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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The Alphabet’s Alphabet by Chris Harris and Dan Santat (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. The letters of the alphabet are each unique–but they have a lot of similarities too! Just like the way you might look a little like members of your family, all of the letters share some small details with other letters. After all, isn’t an A just a H that couldn’t stand up straight?

This is a cute book exploring shapes, lines, and letters. I wouldn’t give this to a child that isn’t completely confident in their ability to recognize and write letters, as the images morphing one letter into another are very likely to confuse a preschooler. I was a little disappointed with some of the examples–K felt a little hard for me wrap my head around, and S’s lack of a letter buddy felt a little disappointing. Older kids may explore making the letter comparisons, and this could easily evolve into an art lesson exploring the alphabet.

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Animals at Large by Patricia Reilly Giff and Abby Carter (first chapter book)
Gr. 2-3. Tori is excited to have her cousin, Sumiko, come to visit Tori’s home on Zoo Lane this summer. But things are getting a little strange at the zoo–there are rumors of a missing animal, but Tori can’t quite catch word of what, exactly, is on the loose. Combine a missing animal with strange noises coming from Tori’s backyard–definitely a friend pulling a prank–and there are plenty of mysteries for the local zoo kids to solve.

Another book in the Zoo Lane series. These books are a great fit for animal lovers just moving from beginning readers to first chapter books, with extra large text and black-and-white illustrations. The plot is a little tedious, especially with the “mystery” of what animal is missing from the zoo–a zoo with a real missing animal would send out a lot more notice than one posted flyer–and at any point Tori could have just asked any adult what was going on. Advanced first grade readers will enjoy the predictable quietness of this book, but I’m not sure the series will hold appeal with older readers.

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Attack of the Underwear Dragon by Scott Rothman and Pete Oswald (picture book)
Gr. PreS-K. Young Cole is thrilled to be a new Assistant Knight of the Round Table. When the mighty Underwear Dragon defeats every real knight, it is up to Cole to try to save the day.

This had the potential to be cute and funny (dragons! underwear!), but I feel like I was left with a lot of unanswered questions. Why was the dragon wearing underwear? Why did we focus on the fact the dragon couldn’t read but never return to that? If the princess could knock Cole out with one punch, why didn’t she fight the dragon? If the dragon defeated all the knights, including the one that trained Cole, how, exactly, was Cole able to use their training to save the day? I’m sure I’m reading too much into this, but I was left more puzzled after reading.

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Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann (nonficion)
Gr. K-2. Follow a summer honeybee through its 35-day lifecycle–from birth to helping the hive and finally flying, exploring the world, and bringing back the tools needed to produce honey for the colony.

Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann once again make an amazing team, creating an educational and visually engaging book through a story that would work well as a read-aloud. The oil painting illustrations almost make me want to look at bees more in nature (almost–bugs are definitely not my thing). The continued question about if the bee is ready for flying serves as a great hook to keep young readers and listeners engaged.

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I Like Animals … What Jobs Are There? by Steve Martin and Roberto Blefari (nonfiction)
Gr. 3-4. A fun exploration of twenty-five jobs involving working with animals. I appreciate the variety of jobs shared here. So many of these kinds of books focus on jobs that, in reality, are a bit more obscure–like puppy bowl referee or panda keeper. This collection spans from jobs a kid may be able to have right now (like dog walker or pet sitter) to jobs that are more common (pet vet, dog groomer, and pet adoption counselor) and still some jobs that are competitive but not quite as rare (pet portrait artist, animal actor agent, and wildlife filmmaker). Each page or spread contains a simplified “day in the life” of someone with that job as well as the best and worst parts of the selected career.

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If Your Come to Earth by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Gr. 1-3. A child writes a letter–a book–to invite aliens to come to earth and give them a glimpse of what they might encounter.

Sophie Blackall creates a beautiful summation of earth with her recognizable artwork. While the message is lovely, for something inspired by Blackall’s work traveling the globe, I wish there had been a bit more diversity present here. There are different cultures and races depicted, but the actions feel very white and western-centered (a picnic in a park, sitting around a dinner table, the clothing and structure of students in a classroom, and more).

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Kits, Cubs, and Calves by Suzie Napayok-Short (nonfiction)
Gr. 2-3. Akuluk visits her family in Nunavut off of the Arctic Ocean. While she doesn’t know what to expect at first, she is quickly swept away into the magic of nature, learning about beluga whales, polar bears, and even seagulls.

A beautiful book that follows a family as they teach about and discover a plethora of Arctic animals and talk about the need to respect nature. While the story is engaging, there is a lot of content here, making this a little long for a readaloud, but great for one-on-one reading with a child already fascinated by Arctic animals.

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Let’s Dance! by Valerie Bolling and Maine Diaz (picture book)
Gr. Toddler-Preschool. Groove along with young dancers showing off a variety of dance moves, often in culturally specific clothing. Try the moves yourself before learning more about each dance with details in the back of the book.

A good in-person toddler or preschool storytime pick. (I don’t think I could attempt some of these moves on camera with just the top half of my body showing in a virtual storytime.) I might choose to have separate notes from the backmatter to talk about while sharing the different dance moves to provide a little more context about what is going on in each spread.

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The Old Truck by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey
Gr. 1-2. Follow life on a small farm through the aging of a truck that is already old when our story begins. Over a lifetime of hard work, that truck, and the family who owns it, age, grow, and change. The weather and the increasing age of the young girl turned woman show the passing of time, but other details do as well–the size of the trees in the background, the seasonal yellowing of grass and plants, and the way the color of the wood of the barn fades over time. In addition to the simple story enhanced by the illustrations, it also breaks stereotypes by featuring a diverse family and a young girl who eventually takes over the farm. This is a gem I haven’t seen much buzz about, but I hope it gets some recognition come award season.


The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story by Thao Lam (picture book)
Gr. 3-4. A wordless picture book following a family escaping war-torn Vietnam through a small fishing boat. The family tale is woven together with a family of ants also making their own journey across the water in a paper boat.

While the illustrations are powerful, especially when examined again through the lens of the author’s note, this book didn’t speak to me quite as much as I had hoped. By transferring the illustrations to ants instead of people once they entered the boat, some of the harder parts of the journey may be easier for young eyes to examine. However, the shift in narration felt a bit confusing in the moment, until looked at again during a re-reading. For older elementary or middle school readers.

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Rent A Boyfriend by Gloria Chao (teen)
Gr. 10+. Chloe just wants her parents to stop trying to set her up with Hongbo–a very wealthy guy from their community who is also, well, quite an asshole. Her parents have taken wishes of a courtship a step further, regularly talking about Chloe’s marriage to a person she despises. Chloe has told them, again and again, how much she despises her supposed suitor, but no one will listen. So, she tries a new tactic. She hires a fake boyfriend through Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company specialized in providing fake dates to impress traditional Asian parents.

Drew’s parents cut him off after he dropped out of college to pursue his passion for art. Being a Rent for Your ‘Rents employee (or “operative”) keeps the bills paid while also letting Drew pursue his dreams while never having to do more than hold a stranger’s hand and say the right words (though those can be tricky depending the parent you are impressing).

Chloe meets Drew on the way to her parents’ house for Thanskgiving, prepared to use him to convince her parents that they can stop pressuring her to accept Hongbo’s proposal. Neither of them expects sparks to fly–or for them to want to get to know the person hiding behind each other’s mask.

This was fun! I’m always ready for a fake-boyfriend trope, and this one delivers that but also so much more. The romance is predictable (maybe a little too predictable in places), but there are some great conversations about toxic parent-child relationships, specifics to the Asian American immigrant parent-child relationship, and a lot of much-needed dialogue about how dropping out of college isn’t something to look down on. I wish Drew had a bit more personality? Dynamic? I love that he lets Chloe take the lead and recognizes that she doesn’t need saving, but he had a right to be very frustrated at multiple points, and instead his answer was always “I am here for you; how can I help.” That is wonderful–and something lacking in so many teen romance books–but there is also a point where it seems a bit over the top. No one in a relationship needs to be fully self-sacrificing. While their relationship sometimes felt one-dimensional, their text banter was always outstanding. I sort of wish the entire book had occurred via text. Will be loved by teen romance readers looking for more books with the energy of When Dimple Met Rishi or even new adult romance readers who don’t mind if their romance reads don’t contain much physical intimacy.

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Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin (picture book)
Gr. K-2. An eight-year-old is about five times as tall as this book–but an ostrich is taller than two eight-year-olds standing on each other’s shoulders! But of course an ostrich isn’t as tall as a giraffe, which isn’t as tall as an oak tree. But even the tallest tree–a redwood–is dwarfed by the Eiffel tower. The tallest skyscraper is tiny compared to Mount Everest–but even Mount Everest doesn’t reach outer space.

I’ve heard a lot about this book, and I understand why! Chin blends a picture book about size with an epic nonfiction story giving us a glimpse of our place in the universe. Make sure to read the whole thing before choosing this one for a readaloud–I thought about trying to make this work for preschool storytime, but it does get a little more dense once it enters the scale of galaxies, galaxy clusters, and the cosmic web (not a bad thing–just shows the intended audience of the book). Small factoids and labels add additional content to each page, and back matter extends the experience with even more details and a list of sources.

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