Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine by Jonathan London, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

 Duck and Hippo: The Secret Valentine by Jonathan London, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. Two Lions. 9781503900356, 2018.

Format: Hardcover picture book, 32 pages.

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

What did you like about the book? Hippo and his friends receive mysterious, unsigned invitations to a Valentine’s Day party in the park. Hippo hopes his invitation came from Duck, but Duck is nowhere to be found. Children will enjoy searching for Duck in the illustrations and be pleased with the inclusive resolution.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The story is slight and a bit didactic—“The best valentines are friends” — but young children will appreciate the cheery illustrations and upbeat text, along with the opportunity to voice the abundant onomatopoeia.

To whom would you recommend this book? Those looking for a new Valentine’s Day story.

Who should buy this book? Daycares or public libraries looking to add to their Valentine’s Day collections.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books, or in a separate section for holiday books.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Lisa Rogers, John D. Hardy Elementary School Library, Wellesley, MA

Date of review: January 13, 2018

 

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It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln: How I Made the Biggest Decisions of My Life – Tom & Leila Hirschfeld

 It’s Up to You, Abe Lincoln: How I Made the Biggest Decisions of My Life – Tom & Leila Hirschfeld, Crown Books for Young Readers; (9780553509533), 2018

Format: hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5

What did you like about the book? This book, the first in a series by the father-daughter pair, examines ten big decisions Abe Lincoln made in his life and argues that his choices are what made him such a fantastic president. Written in 2nd person, giving the reader the chance to be in Lincoln’s shoes, each chapter ends with a question and four options for action — which choice will you make? Then the book goes on to share Lincoln’s decision and the aftermath. The book comes across as funny, while still imparting a lot of information in each chapter. “Didya know”s and “Fun fact”s are included throughout the book, as well as images of pertinent people, usually with speech bubbles saying something funny. Readers won’t be able to help imagining what could have happened if Lincoln had made different choices and they will come away impressed by his honesty, dedication and practical nature. The end of the book includes a timeline, a who’s who, Lincoln’s “historic firsts,” jokes he played during his life, famous passages from his speeches and an extremely fun section that posits how Lincoln would react to various inventions from the last 150 years (he would love texting and emojis).

Overall, this is a highly readable, very funny biography that belongs on all elementary and middle school shelves. Given that there are already lots of Lincoln biographies out there for this age group, that’s high praise. I can’t wait to see the rest of the books in the series!

To whom would you recommend this book?  History buffs won’t be able to put this book down!

Anything you didn’t like about it?  My only quibbles are that there is no index and I wish the authors had used the phrase “enslaved person” instead of slave.

Who should buy this book? All elementary and middle school libraries should purchase this book.

Where would you shelve it? nonfiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’re a history person, then yes!

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date reviewed: January 18, 2019

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Gecko by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Gecko by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, Candlewick Press, 9780763698850, 2019

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book? Absolutely stunning artwork combines facts about geckos with an exciting story about a day in the life of one little reptile. Bold, realistic watercolor and ink paintings follow Gecko as he wakes up, finds food, escapes predators and protects his territory. I loved the combination of the slightly gross (he eats his own tail after it comes off in a scuffle!) with the mundane (his diet, senses, physiology…) Two different fonts make it easy to distinguish between story and science content and an index sends readers back to find information about keywords (predators, camouflage, cold-blooded, for example.) Huber carefully constructs the narrative so that answers emerge organically from the text just as they start to nag at the reader. The cover art is especially eye-popping, with Gecko hanging upside down from the title.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. It’s absolutely perfect.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Recalls kid and librarian favorite Steve Jenkins. Also great for teaching students to distinguish between fiction (Gecko’s day in the forest) and nonfiction (factoids about geckos.)

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction: 597.952

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 16, 2019

 

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Life With My Family by Rene Hooker and Karl Jones, illustrated by Kathryn Durst

       Life With My Family by Rene Hooker and Karl Jones, illustrated by Kathryn Durst, Penguin Random House, 9781524789374, 2018

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

What did you like about the book? I did enjoy Durst’s zany and colorful illustrations that accompany the rather meager text comparing the narrator’s family to groups of animals. With 2 little brothers, her home life does look a bit chaotic. What if they were a “pod” of pelicans or a “pandemonium” of parrots or a “smack” of jellyfish instead? Dad’s glasses, mom’s earrings, the narrator’s braids and little brother’s bright red hair make it easy to figure out which animal is which family member.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I didn’t find the animal group name concept very intriguing. I bet no one in Australia really describes the group of wombats living under a tool shed as a “wisdom” and I think everyone already knows that a bunch of fish are a school and a bunch of buffalo are better described as a herd.  A final illustration imaging little brother being captured and taken off to the zoo in a cage seemed unnecessarily grim. I did like the depiction of the mixed race family, so kudos for that.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Good for schools or communities looking for depictions of mixed race families.

Who should buy this book? Day care or elementary.

Where would you shelve it? Picture books.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 16, 2019

 

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The Story of Civilization in 50 Disasters: From the Minoan Volcano to Climate Change by Gail Eaton

     The Story of Civilization in 50 Disasters: From the Minoan Volcano to Climate Change by Gail Eaton, Tilbury House, 9780884487487, 2019

Format: Paperback (the hardcover version appeared in 2015)

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

What did you like about the book? An irresistible concept, well-researched and  well-considered information, attractive book design and conscientious use of photos and maps add up to a great book. Starting with earthquakes, volcanoes and an Ice Age and then moving on to disasters with at least some human contribution (plagues, the Irish Potato Famine, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) Eaton satisfies both glancing and more substantial interest. As you page through her clear text, you begin to pick out commonalities in the later disasters: hubris, shortcuts and greed. I will definitely check out some of the others in the series: medicine in 50 discoveries or ambition in 50 hoaxes sound good.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Not great bedtime reading, especially when you get to the final disaster: climate change.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Good resource for research and reports while also appealing to recreational readers. Readers who’ve enjoyed others in the Story in 50 series will find this a solid entry.

Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries. Good selection for classroom libraries as well.

Where would you shelve it? 909 or if you have a high interest reference area.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 16, 2019

 

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Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq, illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok

   Takannaaluk by Herve Paniaq, illustrated by Germaine Arnaktauyok, Inhabit Media, 9781772271812, 2018

Format: Hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

What did you like about the book? This very beautifully illustrated retelling of a native Canadian legend manages to convey both weirdness and familiarity. It vaguely recalls Beauty and the Beast stories: Takannaaluk never wants to marry any of the many suitors who present themselves to her father. All of the men are animal hybrids. Eventually she is tricked into marrying one of them (a seabird) and follows him to his village. Her father abducts her and in the desperate battle that follows, Takannaaluk dies. Parts of her body become seals and other creatures of the sea. The text in the book appears in both English and a native Canadian language. Both the author and the illustrator are native peoples. The illustrations contain a lot of interesting details about clothing, shelters, boats (“qujaq” — a kayak-like craft) and weapons.

Anything you didn’t like about it? More backmatter to explain how the story was collected and recorded would be helpful. The main character is alternately referred to as Takannaaluk and later by a more descriptive name: Uinigumasuittuq, which means “the one who never wanted to marry.” A pronunciation guide, an explanation of the native written language and some context/backstory of the legend would have improved the book.

To whom would you recommend this book? Good selection for libraries looking to update collections with newer and more authentic folktales.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Folktales.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 16, 2019

 

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Island War – Patricia Reilly Giff

 Island War – Patricia Reilly Giff, Holiday House; (9780823439546), 2018

Format: hardcover

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Genre: historical fiction

What did you like about the book? Izzy and Matt have both come to an island off the coast of modern-day Alaska (at the time a U.S. territory). Matt is there against his wishes to reconnect with his father. Izzy has come with her mother to connect with a place that was special for her deceased father. The two children attend school and church with the native Aleut people and each learn to love the windswept, treeless island in their own way, but they clash with each other and do not get along. Matt learns to kayak and Izzy searches for a cave that her father wrote about. Then WWII begins and the island is thrust into chaos. Japanese soldiers arrive and take occupation of the island, controlling the food supply and eventually taking all the island inhabitants off to a Japanese prison camp…except for Izzy and Matt. Izzy and Matt are left alone on the island to fend for themselves, along with a dog named Willie. Can the two children put aside their differences and help each other survive?

The book alternates between Izzy and Matt’s perspectives and effectively shows their slow realization that they must work together to survive. Giff also humanizes the enemy in this book. Giff’s afterword explains the truth behind the novel; while two children were not left behind on the island, the occupation and imprisonment of American citizens in Japanese prisons did happen. This is a short, quick read that will fascinate history fans.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students who like historical fiction and are reluctant readers may like this book.

Anything you didn’t like about it?  I wanted more about how the two kids survived the winter. I love survival stories, but that element wasn’t a big part of the book (and it’s part of modern-day Alaska so it’s definitely cold!). Over two years pass in the span of 200 pages so a lot is skimmed over.

Who should buy this book? Most elementary and middle school libraries should purchase this book.

Where would you shelve it? historical fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date reviewed: January 16, 2019

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