Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

To Explore Strange New Worlds…

Pop quiz! We know that outer space is still largely unexplored, but did you know that we’ve explored less than five percent of the world’s oceans? There are some great new books on space and sea exploration for middle graders to dive into (see what I did there?). Read on!

Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System, by Bethany Ehlmann with Jennifer Swanson, (Jan. 2018, National Geographic Kids), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2798-8

Recommended for readers 8-12

Planetary geologist Dr. E (Bethany Ehlmann) and her sidekick, Rover, take readers on a trip around the universe, filled with activities, photos, facts, and comics. Readers will learn about space exploration and how our big blue dot fits in with our cosmic neighbors: who else has volcanoes and sand dunes; how plate tectonics work; how craters are formed. There’s information about robots and rovers; space exploration and technology; and how learning about space helps us learn more about Earth. Each chapter begins with a 2-page comic spread, following Dr. E and Rover on an adventure related to chapter material. There are scientist profiles throughout the book, thought-provoking questions to generate discussion, and incredible photos. A glossary, list of book and web resources, and index makes this a solid book to have in space collections and a fun gift for kids who love science.


Astronaut-Aquanaut: How Space Science and Sea Science Interact, by Jennifer Swanson, (Jan. 2018, National Geographic Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2867-1

Recommended for readers 8-12

What do space and the ocean exploration have in common? SO much. There’s a reason we’re still trying to figure out how to explore both. Extreme pressure, temperatures and climates are all considerations scientists have to make when planning missions up above or far below. Author Jennifer Swanson (she’s co-author on Dr. E’s book, above!) gets a new generation of explorers ready for action with discussions about buoyancy and gravity; the shapes used in space and sea exploration (shape counts!); creating livable habitats; similarities and differences in each form of travel, and more. There’s consideration given to preservation and conservation for both sea and space: we leave a lot of garbage behind, and we need to stop that. Explorer’s Notebook callouts give readers a quick run-down on different topics, like training for a trip and how to create successful living and working environments – ideas that readers can apply to their daily lives while getting ready to be explorers. Activities give readers hands-on opportunities to learn about concepts like docking the International Space Station. There are detailed illustrations and color photos throughout, astronaut and aquanaut profiles, fun facts, resources, a glossary, and an index. NatGeo never disappoints: I love how Jennifer Swanson brings these two areas of exploration together; maybe it will inspire kids to become both astronauts AND aquanauts!


The Space Race: How the Cold War Put Humans on the Moon, by Matthew Brenden Wood/Illustrated by Sam Carbaugh, (May 2018, Nomad Press), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1-61930-663-9

Recommended for readers 12-15

The Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union led to a race for dominance, and space was best place to push for that dominance. Matthew Brenden’s book, The Space Race, is an interactive chronicle of this pivotal point in history. Beginning with a timeline to give readers background, Brenden takes us from the 1917 Russian Revolution, through World War II (when Russia was our ally) and the Cold War, to July 20, 1969: the date Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon.

A  comic strip running throughout the book illustrates and encapsulates the big ideas in the book, adding a little mental break for readers. There are loads of callout boxes, enhanced with QR codes that lead to historical reference and further learning; some topics include McCarthyism, duck-and-cover nuclear war drills, and the first anniversary of the Berlin Wall. Blast Fact callout boxes provide quick facts, and Inquire and Investigate sections provide rich inspiration for projects and research. Questions throughout the text challenge readers to think deeper about the material and would provide a great jumping-off point for book group or class discussions, and Vocab Lab sections offer new words to learn, all defined in the glossary at the end of the book. There are black-and-white and color photos throughout, providing a strong connection to history. Thankfully, there’s a metric conversion table, since science is metric and I’m not; there are additional resources, source notes, and an index.

I love Nomad Press’ books; there are so many entry points for students in each book. This one is a valuable reference for Science or History: in fact, The Space Race is one in a set of four Nomad books exploring great events of the 20th Century (others include Globalization: Why We Care About Faraway Events; The Vietnam War; and World War II: From the Rise of the Nazi Party to the Dropping of the Atomic Bomb).

The Space Race skews slightly older than the NatGeo books above: Nomad recommends this one for ages 12-15, but I think it can go a year or two younger, especially in my children’s room, where it will see more circ than in our teen section. Your library’s mileage, and your kids’ reading interests may vary. It’s a Guided Reading level Z, which can go as young as 9; I’d suggest at least 10 or 11.



Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

See the animal mommies, count the baby animals!

Count the Baby Animals, by Guido van Genechten, (March 2017, Clavis Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 978-1605-37324-9

Recommended for readers 2-5

This fun die-cut book shows a pregnant animal mommy; with a flip of the page, she’s surrounded by her babies! Sweet rhyming text throughout invites readers to count each group of animals while offering descriptive details.

This is an adorable book to introduce to toddlers, who can point to and name animals as you read along. Encourage them to make animals sounds for each one to extend the fun. There are oodles of fun animal coloring sheets and activities available online; matching games with moms and babies would be a great choice for older toddlers and early preschoolers. You can pair this with books like P.D. Eastman’s classic, Are You My Mother?, or Nancy Tafuri’s All Kinds of Kisses (one of my personal faves).

Originally published in 2016, this is the English translation of Guido van Genechten’s original Dutch. His artwork is child-friendly, with gentle, cartoony faces and smiles. Endpapers with frolicking baby animals bring the reader right into the fun, and the sturdy paper stock will hold up to exploring little hands, who will love turning the half pages back and forth to see each mommy animal with a round belly, and later, surrounded by her babies.

How Many Baby Animals is a fun addition to toddler bookshelves and would make a fun sibling-to-be gift, too.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Geronimo Stilton goes to the ends of the earth in his latest graphic novel adventure

geronimo-stiltonGeronimo Stilton #18: First to the Last Place on Earth, (Nov. 2016, Papercutz), $9.99, ISBN: 9781629916033

Recommended for ages 6-10

Journalist mouse and time traveler Geronimo Stilton’s latest adventure takes him and a group of friends (including his younger sister, Thea!) back to 1911, where they join explorer Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole. They have to beat the awful Pirate Cats, who plan to sabotage the expedition and ruin history, so Geronimo will need to stay extra sharp!

The Geronimo Stilton graphic novels are fun because they’re another addition to the Stilton family of storytelling. The stories are original – no rehashes of the chapter books here! – and offer kids some interesting facts mixed in with their fun. Geronimo is insanely popular, as are all his spinoff titles; your intermediate and middle grader readers will gobble these up. You won’t even need to booktalk this book – just put it out and stand back.

Want to use Geronimo to promote your exploration titles? I don’t blame you. Talk up Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition; Matthew Henson’s exploration of the North Pole, and the lost Franklin expedition of 1845. Nomad Press’ Mysteries and Mayhem: Survival is a good book to talk up, and the I Survived series will always get kids listening and reading.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine: Animal Adventure!

sammy shineThe Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine, by Henry Cole (Apr. 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781561458660

Recommended for ages 8-12

A young boy’s brother launches his pet mouse off in a homemade airplane, and starts the little mouse off on the adventure of a lifetime! Sammy, the mouse, lands in a field and discovers that life outside of his friend Hank’s room is very, very different. Thankfully, he meets a wonderful group of animal friends that help him in his quest to get back home, but he has to steer clear of the awful weasel, Mustela, who wants Sammy’s plane for himself!

This was another of my PLA goodies, and I’m so glad I listened to the rep and took an ARC. I love Henry Cole’s writing and illustration, and when she told me that this book was inspired by a childhood experience: Henry Cole did have a pet mouse named Sammy Shine, and his brother did launch Sammy off in a plane; this book is what Henry likes to think Sammy went on to do after that flight. What tribute to a pet is sweeter than that?

Illustrated with Cole’s beautiful black and white drawings, we get an animal adventure up there with The Rescuers, Stuart Little, and The Great Mouse Detective. The characters are sweet, even when they’re cantankerous (I always had a soft spot for Templeton in Charlotte’s Web), and the exciting sense of adventure leaps off the page, extends its hand to the reader, and invites you in to join the fun. Intermediate readers will adore Sammy, and middle graders will come back to Sammy to enjoy one more mission. I hope Mr. Cole dreams up more missions for Sammy and Co.; I’d hate to think that the adventure only lasted for one brief moment.

Get this one on your shelves for summer reading, and booktalk it with old favorites like The Rescuers, and new classics like The Tale of Desperaux, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, and The Warriors series.

Henry Cole is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. Among his more recent titles are Big Bug and Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. He has illustrated such ground-breaking titles as And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, I Know a Wee Piggy by Kimberly E. Norman, and The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein. His author website includes information about all of his books and school visits, and games.

Posted in Early Reader, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads

Explore life On the Space Station!

on the space stationOn the Space Station: A Shine-A-Light Book, by Carron Brown/Ilustrated by Bee Johnson, (Jan. 2016, Kane Miller), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-411-9

Recommended for ages 4-8

Take readers on a trip to outer space, where they can discover what astronauts do in space: how they sleep and exercise, for starters; we also get a glimpse into some of the work astronauts do on board the space station: working robotics, making repairs, even calling home!

On the Space Station is one of the books in Kane Miller’s Shine-A-Light series, where see-through pages allow readers to shine a light – a flashlight, or simply holding the page up to a light source – behind the page to reveal a new piece of information about the picture! A great next step for little ones who love the excitement of lift-the-flap books but are ready for something more, Shine-A-Light books continue working with the concept of object permanence for younger readers while adding a new dimension of interactivity to older readers. The books ask a question on one page; the child is able to discover the answer for his or herself by illuminating the page. The highlighted image has an expanded explanation on the next page.

shine a light_2

shine a light_1

The contrast between black and white images on the left and color images on the right will keep readers’ attention; explanations are black and white, concrete; activity and exploration is in color, provoking the imagination. The artwork is wonderful and fluid, giving kids an idea of the weightlessness of space contained within the space of a page.

My 3 year old loved this concept, and yes, this book has entered the regular rotation, too. The language is great for young audiences; direct, with fun “flicks”, “swishes”, and “wheees!” to add some zing to the nonfiction text. This could make for a fun storytime book, too – I have to figure out how to smoothly shine the light onto the page without the book flopping down as I hold it up!

As I said regarding The River, I worry about this one in circ. The paper is a good quality stock, but I have visions of pages being yanked and torn as little hands hold them up to the light. I may buy a set to keep in storytime reference, because I love this concept and think the kids will, too. Classrooms and home collections will really benefit from these.

Kane Miller is knocking my socks off with the quality of material they’re putting out for kids now! I’m becoming an unabashed Kane Miller fangirl, with good reason. Stay tuned for more!


Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet


Discovering Mars: The Amazing Story of the Red Planet, by Melvin Berger and Mary Kay Carson (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $5.99, ISBN: 9780545839600

Recommended for ages 7-11

This updated edition of Discovering Mars features a new cover and updated information and discoveries about the Red Planet. Recognized as an exemplar text by the Common Core State Standards, this latest version of the book includes the Mars Curiosity Rover’s mission and detection of organic compounds on the planet, leading to increased discussions about whether or not Mars had the ability to sustain life at one point.

Other topics covered include early theories about Mars, including the ancient Romans, who named the blood-red planet after the god of war and the vocabulary mixup between English and Italian that had some people thinking that the dark lines visible on the planet’s surface were man-made waterways!

We’ve also got a history of NASA’s Mars research and the future wish list for further research and discovery on the planet. I’m thrilled with this updated edition of Discovering Mars – make sure you keep a copy handy in your home or school library, and give your kids money for this one at the next Scholastic Book Fair.