Unbound by Ann E. Burg

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A family who escaped slavery and their journey to join the colony of maroons in the middle of Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp to live freely.

What made me pick it up: A coworker came down to tell me she was working on her book talk for it and I realized I had read the author’s previous work (Serafina’s Promise) and love a novel in verse so I took it from her when she offered and checked it out.

My favorite things: This book is powerful. The verse nature of the writing makes it go very quickly. The first-person narration helps bring to life the experience of slavery for Grace. As someone who once was a nine-year-old who had trouble keeping her thoughts in her head and not saying whatever she thought, it really brought home how that once had much worse consequences. I could relate to all of Grace’s emotions — especially guilt. Even though you are fairly certain of the outcome, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat read as Grace and her family flee for their lives.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser known group of runaway slaves/slave settlement. Readers who want an emotional portrayal of the slavery and runaway experience.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Hazy Bloom and the Tomorrow Power by Jennifer Hamburg

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: Third grader Hazy starts having premonitions about what will happen the next day and the results of her trying to use those fuzzy visions to prevent (or maybe cause) catastrophe.

What made me pick it up: I saw it recommended a couple times by our children’s librarians for reader’s advisory requests. I looked into it and thought it might be something my soon-to-be third grade niece might like for Christmas so I placed a hold on it and read it as a gift preview.

My favorite things: This book is really fun. I like giving my niece books that contain characters that get up to high jinks but really only have good intentions. Previously I gifted her The Astounding Broccoli Boy and this is similar in tone. I liked Hazy’s realistic relationships with siblings, parents, and friends. It nailed being a third grader and all the complications that can come with that. It also has a good acceptance of self and others story line. I look forward to future Hazy books.

Who it’s great for: Third graders. Kids who stumble and blunder their way through sometimes. Readers looking for tiny adventures.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find a copy of this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color by Elizabeth Alexander and Marilyn Nelson

 

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Originally published in: 2007

What it’s about: Poems and biographical notes tell the story of the first school for African American girls in Connecticut and the challenges it faced.

What made me pick it up: It was reviewed by a friend on Goodreads and I had never heard of either the book or the story of Prudence Crandall and her school. Thankfully the library had a copy so I ordered it in.

My favorite things: This book is written in poems and they give powerful snippets of both Crandall’s and the students’ experiences and the backlash they faced trying to get an education. They are difficult experiences which can be hard to read about but the authors work to not only tell the story but also impress upon readers why the students thought getting an education was important enough to risk it. The poems are accompanied by lovely illustrations.

Who it’s great for: Those looking for stories of African American history outside the usual characters.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Luna is stolen from her mother before she can walk and is rescued and lovingly raised raised by a witch who unintentionally grants her magic. She helps to unravel truth from the lies that mirror it in a battle that pits love and compassion against sorrow and violence.

What made me pick it up: This is the winner of the most recent Newbery Medal – I added it to my TBR list as soon as the award was announced.

My favorite things: The family Luna knows and loves is charming in their absurdity; an ancient witch who is feared and loved and, above all else, misunderstood; a perfectly tiny dragon with the capacity to become simply enormous if only he were ready to grow up; and a bog monster older than time who speaks almost exclusively in poetry. I love Barnhill’s whimsical style and it is sure to help young readers expand their vocabularies.

Who it’s great for: Middle grade and younger readers who like fantasy and can handle a bit of darkness. Those looking for strong female characters will find many here to inspire.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Catrina struggles to adjust as her family moves to better accommodate her younger sister’s chronic illness. Their new community’s enthusiasm for ghosts and Día de Muertos is at once scary and a good opportunity to connect with their mother’s Mexican heritage.

What made me pick it up: I saw this on a colleague’s desk and needed to read it immediately.

My favorite things: In her latest book, Telgemeier successfully takes on a difficult topic and makes it more accessible and less scary. Her art and storytelling are as compelling as ever and make Ghosts difficult to put down even once.

Who it’s great for: Telgemeier’s devoted following will already know about this, but it’s a great choice for any tweens interested in graphic novels. This is also a great choice for those coping with chronic illness in one of their loved ones.

Abby’s rating: four-shells


Want a copy? Find one at Amazon (affiliate link) or see if it’s available at a library near you.


Snow White by Matt Phelan

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The traditional fairy tale set in Depression-era New York City.

What made me pick it up: I was working the children’s desk in the library and it was there so I paged through it. I didn’t get to finish it so I placed a hold on it.

My favorite parts: I really liked how this was modernized. It fit so well into the time period. The illustrations are mostly black and white and quite engaging. Like the other graphic novels I enjoy most, this had few words and panels so it was easy to follow. I also enjoyed the author’s interpretation of the dwarfs.

Who it’s great for: Struggling readers who want a fairly thick book to complete. Fairy tale fans of all ages. Those interested in but intimidated by graphic novels .

Erica’s rating: four-shells

A Greyhound, a Groundhog by Emily Jenkins

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A greyhound and a groundhog play around in this tongue twisting children’s book.

What made me pick it up: I pulled it off a processing cart at the library because it was the first day of February and Groundhog Day was near and the cover is just SO CUTE.

My favorite things: This book is like a modern version of Fox in Sox, but with lovely and calming illustrations. Follow an energetic greyhound frolicking with an adorable groundhog while trying to keep straight whether it’s a grey dog or a brown hog.

Who it’s great for: Dog lovers and groundhog lovers. Fans of beautiful illustration. Those who enjoy being tied in knots while reading aloud.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find the Fox in Sox or A Greyhound, a Groundhog at Amazon (affiliate links) or at your local library


 

Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A little boy named after his father wants his own name.

What made me pick it up: I’m a huge fan of Alexie. He’s an excellent writer. Once I saw he had written a children’s book I had to check it out.

My favorite things: This book has such an engaging rhythm. It almost felt like reading a dance, if that makes sense. It also has vivid illustrations, which enhance that effect. And you really feel for the boy who loves his father but wants to be his own person.

Who it’s great for: Boys named after their fathers. Independence seeking children. Alexie admirers. People looking for diverse books for younger readers.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera

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Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: Polar Bear can’t find his underwear, and also can’t remember what it looks like. So he and a friend set out to find it.

What made me pick it up: It came up as a “people also liked” when I was looking up Strictly No Elephants and it sounded funny.

My favorite things: This book was great! You get to follow Polar Bear and his friend as they survey the underpants from various animals trying to find his lost ones. And these animals wear some interesting briefs. I was so entertained by the illustrations and the final reveal of just where his underwear had gone. It’s quick and funny.

Who it’s great for: Kids who like the absurd. Children who are obsessed with underwear. Parents who want to be entertained while reading to their littles.

Erica’s rating: four-shells

I Am Yoga by Susan Verde

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Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: A young girl explains why she does yoga while demonstrating basic poses.

What made me pick it up: It was recommended to me by OverDrive after something I wanted wasn’t available. It’s a weird service that is not nearly close to the mark but does sometimes suggest things that are also of interest. It was a picture book, which I knew I’d go through quickly. It has a very engaging cover and font.

My favorite things: As a yoga fan more than practitioner, I enjoyed the welcoming colors and design of this book. It also offers easy to understand explanations for how yoga can help with stress and health. In the back is a simple guide to basic poses that made me want to stretch for the first time in a while. Or maybe just lay on the ground in corpse pose. That counts too!

Who it’s great for: Parents who want to introduce yoga to their child. Anyone who enjoys bright colors and engaging illustration. Adults who want a brief guide to basic yoga.

Erica’s rating: four-shells