The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki

Written and Illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray

Publishers are starting to reveal fall titles, and fall is looking good!

Scientists agree that the people of the world began in one region and slowly scattered across the globe. But there is very little agreement how the scattering occurred. Just a lot of theories and speculation. After spending a year living among the Polynesians on Fatu Hiva, Thor Heyerdahl speculated that Polynesians crossed the vast Pacific on rafts from Peru. The folk stories and similar names were enough to make him wonder. Of course, few people believed such a journey was even possible. Heyerdahl and his crew proved it was possible. They lashed together balsa wood with hemp rope and fashioned a single mast and a bamboo cabin. Navigation was by sextant, and much of their food was from the sea. Rogue waves and a storm were nearly enough to cause them to issue a distress call from their radio, but they stuck with it and reached Polynesia. No one will ever know for sure that ancient people made this voyage, but Heyerdahl proved it could have happened.

The story so fascinates readers that Heyerdahl’s original account of the voyage was translated into seventy languages and is still in print sixty years later. Ray’s beautiful illustrations give the reader the feeling of being there for the voyage and encourage the desire to travel to the places mentioned.

Second graders will learn about anthropology, Polynesia, and rugged travel. They will also get a chance to hone literacy skills and learn that the seemingly impossible may not be.

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  • Kon-TikiTitle: The Impossible Voyage of Kon-Tiki
  • Author/Illustrator: Deborah Kogan Ray
  • Published: Charlesbridge, October 13, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: 2 to 5
  • Genre: Nonfiction, anthropology
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-620-7

 

The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Circus Mystery

Written by Martin Widmark
Illustrated by Helena Willis

Kids love to solve mysteries and this third mystery in The Whodunit Detective Agency series is a fun one. Circus tents and balloon sellers bring excitement to town that can only be topped by a backpack wearing money who bows at his costumers.

Stolen cell phones and lost wallets raise crowd tensions between shows and get the local sheriff involved. His friends and sometimes crime stopper helpers, Jerry and Maya, come to the show intent on solving it.

Newly independent grade three and grade four readers will enjoy this mystery they can solve on their own to solve the crime. Clues are cleverly placed and details explained. Large font on clean white paper make the book approachable. Full color sketches keep the readers entertained and take them right into the circus tents.

Readers will enjoy getting to know Jerry and Maya and will look forward to more crime solving with them in their town of Pleasant Valley as the series continues.

Maps of the town as well as a gallery of characters who will appear in the story are presented in the beginning pages inviting readers to jump in and get to know them even before the story begins. Parents, teachers and librarians can get reluctant readers involved in this series by reading a chapter or two aloud. Or by using the technique, you read a page and then I’ll read a page.

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  • Circus MysteryTitle: The Whodunit Detective Agency: The Circus Mystery
  • Author: Martin Widmark
  • Illustrator: Helena Willis
  • Publisher: Grosset Dunlap/Penguin
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Paperback, 2015
  • ISBN: 978-0-448-48070-1
  • Genre: Fiction, Mystery
  • Grade level: 2 to 4

Emu

Written by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Is that emu startled by you or are you startled by the emu? Either way, the cover of this wonderful new book is definitely an invitation to explore. The fantastic illustrations continue throughout the text, giving a real feel for the forests and grasslands and for the curiosity of the large bird. He is so devoted to the eggs he often loses a great deal of weight, refusing to leave the nest. He must guard the eggs from lizards called goannas. The chicks hatch after eight weeks and are partially protected by camouflaged markings. The father shows the chicks how to hunt for food, keeps them safe, and keeps them warm at night. Dingos might take the chicks. Adult emus could run away and kick predators. Emus move in a zigzag pattern to confuse eagles and other predators.

This heartwarming story of parental concern will make kids love the large birds and cheer for their survival. They will see that, despite the differences, denizens of Australia are not so different from animals everywhere. This would be great as a read aloud to discuss the emu’s life or as independent reading for literacy and further study.

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  • EmuTitle: Emu
  • Author: Claire Saxby
  • Illustrator: Graham Byrne
  • Published: Candelwick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature, science, Australia
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7479-3
  • Extras: About emus, index

Yard Sale

Written by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Moving anyone?

It happens a lot today and sometimes kids just don’t know what to make of it all. Especially when downsizing is part of the move.

Eve Bunting knows just how it looks and feels to a young child. So does Lauren Castillo, as proven by the realistic and detail filled illustrations.   It is hard to see your toys, and especially your bike sold and carried away.

Callie’s parents try their best to make the new apartment and its fold-out bed look exciting, but it really doesn’t make anything easier on yard sale day. Especially when some grownup, trying to be funny or cute, asks Callie if she is for sale, too.  What a devastating thing to say to any child.  Of course, she runs right to her Mom and Dad to ask about being for sale.

This reality makes everything else in the front yard meaningless. This small family realizes that who you have is much more important that what you have in your life.

Teachers, librarians, and parents of children preparing for a move will find repeated readings of this story to be helpful discussion starters. It will help everyone to explore the emotions involved with selling favorite items as well as moving to a new house.

Core curriculum standards for first grade readers as well as second grade readers can be fulfilled for the literacy skills of dialogue, picture clues, main idea, and supporting details.

Eve Bunting has written over 250 books for children and this is a great addition to the ones already in every school or public library.

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  • Yard SaleTitle:  Yard Sale
  • Author: Eve Bunting
  • Illustrator: Lauren Castillo
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6542-5
  • Genre: fiction, picture book
  • Grade level: PreK to 2

Maya & Filippo Visit San Francisco

Written by Alinka Rutkowska
Illustrated by Konrad Checinksi

Great new addition to the Maya and Filippo series.

Arriving on a cruise ship, Maya and Filippo set off to explore San Francisco with their mother. Their time is limited, so they try to plan their sightseeing in advance. Mother lists the most famous features of San Francisco for them to consider. Of course, the children have completely different ideas of what would be fun. They try to go to Alcatraz but find all the tickets sold out for that day. A cable car takes them up and down the hills. Their picnic in Yerba Buena Gardens is cut short by rain, a common occurrence in the city. So they have lunch in a café on Union Square. At Fisherman’s Warf and Pier 39, they watch the sea lions play. Feeling bad that they didn’t have time to go to the Golden Gate Bridge, they board the ship and realize the ship will pass directly under the bridge.

The illustrations are very colorful and convey the delight of exploring new territory.

Second grade readers will increase their literacy skills and comprehension through the adventures. They will learn about the geography and history of San Francisco. The author even includes a quiz to be sure the reader has learned something. Readers will also learns that compromise is a good way to be sure everyone has a great time.

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  • Maya-Filippo-San-FranciscoTitle: Maya & Filippo Visit San Francisco
  • Author: Alinka Rutkowska
  • Illustrator: Konrad Checinski
  • Published: 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 40 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 2
  • Genre: Fiction, social studies, travel, compromise
  • ISBN: 978-1506126715

Sona and the Wedding Game

Written by Kashmira Sheth
Illustrated Yoshiki Jaeggi

Weddings are events surrounded by mystery for young children. We look forward to the excitement and fun, but sometimes feel a little left out. In this story, we learn how one tradition within the Eastern Indian community deals with that feeling. This is, after all, the first wedding Sona has ever attended.

The young sister of the bride is given the task of stealing the groom’s shoes during the ceremony. This seems like an odd task until you realize he will take his shoes off for the ceremony. If she is able to steal his shoes then he must bargain with her to get them back. This seems like a lovely tradition intended to help bring the siblings of the new family together.

Sona is nervous, of course. She can’t think of any way to steal his shoes during the ceremony for a long time. But, in the end, she is successful. Readers will wonder what she will want to bargain with the groom for to get his shoes back, some will already know what she wants.

Included in this story of tradition, is the painting of hands and the application of kumkum on the forehead of the groom for good luck. Parts of the wedding ceremony itself are included such as praying to Lord Ganesh and having the priest tie together the sashes of the bride and groom.

The illustrations of traditional clothing, garlands and surroundings are stunning. The watercolors are bright and authentic.  It is a truly beautiful book.

Teachers, librarians and parents of elementary children will enjoy this look into the wedding traditions of East Indian Americans. Second grade and third grade classrooms can fulfill the core curriculum standards for literacy, art, culture, history, and traditions by using this beautiful book. There are also several vocabulary words introduced in the text that would be familiar to some children of East Indian descent, although the author’s note is quick to say that India is a large country and not all the traditions are kept the same in every region.

Still, this is a beautiful look into a world we may not all have visited yet.

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  • SonaTitle: Sona and the Wedding Game
  • Author: Kashmira Sheth
  • Illustrator: Yoshiki Jaeggi
  • Publisher:  Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 973-1-56145-735-9
  • Genre: Fiction – East Indian Customs, Weddings, East Indian Americans
  • Grade level: PreK to 4
  • Extras: Author’s Note further describes the wedding traditions and tells a little bit about how they are changing over time.

Toad Weather

Written by Sandra Markle
Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

Ally thinks because it is raining there is nothing to do. Wrong!  An outdoor adventure with her mother and grandmother helps her discover a whole new world. A colorful world swirling with the colors of umbrellas reflected in sidewalk puddles unfolds before her as well as the twisted rainbows caused by oil drops on city streets.

She discovers worms who love rainy days because their skin needs to stay wet all the time.

This isn’t just any story to entertain readers about a rainy day it is based in researched science. This book will fulfill the core curriculum standards in natural science, environmental science, climate changes and even migration.

When they find the traffic stopped and investigate further they see toads, toads and more toads in a mob trying to cross the highway. The police have a detour set up and people are even picking up the toads and carrying them across safely.

Sandra Markle does a great job of including all the senses that children use to learn about their surroundings, well, not taste this time. But the sound of rain pounding on buildings and umbrellas, as well as the sight, is important for children to notice.

The illustrations of Thomas Gonzalez mimic the colors and textures of a rainy day. It is amazing how the puddles on the front cover give the 3-D impression that once you touch the cover, your fingers will be wet. And the toad looks like you can reach out and pick it up.

This is a great book for teachers, librarians, and parents to use for teaching science skills as well as explaining how many things there are to enjoy on a rainy day. It is so much fun there is no way kids will only want to hear it read over and over again on only rainy days.

Second grade and third grade readers will be able to read and enjoy this book on their own.

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  • Toad WeatherTitle: Toad Weather
  • Author: Sandra Markle
  • Illustrator: Thomas Gonzalez
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Elizabeth Swartz
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN:  978-1-56145-818-9
  • Genre: Nonfiction, Weather, Climate, Toads, Migration
  • Grade level: 1 to 4
  • Extras: The author’s note at the end of the book explains a real toad migration that happens each spring near Philadelphia, PA.

P. Zonka Lays An Egg

Written and Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

P. Zonka would rather spend her day “staring at flowers and gawking at clouds” instead of laying eggs. This irritates the other chickens to no end. Why won’t she lay an egg? What’s the matter with her? P. Zonka wonders the opposite. How can they think about laying eggs when there is such beauty all around?

…the soft dark moss, the stripes on the crocuses, the orange cat with one blue eye, the shining center of a dandelion, the sky at midnight.

The hens (Nadine, Dora, and Maud, plus Gloria, a misnamed rooster) continue to goad P. Zonka. They call her lazy and urge her to try. Finally, she gives in and attempts to lay an egg. It isn’t easy, but when she finally does, she produces a spectacular egg as original and unique and colorful as P. Zonka, herself. Daydreamers rejoice!

Good things come to those who wait – a great message for young readers. Second graders will also benefit from the themes of individuality and artistry. Paschkis’ watercolor drawings are a feast for the eyes, and her endnote reveals the secret behind P. Zonka’s unusual name: a pysanka is a Ukrainian decorated egg made with patterns of beeswax and layers of dye. Recommended as a classroom read-aloud or library selection.

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  • P. ZonkaTitle: P. Zonka Lays An Egg
  • Author/Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
  • Publisher: Peachtree, 2015
  • Reviewer: Lauren Abbey Greenberg
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1-56145-819-6
  • Genre: Picture Book, Fiction, Allegory

 

No Monkeys, No Chocolate

Written by Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
Illustrated by Nicole Wang

Natural processes never exist in isolation from all the other natural forces around them. In this fun and interesting nonfiction picture book, the authors take an inventive approach to pointing out why this is true. If it weren’t for monkeys, we wouldn’t have chocolate bars. Actually, if it weren’t for midges, maggots, lizards, and fungus, we wouldn’t have chocolate either. The story of cocoa production is slowly worked through from the beans to the pods to the roots to the monkeys that help plant new seeds. The tiny bookworms in the corner of each two-page spread add the touch of humor that will ensure holding the attention of kids. The illustrations are realistic and colorful.

This is a perfect beginning reference for second graders learning about nature and science. It will hopefully promote further study. The reading level will be a bit challenging but should enhance literacy skills and comprehension. The suggestions for what kids can do next includes many easy tips.

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  • No Monkeys No ChocolateTitle: No Monkeys, No Chocolate
  • Author: Melissa Stewart and Allen Young
  • Illustrator: Nicole Wang
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge, 2013
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, nature, humor
  • ISBN: 978-1-58089-287-2
  • Extras: More detailed information in “Cocoa and Rain Forests,” “What You Can Do to Help,” and “Author’s Note”

Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama

Written by Hester Bass
Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Lest the struggles for civil rights be forgotten, it’s important to look at the conditions along the road to freedom. Admittedly, we still have a long way to go due to hatred and prejudice. Many people fought and died for the incremental freedoms we now have. Riots and bombings happened many times. But, in Huntsville, a city that also saw the development of rockets for the space program, the movement forward was not marked by violence. Segregation was so strong that blacks weren’t even allowed to try on shoes. They had to carry outlines of their feet to the shoe store. For many weeks, blacks staged sit ins at lunch counters and left when asked or went to jail, sometimes with babies. Groups circled the courthouse with signs such as, “I Ordered a Cheeseburger, They Served Me a Warrant!” Finally, citizens remembered that white merchants relied so much on the revenue provided by blacks. For Easter 1962, a Blue Jean Sunday was declared. No money was spent on new clothes. Money was spent elsewhere whenever possible. Helium-filled balloons were released in the local parks. They carried messages of love and freedom. Rallies were conducted on both sides of the issue. At long last, schools were integrated. Many whites tried to prevent blacks from entering “their” school, but several white students also enrolled in the formerly black schools.
The story is greatly enhanced by the wonderful, action-filled illustrations of E.B. Lewis. The second grade reader can almost feel like she’s there, in the 1960s. A particularly poignant drawing of a young girl with impressions of her feet is memorable.

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  • Seeds of FreedomTitle: Seeds of Freedom: The Peaceful Integration of Huntsville, Alabama
  • Author: Hester Bass
  • Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
  • Publisher: Candlewick, 2015
  • Reviewer: Sue Poduska
  • Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
  • Grade Level: K to 3
  • Genre: Nonfiction, biography, history, civil rights movement
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-6919-5
  • Extras: Detailed explanation of the events in Huntsville, bibliography
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