Book Review Tuesday

Lots of great books this week! Read the book reviews below, and learn more about my favorite reads:

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Boys Dance! by John Robert Allman (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Travel through a day of ballet practice for a group of young boys.

This book stands out by focusing on diverse, male ballet dancers. The story is simple–going through the daily routine of a standard kids’ ballet practice, except all the kids are boys (not traditionally shown in picture books about ballet, except maybe one child seemingly as an afterthought). Highlights real, diverse, male ballet dancers from throughout history. A fun read for young dancers and a great choice for anyone looking to diversify their dance titles.

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Cheer Up by Heather Ayris Burnell (reader)
Gr. K-2. Unicorn and Yeti are best friends, going on many adventures. In three short episodes, Unicorn gives Yeti a special present, Yeti helps unicorn get warm after an icicle-chewing incident, and the two friends take a walk down a trail together.

I appreciate the bright, colorful illustrations and kid-appealing characters of the recent Acorn beginning reader series by Scholastic. These books are designed with kids in mind, in addition to containing elements of a good beginning reader title. Unicorn and Yeti might be one of my favorite Branches series. The characters are adorable, and each book focuses on kindness and friendship. Vocabulary and sentence structure is slightly more advanced than similarly packaged Frog and Dog books.


Diana and the Island of No Return by Aisha Saeed
Gr. 3-4. Princess Diana is thrilled that it is time for Themyscira’s annual festival, where female leaders from around the world celebrate on the island of the Amazons. Every year, Diana’s best friend, Princess Sakina, comes for the festival, and Diana has a week of excitement planned–until everything goes wrong. A boy followed the ships to Themyscira, and men are not allowed on the island. The boy has a nefarious goal, and he successfully puts the Amazons under a sleeping spell. Everyone is asleep except Diana and Sakina, who agree to travel to his home to save his people, in exchange for the antidote that will save their families. Diana’s first trip off Themyscira is filled with danger as she faces down a lava river, hypnotized minions, and a demon determined to capture Diana alive.

Fast-paced and filled with adventure, this serves as a wonderful origin story for Wonder Woman. There have been a slew of these lately, and Saeed’s tale holds up. I’m glad to see a diverse voice brought into Diana’s story, and I’m very happy to recommend this to young readers. A great readalike for Diana Princess of the Amazons by Shannon Hale or Shuri by Nic Stone.

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Do Not Open This Book by Andy Lee (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK! Well, of course, you want to open it, and the main character just cannot convince you to stop turning the pages no matter what tricks they try.

This fun, interactive book would work well for a preschool or kindergarten read aloud. Each page encourages the reader to ask a child whether they want to turn the next page. The increasing anger and frustration of the main character creates lots of humor, which will appeal to the intended audience. Kids will have fun with this one, particularly fans of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

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Dungeon Critters by Natalie Riess (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Meet the Dungeon Critters:

  • Juniper – The healer. Nervous in large crowds. Loves botany. Terrible at lying. Looks eerily similar to the reclusive Duchess Helena von Fancypaws.
  • Rose – Arson loving cat. Doubles as a defense attorney when needed. May have a tiny crush on Juniper.
  • Prince Chirp – Heiress to the throne of the [redacted] Kingdom. Impulsive. Hates to apologize. Tends to not think before acting. Avoids responsibility.
  • Goro – Gentle giant. Generally quiet, but when he speaks, his words are profound.

These four, with the occasional assistance of other creatures who are quickly forgotten (even by the main four characters), are determined to discover the nefarious plot of the (maybe?) evil Baron Foxworthy. What is this mysterious plant they discover in his dungeon?

Lots of chaos and humor fill this jam-packed fantasy adventure story. Readers will be engaged, if sometimes a little lost (a lot is happening very quickly, and I felt like I didn’t have that much time to get to know the characters outside of action scenes). I love that all of the characters have some kind of romantic interest–and every one of them (whether crush or serious relationship) is interested in someone who is their same gender (yay representation!). I’m hoping for more books to give these characters more depth. Great for fans of Adventure Time, Gravity Falls, or even kids who miss the humor of Dog Man but are a few steps past those books.

Field Trip (Mr. Wolf’s Class #4)

Field Trip (Mr. Wolf’s Class) by Aron Nels Steinke (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Mr. Wolf’s class is going on an extra special field trip to a local campground! Everyone gets to sleep in cabins, make s’mores, and hike through the woods. The forest may be sort of magical, but everyday drama follows the students on their trip, making things a little more chaotic than usual.

Another fun read following (animal) students and their everyday hijinks. Aziza and Randy are arguing; someone else isn’t feeling too well; other students are getting to know kids from another visiting school. Author Steinke does an excellent job capturing the feel of an elementary school classroom, including the mild chaos, blunders, and funny (but sometimes awkward) conversations between teacher and student. A comforting, wholesome series for anyone looking for a sweet, quick read.


Icing on the Snowflake (Diary of an Ice Princess) by Christina Soontornvat (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Lina’s cousin Wendy is getting married, and everyone is determined to create the most perfect, most traditional magical wedding ever. Lina and her best friend Claudia feel like they might be doing more harm than good, but they are determined to turn things around and make the wedding day as perfect as possible. But is that what Wendy really wants?

Another amazing Diary of an Ice Princess adventure! Lots of shenanigans between Lina and Claudia (like putting cornstarch on their legs to make their formal dresses stop itching!). I appreciate the diversity and accessibility of this first chapter fantasy series. I’m looking forward to many more new titles to come!

Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster (first chapter)
Isadora Moon Goes to the Ballet Young Isadora–half-fairy, half-vampire–and her magical pink rabbit love all things ballet but especially their favorite dancer, Tatiana Tutu. Isadora is so excited that her class gets to go on a field trip to a local ballet. Soon after they arrive, Isadora loses Pink Rabbit. Can she find him before the curtain rises?

Isadora Moon Has a Birthday Isadora Moon wants a birthday party, but she would really like a human party. Her mom is a fairy, and her dad is a vampire, and they are both sure that either a fairy party or a vampire party would be a much better idea. After some convincing by Isadora, Isadora’s parents agree to host a human party, but will they be able to pull off a non-magical event?

Isadora Moon Has a Sleepover Isadora Moon is going to her best friend Zoe’s house for her very first sleepover! It isn’t all fun and games, however. The girls have to work together to make a cake for their school’s baking competition! When they get a little carried away using Isadora’s magic to make the cake extra special, Isadora starts to doubt if it is really fair to submit their magically-improved creation into the contest at their human school.

Gr. 2-3. More great additions to the sweet Isadora Moon series. I enjoy the twist on the traditional realistic fiction first chapter book. The only difference between these titles and other everyday school adventures is that Isadora’s mom is a fairy and her dad is a vampire-but those changes are enough to make this series hold its own.

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Keep It Together, Keiko Carter by Debbi Michiko Florence
Gr. 5-6. Keiko is ready to tackle seventh grade with her two best friends, Audrey and Jenna, by her side. Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple. Audrey decides they all need boyfriends before the fall dance, and Jenna isn’t so sure about this plan. Audrey and Jenna don’t seem to be getting along, but Keiko is sure it will all work out–and maybe the cute new boy in Keiko’s math class will even ask her out!

But…things don’t get better. Soon Audrey and Jenna are arguing, and Keiko is forced to choose sides. Keiko’s crush is spending a ton of time with Audrey, and Keiko is starting to remember why she used to be friends with Audrey’s brother, before Audrey made Keiko choose between him and Audrey. Keiko wants to talk to her mom, but her mom hasn’t been home much lately. Can Keiko keep everyone happy on her own?

This was excellent. I spent a good part of the book frustrated at Keiko for not seeing Audrey’s true personality, but Keiko’s coming to terms with her friend’s cruelty, and Keiko’s character development, felt raw and honest. This felt like a Real Kid figuring out what makes a good friend, not a quick solution to a messy problem. Florence explores so many great relationships without dipping into drama for drama’s sake, while adding a perfect sprinkling of middle school romance. Will be recommending to many 5th-6th grade readers.


Mindy Kim, Class President (Mindy Kim) by Lyla Lee (first chapter)
Gr. 2-3. Mindy Kim has adjusted to her new school, miles and miles away from her old home in California. In fact, now that she is in third grade, Mindy is ready to run for class president! Mindy learns all about how to run a great campaign (with a platform focused on kindness and snacks), but she is extra nervous about having to make a speech in front of her whole class. Can Mindy face her fears and win over her classmates?

I adore this series. Mindy Kim is a Korean American elementary school student, going through the ups and downs of everyday school drama, elements of her culture easily woven into the storytime, and personal and familial adjustments to her mom dying before Mindy and her Dad moved to Florida. Great for fans of Jasmine Toguchi–though I really, really hope the Mindy Kim series doesn’t end with just four books like that series. More Mindy Kim please! Already a regular book talk title for me, I will be passing these books to more and more kids.

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Not Your All-American Girl by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Gr. 4-6. Lauren and Tara are best friends. They do everything together–referring to themselves as the “royal we.” Of course, they try out for the school musical together, hoping to maybe both be cast in the ensemble. Lauren knocks her audition out of the park, but Lauren is assigned to the ensemble, while Tara is cast as the leading lady. Why? The drama teacher feels that half-Chinese, half-Jewish Lauren doesn’t look like an “All-American Girl.” Heartbroken, Lauren tries to make the best of it, but eventually she just can’t bring herself to sing anymore. Why bother when she can never be a star?

This book! Lauren’s voice rang true for me. I felt the heartbreak in her character and eventually her determination to succeed. Little details brought this story to life, even though it is not my genre of choice (historical fiction–and yes, sorry, but the 80s are historical fiction now). The 80s backdrop created a vivid image of Lauren’s day-to-day life, with her bickering, loving, live-in grandmothers adding humor while also helping Lauren find the motivation to keep trying. A small detail, but I was confused when John Hughes movies were highlighted at the beginning as something Lauren loved (all I could think of was Sixteen Candles’ racist characters), and I appreciated how this issue was confronted when the girls went to see Sixteen Candles in theaters with friends. Lauren’s intersectionality–as both Chinese and Jewish–helps make this book stand apart from similar works. Will definitely be recommending.

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Pacey Packer: Unicorn Tracker by J.C. Phillipps (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. Pacey Packer dreams of adventure, but she is stuck babysitting her little sister, Mina, and being wrangled into tea parties. Pacey turns her back for just one minute, and when she turns around, her sister is on the back of a giant unicorn running over a magical rainbow bridge. Pacey chases them down and manages to hitch a ride to the magical unicorn land of Rundalyn. Pacey quickly loses her sister and is stuck trying to catch up to Mina on foot, with just her sister’s (apparently magical) stuffed unicorn, Slasher, as her guide. They have to traverse a dangerous jungle to rescue Mina–but all is not as it seems.

A cute, fast-paced adventure filled with lots of unicorn humor and dramatic betrayals. Fun for fans of Phoebe and Her Unicorn looking for more drama or readers who like the wonky adventures of Aster and the Accidental Magic.

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Real Pigeons Nest Hard by Andrew McDonald (graphic novel)
Gr. 3-4. The Real Pigeons are back with three new mysteries. First, who stole a vulture nest? (And how did they manage to pull off the stunt?) Also, who is this mysterious, pigeon-loving child alone at the park? Finally, is that lonely photo in the river a picture of Homey’s long lost family? The pigeons will need all of their amazing pigeon powers to defeat villains new and old.

Perfect for fans of Dog Man, this series continues to combine humor, superhero antics, and line drawings designed to appeal to young readers looking for fast-paced action and lots of laughs. Originally published in Australia. I’m eagerly awaiting the in-the-works TV adaptation.

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RESPECT: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford (biography)
Gr. 1-3. So beautiful! This biography of Aretha Franklin is visually stunning. The illustrations, the headers, type face, and framing of the text in words (spelled out RESPECT style) and rhyming couplets all blend together for a truly wonderful reading experience. I’ve been itching to plan a Little People, Big Dreams Aretha Franklin program, and this is most definitely going to be featured.

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The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Worrysaurus is a planner. He likes to know what might happen each day, as those plans help keep his worries away. Worrysaurus is all set for an adventure, when a nervous lizard tells him it is going to storm! Worrysaurus didn’t prepare for a storm. Will his new worries stop him from having a great day?

This is a sweet, rhyming book that approaches worries and emotions in a wonderful, child-friendly way. It subtly weaves in great ways for children to handle their worries–thinking about helpful words from a grown-up, finding objects that comfort and calm them, and figuring out if something is a real worry or more unrealistic (such as being worried it might storm when the sun is shining). A fun read aloud or a great one-on-one book for a child who might be worried about their own worries.

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