of being used to meet curriculum requirements in geography, social studies, language arts and current events in grades through middle school. Picture books can be used successfully far beyond elementary school.

Librarians, teachers and parents, as well as guidance counselors can use this as a book club discussion book for talking about how people can respond to events. What helps us survive as people? How should we respond to trouble with respect and compassion for the people around us? Flowers and music are a powerful beginning.

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  • Flowers for SarajaevoTitle:  Flowers for Sarajevo
  • Author:  John McCutcheon
  • Illustrator:  Kristy Caldwell
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-943-8
  • Genre:  Picture Book
  • Grade level: PreK to 3)
  • Extras: Detailed Author Note/ Background History and Geography of Sarajevo/ CD with original music as well as cello music mentioned in the book/ Related Reading List/Educator Suggestions

Patrick and the President

Written by Ryan Tubridy
Illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Sometimes, the most memorable moment of your life comes early in your life.

In 1963, President John Kennedy visited his ancestral homeland, Ireland. This is the story of Patrick, one of the children who lived in the village where the president’s family originated.

The president was very famous and very popular in Ireland, so all the residents were excited and happy. Patrick participated in the children’s choir that greeted the president at the airport with “The Boys of Wexford” and two other tunes. “We are the boys of Wexford, who fought with heart and hand, …” Later in the day, Patrick helped serve the president his lunch at Mary Ryan’s home. It was in serving the cake that Patrick had a real opportunity to speak to the president. It was a day no one would soon forget. The author does a wonderful job of bringing out all the emotion of the day and describing every aspect of the entourage.

The realistic illustrations are almost like faded photographs, making the historic event come alive.

Kids will learn about the president, about Ireland, and about what it might be like to meet an idol. The historical note at the end provides more information on the event.

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  • Patrick and the PresidentTitle: Patrick and the President         
  • Author: Ryan Tubridy
  • Illustrator: P.J. Lynch
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 1 to 4
  • Genre: Historic fiction, Heritage
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8949-0

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found

Written by Martin W. Sandler

Pirates, plunder, shipwrecks and discovered riches all arrive in one accessible and engaging story. First, Sandler lets the reader know what it was really like to be a pirate. Keeping an oath and getting marooned on an island were realities one lived with every day. As well as with the dangers of living on the open sea.

Extensive primary research went into the writing of this book that also looks at the economic tragedies brought about by piracy at the time and the extreme danger faced by any ship at sea with a cargo. Pirates were always hunting new prey.

But sometimes they got caught, by storms at sea and/or authorities on the land. Students can read about the real trial of these pirates, as well as their execution.

Also included are informative inserts of two or three- page length. One such insert relays the beginnings of the rescue missions of the United States Coast Guard.

Teachers and librarians can use this as an example of primary research as well as geography as it all takes place along the coast of Cape Code. Fourth grade readers as well as fifth grade readers will be excited to read about the discovery of the sunken treasures of the, Whydah, so many decades after it sunk. It may also intrigue them to imagine how many thousands of dollars of gold doubloons still sit on the bottom of the sea waiting to be found.

Several authentic photos of the recovery efforts are included and add a sense of reality to the notion of piracy so often relegated only to fictional stories.

Highly recommended for elementary, middle school, and public libraries.

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  • The WhydahTitle:  The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found
  • Author:  Martin W. Sandler
  • Publisher:  Candlewick Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 176 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-7636-8033-6
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Grade level: 4 to 8
  • Extras: Photography Credits, Source Material, Bibliography, Index

The Harlem Charade

Written by Natasha Tarpley

Harlem is a community of many neighborhoods flavored by deeply ingrained history and worldwide cultures. But this story is as universal as hope, friendship and loyalty. Three kids get involved in solving the mysteries of an attacked grandfather and some missing paintings.

Good guys and bad guys are sometimes hard to distinguish, but friendship and the patient unraveling of clues are reminiscent of Balliet’s, ChasingVermeer. Amid school projects, secrets kept from parents and everyday chores at the bodega, Jin and Alex, two most unlikely friends, protect homeless Elvin from the streets as well as the authorities. Urban development versus protecting the community is a major theme. Teachers, librarians and parents may want to discuss issues of social justice, while readers will be in a hurry to find those missing paintings from those long talked about sixties.

Monetary worth is paled in comparison to the history protected in the paintings as Jin and Alex realize sometimes it takes an object to prove history did happen the way the story says it did. Tarpley’s book is very well done and recommended for all collections. It would be a valuable book club addition as it is a truly cross curricular look at Harlem during the explosive sixties through the eyes of artists who lived it. Many discussion groups would become engrossed in the story and it would fulfill many learning objectives.

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  • Harlem Charade.jpgTitle:  The Harlem Charade
  • Author:  Natasha Tarpley
  • Publisher:  Scholastic Press, 2017
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format:  Hardcover, 320 pages
  • ISBN:  978-0-545-78387-3
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Grade Level: 3 to 7
  • Extras: Notes on actual locations mentioned in the book.

Harry Miller’s Run

Written by David Almond
Illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino

What was it like to be in the first Great North Run? Liam, eleven years old, doesn’t know, but he’s excited to train for his first participation in the Run. The older kids run all the way from Newcastle to South Shields, thirteen miles. Liam is in the Junior division, running a shorter route. On the way to training, Liam and his Mam stop to care for Harry, an older gentleman. Liam is reluctant to take the time, but ends up glad they did. Harry tells him all about the first time he and his buddies ran to the sea. Harry and three friends set out on a lark and ran and ran. They stopped many times to get drinks. Once, they stopped to enlist the help of a girl who knew the way. “There’s a wolf on your tail! Run for your lovely life!” people would tell them. They knew they were done when they talked to the ice cream man on the Ocean Road. And Harry kept contact with the girl. Shortly after Liam’s visit, Harry died.

Rubbino’s illustrations are perfect for the flavor of the times and the culture of Harry and Liam. The illustrations for present day are black and white, while the time of Harry’s first run are color, as Harry’s memories are so vivid.

Though the story is about a specific event, it points out the importance of oral history and learning about traditions from our elders. Liam found that Harry had a lot to teach him. The dialectic dialogue is occasionally difficult to decipher, so younger or reluctant readers may need a little help with comprehension. But this story is well worth the effort.

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  • Harry Millers RunTitle: Harry Miller’s Run        
  • Author: David Almond
  • Illustrator: Salvatore Rubbino
  • Published: Candlewick Press, 2016
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 64 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 4
  • Genre: Early Reader, Oral history, Tradition
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-8975-9
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